My first thought when I received a book called Men Without Friends was “What a sad title!” It’s not only a sad title, but a sad reality for many men of today. Men don’t have deep friendships. It’s not that they don’t have individuals they call “friends” – they do. But most friendships are not lasting and meaningful.
At the time of publishing (1990), the author, David W. Smith, was a superintendent of schools in Delphi, Indiana. He examines the friendships of men from sociological perspective, but holds to a biblical worldview. He frequently quotes published psychologists and sociologists. In his research, the author conducted many of his own studies and surveys of men which he cites in the book.
The author is interested in what’s going on underneath the surface of the man, how he is different from a woman in desiring and building friendships, what general characteristics affect a man’s ability to have friends, and how American men compare to men of other cultures.
The goal of Men Without Friends is: “[It]challenges you to build friendships that will stand the test of time, and ‘be there’ through the ups and downs of life” (from the jacket cover).
Who will benefit from this book?
- Anyone who’s trying to understand why men don’t make friends easily
- The man who wants friends but doesn’t know how
- The men’s ministry leader who wants to understand
Building Blocks of the Book
Men Without Friends is built around seven of the author’s assumptions:
- Friendships in which we give and receive are essential to our spiritual and emotional well-being.
- Most American men are actually friendless and have much to learn in the development of interpersonal relationships.
- Men, including spiritually-oriented men, lead lives that conform largely to our macho-dominated culture rather than to the standard found in the Bible.
- Women tend to experience more fulfilling friendships than do men, and the reasons for this difference are not biological.
- Biblical principles of friendship can be identified, and if implemented, change lives. The Bible offers the best psychology of friendships available.
- Those who have close, nurturing friendship have many personality traits in common that can be learned.
- With the decline in the social stability of the extended family and the nuclear family itself, friendships are becoming even more important than ever before for the maintenance and maturity of mental and spiritual health (p.16-17).
Overall, I found these assumptions to be sound. If you like psychological or sociological research, you’ll appreciate the way this book is written. The research and citations are not overbearing, and he makes enough interesting observations to keep the book flowing.
The book bogs down when the author talks about the differences between men and women. What he’s trying to say that biology can’t be blamed for men who lack deep friendships, but Chapter 5 is more about X and Y chromosomes, and sociological observations than salient points. I felt like this chapter could have been summarized in a few paragraphs or lifted out and developed into another book.
The Stages of Friendship
An enlightening chapter for me was Chapter 8, titled “The Stages of Friendship.” The author says the deepest friendships progress through three stages:
- Acquaintances – Friendships based largely on where we live and work. They are largely impersonal and quickly dissolve when we no longer have day-to-day contact.
- Companions – Develop when men share common goals or values. When men are able to come around a task or obtain a goal they go into this deeper level of friendship. They are more satisfying and intense, but they don’t stand up well to emotional stress or conflicts of values or interests.
- Established Friendships – When men are able consciously make a commitment to each other and maintain it. They exemplify a deep love for one another and resist judgmental attitudes toward one another.
The author notes that many men do not easily make commitments. They might even sever commitments when a relationship starts getting too involved or too personal.
Men generally do not want to be around one another “just because.” The author notes that women find this much easier. A man will get together with another man, but there must be task or a goal to be accomplished.
The friendship of David and Jonathan (I Samuel 18:1) is cited several times in the book as a biblical example of one that progressed to the deepest level. They had many experiences in common, covenanted together, showed love for one another, pledged protection, and several times renewed their commitment toward one another.
American Men vs. The Rest of the World
American men tend to be the worst at developing deep friendships, according to the author:
Americans tend to be lonely […] In most societies people do not experience loneliness, at least to the nagging, acute degree that Americans do. In other cultures people are rarely alone either physically or emotionally. Relatives, neighbors, and even strangers are a normal part of everyone’s life […] Not so in America. Our emphasis on privacy has been deadly to our emotional well-being (126).
Also, the term “friend” means something different to the American man:
But to American men the term “friend” is lacking in content. It is devoid of emotion and commitment. We rarely know what someone means when he declares. “He is my friend.” After all, many of us have used the word to refer to someone who seems to be a pleasant fellow since first meeting him some thirty minutes earlier. (128)
I would love to hear from our international friends on these points.
I suspect that this “American” isolation and self-sufficiency is a problem that covers more than the 50 United States.
Chapters 10-14 – A “How To” Manual on Friendships
It would be sad if the author stated his assumptions and research and left us wondering, “What do we do now?” The author is pro-friendship and pro-men. He takes the last third of the book to guide men into the mechanics of building deeper friendships.
If the first two-thirds of the book identify and analyze the problem, the last third gives readers a 101 guide to friendship making.
For me, the last third of the book was of little value to me. The chapters encourage the man to become a better student of himself, set goals for changing, and shares guidelines from several authors on how to build friendships. But the man who struggles deeply with an inability to forge friendships will find these chapters practical and helpful.
Last Thoughts and Summary
I like when a book has discussion questions at the end of each chapter. It tells me that the author wants me to slow down and process the content for my own benefit. I wouldn’t want to go through this book with a group, but it will help any man understand himself better and what may be missing from his not having deep, meaningful friendships.