Men Need More Than Just Beer to Get Along
Can a better beer scene solve the crisis of male loneliness?
By Patrick Kho
not like other guys 👉👈 is a monthly musing on masculinity in the media and on the internet. Reading films, music, and online culture with a critical lens, this column is written for guys and non-guys alike, as well as for totally-unique, one-of-a-kind, ‘not like other guys’ guys!
When the Kens took over Barbieland, what did they drink? Bruskis, of course.
Since the beginning of my young adulthood, one activity has reigned as the most sacred, most supreme ritual of male bonding: drinking beer. For men my age, we raise red solo cups to the sound of a Top 50 song inside a frat house basement. For others, it takes shape when gulping Guinness pints at a bar on Fridays after work, or when sipping from Asahi cans on the back porch. So sacred and revered this activity, in fact, that entire film plots have literally centered around men and beer: in The World’s End (2013) a pub crawl between a group of middle aged men drives the film’s entire plot. In other movies, beer is central to a film’s humor, as in Shaun of the Dead (2004), or (more commonly) used to establish relationships between male characters, as in Django Unchained (2012) or Kingsman (2014).
Often hidden underneath movie scenes with men and beer is an undercurrent of traditional masculinity. In Good Will Hunting (1997), for example, Will (played by Matt Damon) and his friends Chukie (Ben Affleck), Billy, and Morgan are regulars in Boston’s bar scene. Early into the movie, we see Chuckie obnoxiously complaining to Will about not having sex the night before while holding a glass of beer. In another scene, the group is on the way to a Harvard student bar. The boys all taunt Morgan for getting fired from his job, naturally with language deemed politically incorrect. Later, Chuckie declares “I’m gonna have to bust a move on them Harvard hotties,” in a thick Boston accent only moments after arriving.
In my own life’s beer scenes, friends and I would also open our mouths to utter jokes and friendly insults. We would discuss sports and video games—but more often, talk about the girls we found attractive. Seldom did the beer scene itself challenge us to know and understand one another beneath the surface.
When male bonding is depicted (and often, done) like this, it’s unsurprising that less than half of all men report being satisfied with their friendships and only one in four men have at least six close friends.
I met Mauro at a college mixer in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The first words he and I exchanged were about the cheese pizza I didn’t like. Fifteen minutes before the mixer ended, he asked me “Where are you going after this?” inviting more time for conversation. We wound up venturing through the Harvard campus for the rest of the night. He bought me a cannoli. Then and there, I knew we were going to be good friends. The rest is history.
In the months after that, I saw Mauro nearly every day. We’d hop from cafes to libraries to social events, suffusing the journeys in between with our own humor. He developed alter egos for himself and nicknames for me—when he’d change personas and I’d respond accordingly, it felt like the two of us were an entire friend group. If I didn’t arrive home with my cheekbones numb from all the laughter, Mauro and I would sometimes FaceTime each other until I couldn’t feel my face.
At the time, I thought our friendship had peaked. But during our first beer together, Mauro demanded to know me more. “What are your thoughts on …,” he asked a personal question out of the blue. I was dipping my sweet potato fries we ordered in a garlic aioli. Mauro shared an important secret, “… did you know that about me?” I was focused on chewing down my food. “Yeah, I’m goofy at first, but with actual friends I soon become honest.” He got real. But my mind was stuck on how we should’ve asked for the chipotle mayo instead.
Every sacred ritual is averse to change. The way I imagined beer scenes in movies and in my own life were no different. So when Mauro wanted to know me beyond the beer, I was confused.
For all shallow aspects of masculinity at work in Good Will Hunting beer scenes, there’s one that stands apart from the rest. Nearing the film’s end, Will and Chuckie are taking a break from work at the construction facility, leaning against a car while sipping beers. It’s awkward. Despite being best friends their entire lives, both characters can’t help but give into small talk.
The scene’s tone changes when Will—a self-taught genius hindered only by his difficult childhood—declares his plans to forgo a promising career to work in construction for the rest of his life. Chuckie, who isn’t quite as intellectually gifted as Will, monologues in reply “ … I’d do fucking anything to have what you got.” But his words aren’t tainted by anger or jealousy. Chuckie’s emotive honesty stems only from his desire to watch Will succeed: “It’d be an insult to us if you’re still here in twenty years. Hanging around here is a waste of your time,” he says. The vulnerability is shocking—for the first two thirds of the movie, both Will and Chuckie have been presented as either crass, goofy brutes incapable of complexity. In turn, Will is forced to confront the reality of his innate gifts, and his life trajectory takes a turn.
For me, it wasn’t a beer scene, but I also eventually embraced vulnerability and revealed a part of myself to Mauro that I had long refused to acknowledge. “If there’s something to know about me to really know me, then that’s it.” I said to him over a bagel brunch. His response? “Don’t change yourself for other people. If people stop being friends with you because of who you are, it’s their loss.” Just as for Will and Chuckie, being vulnerable around Mauro forced me to confront a reality I had often avoided. I’ve lived life differently ever since.
A lot of men spend their entire lifetimes never taking vulnerability seriously. My experience tells me that the beer scene—in fiction and real life—revolves around friendly insults and girls and sports and videogames. Though I didn’t embrace vulnerability over a beer, it’s still important to ask ourselves these: Which beer scene do we want? And what should become of male bonding’s most sacred rituals?
For me, I know that my beer scenes will go above and beyond the banter, who I find attractive, and the sports, regardless of how fun discussing these might be. I want emotion. I want a beer scene that is profound. I want us to serve wisdom and realness so my friends and I might transform each others’ lives. And if all our beer scenes indeed became better, maybe more than one in four men would report being satisfied with their friendships.