Support systems come in many forms—family members, neighbors, community members—and they all play an important role in your health and performance. The support system created by your friends isn’t only quite special, it’s good for you too. In fact, people with more friends tend to be healthier physically and mentally, live longer, and are happier in general.
Strong bonds are forged among those in the military. On duty, these friendships are important for unit cohesion and Warfighter performance. When you find yourself either away from your extended family after a PCS or away from your partner and children during a temporary duty assignment (TDY) or deployment, it’s often your battle buddies who get you through and help you fight that lonely feeling. Then, when you return home, it’s those same guys who can make the reintegration process a little smoother.
What some call a “bromance”—the close relationship between two male friends—differs in some ways from female friendships. The major difference seems to be the way men define friendship. While emotional connections are an important quality of both male and female friendships, men tend to include a broader range of qualities when considering what makes a friendly bond. To take a deeper look into your friendships and remind yourself of who’s “got your six,” ask yourself a few questions.
What is a “friend”?
It seems like a simple question, but the answer can be quite complex. Friendships mean different things to different people. What does it mean to you? Many men say friendship involves loyalty, trust, and dependability. But a friend also might be the guy you see and say hi to on your way to the mess hall or the person you always sit next to in class. Check out these different kinds of friendships to help you identify those people in your life who are there for you. Some might overlap.
- The “battle buddy.” Whether they’re unit members who became your band of brothers, the guys you train with during drill weekends, or the guys who have your back in combat, your battle buddies are the people who understand you like no one else. Often, your battle buddies are the people you joke around, share fears, and talk with about home. They’re also among the few people you feel you can talk to about traumatic combat experiences because they really get it.
- The “in-it-for-the-long-haul friend.” These are the guys you’ve known since you were kids, who you might not talk to or see as often as you did when you were young, but the bond is still there. Maybe you’ve taken different paths in life, but you know each other’s stories. Long-term connections often are characterized by a shared history—an important quality for many friendships.
- The “parallel pal.” These are the people you spend casual time with sharing interests and activities. These might be the guys who regularly show up at your pick-up basketball game or who have the same gym schedule and spot you on the bench press. Or maybe they’re the friends of friends you often see at the same events and enjoy hanging out with, but who you might not know that well.
- The “in-the-trenches ally.” This is the first person you call when you need some help. This type of friend offers what’s sometimes called “instrumental” support because he reliably shows up when you need to get stuff done. He helps you handle serious problems, and he helps you out of trouble. Your ally in the trenches might be the neighbor who mows your lawn when you’re on TDY somewhere or the guy who’s always there to help you pack up boxes for a move. Or he might be the friend you go to for advice.
- The “capable confidant.” These are the friends who know you inside and out, and you share a real emotional connection. You can confide in, trust, and share intimate parts of your life with these guys. They might be your battle buddies or some other kind of friend, but either way, your confidants are the people who are there for you in good times and in bad. They’re good listeners and often give you support and encouragement when you need it.
How important are your friendships?
Most men find friendships to be a positive, valuable aspect of their lives. Your military friendships are particularly important because your battle buddies share experiences with you that other friends can’t. Sometimes the hardest part of leaving a deployment is the feeling of loss that comes with being separated from your friends there. By keeping in touch with your unit on a regular basis, you can make the reintegration process go more smoothly.
Bromances can help you perform better in mildly stressful situations too. When you’re feeling a bit stressed, having close male friendships can make you more social and cooperative. Hugs from male friends can help reduce stress and even deter it. Daily hugging can reduce inflammation, which is often caused by stress. Hugging is also an effective way to show social support to a friend feeling stressed. So spending time with your fellow men, as well as offering them “bro-hugs,” just might help you feel calmer.
How many friends is enough?
There’s really no correct answer to this one, so consider what feels right to you. Support from others can impact all areas of your life, so think about who is there for you and if you feel you have a network you can rely on. It’s normal for the number of friends you have to vary throughout your life. For example, you might have a large group of friends when you’re in your early 20s, but your group of friends might change and get smaller as you get older and start a family.
How do you make and keep friends as an adult?
As important as it is to have people in your life you can rely on, you also need to be a good friend to others in order to maintain relationships and fight loneliness. Talking and listening are key parts of keeping up friendships of all kinds, so it’s worth brushing up on your communication skills from time to time. If you’re looking to expand your circle of friends, try spending time with people who share your interests. Other than through the military, common ways men make friends are through other friends, work, school, and sports.
Friendships are an important part of your overall support network, and strong relationships with other men can help you be your best and perform even better. Take some time to think about what friendship means to you—you might even realize you have more friends than you think!
Check out these other HPRC articles to learn more about how social support can improve your performance.