Updated: Jan 2
Making friends is tough.
Let me help you with that.
Very few gay men seek out and then read articles about loneliness unless they’ve come to the realisation that they’re lonely. The stigma and shame we feel is real, and it takes a lot of courage to even engage with the subject.
I’m proud of you for opening this article. I recognise and admire your courage. Now that you’re here, let’s start getting you connected to yourself, those most important to you and to your community.
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This is an article and topic that you asked for. A few weeks ago, I put the call out on my Instagram page for your preferred topic. The choice was between how we numb and making friends as a gay man. The result was 88 per cent v. 12 per cent in favour of this topic. You asked, and it’s an honour to deliver.
Friendship is an important source of connection for all humans. Friends see us. They hear us. We feel like we belong when we’re with a friend.
For gay men, friendships can take on further significance. If our families do not accept us for being gay, we can build family-like support structures with people through the bonds of friendship.
Also, it feels as though ‘gay culture’ requires of us to be a certain way to be accepted. If we don’t fit that mould, then we don’t fit in. What rot. Humans come in all shapes, sizes and with all sorts of interests and quirks. There’s a place for everyone, including you and me.
It’s all well and good to explore the concept of friendship and its importance to us. But I want to provide you with some practical tips to help you make friends.
Stop looking for the quick fix!
There is no one template that I can give you to make friends as a gay man experiencing loneliness.
If you clicked on this article in the hope for a quick, painless answer to making friends: move on. There is no quick fix. Making friends and maintaining friendships requires ongoing effort from all parties.
Indeed, you may really struggle to make friends and no matter how many stories you see on social media or on the news about how important friendships are, you can never quite nail it.
I hear you. Please, keep going in the knowledge that you’re worthy of love and belonging.
I know you’re experiencing pain or an emptiness inside. Loneliness does that. I know that you may have been experiencing this feeling for a long time. I also know that you want it to go away and are hoping that a friend – well, anyone – can help alleviate the pain.
Take a deep breath. Be patient. The genuine and authentic connection you need and deserve takes time. This is not something that will be fixed overnight.
Yes, it feels like dating
Making friends as an adult is hard. Making friends with other gay men is harder still.
It’s fraught, isn’t it? Where’s the socially-acceptable line between friendliness and sexual attraction? Is he being friendly because he wants to see you naked?
There’s no getting around how awkward making friends with other gay men is for this reason. It’s also for this reason why many of us have many female friends: sex is not on the cards.
It’s always awkward when you’re wanting to strike up a friendship with another human as an adult. You’re not alone in feeling weird – everyone feels weird.
My tip: acknowledge it and stay present.
You’re not for everyone
Just like dating, you are going to meet people in your quest for new friendships who may not enjoy your company. This hurts; resist the temptation to give up.
You aren’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, and they’re not going to be yours.
You’re worthy anyway. (continued below...)
Remember the pillars
Everything about my work is based around the three pillars of connection: first, connection to self; secondly, connection to those most important to us; and thirdly, connection to community. We must always remember that each pillar needs to be as strong and developed as the others for us to feel connected.
Indeed, the three pillars feature on the logo for The Loneliness Guy.
Overloading one pillar with the weight of expectation to cure our loneliness makes for a structurally unsound building.
For the gay man wanting to make friends, the temptation is to want to put all the effort on to the second and third pillars. But how strong is your first pillar: connection to self? How connected to yourself are you? How can you reasonably expect others to want to get to know you when you don’t know who you are?
Beyond knowing who you are, you need to BE who you are. There’s no other way to say it: This is shit-your-pants scary. I’m sure that we can all point to numerous events in our lives when we’ve attempted to be who we are only to be told that we’re weird, or we’re too much.
Conversely, we can point to numerous examples of when we’ve put ourselves out there only to receive feedback from those with whom we’ve tried to be friends that we’re not enough.
Yes, this advice is tough and is likely to be the thing that you dread most when putting yourself out there. You’re likely to be tempted to put some of yourself out there to keep yourself safe.
This is understandable. You may even need some help from someone to get your confidence. That’s OK, because the stories that we’ve told ourselves about how we’re not enough, too much or otherwise unworthy of belonging with other people unless we change are powerful and keep us safe from further trauma.
But you’re now likely at a time when you’re realising that those stories are no longer serving you. It takes time and effort to challenge those stories that you’ve allowed to grow into beliefs about yourself.
These stories and beliefs held me – and hold me – back, and I know that I’m not alone. I’ll get into this in the episode of the podcast, as there’s a lot of stories that I want to share with you about how I turned the stories I told myself in my childhood and teenage years into beliefs through my adulthood.
