I have spoken with many friends in their 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s about how difficult it can be to establish and maintain meaningful friendships the older we get. We all long for deep friendships, yet our busy lives so often get in the way or allow for only surface-level interactions before we race on to the next event. Facebook and other social media can be satisfying for staying in touch, but it usually lacks depth and there is great risk of being misunderstood by posting memes, soundbites, and snippets that don’t reflect the whole person. One way to intentionally create in-person, meaningful friendships is by forming a men’s or women’s group (or a co-ed group for that matter).
A few years ago, an acquaintance I was getting to know a bit better went out on a limb and asked me if I wanted to join a men’s group he was involved in. At first, I was actually terrified, thinking it must be some sort of weird cult. However, I figured it couldn’t hurt to attend one meeting and then decide. What I discovered was a group of men who wanted to discuss topics of great significance in terms of human meaning as well as share experiences, stories, poems, and rituals. I can laugh about the cliché of beating on drums in the woods and at the same time say that gathering with intention was a profound experience. Each of us was equally capable of navigating work lives, home/family lives, and social lives, but a couple times a month we would meet to focus on what life means to us, how it feels, what our challenges were that no one else even knew about, and the kind of people we most wanted to be in the world. We helped each other walk our talk. It was in the context of that group that I experienced one of the most incredible spiritual experiences of my life.
All good things come to an end and that group disbanded when we were ready. A couple years later, another friend suggested starting a different men’s group. It took on its own life, comprised of unique individuals with one thing in common: a desire for meaningful connection and the opportunity to speak from the heart. At one point, I felt cynical that I had to schedule this kind of friendship into my life, but when I thought of the alternative, not making time for it in the onrush of daily life, it made perfect sense to set aside a couple of hours every two weeks or once a month for a group meeting. Sometimes, we would have a formal topic such as parents, death, spirituality, childhood, dreams, work, love, the masks we sometimes wear, secrets, and sexuality. Other times, we would have “extended check-ins” where we would share triumphs and challenges, supporting one another by listening.
I know an awesome group of women that has met regularly for the past few years. From what I have gathered, the intentional time for communion is an important part of their lives. There is no reason why a co-ed group couldn’t be established, though most of the groups I am familiar with happen to be men’s or women’s groups.
These groups are pretty easy to start. Think of a list of friends or acquaintances who you intuitively sense would jump at the opportunity for intentional gathering and deep conversation. Get up the nerve to start asking and before you know it you could have three or four or seven folks interested. Meetings can have a topic of discussion, a shared ritual, or be open-ended life check-ins. It is good to get a commitment, buy-in from each participant to show up with consistency which really builds trust and momentum. In my experience, a small amount of structure is good to ensure the intention for depth is honored, but it doesn’t need to turn into another heavily managed committee. In the groups I have been in, if one member was in great need, making time for that person would always trump a scheduled topic.
If you like the sound of setting aside time in your busy life for a men’s or women’s group, start asking some folks today. You might be surprised that they have a similar longing. Good luck!
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