10 Things to Start Doing Differently in Your All-Male Group Chats

Less misogyny and fantasy football. More structured prompts and fitness motivation.

October 28, 2020 6:09 am
man texting
Maskot/Getty Images

Men need group chats.

For years, therapists and researchers have weighed in on the male “friendship crisis,” a trend that most acutely intersects with cisgender, heterosexual men. This demographic of men tends to have very few friends; they lose many as they get older and start families; they have trouble making new friends; and they often rely on “couple friends” — the significant others of their significant other’s best friends — in order to maintain a social network as they age.

Along the way, men often claim to be content catching up with old faces every few years or so. (“It’s like nothing’s changed!”) But studies have proven that men crave close, consistent emotional bonds as much as women do.

The role of the “male group chat,” then, as a tool for old mates to regularly stay in touch, has never been more important. It’s a more recent invention, a natural progression from chain emails that owes to the widespread adoption of group-chat apps like iMessage, WhatsApp and GroupMe over the last half-decade. And it offers groups of friends — in this case men with exhausting day-to-day schedules — a platform where they can fool around, comment on the news, seek advice and share life updates.

Durning the pandemic in particular, as that whole “We’ll catch up when we catch up” approach has become a logistical impossibility, group chats have enabled people to keep friendships humming along. But as long as they represent our primary means of staying in touch, they’re worth perfecting. And it’s clear that male group chats at present are far from perfect.

In my experience, many of the conversations tend toward the same topics that arise when a group of men gather in real life: casual chauvinism, or bullying, or endless fantasy football chatter. It’s not all bad, but it could be better, especially as the group chat has a more important role to play in the COVID era, and in the ongoing struggle for meaningful adult male friendships.

Below, we’ve outlined 10 ideas that you should start implementing into your all-male group chat to turn it into a more edifying and inspiring space.

1. Don’t leave people hanging

No one should feel compelled to reply to every text they receive each day. Some messages — like those ones you read when you wake up, in between your first alarm and a couple rounds with the snooze button — are going to pass you by.

That said: if you see a friend striking out in your group chat, try to throw him a bone. This is especially true if the person has taken the time to endorse something (say, an article, or a podcast, or even just a trailer to an upcoming film) and done so with a level of passion or earnestness that leaves them feeling vulnerable. At the least, you can muster a noncommittal “emphasize” reaction. If you’re anywhere on the spectrum from indifference to interest, responding positively could make your friend’s day — especially when no one else does. Dropping a goose egg in a group chat is a mortifying experience. It’s similar to telling your “big story” at Thanksgiving and getting crickets. Spare your friends from that feeling when you can. They’ll remember and return the favor down the line.

2. Call out misinformation guy

If you vehemently disagree with something that’s been shared, don’t feel like you have to “Yes, man” the message. Healthy disagreement is part of why you became friends in the first place. It’s no fun walking out of the movies and hearing your exact thoughts voiced by the guy who sat next to you. A similar sensibility applies to the group chat, which is essentially its own news-aggregating content machine. Certain topics, trends or monocultural events will incite takes from everyone in the chat. That’s a good thing. You should feel empowered to disagree with people, even if you haven’t seen them in three years.

And sometimes, especially in this day and age, it goes deeper than that. It’s actually your responsibility to disagree with people. When old friends write dubious things or attach fishy links — especially those summoned from the “debunked conspiracy theory” corner of the internet — don’t normalize that brand of behavior. Challenge it. It isn’t “being political” to provide an opposing link from a credible source, which explains to them why they’re wrong. They might not click it (and they’ll probably call you a name) but someone on the fence in the chat might, and it’s important to limit the spread of ideas that undermine our democracy. It might seem odd, to think of group chats titled “guys being dudes” as being another battleground for our nation, but then again, even Peloton’s messaging platform has had to deal with this lately. If trying to enlighten confused/angry friends becomes a daily occurrence, though, eventually you may have to move on.

Timothy Dykes/Unsplash

3. Be more than the glory days

Look, nothing will ever be like that time that O’Shea, Buggs and Duncan were down 16 cups and rallied all the way back to win a 21-cup beer pong tournament in 2003. But that’s okay. Campus shenanigans happened, and then one day they didn’t anymore. For that genre of friendship to survive past graduation, evolution is essential. Building friendships on a foundation of intramural victories and Four Loko is shaky at best. Consider the type of dad who likes to trot out this familiar platitude after dropping his kid off at college: “Best four years of your life. Enjoy it.” In a carpe diem sensibility, those words ring true. But there’s a lot of regret there, too.

Too often, all-male group chats default to memories created long ago, as if agreeing, in principle, to the idea that the fun has already been had. But as great as those four years were, there are still decades to be lived thereafter. Obviously priorities and zip codes change, and it can become difficult to see people — but isn’t what the whole point of having a group chat? Use that chat as a living, breathing tool of the present, not just a repository for blurry photos and nostalgic inside jokes.

4. Learn more about each other

On paper, the idea of sending get-to-know-you prompts to people you’ve known for a long time probably seem a little superfluous. But if there were ever a year to go full freshman orientation on your group chat, it’s this one. Many people have A) gone months on end without seeing friends and B) feel adrift and deflated from a year of horrible news alerts. But random thought experiments give a group chat a great chance to pop off. It can provide a vital bout of escapism while enabling you learn more about your friends.

