A new society calls for a redefining of masculinity and gentlemanly behaviour.
The renowned essayist Michel de Montaigne once wrote that he liked the kind of manly friendship that rejoices in sharp, vigorous exchanges, “just as love rejoices in scratches and bites which draw blood”.
“If I am sparring with a strong and solid opponent he will attack me on the flanks, stick his lance in me right and left,” Montaigne wrote. “His ideas send mine soaring.”
One wonders just what sort of friends the Frenchman cultivated if literal and/or figurative scars were the metrics by which he assessed the value of the bond.
Not ease of company or allied sense of humour. Not a chum who’ll be there when the chips are down, not a confrere with whom to shoot the breeze or to share a comfortable silence, not a trusted pal with whom to watch a game or roll a few frames, but rather a conversational sparing partner. A bête noire. A debating opponent. A protagonist rather than bosom buddy.
Yet he is not alone I don’t think. We men are not always the best at friendship with our fellow hombres.
There are reasons for this, of course, and we all have other priorities. Work intrudes.
“One of the devastating consequences of the constant and hectic froth of the activity in our lives is that we have less contact with our friends,” says Meditations for Men Who Do Next to Nothing (and Would Like to Do Even Less).
“Friendship is a time for letting our hair down, for revelling in the differences and similarities that have drawn and kept us together. Friendship is a time to remember common histories and to be young bucks frolicking in fields once more.”
For reasons unknown, we men just don’t seem to be as good as maintaining friendship groups as women are. We forget birthdays, and let too long go by without making a call out of the blue for no other reason than to say hello.
There are, however, consequences for not maintaining friendships. The number of quality connections we have can have a profound impact on our mental health; there is evidence that random contacts from friends can boost feelings of connectedness and wellness. Lose those connections (without finding adequate replacements) and you lose the very tangible benefits they provide.
“Of all the means which are procured by wisdom to ensure happiness throughout the whole of life,” wrote the philosopher Epicurus, “by far the most important is the acquisition of friends.”
Our friends know us best; their company makes life more pleasant.
As George Santayana put it, one’s friends are that part of the human race with which one can be human.
Surely there can’t be too many opportunities for this state to arise. That is why I have formed the League of Couth and Shevelled Gentlemen.
Our mission statement is a simple one: to several times a year provide a convivial atmosphere for a bunch of friends – new and old – to catch up.
The League is up and running.
We are couth. We are shevelled.