Is it simply 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 relationships slide?

I dont know how Ive ended 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 fulfilled every week for tennis and coffee, over which we discussed work, films, volumes, relationships, just as we did in the sixth sort, half our lifetimes ago. Last time I considered 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 suppose devising the seating scheme is the complicated part of organising a wedding. 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 relationships to take a back seat.

Ive been busy with work, with Lucy, with her friends, with household. Old friends are only a bellow or email away, but it never feels like the right moment to get in touch. The more time passes, 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 way?

Growing up in Cornwall, I was fairly popular and played squad sports. Ed, the scrum-half in the rugby squad, was the drummer in my band or, as Ed might tell, I played guitar in his band. At school we were a sarcastic duo, but we supported each other through our teenage trials.

Ed and I went to separate sixth sorts, so I formed another band with Jack. When my first girlfriend dumped me, Jack listened to me drone on about my heartache. 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 hurried past the fish restaurant where Jack worked, keen to avoid an awkward encounter.

My best friend at university was David, who impressed me with his leather coat and passion for Beat poetry. We chatted between lectures and, on wintertime mornings when my fingers were too cold to build 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 fulfilled 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 pacify presence throughout my directionless, post-university phase, and I appeared up to him. I hadnt find 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 hopelessnes, I recollected how comforting his surly wit 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 brews after work because I expended most evenings writing book reviews. Eventually, I left to try my luck as a freelance writer. Everyone, including me, was shocked when, on my final day, I burst into tears.

I supposed I was exclaiming with relief but perhaps, subconsciously, I was scared. I was fed up with writing banal transcript but, in a city where I was otherwise anonymous, there was something comforting about the office: its murmuring 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 look like theyre having fun. I watch groups of men often catching up one-to-one, and I experience stabs 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 considers this more often in men. You have to work at relationships, 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 style. Compared with women, the men who watch 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 assuring him in a documentary, with the idea of telling his tale. 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 relationships closer to home.

I havent kept up with people from school and university, he says. It wasnt deliberate, merely the style it runs when your situations change. Now, he says, hes trying to reconnect.

Dr Ian Williams, a GP and graphic novelist, empathises when I describe my failure to sustain relationships. Ive find 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 fear Ive pissed them off, although it may merely be that theyre as bad at staying in touch as I am.

Is there a familial pattern? My father hasnt find his boyhood best friend since he wedded my mum in 1972. It was the summer we graduated and everybody went their separate routes, he says. By contrast, Lucys dad plays golf with old schoolfriends, and her brother Neil, 38, had two best men at his wedding, one of whom he still considers 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 up to now. Men often rely on girls to build the friendships around the relationship, says Ridge. If the relationship breaks down, then men can find themselves isolated.

Once theyve let relationships fall by the wayside, men can be less likely to attempt to revive them. Williams believes male pride is very powerful and thinks girls are much more likely to admit their vulnerability. This chimes with what Lucy says, when I ask her what she thinks lies in my quandary. You never show people that you want to be wanted, she says. Instead, you wait for them to get into 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 relationships; 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 pushies in middle age, he says. When you reach my age, people who you havent find for decades get into touch. By then, everybody has spare time. Ridge, however, thinks matters are more urgent and suggests 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 is necessary to invitations. When my matrimony was objective, 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 satisfying new people, theres the question of reconnecting with the old friends Ive neglected.

Lucy keeps threatening to invite Owen to our wedding, 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-out to answerphone, I feel alleviated, then frustrated, then sad at hearing his voice after so long, telling me to leave a message.

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

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

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

Some names have been changed.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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