Nothing great happens without risk. That’s true about our relationships as well. I’m not sure it’s a byproduct of maturity, personality, the fact I’m from another culture, or a combination of all of it, but I have found myself taking more risks in my relationships lately. The response has been worth the risk.
It’s easier and safer to walk alongside my male friends while keeping the relationship on a shallow, trivial level. We men are great at that. We can talk about sports, work, training, and our troubles with women all day long. As a matter of fact, we can spend time with someone for years and never really know them. The American male relational protocol perpetuates this mindset: keep it interesting, keep it light, and keep it surface. Introspection, after all, is the stuff of the other gender, the one we do not understand.
I believe we all need to share our stories, to let someone know what’s really going on within our hearts, even the American male. Most men I know are not forthcoming with personal matters. Instead of talking openly about their struggles, they drop small hints in conversation that most of the time go unnoticed.
In the past few years, I have made a point to follow up on my instincts. It’s not uncommon for me to send a text or e-mail to a friend about something they said or a reaction to an item in our conversation. I have found that most of the time my hunch happens to be on the right track, and the reply back opens the door for a whole new dialogue–a much more meaningful exchange.
Cultural biases aside, we all need to find safe people in our lives with whom we can share part of our journey. Sometimes, the safest person is a new friendship that is not entangled in a deep web of friends, family, and work, someone who listens, understands, and walks alongside us for a season.
Following up on my instincts has given me the opportunity to become that safe person to some of my friends. In return, however, I have had some of the most honest and powerful conversations with men I had not known for long. As it often happens, these exchanges have been as meaningful to me as they have been to my friends, perhaps even more so to me.
The easier thing to do is ignore the subtle hints during a frivolous banter or to change subjects when something serious breaks a humorous conversation. But these are missed opportunities to bless and be blessed, to become a safe person to someone who needs a true friend, even though he might not know what all that means and how desperately he truly needs a friend.
I know that when I share part of my journey, my struggles, and even some of the junk that I work hard to keep hidden, I invite someone into an honest exchange that has the potential of making us both better men. And that’s a risk I’m willing to take.