"Let life enchant you again." - Fernando Gros
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Blog // Simplicity
March 18, 2024

Aristotelian Friendship

Masculinity has been scrutinized a lot lately. Rightly so. In particular men struggle to do friendship well. There’s a few reasons why.

I lost two friends during the pandemic. They didn’t die of Covid. One succumbed to a long, debilitating illness; the other, to an accident. Travel restrictions meant I couldn’t attend either funeral.

Both came to mind today. I miss them. They left a hole in my life that remains unfilled. I long for their warmth and humour. Their love, respect, and support.

They weren’t just privately encouraging. They were public champions as well. They read my writing. They bought my work, and they encouraged others to do the same. They made space for me in the world.

This was a reflection of who they were. People who believed in creativity. They nurtured it in themselves. Fostered it in others. They weren’t doing me favours, hoping for something in return. Their friendship was deeper than that.

The Nature Of Aristotelian Friendships

What I had with them was what Aristotle called virtue friendship. For Aristotle, there are three kinds of friendships. First are hedonic friendships. The people we party with. The most basic kind of friendship. Then there are friendships made through shared activity. Work colleagues. Sports buddies. People we do things with.

Last are virtue friendships. People you connect with because of the quality of their character. How they live out what they believe. Their virtues.

As we get older, it gets harder to make new friends. We meet fewer people. Everyone already has their established social circle. Careers and family take up more time.

And making virtue friendships takes time. You don’t instantly see someone’s soul. Our impatient culture, so invested in first impressions, makes little room for any deeper understanding of who people are.

The Culture Of Male Friendship

Male culture is skewed towards the first two kinds of friendship. Many men’s idea of friendship stops growing once they reach their early twenties. Perhaps the best example of this is LinkedIn’s hustle culture. Nothing but functional relationships. Conversations that rarely stray beyond advice about how to land the next deal or enhance status.

Quite a lot of men approach friendships in a conspiratorial way. They want friendships that can cloak misdeeds. It’s surprisingly how quickly some new acquaintances will ask if you have infidelities. Revealing secrets is a way to show you can cover for theirs. Being faithful disqualifies you from a surprising number of male friendships.


Men also struggle to make deeper friendships because they don’t listen.

Mansplaining is the prime example. It’s when men try to exert power over women by talking condescendingly to them. There are so many cringeworthy examples online of men trying to explain a particular field of science to a woman who holds a PhD and is a world expert on the subject, or some random dude trying to coach a female professional on how to do their job.

Men also mansplain to each other. It’s how men establish social dominance. A lot of men can’t help themselves. They think they have to give advice. They assume the way another person does things is a result of ignorance rather than choice.

Conversations simply become a contested space for establishing social hierarchy. Every chat has a winner and a loser. Points are always being tallied.

The Struggle To Make Deep Connections

It’s not surprising that, typically, men don’t make new friendships once they are into their mid-forties. They lack the opportunity to make new connections. They are increasingly less involved in the kind of situations, like sports or partying, that provide for the most basic kinds of friendship. Or they don’t want to cover for other men’s misdeeds. And they lack the skills to take conversations out of the advice and explaining mode into the listening and soul-baring space.

And baring your soul – vulnerability – is the key to Aristotle’s kind of virtue friendships.

You can’t have a virtue-based friendship and approach conversations like contests. The two are incompatible. You have to calm down. Your life will speak for you. The choices you’ve already made will establish who you are. You have to be open and willing to listen.

Then companionship becomes far more important than advice giving. Empathy comes to the fore. You take a back seat to who you should be.

Enduring Friendship

Women tend to be better at virtue friendships. This matters as we age because virtue friendships are more enduring and less context dependent. You don’t have to attend the same parties or work in the same field to keep the friendships alive. They don’t rely on your being fit and active enough to engage in a shared activity.

They don’t even rely on your being in the same place.

Those two friendships I mentioned were forged while living in the same place. But they continued to thrive even after I moved away.

Now the friendships have become memories, but they still influence and inspire me. I miss them. But I’m richer for having known them. And my feeling how profoundly friendships can help us navigate life is deeper as a result.

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