It took a global pandemic and a badly timed breakup for Manny Argueta to realize just how far he had grown apart from his guy friends.
In the spring, after the 35-year-old had left the home he shared with his former girlfriend and moved into a studio in Falls Church, Va., on his own, he would go an entire week without saying a word. There were no more game days with the guys, no more Friday nights in D.C. bars, and Argueta was starved for social interaction. He returned to his PlayStation 4, jumping on the microphone with a stranger while playing “Overwatch” just to hear someone’s voice. He discovered the messaging app Discord and started chatting with his old gamer friends and watching them play “Mortal Kombat 11” — even when he didn’t have the game set up himself.
He started recognizing how dependent his friendships had become on those Sunday football games and nights at 14th Street lounges, on venting about Republicans or why the Caps fell short in the playoffs. They hardly ever talked about relationships or family, or just generally how they were doing. He had never met many of their family members.
On a rare night he spent catching up with an old friend in October, a mixture of vulnerability and intoxication led him to pour out his frustrations. “I bet you still have no idea why her and I broke up,” he said to his friend. “I bet you have no idea.” The friend paused, apologized and let him talk for a while about what had happened.
For more than a decade, psychologists have written about the “friendship crisis” facing many men. One 2006 analysis published in the American Sociological Review found that while Americans in general have fewer friends outside the family than they used to, young, White, educated men have lost more friends than other groups.
Male friendships are often rooted in “shoulder-to-shoulder” interactions, such as watching a football game or playing video games, while women’s interactions are more face-to-face, such as grabbing a coffee or getting together for a glass of wine, said Geoffrey Greif, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work who wrote a book about male friendship. When Greif surveyed hundreds of men about how they most often socialized with friends, 80 percent of men said “sports” — either watching or participating in them together.
Because of this, many men have probably had a harder time than women figuring out how to adapt their friendships in a pandemic that is keeping them apart.
“The rules for guys pursuing other guys for friendships are not clear,” Greif said. “Guys don’t want to seem too needy.”
But the pandemic might be forcing this dynamic to change.
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In emails and interviews with The Washington Post, dozens of men shared stories about Zoom poker games, backyard cigar nights, neighborhood-dad WhatsApp chains, Dungeons & Dragons groups and Fantasy Football leagues where casual chats about sports and politics have suddenly led to deep conversations — about the struggles of virtual schooling, family illness, breakups, births, wedding postponements and job losses.
The moment feels heavier and so do the conversations. Some men said their friendships have begun to look more like those of their wives and girlfriends. For the first time in their lives, they’re going on walks with male friends just to catch up. They’re FaceTiming old college friends and checking in on neighbors — not only to talk about the NBA draft picks or their children’s soccer schedule — but to ask how they’re doing.
Argueta, who works as a loan delivery specialist, was used to avoiding talking about personal details in his conversations with male friends. But after struggling with his mental health and going through therapy this year, he said he wants to start finding ways to tell his friends what’s actually going on.
“We are so used to finding a distraction to help us when we should be addressing what’s in front of us,” he said. “The world needed to slow down … we should slow down, too.”