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The Newest Therapy Dupe? Starting a Men’s Group

When guys ask me the one thing they can do to level up, my knee jerk reaction is always the same: go to therapy. But that’s easier said than done. Therapy is expensive, and frustratingly inaccessible even to those with great insurance. Luckily, I may have stumbled onto the next best thing. 

Every Tuesday morning, my father-in-law (oh, that reminds me, I got married! Still need to tell you about the wedding) convenes with a small group of male friends at a local coffee shop. Informally dubbed “Men’s Group,” the assembled members discuss current events, gossip about their wider circle, and generally shoot the shit. 

The whole thing strikes me as quaint and radical at the same time. Us ladies love a good coffee klatch; indeed, he got the idea from his wife, who’s met up with her girlfriends at a different coffeehouse in town every Friday morning for years. 

But men? Intentionally scheduling time to connect? With conversation the focus, and not the byproduct of a sporting event’s commercials, or a round of drinks loosening lips?! We love to see it!

He’s joked to me, “I just like to hear myself talk,” as the reason for his enthusiasm about men’s group. And I’m sure it’s nice to have an audience beyond my mother-in-law for his latest gardening discovery or hiking anecdote. 

But really, what’s so wrong with wanting to be heard? To feel seen? 

I decided to ask the Style Girlfriend community on Instagram if they have their own version of Men’s Group™. Like a sub-Reddit but IRL. Could the crew you used to bond with over late-night Halo sessions and dollar draft nights hold the key to unlocking a healthier, happier, leveled-up you? 

The response? Immediate, positive, and heart-warming. Stories flooded in of dedicated friend gatherings, and even a few wistful, “I don’t have this, but I wish I did!” responses.

I was bowled over with examples of how these peer groups clearly double as mental health check-ins and emotional support. Which is wonderful, because therapy isn’t accessible, affordable, or even convenient for many people. (That extends to me, the therapy evangelist! After changing insurance last year, the work of finding a new, in-network shrink has felt too overwhelming. I’ll get to it next month…maybe.)

And that’s not to say ditch your journal, delete your mindfulness app, and cancel your next shrink sesh.

Instead, consider that there could be a simpler, cheaper path to emotional well-being tucked right in your contacts list: starting a men’s group with friends.

In a world that celebrates hustle, independence, and a carefully curated digital persona, there’s something undeniably powerful about letting your guard down with the guys who’ve known you since your most awkward phases (you know, the ones you’ve archived on Instagram).

Here’s what I heard from guys who had success starting a men’s group of their own:

men’s group origins

For Jonathon, 42, fatherhood was the impetus. “My group started with the birth of my son three years ago. My partner had joined a local Mother’s group which only included women who were giving birth all around the same time. The group was very active and supportive. More than one of the Dad’s had stated that they wished there was a group for the Dad’s and so some of us created one.”

Putting pen to paper for self-published books brought Patrick, 56, and a friend together for their men’s group. 

“In having back and forth email conversations about [our books], I felt that getting together on a regular basis to hash out ideas face-to-face would be beneficial for us both. We met every Monday morning at a coffee shop that was equidistant to us. And, at first we mainly discussed the book stuff but, because we were already friends, it naturally led to much more. Even after our books were done and released, we continued to meet…We found that having that couple of hours to talk about life, family, work, kids, and anything else on our minds was a wonderful way to start off each week. We had each other as a sounding board for our problems and a champion for our successes.”

For others, educational support gave way to emotional support. 

“We started as a dental study group in 1977,” said Jack, an SG follower based in suburban D.C. 

“We were all young clinicians, just starting our lives, with young wives and babies…looking for mutual support from one another to help travel to the unknown future. Soon, we became more than colleagues; we became good friends. We spent every third Thursday listening to a guest speaker we invited to dinner. Before long we evolved into a men’s group and were no longer dentally-oriented.

We’ve attended each other’s celebrations and helped one another through illnesses, family tragedies, and shared secrets. Over the years some members passed away and some moved out of the area, but we stayed connected with the deceased family members and with our out-of-town friends.

When we began, our group had over 30 members and now we are a group of eight close friends. 

Over the decades we developed a camaraderie that extends far beyond our monthly meetings. We go on vacations together, play golf, attend theater, and visit and support one another weekly. We are just a bunch of good, caring friends.”  

From book club to men’s group

Chris, 37, took a more standard route to starting a men’s group. He formed a book club with friends.

“We rotate who chooses the book. Anything from classics like The Great Gatsby, parenting books like Outdoor Kids in an Indoor World, to personal development and fiction. Our conversations end up being like 10% about the book, 50% about life but tying back to the book, and 40% topical based on what’s going on in our lives and in the world.”

Starting in a box, moving to the backyard

Boston-based Aldrin says, “We all met at a CrossFit gym…One of our friends is known for his steak and cooking account on instagram so we named our group chat ‘the Meat Market.’ Our primary gathering is once a quarter. Our friend prepares steaks for us and we all bring our own food contribution, pot-luck style. We catch up in general about life and current happenings. We also support each other at fitness competitions, and occasionally compete together.”

Making time for each other

For Felix, 27, the holidays double as his men’s group annual check-in.

“We met in boarding school and have kept our friendship alive for more than 15 years. We try to spend as much time together as we can, which does not amount to a lot, because we are scattered throughout the country (we’re all German). Whenever we meet, we try to make the most of it through having long and meaningful conversations. We have our own little Christmas party every year, where everyone shows up.”

Men’s group getaways

NYC-based Andrew, 38, says: “All told there are seven of us (kind of eight?), and we’ve been going on Brocation *checks Google Calendar* since 2016. A buddy of ours stopped coming in the third year — we try to get him to come back every year — and we picked up a pal that same year. Covid threw a bit of a wrench in Brocation plans, but short of a global pandemic we’ve stayed pretty consistent.”

A supportive safety net

Joel, 28, leaned on his men’s group in the greater Washington D.C. area during a hard time in his relationship.

“One of the deepest impacts it has had on my life was the support and love they gave to my wife and me last year as we grieved a miscarriage during our first pregnancy. The ability to be vulnerable, to speak openly about how angry, frustrated, sad and hurt I was, and never feeling like I was overstepping my bounds or sharing more than someone cared to hear was immensely freeing. I owe these guys so much for how they have encouraged me over the last year.”

I was curious if respondents were doing other things to support their mental health. The answer was a resounding yes.

Andrew: “I’ve been in and out of therapy since I was little. My most recent adventure in head shrinking was in the middle of the pandemic. I’d been laid off and woof… I took it hard. Had to work through some real engrained Midwestern man shenanigans. We talked a lot about worth outside of a job.  I’ve also kept a daily appreciation journal for like the past four years and am pretty fortunate to have a wonderful spouse and friends who are rad listeners. We’re well on our way to healing little Andrew lol.”

Sean, 33: “My wife had a really rough labor and birth with our son (so much so, that I started going to therapy to deal with the trauma) and having the support of my guy friends and the safe space to share how terrified and helpless I felt during his birth has been really helpful in healing from it.”

Aldrin: “I personally engage in weekly therapy after seeing great success with one of my friends in the group. We all have our own mindfulness practices, and one of the members of the group runs a weekly newsletter and aggregates a lot of the best information in this space.”

Patrick: “I’m a long time mental illness survivor and advocate and a long time meditation and mindfulness practitioner. So, yes to all of that.”

Head over to Instagram and tell me if you have a men’s group. And if you don’t, tell me you’re planning one after reading this!

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