Group Therapy is a relationship advice column that asks readers to contribute their wisdom.
A reader writes: I'm a guy who gets along with most people but has few male friends. There's a guy at work who's very private, with whom I've had a lot of lunches and good conversations. But when I suggested something outside work with our families he was non-committal, so I backed off. That seemed to make him push forward; we had lunch again, and the pattern repeated. I decided to stop playing games, but my wife has me worried that he really needs my support. Sometimes he looks like he's going to have a nervous breakdown, but he won't talk about it. Do I pull the plug and regain my sanity but lose a potentially good friend; or try to be supportive, be driven to insanity, and maybe make a fool of myself in the process?
A work/life separation
A great friendship in the context of work or church or school may not translate into other aspects of life. Your friend's reticence may reflect that his private life is in conflict. The workplace may be his refuge. Perhaps some aspect of his lifestyle would be awkward if known in the workplace, or he prefers to keep work from infiltrating his personal world. If you are true friend material, you will respect him regardless.
Wayne Coghlan, Collingwood, Ont.
Trouble at home
The reason the other person might not want to involve his family is perhaps because he is having trouble with them, which is why he is finding life so difficult. So you should try to stay his friend. I don't understand how that would be making a fool of yourself. Just understand that the guy not wanting to spend time with his family doesn't necessarily reflect on your friendship.
Guys are awkward
I stumbled into a similar situation at work. Two guys told me about the other: "I've always wanted to hang out with him, but it's weird to ask a guy to hang out." So I suggested the three of us go out, and we did. I think guys find that kind of thing more awkward, but it sounds like you've broken the ice already. Maybe it's the families part that is the problem, but he feels weird saying so. I'd drop that bit, but keep asking. If he backs off, just shrug and say "Okay, maybe next time."
Valerie Bernard, Fredericton
THE FINAL WORD
There was a time when I thought dudes had friendship all figured out. The focus on eating things in front of giant screens, pretending to punch one another, competing over who can utter the grossest and most profane personal insults imaginable - this struck me as the very apex of human social exchange.
But the masterstroke of male fraternity, I believed, was the practice of never speaking of anything remotely personal or related to one's emotions. That way, no one is ever made uncomfortable. Any such awkward moments can always be dispelled with a flurry of pretend-punches.
This belief came from growing up in a houseful of brothers; also, the exasperation I often felt once I started spending more time with women. A dude would never compel you to scrutinize his buttocks and "tell me honestly what you think." A dude would never call you up to obsess over a comment someone made about her cankles. Dudes don't know words like cankles, and God bless 'em for it.
Later, though, I came to understand the profound upside to women's friendships. That being, you can relax. That fear you mentioned of making a fool of yourself? Women aren't hamstrung by that to the same extent. You're allowed to show weakness or admit failure. You can burst into tears about your cankles, and no one will fake-punch you for it.
This is a long way of saying it's time to man up and de-dude your friendship with this guy. The dude approach has taken you so far, but it won't get you beyond the confines of the office, and it isn't enough to provide your friend with the support it sounds like he needs.
What's interesting is that your letter starts detailing one problem ("I can't get beyond a superficial friendship with this guy") then switches to a completely different concern that, touchingly, you say your wife brought up - that this man is at an emotional breaking point.
You've committed a classic dude move here, pretending the problem is a fairly unemotional matter to do with getting together for barbecues when the truth is you're worried about your friend. Let him know.
Lynn Coady is the award-winning author of novels Strange Heaven and Mean Boy.
Next week's question
A reader writes: My wife thinks she's the expert on everything, constantly handing out unwanted instructions and advice to everyone (especially me). The habit has become worse over the three decades of our marriage. She's refused to try counselling in the past. Now I confront her head-on about it, yet she denies she even does it. Can you suggest a strategy to deal with it?
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