Even in an age where it’s more accepted for guys to be open about their feelings, for many of us, there’s still that part of our brains that says it’s not manly to be vulnerable. And if someone hurts your feelings — especially one of your buddies — it’s hard to imagine saying so in a way that doesn’t totally embarrass or emasculate you. If you do say something, how can you make it clear to the guy that you’re actually being serious? While it’s complicated, you’re probably better off saying something about it, rather than bottling things up over some outdated sense of manliness. Y’know, for the sake of personal growth or whatever.
To get right to the point on this one, it’s best to get right to the point. If a buddy of yours says something messed up about you or your spouse or anything else that offends you, the ideal scenario is to say something right away. “I have a very low BS tolerance,” says George, a guy who tells me that he’s not afraid to say so when a friend has hurt his feelings. “I’ll generally tell them right away that what they said was f***ed up, and usually they’ll apologize for it.” He shares that by doing this, his friends generally know where he stands and they’ll respect his boundaries.
“This kind of direct approach can be very good if that’s the vernacular that you have between you and your friends,” says Geoffrey Greif, a professor at the University of Maryland’s School of Social Work and the author of Buddy System: Understanding Male Friendships. Greif says that the advantage of this kind of direct approach is that it says what needs to be said without making you feel too vulnerable. “This is also a way to make clear that what they said isn’t that serious,” Greif adds, so while you are saying that a friend crossed a line or hurt your feelings, you’re doing it in a way that’s more comfortable for them to digest and isn’t being done in a way where you need to have some private, long talk about how your feelings were hurt. Sometimes a sit-down talk may be necessary, but a quick, “Yo, that’s f***ed up,” oftentimes can diffuse a situation without it being too emotionally charged.
Another advantage of the direct approach is that you said what needed saying. Greif points out that usually, saying you’ve had your feelings hurt is much more about expressing how you feel than about seeking an apology, and simply explaining the offense is by itself cathartic. The downside may be that the other guy either doesn’t take you seriously or tries to joke about it, and while a joke may be intended simply to diffuse the situation, if you sincerely feel that the seriousness of the message didn’t get through to them, Greif says you may need to reiterate things in a way that explains your feelings more clearly. Yes, this is more difficult as it makes you more vulnerable, but if you feel it’s necessary to move forward in the friendship and you don’t want it to happen again, literally telling them that, “What you said hurt me,” or, “Hey, I think I deserve an apology for that,” may be necessary.
Another thing to be aware of with the direct approach is not to be insulting. While directness is good, insulting someone over an offense is bad, and will only worsen the situation. Another guy who’s been through this, Paul, tells me that he’s lost a few friends over hurt feelings because he didn’t know how to express himself. After a pattern of losing people, Paul says he’s done a lot of self reflection by joining the ManKind Project. “I hit rock bottom,” Paul admits. “I didn’t know how to be vulnerable or create healthy relationships. I’d manipulate and gaslight people I cared about rather than taking responsibility for myself.”
One thing Paul says he realized is that when he confronted people, he would let his hurt feelings take over and he’d become insulting. So while the direct approach to this kind of situation is still best, part of how effective it is will depend on your own temperament — if you’re the kind of guy who flies off the handle and says things that you later regret, the direct approach may not work. In that case, it may be best to hold back and say something when you’ve cooled off.
In addition to not being insulting, Greif suggests that you should be careful how you phrase things and use a lot of “I” statements — you want to say that, “I felt bad about this,” as opposed to, “You made me feel bad about this.” By changing the phrasing around, you’re acknowledging your own emotion, which Greif says will make the other person less defensive, as it’s not accusatory.
If the direct approach doesn’t work, either because you’re too charged or because the situation didn’t allow for it, there are ways to approach the situation later, but Greif says the sooner you act the better. So if your buddy doesn’t invite you to their Super Bowl party and that hurts your feelings, you don’t want to come to them that summer and ask them about it — at that point, it’ll just appear as though you’ve been holding onto this for months.
For Scott, who’s addressed similar issues in his life, telling a friend at a later date is all about picking an appropriate setting. Telling someone at a wedding or at work probably isn’t a wise idea — instead, opt for going out to lunch or a beer and simply state that what they did hurt you. Sure, this may make you feel a little more vulnerable, but Greif says that it can be done in a way where you get it out and move on. So if you say, “Hey man, I’m just curious why you didn’t invite me to your Super Bowl party?” the guy will likely explain why or apologize, and more than likely that’ll be the end of it.
If the directness of that is too much for you, Greif recommends finding a way to relate the topic to what you’re already talking about. In this case, then, you could wait until the conversation turns to the Super Bowl — or football or parties or nachos or whatever — and bring it up then. Be careful how much you manipulate the conversation to steer it that way, though, as Greif advises that overt attempts to direct the conversation like this will likely be pretty transparent.
Once you get things out and say what needed to be said, Scott adds that, with this kind of awkward conversation, it’s best to follow things up with “Let me buy you a beer” or something similar. Basically, by doing that, it says, “What you did wasn’t cool, but we’re still cool.”
Finally, if you’re the one who did the offending and hurt your friend’s feelings, it’s best for you to own it. To use a personal example, I once had a close friend of mine end up in the hospital for some serious stuff and throughout the time he was there — a couple of weeks, I think — I didn’t visit him. I honestly felt like crap about it and even though my friend never said it, I felt it was important to say that I messed up — that I should have been there and I wasn’t.
Greif says that this kind of thing is both important and healthy for a friendship. A lot of people find it hard to say sorry or to admit they were wrong, but in the interests of doing what’s right, it’s emotionally healthy to open up in this way when the circumstances call for it. If you do so, Greif says once again that it’s best to be as direct as possible — to get it over with — but to be careful not to offer up too much in the way of excuses. While Greif explains that it’s human nature to offer up some level of context or excuse in a given situation, it’s best to try to minimize it.
With my own situation, I offered up that I was a busy dad and that I live a couple of hours away, just because I felt compelled to say it, but I also told my friend that the bottom line was that I should have visited: “I should have been there, yet I wasn’t and I’m sorry.” While I could have offered less in the way of excuses, my friend acknowledged my apology and we moved on from it. Just remember that every excuse, bit of “context” or whatever you want to call it undermines your apology — that’s you not owning your stuff, so try to minimize that.
While those approaches may deal with things on an incident-by-incident basis, if things become a pattern in your friendship — either of you hurting them or them hurting you — than a much more difficult talk likely needs to happen, or you may even find that your friendship fizzles. Hopefully, though, you can sustain your friendships by being open. By being a guy who’s not afraid to share his feelings, you may find that your friendships strengthen, and that they’ll become more open on both sides, since you’ve already opened the door for it.