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Sustaining Brotherhood: Nurturing Boys’ Relationships Into Adulthood

The tapestry of human connections is intricate and varied, with friendships forming a crucial part of our social experience.

For men, friendships established during boyhood can serve a pivotal role in their development and well-being throughout their lives. Nurturing these bonds into adulthood is not simply a matter of maintaining social circles, but is fundamental to fostering emotional stability, mental health, and overall happiness.

I recently read an article about a young man who, when needing to approach someone to be his best man ahead of his wedding, was completely flummoxed by this. He suddenly realised that he had lost touch with many of those whom he had once considered to be his close friends; and as a result, he felt incredibly awkward about asking one of them to do the honours. His bride-to-be on the other hand, had a whole string of friends waiting in the wings to be bridesmaids!

In childhood and adolescence, male friendships are often built around shared activities and experiences. As boys grow into men, maintaining these connections can become challenging owing  to the pressures of career, family responsibilities, and societal expectations, which often take priority over these relationships.

If men are not careful to nurture their friendships, they can find themselves feeling quite isolated. Research suggests that social isolation can lead to depression, anxiety, and a host of physical health problems. By nurturing their friendships, men can ensure they have a support network available during times of stress and hardship.

Many men have grown up believing that they need to be stoic and self-reliant, and that any show of emotional vulnerability is frowned upon. Adult male friendships, particularly those that are deep and trusting, encourage open communication and vulnerability, and this can lead to better emotional intelligence – the ability to understand and manage one's emotions and to empathise with others. The friendships formed in the carefree days of youth often provide a safe space for men to express their fears, joys, and insecurities without judgment, thereby fostering emotional growth.

Boys need to be taught from a young age that friendships need to be maintained intentionally. I am currently involved in organising a reunion for all the old boys from my alma mater in South Africa who are now based in the UK, and it is staggering to see how many men have emerged after many, many years of radio silence. They will find it easy to reminisce about the old days and some of the hair-raising exploits they all got up to; but will then retreat back into their routines at the end of the evening, and we may not hear from them again for ages. Relationships lie at the heart of who we are. We are built for it, and somehow, we need to inculcate a culture of nurturing relationships in boys.

Long-standing friendships serve as mirrors which can reflect our personal growth over time. Shared history allows men to see how they’ve evolved and often provides a touchstone for values and identity. These relationships can influence decision-making, provide motivation to overcome adversity and encourage personal development.

Male friendships are also an avenue for shared experiences and adventures, which provide a respite from daily routines. Whether it’s engaging in sports, hobbies, or any mutual interest, activities shared with friends can reduce stress, stimulate the mind, and promote a healthier lifestyle.

The friendships our boys form on playgrounds and in classrooms have the potential to lay the foundation for a well-rounded, fulfilling adulthood. By nurturing these male friendships throughout their lives, men can forge a support network that sustains them emotionally, socially, and professionally. In a world that often emphasises self-sufficiency, remembering the value of brotherhood is imperative in creating a balanced and connected life.

Craig Cuyler
Director of Wellbeing/Head of PSHEe
Deputy DSL/ Assistant Housemaster

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