I was recently eavesdropping on my six-year-old’s conversation with his friend. They were totally at ease, talking about their feelings: happiness, sadness, anger. They unselfconsciously hugged each other tightly as they said goodbye. 

As a mother of two young boys, I’m praying they will maintain close male friendships into old age and won’t be pushed into conforming to narratives that say real men don’t show emotion. I don’t want the words spoken at the end of the iconic 1986 film Stand By Me to be true about my sons: “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve…does anyone?”

This month, I’m turning 40. As I plan my birthday celebrations, I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for my friendships. I am a self-confessed Friendaholic – a term coined by writer Elizabeth Day. I feel giddy at the thought of acquiring a new friend. Today, I met a new one on the train and we’re arranging a coffee date. I pick friends up and rarely put them down. Let’s just say I’m working on my boundaries. 

But I am increasingly conscious of the men around me – the best of men – who have hardly any friends. It is proven that having an optimum number of friends is good for us, yet many men have fewer than they would like. A 2021 YouGov poll found that one in ten men has only one friend, while a 2018 Movember Foundation poll found 27 per cent said they had no close friends at all. 

27 per cent of men have no close friends

It’s a running joke in my house that I have way too many friends, while my husband sticks to the small number he has (mainly) known for most of his life.  

Increasingly, men in the Church are talking about the need for male friendship. Sheridan Voysey’s Friendship Lab Project and Phil Knox’s book The Best of Friends (IVP) are two recent examples. The Church should be a place where men can find friends that “stick closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24), but often, men’s activities fall into lazy stereotypes such as beer kegs and football. I’d like to think we can do better. Inspired by Richard Rohr’s From Wild Man to Wise Man (SPCK), my friend Pete is intentionally gathering his friends to talk openly about faith, life, bodies, health and emotions. 

This is a matter of life and death. Over the past two years, I’ve known three men who have completed suicide; one went to our church. Suicide rates are at record levels, and three-quarters of those who killed themselves in 2022 were male. While we cannot know the exact reasons why, it’s clear that good friendships have a vital role to play. 

When my boys turn 40, I want them to have friends like I do. The friends I text about reality TV shows. The ones with whom I’ve laughed so hard that tears rolled down our cheeks. The friends like sisters, who’ve held me as I’ve cried; the ones I’ve danced or prayed with. As CS Lewis said: “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.” Friends make life worth living.