Discover more from The Reset by Sam Delaney
How To Talk To Your Mates About Feelings And That
Without making them feel weird about it
When I was seventeen, two of my best mates mums died in quick succession. I had known both these lads, and their mums, since I was at nursery school. I had spent a huge portion of my childhood round their houses. In some ways their mums had been like spare mums of my own: cooking me tea, giving me lifts, sorting me out with plasters for my knees and that.
By the time we were 17 we were part of a wider group of lads. Do you know how we all reacted when their mums died? We didn’t. We just carried on without hardly mentioning it.
The first mum died close to Christmas.
I saw my mate, her son, the morning after it happened. We met up with the wider gang for a day of dicking about, going up town on the tube, smoking weed, playing pool, practising the elite-level time wasting that adolescent boys specialise in. He clearly just wanted to immerse himself in the numbing distraction of the usual routine. So when I saw him I mumbled: ‘Sorry about your mum mate.’ And he looked down at his shoes and said: ‘It’s okay, cheers, yeah.’ And that was that.
A few months later my other mate’s mum died. He called me up one morning to tell me. ‘Shit,’ I said. ‘You alright?’
‘I’m gutted,’ he replied.
‘I bet you are,’ I said. ‘Do you wanna come over to mine and watch a video?’
When he got there I had already put my copy of the Madness biopic ‘Take It Or Leave It' in the VHS machine. But about 40 minutes into watching it my mate said, apologetically: ‘I’m not really enjoying this, can we watch something else?’ The horrible sting of guilt still lives with me today. I knew he wasn’t as into Madness as I was. This was the worse day of his life. Why had I cajoled him into watching my own choice of film? I should have just said: ‘Look mate, your mum has just died. You choose the film.’
I suppose I could have told both of those friends about how deeply sorry I was.
I could have told them that I loved them and how I was there for them whenever they needed to talk. But the truth is, they would have hated that.
We’d grown up with an unspoken code: to never share our feelings. We liked football and lager and having pointless conversations about stuff like who’d win a fight between a rat and a bat. And, you know, just being arseholes to each other. Being a Jack The Lad was about being care-free and brash; about taking the piss and never taking anything remotely seriously.
Not gonna lie, being a Jack The Lad is a right laugh. But it can also be dangerous. Because if your only way of dealing with bad feelings is to hide them behind bravado they will eventually consume you. Your only hope is that you never have any bad feelings. Good luck with that.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Being open about your vulnerabilities doesn’t mean you have to give up on all the fun and laughter and shouting and beautifully mindless bollocks that you have built a large part of your personality around. You don’t have to become the young Morrissey or the school counsellor out of South Park in order to start dealing with your feelings.
I think men, particularly Jack The Lad types, need a more direct way of talking. The language that surrounds mental health can sound clinical and earnest and somehow excessively polite. Personally, I find it much easier to describe myself as being ‘miserable,’ ‘gutted’ or ‘having the right Royal arsehole’ than ‘suffering from mental health issues.’ It’s hard to explain precisely why. Maybe it’s because we don’t feel comfortable with excessive sympathy. That we fear pity. That being made to feel like a victim or a sad case who needs to be somehow protected from scary words only serves to compound our feelings of worthlessness or anxiety or insecurity. Or maybe it’s because ‘suffering from mental health issues’ just sounds like something a bit of a boring dickhead might say.
Suicide is the biggest single killer of men under the age of 45 in the UK. 90% of suicides are said to be the result of untreated depression or addiction issues. This is not the time to be telling young men to shape up and embrace the California-tinged, middle-class lexicon of the mindfulness movement. Now is the time to find ways of making it easier for men to open up about their feelings in a way that comes more naturally to them.
We need to find a way of talking to our mates about this stuff that feels as natural as talking to them about football or telly. Or who would win a fight between a bat and a rat.
Drop your mate a WhatsApp once in a while asking how he is.
He might try and fob you off with a standard: ‘yeah, fine.’ But if you’re worried he might be hiding something a bit darker, try and gently smoke it out. Try something like: ‘Are you sure, you miserable cunt?’ It might just start a more productive conversation.
Sir Anthony Hopkins - you absolute diamond
Forgot to include this in last week’s letter. Inspirational words from Hannibal Lecter.
What I Am Reading This Week
The way in which some men have to hide their intelligence and sensitivity in order to survive. This novel is about the life of a road man in north-west London. Drugs, knives, relentless brutality. Jesus, it is fucking bleak. Fucking brilliant too.