What Five Have Your Six?
Another typical Friday afternoon found me wrapping up paperwork in hopes of heading out of the Sheriff’s office on time. Although it was fifteen years ago, I recall very clearly the feeling of despair as I slumped over my cluttered desk, and scrolled through my contact list.
It had been a busy week in the world of commanding a special ops unit, and the last thing I wanted to do was sit at home alone; again. Surely in the list of hundreds of contacts, there had to be a big group of close friends ready to hang out and have the kind of fun they do on the beer commercials.
As I scrolled, I became more and more aware that I was alone. No kidding, in that sea of numbers, there were only four people who were not cops or family.
Honestly, I didn’t have a clue who they were, but what I did know was that they weren’t my friends, nor were they hanging out with me on a Friday night. I was alone.
How’d it happen? I had partners at work, buddies in the gym. I rode with a local bicycle group, and trained for triathlons with about four other people. But, the guys at work were cops, my workout partners were cops, the people I cycled with almost daily were cops, and every triathlon I competed in, I trained and traveled with cops.
Why? Because I thought they were the only people who “got” me. We had a saying that, “There are no apologies needed between cops.” I thought that was the gold seal for friendship, when in fact, it was just another avoidance of actual friendship and emotional investment.
That’s what I preferred, and although I’d advised younger officers to find an unrelated hobby, and circle of friends, I had slowly, and unknowingly eliminated everyone from my social circle; except for cops.
So that brings me to the circle. Who’s in your circle? Without rattling off people you work with, or family, list five people who are really, true friends. Not an acquaintance, but a friend with whom you’d confide your most trusted secrets; someone who you’d allow to see you cry, or fail, or hurt.
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
We wear masks among acquaintances. Although they might lift your couch on moving day, are they the one you’d trust with making your own death notification to your parents?
There’s a social theory referred to as “who’s in your five?” It’s based on the ideal that we are the composite of the five people closest in our life. But, work partners or casual acquaintances have little to no effect because there’s a filter in those relationships that prevents their having influence over your life.
In that isolated season of my life, I wouldn’t have been able to name two people, much less five who were actual friends for the sake of companionship, and not a job connection.
Later, I learned that most men have either one or no close friends at all. As social media continues to separate us from the real world of actual, intimate relationships with real people, the number of adults with no friends has risen from 36 percent to almost 54 percent.
Unless you’re fresh out of school, and in your twenties, our constricting circle becomes defined by accolades, achievements, academics and our kids. Promotion and rank adds an extra loss of connections because it truly is lonely at the top.
Friendships require vulnerability. Without it, there can never be an intimacy between you. This is where the distinction of friends and acquaintances is most profound.
The latter have bonds of loyalty, mutual admiration and even sacrifice, but beyond occupational obligations, the absence of intimacy is where lines are drawn at the job, the gym or the gang who heads out for after work happy hour.
Most of us purposely keep others at a stiff arms distance. Once we’ve been on the job a while, it becomes the standard position for immediate family, parents and siblings, as well as anyone else.
We isolate ourselves, and while we may stand in formation with hundreds of brothers and sisters in blue, we are alone. But, friends are just a greeting and call away. Actually, there are lots of cops sitting at home alone right now, because of divorce, addiction, depression; who would give anything for a friend.
“For from day to day men came to David to help him, until there was a great army, like an army of God” (1 Chronicles 12:22).
Being alone isn’t the biblical standard for men. God created us for relationships. With Him, and with each other. Good friends challenge us and call us on the junk in our lives. They care less about our salary and more about our souls.
I know it’s tough to reach out to make friends. As we get set into our adult lives, it becomes even more difficult, but there is value in relationships outside of the job. Isolating ourselves from civilians doesn’t make us special, it makes us alone.
“Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (Proverbs 27:6).
Don’t beat yourself up because you can’t rattle off five close friends, or even one. It’s the cultural norm of isolationism. You’re not alone; even the churches are filled with friendless men just hoping to make a connection that’ll breathe life back into them. It’s why men’s ministries struggle to sustain growth or a core membership.
Be a man, and start building your brotherhood. The next time you or someone offers to grab lunch or a coffee, take them up on it. Add to your five and add to the quality of your life.
“Iron sharpens iron; so a man sharpens his friend’s countenance” (Proverbs 27:17).