Men and Their Friends: Just, Must, Trust and Rust

Dad turned 92 last week; this 2013 blog has been reprinted in celebration of his birthday.

My father was a deer hunter, although now that I think about it, I don’t recall him bringing home much venison.  What I do recall is his excitement in anticipation of heading up to a couple old trailers parked in the woods near Minong Wisconsin with six of his buddies.  The place had two electric light bulbs hanging from the ceiling, no running water, a kerosene stove for heat, and a one-holer outhouse out back.  Ah, life didn’t get much better than that; it was male bonding at its best.  

Dad still has breakfast with most of those guys every Monday at the Downing Café.  Watching them gossip and needle one another is like turning back the hands of time.  These men are comfortable with each other.  They’ve been in each other’s lives through the birth of children, most of life’s joys and sorrows, including the death of cohorts and spouses.

Geoffrey Greif, a professor at the University of Maryland School for Social Work, wrote a book called Buddy System: Understanding Male Friendships.  He describes the pals men choose as “just”, “must”, “trust” and “rust”.

Your just friends are people who live with you in the dorm, work with you on the job, or those you know from the community.  They are acquaintances. You might hang out with them if you are free but you most likely will not make plans to see them in advance.  Just friends are the lowest level of friendship.

Must is a higher level of friendship; these are the people you must call if there is a crisis or if you hit the lottery.

Trust friends are high integrity people you feel comfortable with and may want to know better, but they’re not necessarily in your inner circle.

Dad and his cronies are rust friends.  A rust friend is the strongest level of friendship and stands the test of time.  According to Greif, “even if rust friends don’t see each other for decades, they’ll pick up again like kids.”

The point is this: our rust friends are an important part of who we are.  They bring balance to our lives and remind us where we came from.  They’ve shared our ups and downs and are the ones we turn to in time of need.  If you’re lucky enough to have a rust friend, call, touch base and catch up.  Rust friends, despite the name, are golden.

Note:  Men’s and women’s friendships are different.  Men socialize by competing in structured activities like sports and who earns the most money.  Women compete in less structured ways – appearance, demeanor and warmth (although that is evolving with more women in the workplace).  80% of men interviewed for Greif’s book said they participated in sports with friends; no women gave that answer, although a few said they exercise with friends.  Shopping was a more common activity for women – only one man out of 386 said he shopped with his friends.

The road is easier together, Linda

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