Is it only me … or does everyone lose friends in their 30 s?

Max Liu is about to get married. The only problem: he doesnt have a best man. Is it normal for men to let friendships slide?

I dont know how Ive aimed up standing on the doorstep of a long-lost friend, too scared to ring the buzzer. Well, I do. Last year my girlfriend Lucy and I decided to get married, and ever since one question has run over and over in my intellect. Who can I ask to be my best man?

Im not even certain Im at the right house. Can it actually be five years since Ive is right there? Prior to that, Owen and I gratified every week for tennis and coffee, over which we discussed work, movies, books, relationships, just as we did in the sixth form, half our lifetimes ago. Last time I assured him, he was helping me move. We argued about politics that day and, after that, we both let the friendship slide. Now here I am, hoping to patch things up and ask Owen to be my best man. Ive been trying to pluck up the courage to do this for months, but once again I lose my nerve and run.

Some people guess devising the seating plan is the complicated part of organising a bridal. For me, it is finding a best man. At 35, I find myself with no close male friends. I havent fallen out with anybody, but I have allowed friendships to take a back seat.

Ive been busy with work, with Lucy, with her friends, with household. Old friends are merely a call or email away, but it never feels like the right moment to get in touch. The more time pass, the less likely it seems theyll want to hear from me. Its only now, when Im forced to confront the situation, that I realise how cut off Ive become. But am I the only one? Or are my friends, and other men my age, feeling the same route?

Growing up in Cornwall, I was fairly popular and played team athletics. Ed, the scrum-half in the rugby team, was the drummer in my band or, as Ed might say, I played guitar in his band. At school we were a sarcastic duo, but we supported one another through our teenage trials.

Ed and I went to separate sixth kinds, so I formed another band with Jack. When my first girlfriend dumped me, Jack listened to me drone on about my heartbreak. He fell out with his parents and came to live with us for a while. When I left for university, though, Jack stayed in Cornwall. In the holidays we picked up again and smoked weed on the beach. Gradually, I came home fewer and, whenever I did, I hastened past the fish restaurant where Jack ran, keen to avoid an awkward encounter.

My best friend at university was David, who impressed me with his leather jacket and passion for Beat poetry. We chatted between lecturings and, on winter mornings when my thumbs were too cold to attain roll-ups, he offered me his Marlboros. David fostered me to ask out Lucy, our classmate, and before long Lucy and I were rarely apart. We graduated and together endeavoured to Manchester, merely an hour from David, so I expected to see him soon. But I never did.

In Manchester I gratified Tom, who was a few years older than me and already a successful playwright. On Tuesday evenings I went to his flat for Scrabble and always lost. Tom was a calm presence throughout my directionless, post-university phase, and I seemed up to him. I hadnt watched Tom for three years when, the morning after this years general election, he tweeted: Shout out to everyone who decided to support the carve-up of the NHS. I hope none of you get the expensive various kinds of cancer. In the pits of political desperation, I remembered how comforting his surly humor had always been. But it had been so long, I didnt even dare to click favourite.

Lucy and I moved to London, where I got a job editing a blog. I liked some of my colleagues but I never joined them for beers after work because I expended most evenings writing book reviews. Eventually, I left to try my luck as a freelance novelist. Everyone, including me, was shocked when, on my final day, I burst into tears.

I supposed I was crying with relief but perhaps, subconsciously, I was frightened. I was fed up with writing banal copy but, in a city where I was otherwise anonymous, there was something comforting about the office: its murmur of chattering, bleeping phones and familiarish faces.

Photograph: David Yeo

Three more years have passed in a blur of deadlines and I still dont know anybody who isnt connected to my work. If I nip out to buy wine on Saturday evening, I pass pubs full of people who definitely sounds like theyre having fun. I insure groups of men often catching up one-to-one, and I experience pangs for when my weekends were like that. Everybody except me has a fulfilling social life. Or does it merely look like that?