For example, I’m currently in one group chat that has a “happy hour hypothetical” every Friday afternoon. A moderator poses a question, for example: “Name a place you want to go on vacation solo, a place you want to vacation with this chat and a place you want to vacation with a partner.” Or, a bit wackier: “Aliens have just landed on Earth. What three things would you present to the aliens to represent humanity? Select one thing you’re proud of, one thing you wish wasn’t representative of humanity but is, and one thing you would use to make sure the aliens asked some follow-up questions.” Guys in the chat usually chime in over the course of several hours. There are no wrong answers, but there are hilarious ones.

5. Don’t complain about your significant other

Unfortunately, misogyny and male group chats tend to go hand in hand. Lusting over Instagrams, rating women, dishing on hook-ups — it was never okay, but in a post-Me Too world, it’s particularly tired. The problem isn’t just what’s being said, but where it’s being said. Group chats are open arenas, and the ideas shared in them are not often protected in the the same way that two friends may guard a one-on-one correspondence. That isn’t the best reason to stop being a pig, but it should be a good enough catalyst for everyone to evaluate what they’re putting out into the world. Your words can be trace back to the source. And not via hearsay, but a screenshot.

This also applies to men with significant others. To be fair, complaining about the idiosyncrasies of your romantic life to a friend is just the way the world works. Sometimes, that process can even function to strengthen a friendship and your romantic relationship. But it’s imperative that those conversations, when they occur, remain intimate. Airing out the frustrating particulars of your personal life to a group chat is a breach of trust with your significant other. It might feel good for a bit. But it’ll leave you feeling hollow, and if your loved one finds out, will most likely leave them horrified.

6. Stop bullying one guy

Group chats tend to reflect in-person dynamics. And where guys gather, teasing generally follows. Getting “razzed” is just part of having male friendships. For many men, surface-level chirps are their preferred method to communicate affection. That can be fine — to an extent. It’s just important to keep in mind that unlike family, or even coworkers, friends are elective. In an ideal world, we should populate our free time with people who ask us questions and genuinely care about the answers. If that isn’t the case for you or someone in your group chat, figure out what you can do to change that.

Grown men can experience bullying just like anyone else, and within the crucible of a cruel group chat (you know, one that’s barely changed since frat row), it can be difficult for men to speak up and demand the treatment they deserve. If you see someone getting habitually ripped on, call out the bad behavior and reach out privately to the guy who’s had to deal with it. That is the manliest thing you can do.

fantasy football
spxChrome/Getty Images

7. Be more than fantasy football

It’s an amazing tradition. Fantasy football punishments, in particular, are the stuff of legend: league losers spending 24 straight hours in an IHOP, taking a bus trip to Milwaukee or singing at the wedding of someone they’ve never met. The threat of finishing in the cellar is arguably more significant than winning the pot, and it’s more or less determined by one draft day in August and three months of praying ACLs stay intact.

Still, maintaining long-term friendships exclusively through the paradigm of fantasy football is needlessly reductive. It can contribute indirectly to a ton of other observations on this list. Think back to the days that you met each one of your friends in that group chat. Maybe you talked about football (you probably did), but that’s not why you hung out with them again. Use your league as a way to add some stakes to the chat, to your life, what have you, but leave room for something a bit more substantial.

8. Champion fitness

It’s easy to give up on your body. For years, certain subsections of male culture have validated a lifestyle predicated on doing very little while consuming quite a lot. The “Dad Bod” might ring a bell. It’s understandable that men, en masse, would endorse that approach, or even encourage it among their friends. After all, every year is a little harder on the knees and shoulders. Every year, testosterone levels drop. It’s harder to pack away the beers and burgers. “If I’m going down, I’m bringing everyone else with me.”

But fitness is life-changing, literally, and group chats that embrace that fact — if a bit hokey — are always better for it. Fitness journeys can be quite personal; they’re never just about running faster or squatting more, they’re about all the little steps you took to get there. And sharing those stories with friends is an excellent way to document the ride, while potentially inspiring someone else along the way. Not to mention, there are myriad forms this could take, from passing along the name of a trusted personal trainer to sharing a video of you completing a box jump to perhaps offering up a new grilled chicken recipe.

wiffle ball
Zach Reiner/Unsplash

9. Take it out of the chat

It probably won’t happen in 2020, with cases rising again and just two months between now and the end of the year, but it’s crucial to see these people in real life. Group chats are sufficient fill-ins when you can no longer see friends in the flesh regularly, but ultimately, these people are more than blurry avatar photos. They’re familiar faces, who’ve been present for some of the best moments of your life. At a time like this, it can help to look to next year with a bit of optimism, and try to plan eventual meet-ups, or even group trips. They might get postponed, but it’s healthy right now to dream about reunions and tunnels with light at the end of them.

10. Feel free to secede

Misogyny, misinformation, misbegotten takes about LeBron — whatever it is, if you need to cut a group chat out of your life, or create a new one, with some pirate sect of three or four guys who get it (or just get you), then do it. Take a step back. You’ll be okay, and so will everybody else. Group chats can feel like weighty, permanent things, some sort of postmodern scripture, but remember: you’re always one iPhone accident from losing all those messages forever. The friends will be there regardless.

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