I first heard about the male deficit model, the sociological theory that men are lousy at friendship, a few months after my friend Matt moved to Seattle.
According to the Male Deficit Model, friendships between men function and falter within strict pragmatic categories: "convenience friends," for example, exchange helpful favors but don't interact much otherwise; "mentor friends," who connect primarily through one man's tutelage of the other; or "activity friends," which Matt and I became by surfing in San Francisco.
Women who led rich lives full of meaningful work, deep and lasting friendship, sex when they wanted it, time with the beloved children of their family and friends, conversations about politics and art and literature, culture, travel to remarkable destinations where they did not journey as unconscious tourists but as guests in people’s homes and hearts.Despite these full lives they owned their own time, they owned their days. I was too busy trying to find someone who would spend the days with me, as if this would validate my presence in the world.Our friendship only rekindled after Matt and his wife bought a fixer-upper in my neighborhood.I brought over my sledgehammer and Sawzall and we had a blast demolishing the walls of his old kitchen. I loved them, but in my mind I was remembering that old phrase I’d heard for most of my life, in hushed and shameful tones: I was also keen to make my life look “normal” and “acceptable” in some way because I have a disability; if I didn’t get the body part right, I reasoned (irrationally, although it seemed quite rational at the time), I could get the “what your life looks like” part right. The child’s mother, calling to ask for help from what was apparently a decrepit payphone, was trying to get the antibiotic medication from a corrupt doctor who demanded a bribe, an insane amount of money that this woman would never make or likely ever see in her lifetime. I heard the news and wandered to the office where my three friends sat, shedding silent tears and drinking, one by one, from a bottle of whiskey that had appeared from beneath someone’s desk – perhaps for occasions like this.
While I was obsessing about how I looked and who would love me, these women were helping to save the world – not in a way that would win them accolades, certainly – but the work they were doing was important and life-giving. One afternoon at work while I was chain-smoking through my open window into a cloudy sky, there was a flurry of activity in the hallway. My three friends were literally running up and down the hallway, in and out of their offices on my floor, faxing and calling, shouting into the phone, trying to find another person to shout with more authority into the phone to try and help this desperate mother, this helpless child. For hours they labored, trying to find a way to make it right in a place where mail was sent in bags labeled only with numbers, and where children died frequently from diarrhea and the flu and the various effects of hideous wars and wrenching poverty. I drank with them, silently, as the rain pounded the darkened windows.The theory holds that men tend to drift apart whenever the shared convenience, mentorship, or activity ends.That's precisely what happened to Matt and me when I got married and became a father and no longer had much time to spend in the water.one of my friends said through my open doorway as she sprinted off to the fax machine. What I realized, sitting there, was that these women had been in these kinds of emotionally challenging situations for over 20 years. They understood, together, as friends, and apart, as individuals in the world, the urgency of compassion, and that it often goes unnoticed but that this doesn’t make it any less important or vital or difficult to sustain and cultivate.And they also understood that you could try as hard as you possibly could, and disaster could still strike – mercilessly.Feeling overwhelmed by my job and lonely in a city of overworked expats passing through for two to three year stints at the United Nations or other organizations with the rather nebulous goal of “changing the world,” I made friends with a group of women.