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It took twenty-four years of life, an unplanned pregnancy, an uncertain home situation, no prospect of a job and the terror of becoming a father to make me question who I was choosing to spend time around. Now, nearly five years later, the importance of that in my life is becoming crystal clear.

From 1990 to 2007 I grew up in a small town, barely a few thousand people spread out over lots of land. There was one store we could buy (overly-priced) groceries, one VHS movie shop, a little public elementary school, a tiny public library, one church and two little gas stations that looked like they had been installed in the late 1960’s. It was a forty-minute drive to the nearest town with anything else. Half the population were traditionalist country folk, and the other half were a surprisingly well-networked group of hippies and outcasts (my parents crowd) that somehow found a home in a place away from it all.

Me circa 1996

I was unaware of all that as a kid though, growing up out there was wild. It was free. It was untamed, it was rough in terms of modern niceties but overly abundant with the richness of the natural land, water and endless forest to explore. Truly a little boys dream playground. My days consisted of waking up, playing a bit, having some food, then I was out the door and deeply immersed in the experiences at hand. To add to that there were a surprising number of kids I had connections with. Some I formed strong bonds with, and some thought of me as a little too young and weird for their liking. I seemed to always be in the middle of age groups ever since I started school. I was always a bit ahead of my same age and younger peers in terms of academics and physical development, so I quickly got put in the older classes, and this trend continued all the way through college. I was sixteen when graduating high school, seventeen upon entering college (endless jail bate jokes from my peers), and 21 when receiving my diploma.

I love you mom, but I’ll never forgive you for letting me leave the house with a middle part.

Being in this middle range, always wanting to hang with the older kids but never quite garnering their approval, I ended up becoming more desperate than I realized for solid friends, and stuck like glue to the ones that did accept me. I became part of a clique of five guys in high school, and we spent nearly all of our time together. Personally I never even tried to make other friends, as I felt satisfied with the ones I had. Through college and into the two years beyond, I followed the same pattern, never trying to connect with anyone new, and stewing (much more than I care to admit) in the social circle that I had. I was so absorbed in my identity with them, and to be brutally honest deeply afraid of making new connections.

Cut to the news that my girlfriend at the time (now wife and SO much more), was pregnant in February 2014. We went into full crisis mode. Moved away from where we were living (and all our friends), and sought safety living in my parents land, where I grew up. That situation ultimately became rocky and we chose to leave. Still one of the most haunting decisions of my life – more on that later. We moved back to the same city as before, and did our best to re-integrate into the same social circles.

We very quickly realized that all our previous friends were in a very different place in their lives, and it became harder and harder for me to truly relate to them, the things they wanted to do, and the ways they wanted to spend their energy. I had a kid. No one else did. That one thing fundamentally changed everything. I found myself experiencing deep, healing joy and satisfaction stay home and raising him. My desire to go out and socialize waned and waned until I stopped pretending and finally accepted the truth of who I wanted to be and who I wanted to spend my time around. I still enjoy spending a few moments lazing around with people, but at the same time I feel like I spent so many years aimlessly doing that and it just doesn’t do anything for me anymore.

In conjunction with this I also discovered men’s work in late 2017. I found such profound and deeply meaningful connections with men in highly intentional containers that it all but destroyed by genuine desire to casually “hang out” with people. I became predominantly interested with only spending time with men in these situations and spent very little time casually engaging with people. I think I needed this after so many years of mindless socializing that left me feeling numb from true, deep connection. I found my relationship to other masculine-identified beings being slowly healed in a way I’d never experienced before. I was witnessing men getting deeply intimate, ruthlessly honest and breaking their hearts open while being supported by other men and it fucking rocked my world to experience. It shattered the limiting beliefs I had around what a “man” could be, way beyond the bullshit societal programming I had been coded with.

Now I’m at a point where I’m highly discerning about who I exchange energy with, in particular with other men. My time has become more precious to me and my interests in living a purposeful life, giving my gift to the world and being highly present for my family take top priority now. The most liberating thing to accept in this journey has been giving myself the permission to feel like I can pick and choose who I want to spend time around. It’s totally dissipated this pervasive obligatory feeling to please those I consider friends, and completely redefined my meaning of friendship. I can’t recall a single time before recently when a man I consider a friend has had the courage to stand and face me with his opinion, when it directly calls me out and demands my self-growth. I was blessed by this feedback from someone recently, and it’s been the hardest and most educational experience I’ve ever had with a friend. I feel served and offered a chance for me to grow as a result, and I only hope I can serve him the same way if the need arises. That’s friendship for me. Being able to be fearlessly loving to someone while standing in your own truth. It’s very rare to find that combination, and I encourage you to be wise about if you encounter that from a friend.

Choosing men friends (as a man) is critically important to your evolution in life. Some people parasitically want your energy for themselves, some people influence you in ways that don’t benefit for most present self. For me this last one looked like constantly being presented with various substances to consume. Alcohol, marijuana, tobacco, the list goes on. Of course I always had a choice in the matter, but it can be hard to say no sometimes and still feel like part of the group dynamic, when in your heart the decision isn’t a hell yes. Good men friends approach you with fierce love. They will challenge you in the most healthy ways, drawing you out of yourself with clarity and direction, and holding space for your emotional processes when necessary. The exchange between you both shouldn’t require constant detailed attention like an intimate partner, but is more of a “if I see you then I SEE you, if I don’t then I don’t” kind of dynamic. Choose friends who won’t settle for your bullshit, and also care enough to give you their truth while standing their ground.

I saw a post on Instagram the other day that said “there are two kinds of friends, those that remind you of an old version of yourself, and those who remind you of the person you want to become.” If we are consciously choosing the latter in all our friendships, we will liberate ourselves from stagnation in friendship codependency. We often talk about codependency within intimate relationships, but it is rampant among friends as well. We often get stuck in a fallacy that we can’t stop spending time with someone because we don’t want to hurt their feelings by saying no, and that’s ultimately not serving you or them in any way.

It’s OK to say no to people you don’t vibe with anymore. It’s OK to have less friends. It takes real courage to tell a friend how you really feel, and how they respond makes all the difference if that’s someone that truly benefits your self growth. A good friendship is one where each person serves the other equally, and when that gets out of balance, it takes keen awareness to recognize what’s happening, and ruthless integrity to say no if it keeps happening.

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