Friendships, especially between men, are built from seemingly small, inconsequential things over time.

Friendship is a bunch of nothings all added up. It might sound like you would end up with nothing if you added a bunch of them together but stick with me; I just might eventually make sense. While it’s true that Billy Preston famously sang “Nothing from nothing leaves nothing” that’s a subtraction problem and not what we’re talking about here. There really is something in nothing. And if there is something in nothing (and let’s face it there’s always more to everything than we realize) then we really can build something from nothings all strung together. That something can be a lasting and valuable friendship.

For many us today, time is scarce. We guard our time, lament we don’t have enough of it and wish we had more. So often we wish too that we had more close friendships but we realize those things take time. (There’s that subtraction thing again) If we have close friends we are aware of the fact that those friends are people we met when we were younger when, apparently, we had more time. But we’re missing an important point.

The friendship we cherish and enjoy today is one that we built, sometimes over many years. So, friendship doesn’t really take a lot just a little, consistently, over time. It’s like compound interest and a lot like what Jeff Olson explains in his book The Slight Edge. It’s a math equation really. Little things/Time = Friendship. The key part is repetition. That’s how we prove to someone that we like them and they can count on us, by being there, being with them and doing/experiencing life with them. Let’s face it anyone can make a kind gesture once. Woody Allen said famously that 80% of success is just showing up. With friendship I think the percentage is higher, probably somewhere in the 95% range (I figure somewhere around 5% is what you do or say when you show up). It takes commitment and purposefulness.

Maybe that’s where men miss it; they rely too much on chance and geography. In other words, if our kids are on the same team, we’ll hang out together, talk during the games, maybe even at practice while we wait for them. We might sit poolside when we’re out of town at a tournament and have a really great time, maybe even allow them to have a glimpse into some of the things eating us or that cause us real sadness but once the season’s over the friendship is over. We allow ourselves to not be directed in our relationships because again, time. Friendships just sort of get pushed to the back behind work and cleaning the garage and mowing the lawn and the other kid’s soccer practice (not the one where we met this potential friend) and we just don’t make friendship a priority. Diving deeper into the subject of our friendships I’ll make a statement that may get me in hot water. Men shouldn’t be married to their best friend.

I know you’re saying “Whoa there! My wife is my best friend, we share a bond like no other, she is my confidant, my partner and the rock in my life!” I agree and she should be. She should be all that and more. She should be so much more than your best friend. What you need is a best friend. You already have a best wife (actually I hope that’s an “only wife” statement but we’ll move along). No, I believe men need a best friend who is another guy and not just to commiserate with about how their best wives drive them crazy. Men need the company, the friendship of other guys because we’re wired the same. We have a lot of the same tendencies, the same interests and we think alike. Our brains, like Mark Gungor hilariously put it, are made up of boxes. Our wives’ brains are made up of a ball of wire. So, while I said we’re all wired the same, that’s not really true, we’re really “boxed” the same. And that’s our challenge.

Let’s take a look at one of our boxes. We’ll call it “Billy’s baseball team” (BBT for short). See BBT contains all the stuff about said team. It contains schedules for practice and games, it contains responsibilities for bringing treats and it also contains all the people we meet: coaches, players and parents, surrounding this thing. It’s all contained in this box. Now inside this box we have a great time. We take Billy to practice and attend games and do our part to support the box that is Billy’s team. We might even stick around for practice and enjoy the company of other dads or chat in the stands or poolside as I mentioned before. But once the game or tournament or season is over we seal up the box and we put it on the shelf between the “A” boxes and the “C” boxes.

We never consider perhaps cross-labeling or cross-referencing the box under “F” for friendship. Chances are there is no such box on the shelf. Besides, that would be really messy anyway because what stuff from the BBT box do we transfer over to the Friendship box? And what’s our schedule, how often do we bring this box off the shelf and open it up? BBT was such an orderly, defined box and this one is a mess. If we have an “F” box it likely has all sorts of crap rattling around in it from the guy you talked to at the band concert last month to Stan from accounting that you met at that conference for work. No direction, no order, no plans and certainly no charted course to reach a well-defined goal. Is it any wonder that the “F” box is a shambles? The thing is it doesn’t have to be. In fact, I’m going to make a radical suggestion: Build some shelves or dividers in your “F” box and put smaller, separate boxes on those suckers.

See, if we go back to the initial idea that friendship is the sum of nothings, we can have much smaller boxes within our “F” box. And since we’re building this shelving system we get to label the smaller boxes with names like Jim and Mike and Larry. We put the boxes on shelves in alphabetical order if we want to or perhaps even in a chronological order by when we want to, in a directed fashion, see if our friend has some time to hang out. Again, these aren’t big things, probably smaller than the time we spent in the stands at a game when Jim was a part of the BBT box. These are small bits of time where we make a call, send a text or shoot an email to our friend to see if they want to catch coffee or a beer. Now, it’s important to note, if we can’t catch coffee or a beer or lunch or whatever this isn’t failure. No, the success is in the action and simply by touching base this “nothing” over time will become something. Heck, I’d even recommend putting these small boxes on a shelving system that rotates every week or two to the next guy so that on the first Monday you see if Mike is available and maybe the second Monday you hit up Larry. You get the picture. We’re guys, we love this kind of stuff because it keeps our box system intact and the benefits can be life-long.

So, set up your system. I’d recommend Outlook for your scheduling but only because that’s what I use. Don’t get hung up on actually getting together or doing anything other than making the attempt. I think you’ll find that making the contact has benefits and your friend will probably be impressed that you’ve reached out to see how they’re doing and want to spend some time with them. Who knows? You might just confirm Woody’s assertion that showing up is really a win.

And who doesn’t love a “W”?

I have to thank and I credit Jenny Acuff for the seed of this idea. Jenny is the wife of author Jon Acuff and was his guest during a recent “30 Days of Hustle” segment. I’d be interested too: do you have a system in place to build your friendships out of nothing?