I got help to challenge these stories and beliefs, and I’m happy to refer you to some terrific people whose coaching and connection services I can recommend (see here).
If you’re a gay man looking to make friends with another gay man, be clear within yourself about your intentions. Again, see the point about weirdness and awkwardness above.
First: Be clear with those you’re meeting. This takes courage, but a simple statement of ‘I’m looking to make some friends’ is a POWERFUL way to set a scene.
Yes, it’s blunt. But whenever I do this, I usually get a resounding ‘ME TOO!’. Try it and let me know how you go…
Quality or quantity?
Are you looking for a lot of friends or a few good friends? If you’re looking enviously at the friend count of others on social media, know that humans can only have meaningful relationships with up to 150 people in their lives at any one time. This is the Dunbar Theory.
The theory encompasses multiple layers of intimacy in relationships. According to a recent article in The Atlantic, Dunbar explained: “We can reasonably expect to develop up to 150 productive bonds, but we have our most intimate, and therefore most connected, relationships with only about five to 15 closest friends. We can maintain much larger networks, but only by compromising the quality or sincerity of those connections; most people operate in much smaller social circles.” (Read here for more. Thank you to one of my awesome readers for sharing this article with me!).
Aim for quality over quantity, always.
Don’t over-complicate it
I know. We’re each champion over-thinkers and try to work through all sorts of scenarios about what the wording of a text means, or what someone’s trying to convey through their words and actions.
Overthinking takes us out of the present and projects us into the future. Friendships – like all relationships – are made up of shared moments, not projected moments which one party has imagined.
You don’t have to do it all at once to everyone you meet
Remember the advice about being patient? Well, this is similar, but refers to how we can want to hijack connection by sharing everything with everyone and seeing who sticks around.
Lonely people can share a lot in person and on social media. This is associated with having porous boundaries (a point explored by my friend Kevin Moran in his blog and our chat on the podcast) in the hope that our lack of boundaries means that we’re open to new people.
There’s a difference between being open and vulnerable and being very free with your story.
Be friend material
This seems like a self-evident truth. But there are two points I want to make here.
First, consider this: loneliness can make us unpleasant to be around. We’re in fight or flight when we’re experiencing loneliness. We can see everything and everyone as a threat.
When we’re in this state, we can be argumentative. We can be closed off to new ideas and new suggestions. Be friendly.
What state are you in physically, mentally and emotionally?
Secondly, do you have time in your life for friendship and other people? Sometimes, we use busyness as a way of numbing our loneliness (I’m HUGELY guilty of this, and still am…). We pack so much into our life that we simply don’t allow ourselves any downtime to feel our feelings.
Friendships require time and space. Busyness kills friendships.
Sex as a friendship vetting process
I need to say it: we’ve likely had sex with some of our gay friends before we became friends. This is what it is and I refuse to comment about whether this is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.
Sometimes we simply need to see if that spark of connection (see below) is sexual before we become friends.
My advice: develop other strategies for making friends if your only strategy is fucking someone first.
Spark of connection
How do you know if you’re getting your connection needs met?
You get the spark of connection.
For me, this is a chill that runs up my spine and spreads over my head. It makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and I get goosebumps. When this happens, I feel seen. I feel heard. And I feel that I belong. Time flies by.
How do you experience it?
Sometimes, you get the spark of connection when you’re least expecting it. Pay attention to that feeling and trust your intuition and continue to be present in the moment.
You’re worthy of having boundaries. You’re worthy of friends. You’re worthy of love. You’re worthy of belonging.
Just as you are. Right now.
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Dear me, there’s a lot there for you to think about. What works for you? Let me know on social media!
If reading this post has made you uncomfortable or made you think and you need some help, remember that I’m here to help. My services and those of the coaches I've partnered with can be found here and can help you learn from your loneliness and help you towards feeling connected.
Want to chat more about making friends as a gay man? Join me for a coffee and a chat in the upcoming episode of my podcast for gay men ‘Connection over Coffee with The Loneliness Guy’ from Thursday 11 November 2021.
Important notice: All views expressed above are my own/the authors and are intended to support, challenge and inspire gay men to consider the issue of loneliness and increase awareness of the need for authentic connection with themselves, with others and their communities as an antidote to chronic loneliness. They are not intended to, nor should they, replace the advice of a licensed helping professional. Please consult the Resources page if you feel that you need the services of a licensed helping professional where you are in the world.