It took three trips to New York before I finally went up to the top of the Empire State Building. It's a lot of money but I think it's worth it one time—especially if you go up at 1 a.m., like my friend Marc and I did when I was there recently.
One of the things it's worth it for is the conversation. It's just better 1,200 feet in the air at the top of America's biggest city. It was while we were up there that Marc turned away from the skyline and said, "I was a little afraid we wouldn't have anything to talk about on this trip."
Which struck me as weird, because Marc and I have this particular thing about our friendship that's very different from most male friendships: We talk on the phone. A lot.
We became friends after college, when we were both interns in D.C. We were the only ones in our intern class who worked on weekends and had Monday and Tuesday off, and we both happened to be adult men who love cartoons, so we started hanging out.
And after I left D.C. to move back home to the Pacific Northwest, something strange happened: He started calling me. Then I started calling him. Now we talk twice or even three times a week, which is more than I talk to my parents.
And I realized, not only do I lack any other friends who I talk so regularly with, I don't even know any guys who talk this much with each other. And I don't have any other friend whom I do this with, nor have I ever had one. Neither does he.
A 2017 study from the University of Oxford found that while women find it easier to hold onto an emotional connection through phone conversations, men bond better through face-to-face contact and activities. Not that that's working out well for us: Despite the fact that men have been encouraged for decades to talk about our feelings, we still don't go to therapy as often as women, and we're more lonely. Especially as we move away from our college friends and get into long-term relationships, men rely more often on their significant others for the long talks and the quality time.
And that's a problem. In a time when women are speaking a lot about the barriers they face in the workplace, in the home and in society, it's clear men need to be talking to each other about these and other things.
But it takes practice. When Marc called me, I really wasn't sure what to talk about. We're from pretty different backgrounds: I grew up in rural SoCal, home-schooled and raised in the evangelical church; he grew up in suburban New Jersey, has agnostic parents and went to public school.
So for a few weeks, I talked about the thing I always felt bad for talking to women about: Film. No one wants to be the Guy Talking About Film at a party, but Marc and I would talk about movies for hours. He told me my favorite movie was garbage. We argued about Oscar picks. Soon, we were talking about TV, and he started mailing me books he said I had to read. Then we were yelling about politics. We navigated post-college life together, trying to find jobs that pay well enough. Each of us talked the other through hard breakups.
It's been a wonderful thing for me. I don't play or watch sports. I'm not a skater and I've never joined a band. I've always been a writer and a reader, which are usually isolated activities, and it's made me self-conscious about whether or not I'm a fun person to be around—especially when I'm feeling emotional.
Which, I think, is a key part of why men aren't socialized to share their feelings. We feel scared it's going to get in the way of a good time. TV and movies tell us it's OK for women to hang out while emotional, but not so much for guys. There's a reason "Friends" has Chandler avoiding the guys after his breakup, and instead going to wallow on the couch with Monica and Rachel, wearing sweats and eating ice cream
So if you're a guy who feels emotionally stunted, I'd encourage you to think about picking up the phone. It might be hard at first. Stick to it.