I asked an expert. Your experience isnt unique, says Professor Damien Ridge, who specialises in masculinity and mens wellbeing at the University of Westminster. Friendships often floats in mid-life, he says, because its hard to stay in contact and your interests change but he assures this more often in men. You have to work at friendships, as you do in a relationship with a partner, he says. Loneliness in older men is a real issue, and many men in their 30 s already show signs of heading that route. Compared with women, the men who insure me for psychotherapy are emotionally isolated. Im sometimes the only person theyve opened up to. He recognises similar traits in himself: At a time in my life when Im busy, I have to try really hard to keep friendships.

Author Stephen Kelmans novel Man On Fire was inspired by his friendship with Bibhuti Nayak, an Indian martial artist. Kelman, 39, contacted Nayak after find him in a documentary, with the idea of telling his narrative. They forged a deep bond over email and Skype, and Kelman has visited him in India twice. Kelman calls Nayak my best friend, but admits that he hasnt been so successful with friendships closer to home.

I havent kept up with people from school and university, he says. It wasnt deliberate, just the route it works when your situations shift. Now, he says, hes trying to reconnect.

Dr Ian Williams, a GP and graphic novelist, empathises when I describe my failure to sustain friendships. Ive determined this a problem over the last few years, he says, particularly after moving from the north to the south. Ive lost touch with male friends with whom I was previously close. I dread Ive pissed them off, although it may just be that theyre even worse at staying in touch as I am.

Is there a familial pattern? My daddy hasnt watched his boyhood best friend since he married my mum in 1972. It was the summer we graduated and everybody went their separate ways, he says. By contrast, Lucys dad plays golf with old schoolfriends, and her friend Neil, 38, had two best men at his bridal, one of whom he still assures every few months( the other has moved to Singapore ).

The little socialising Ive done in London has been with people Lucy knows, a fact I hadnt even considered until now. Men often rely on women to build the friendships around the relationship, says Ridge. If the relationship breaks down, then men can find themselves isolated.

Once theyve let friendships fall by the wayside, men can be less likely to attempt to revive them. Williams believes male pride is very powerful and thinks women are much more likely to admit their vulnerability. This chimes with what Lucy says, when I ask her what she thinks lies behind my predicament. You never show people that you want to be wanted, she says. Instead, you wait for them to get in touch and, if they dont, you forget them.

And theres more. Youre terrible at keeping in touch, she says. You have no sentimentality. When I talk about how great university was, or express regrets, “theyre saying”, Thats done. Move on.

I cant help feeling defensive, but I recognise what she is saying. I was lazy about friendships; I fell out of the habit of socialising and now Ive forgotten how. So what do I do?

Dr Cosmo HallstrAPm, fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, who is in his early 70 s, advises taking the long view. Men are more career-orientated, striving and pushy in middle age, he says. When you reach my age, people who you havent watched for decades get in touch. By then, everybody has spare time. Ridge, however, thinks matters are more urgent and been shown that Im headed for loneliness later in life if I dont start actively sustaining friendships.

Joe, a 37 -year-old academic, advises keeping an open intellect when it comes to invitations. When my marriage was ending, I returned to England after several years in Brazil, and for three years I said yes to every invitation. After that, theres the smaller matter of keeping in touch with people once youve said yes. But aside from gratifying new people, theres the question of reconnecting with the old friends Ive neglected.

Lucy keeps threatening to invite Owen to our bridal, because she knows Im scared to do it, and that Ill regret it if I dont. I never returned after that failed attempt to casually fell round, but with two weeks to go until the big day, its now or never; so I call his mobile. When it runs straight to answerphone, I feel alleviated, then disappointed, then sad at hearing his voice after so long, telling me to leave a message.

Hi, I say. Its Max, if you recollect? Id love to see you. Please call me. I have something to ask you.

Owen calls back. Voices like weve both been hoping the other would attain the first move, he says. We giggle about this and the conversation flows as naturally as ever, which merely attains our time apart more regrettable.

I dont ask him to be my best man, but I do invite him to the marriage, and he accepts. Hell bringing his girlfriend, he says, with whom hes been discussing marriage. He admits he feels a bit daunted by the prospect of organising a bridal, he says and, especially, by the difficulty of seeing a best man.

Some names have been changed.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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