Like many men, I neglected my friendships. Here’s how I turned them around

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As the co-founder of Flash Pack, a company focused on the foundations of lifelong friendships, I’m very aware of the realities surrounding today’s loneliness epidemic, with men in particular struggling to prioritise friends.

Quite unexpectedly, I ended up falling into that camp myself, despite my life being full of love, fun and happiness. I’m very lucky to have an amazing family, including my wife and best friend, Flash Pack co-founder, Radha Vyas, and our awesome young daughter, Anyā. 

Yet, throughout the course of the last 10 years, from moving in and then out of London, starting a family and running a fast-paced business, I ended up neglecting my male friendships. That realisation came to a head when I turned 40 last year.

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I had this real urge to find “my” people

The emptiness I felt was subtle but striking. Suddenly, I had this real urge to find “my” people; friends outside of my family and professional life with whom I could belly laugh, be silly with and also confide in. I’m a pretty determined person. Once I decide to do something – like making new friends – I make a plan and act on it.

So, I embarked on an 18-month ‘project’ to mindfully prioritise my best ‘old’ friendships, while reaching out to new people I was drawn to. Doing so meant making myself vulnerable. It doesn’t feel comfortable to lose your filter in pursuit of new or better friendships but it was also the only way to create a change.

Doing so made me think of the many other guys out there who may be in a similar position, feeling lonely but not able to admit it or, worse, do anything about it.

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I’d outgrown my old friendships

Paradoxically, I live and breathe friendships in my daily role at Flash Pack where we have a mission to create one million friendships. A large part of our company’s success is down to that unique sense of connection that comes from small groups of 30- and 40-somethings travelling together.

Those in our global community don’t necessarily go into an adventure expecting to make friends. But the group dynamic is such that they’ll typically end up forging really strong, uplifting relationships in a short amount of time. I know because I’ve been on countless Flash Pack adventures myself. I’ve seen the chemistry in action, playing out around me. So, it was galling to realise I hadn’t been walking the talk. Somehow, I’d outgrown my old friendships in life, with nothing left to fill the gap.

So, for anyone else who feels isolated – whether you’re in a relationship, single, or simply don’t have the right friends, here’s my tried-and-tested playbook for turning the tide on male friendships…

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Be unashamedly proactive

As obvious as it sounds, you’re not going to make new friends by sitting around worrying about making new friends. You have to get out there and actually do something about it. This might feel horribly exposing at first, going against all our instincts, but it’s also the best way of making progress. 

One thing I did early on was reach out to people who inspired me on podcasts and Instagram. It feels cringey even now to say this, but in the same breath, I’m also proud that I took that risk. And you know what? It paid off. I ended up with a few really good friendships with people I now regularly meet up with in real life to share ideas over a beer or three. 

We’re often told to meet new people by joining a club, too. It may be a cliche but it’s absolutely true. Wherever I’m based in life, I’ve made strong connections by signing up to a local running club. There’s something about the solitude and freedom of sharing a run together that is really conducive to bonding.

Make a list of your favourite folk

Friendships don’t just happen. They take time and effort, which is why so many fall by the wayside in the grand old business of living. When I realised a few years ago that I didn’t have the friends I wanted in life, I ended up writing a list of all the people that I really enjoyed being around. 

It included friends I’d fallen out of touch with and people I didn’t know so well but had good vibes from. Then, over the course of 18 months, I made a massive effort to spend time with those people, nurturing the friendships we share together. 

Being intentional avoids the situation of friendship by attrition; the numbers of people you accrue through convenience but whom you don’t really share anything in common. Quality wins over quantity every time with friendship. If you’ve got limited time to dedicate to it, you need to be pretty considered about why and with whom you spend your days.

Prioritise people who make you laugh

Between the pressures of Covid (when the world stopped travelling overnight, prompting Flash Pack’s collapse and subsequent comeback) and balancing family, life can get quite heavy. It’s easy to get subsumed by responsibilities to the point that you lose touch with that lighter side of yourself – the side that friends tend to bring out.

For me, part of the joy of finding and rekindling friendships has been remembering what it’s like to descend into fits of uncontrollable laughter about the silly stuff. To have that element of craziness and unhampered fun. When you look back on it, you sometimes have no idea what you talked about together. But you come away revived having shed some of the seriousness of life.

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Call on different friends for different things

For me, a good friend means someone who can listen, laugh and help me grow. At the same time, I try not to be too prescriptive about it. I’ve found friendships in unexpected places, such as those who are quite a lot older than me or who live halfway across the world. 

Over the past few years, I’ve made friends who I can really open up to in a way that I’ve never done before. I’ve also met people I can throw around ideas with, who are creative and clever and bridge that gap between work and life. 

And then there are those who are my go-to for weekends of silliness, beer and football chat. Each new friend will bring a slightly new dimension to your life but each one forms the basis of an incredible connection.

Don’t underestimate the role of incidental friends

Not every quest for friendship needs to end with a best bud. There’s also plenty of room in life for everyday connections. Since Radha and I moved out of London a few years ago, I’ve found these people in the form of our local community of parents. 

I’m on a WhatsApp group with other dads in our area, which sometimes extends to a coffee together in our neighbourhood park or a night out. I’ve come to really appreciate these moments, along with chance encounters and conversations with people who know you. There’s something really nice about being able to stop for an impromptu natter. That benefit can comfortably sit alongside life’s deeper friendships.

So, if you’re feeling isolated right now, rest assured that it doesn’t have to be that way. As a result of making a conscious effort since I turned 40, I’ve built this group of amazing people who’ve changed my life. I’ve had more fun than I could have imagined. And the best bit? If I can do it, anyone can. So go forth and make those friendships happen. 

Lee Thompson is co-founder of Flash Pack, a global travel company that specialises in small group adventures for like-minded people aged 30-50.

Got a story or adventure that could inspire a solo traveller like you? Tag @flashpack on social or email [email protected] to be featured.

Images: courtesy of Lee Thompson

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