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Dugan Arnett: The case for guy time

Guys need to unwind and turn off their filters with their own gender. It might help them relate better to women.

Manifest Talent models (from left) Keith Taylor, Robb White and Scott Lucas photographed in Pierponts in Union Station.

Ink

Throughout history, there has been an understanding among men that their time together is to be cherished.

Our forefathers gathered in taverns, sans their female counterparts, to hammer out arguments that would eventually influence aspects of American law. The real-life Don Drapers of the 1960s sat in corner offices, after hours, swigging scotch and decompressing with male cohorts. And today’s 20-and 30-something men can be found each weekend in the cigar shops, golf clubhouses and sports bars of the world, laughing and burping and high-fiving over Bud Light and a ball game.

The venues might have changed a bit, but the central idea has remained constant: We, as men, need the occasional dose of guy time — that regular interaction with members of our own gender, separate from wives or fiancés or girlfriends.

Just ask Kanye and Jay-Z. Or Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. Or Barack Obama and Chris Christie. It’s what links us, bonds us. It’s what offers the occasional reprieve from the pressures of everyday life.

“I can be myself and not worry about any of my responsibilities,” says 24-year-old Lawrence resident John Brown. “I can leave everything — my house, my job — and just go be myself for a little while.”

The desire to interact with our own gender is hardwired into us, after all. Part of our social indoctrination. As children, our lives are essentially a nonstop helping of guy time. There’s backyard football and Little League baseball — a plethora of ways for us to get together, cause trouble, learn lessons and generally begin to come of age.

High school brings a new set of guy-centric activities. We are shepherded onto athletic teams, locker rooms, and in some cases, all-boy schools. In college, fraternities ensure that guys can remain nestled inside a comfy, testosterone-infused haven for another four years.

But then, all of a sudden, something changes.

Things begin to shift. It’s not a conscious thing. It just sort of happens. It grows increasingly difficult to make time for each other. We reprioritize, retreat a bit from the social scene and male relationships — some of which might be decades old — often are an inadvertent casualty.

The reasons for this are plentiful.

For one thing, today’s society dictates that any group or structure aimed at keeping women out is considered chauvinistic and sexist — just ask the fellas over at Augusta. While traditionally all-men venues like golf clubhouses and sports bars once served as the country’s unofficial boy’s clubs, they are now filled with just as many women as men. And while, nearly a century after women’s suffrage, issues of gender inequality continue to linger, we all can agree that the men-only ethos that once reigned supreme is no longer acceptable.

For another, the materialization of serious relationships. Our relationships with the opposite sex grow increasingly serious. We start thinking longterm. We get engaged. We marry. We move in together. Some men have less trouble with these transitions than others, blocking off time for a weekly guy’s dinner. But plenty of us, too, know the friend who, shortly after entering into a serious relationship, falls off the face of the Earth.

Perhaps the most obvious reason for the decrease in dude time, though, is this: As we continue to be inundated with life stressors — increasingly packed work schedules, familial commitments, the plethora of extra responsibilities that signal adulthood — there is simply less time to spend with friends.

Face time, then, is replaced with screen time, as we find it increasingly adequate to keep in touch through Facebook or Twitter or the occasional Google chat. Why schedule a dinner with an old college buddy to see what he’s up to, after all, when you can simply read about it on his Facebook page?

All of it is an unfortunate byproduct of adulthood: Part of becoming a man, it can seem, is relinquishing your older, heterogenous relationships.

But it doesn’t mean we stop craving it.

There’s a certain aura surrounding guy time, surrounding the man cave. Maybe it’s that women make us nervous. Maybe it takes us back to childhood and the carefree days of youth.

Or maybe it’s simply comfort — the fact that the occasional break from the opposite sex allows men to relax, loosen their belts a bit and devolve, at least temporarily, back to their primitive ways.

“The main reason that a lot of guys like to do that kind of stuff is to turn off their filters,” says Alex Kaplan, a Kansas City native now a senior year at the University of Oklahoma. “I’ve always said whatever I want, whenever I want. (But) I’ve noticed that a lot of guys are more sensitive when girls are around. They want to be around just guys so they can crack the sexist jokes and turn off their filters.”

As a result, it should come as no surprise that the perception exists that, because of the activities around which men’s interactions can center on, we lack the ability to bond in any kind of a meaningful or intimate way.

Many typical guy activities, says R.A. Richards, who co-authored “The Tiger Woods Syndrome: Why Men Prowl and How to Not Become the Prey,” are what he terms “side-to-side” interactions. When women get together, he says, they tend to meet in more face-to-face settings: a table at Starbuck’s or over lunch at a restaurant.

When men get together, on the other hand, it’s often centered around an event or activity. They’re in the stands at a football game or sidled up next to each other in the infield of a local softball field.

There is a memorable scene midway through the 2005 film “40-Year-Old Virgin” that seems to perpetuate this stereotype.

In it, Paul Rudd and Seth Rogen sit side by side in an apartment living room. Wearing the typical bachelor uniform of T-shirts and ripped jeans, they sit staring intently at the television, not looking at each other, tapping away at video game controllers while engaging in a lengthy back-and-forth centered on nothing more than whether the other’s hobbies and interests — one’s affinity for the band Coldplay, the other’s penchant for cooking — represent a major strike against their respective manhoods.

The problem, however, is that this perception is not necessarily the truth.

Tyger Latham is a clinical psychologist based in Washington, D.C., and while he admits that stereotypical guy time activities often involve less-intimate interaction, it doesn’t mean there’s a lack of meaningful bonding going on. He points to a recent fly-fishing trip he took with a male friend in Pennsylvania. Though the two spent most of the day on opposite ends of a creek, sharing very little conversation, Latham left feeling the two had shared a particularly intimate experience.

“While men aren’t necessarily always communicating face to face like women sometimes do, there is still communication going on,” he says. “So while men may not rush to have in-depth, intimate conversations, I think sometimes they can only come about by being in the presence of other men for an extended period of time.”

He goes a step further, meanwhile, opining that a healthy dose of guy time might help men relate better to women.

“Historically, I think there’s maybe this post-feminist critique of guy time often involving men excluding women,” he says. “(But) I think men who are able to connect with men deeply are probably men who can connect with women at a deeper level, as well.”

Of course, if men are of the assumption that they’re the only ones in need of some old-fashioned same-gender bonding, there are plenty of women out there willing to assure that the phenomenon is by no means limited to the male gender.

Asked if his girlfriend ever needs time to herself, Brown recalled the times he’s been nudged out of the house so his fiancé could enjoy some alone time of her own.

“She needs (time away) from me just as much as I need it from her.”

Ink reporter Dugan Arnett can be reached at dugan@inkkc.com or 816-234-4039.

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