Seeking To Express The Inexpressible

Writing about Friendship in the What Men Do Guide, reference is made to the thoughts expressed over 500 years ago by the French essayist Michel de Montaigne.

In 1567, writing about the death of his Friend Etienne de la Boetie, Montaigne restricts his comments to:

“if pressed to say why I loved him, I feel that it cannot be expressed.”

Twenty years later, when editing his earlier writings, Montaigne added: “except by saying, ‘because it was him; because it was me’.”

So much for the great essayist.

This reluctance to articulate his thoughts and feelings rings true with the experience my fellow writers and I had whilst compiling the section on ‘Friendship’ in the Guide. Much to our surprise it turned out to be one of the more difficult pieces to write.

Nothing seems to be more difficult to write about than the bonding of males. During a recent re-reading of the book ‘Men and Friendship’ by the American psychologist Stuart Miller – a book originally published 30 years ago – I hit on the early observation:

“Most men find the subject unutterable. Some will, of course, talk popular sociology, others will discover psychological truisms, but they can’t really talk about Friendship itself. They do not have the words for such a subject. Partly it is a taboo about looking at something so sacred. Often, it is a reluctance to look at something so painful.”

I was particularly struck by Millar’s use of the word ‘sacred’. Subsequently I’ve checked ‘sacred’ with other guys but none of them were willing, or able, to attempt to elaborate. The general consensus was that it ‘went too deep’.

So what is the problem? And shit, I can recognise it within myself! Can’t I talk to me …. about me?

One thought is that the bonding we now know of as ‘Friendship’ dates to way, way back when we were still in the trees and the guys with whom we bonded were fellow members of the hunting tribe. As this pre-dates the invention of words, this bonding is deeper than our current flimsy communication methods are capable of elucidating.

Trying to be practical; say I’m introduced to three guys I’ve never met before. I start to smell them – much like dogs sniffing each other’s arses – seeking some form of psychological compatibility. A feeling in the solar plexus area – that gut instinct favoured by 1940’s detectives – seems to suggest one is very different from the others, and I can tell he has a similar reaction to me.

Smell? A feeling? These vagaries seem to add flesh to the idea that, as amazing as our advanced

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ability at linguistic communication is, the internal motivations that drive us are far more fascinating.

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