10 months ago

Better Man

Day 7 Reconnect with an

Day 7 Reconnect with an Old Friend I’ve recently been reading the book Team of Rivals, about the men Abraham Lincoln picked for his cabinet. As I was reading it, I was struck by this passage concerning the friendship between the future Secretary of State, William H. Seward, and his friend David Berdan: “Together, the young men attended the theater, read poetry, discussed books, and chased after women. Convinced that Berdan would become a celebrated writer, Seward stood in awe of his friend’s talent and dedication. All such grand expectations and prospects were crushed when Berdan, still in his twenties was “seized with a bleeding at the lungs” while sojourning in Europe. . . The illness took his life…Seward was devastated, later telling his wife that he had loved Berdan as “never again” could he “love in this world.” Such intimate male attachments as Seward’s with Berdan, or, as we shall see, Lincoln’s with Joshua Speed and Chase’s with Edwin Stanton, were a “common feature of the social landscape” in the nineteenth century America, the historian E. Anthony Rotundo points out. The family-focused and community-centered life led by most men in colonial era was transformed at the dawn of the new century into an individual and career-oriented existence. As the young men of Seward and Lincoln’s generation left the familiarity of their small communities and traveled to seek employment in fast-growing, anonymous cities or in distant territories, they often felt unbearably lonely. In the absence of parents and siblings, they turned to one another for support, sharing thoughts and emotions so completely that their intimate friendships developed the qualities of passionate romances.” We have previously discussed the ardent friendships of the 19 th century, and the interesting history of male friendship in general. And while much has changed in our world since Lincoln’s day, are we not still a society where we head from our hometowns to far flung locations in pursuit of career or

30 Days to a better man college, and are we not still at times, if we can admit it, “unbearably lonely?” (Be sure to check out our article on how to make friends when you move to a new city.) Yet unlike the men of the 19 th century, the men of today do not seek even closer friendships to enrich their lives and lend them support. Instead, under the excuse of being too busy, we often distance ourselves from other men, trying to be the lone wolf. Or, as Wayne has pointed out, we look to female relationships to cure all of our hunger for intimacy. Our Crumbling Connections We are isolated more than ever before. According to a study conducted by the American Sociological Review in 2006, over the past two decades, the number of confidantes Americans feel comfortable discussing important matters with has shrunk by a third. 25% of the study’s respondents said they had no one with whom they felt comfortable discussing important matters, more than double the percentage who felt that way 20 years ago. And 20% said they had only one person with which to do so. The greatest drop in confidantes occurred in non-familial relations. Or in other words, our friends. What a lamentable state of things. Can we get by without any friends? Surely. But can friends enrich our lives and make us happier? Most definitely. There’s something invaluable about knowing that you are not alone in the world. That no matter what, there’s a guy out there who you absolutely know has your back. A friend that would come to your side if you were beset with a crisis. So what was the difference between the men of the 19 th Century and our day? Did they need friendships more some how? That’s debatable. Were they less busy? Men of today would probably like to think so. Busyness is our favorite excuse for why we can’t make time for the good things in life. But given that the men of the 19 th century had no electricity, no modern appliances, no internet, no cars, no packaged meals, no cell phones, and no 44