Jonathan Seidler is an Australian author, father and nu-metal apologist. You may have read his memoir, caught his compelling live performance at this year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival, or noticed his distinct eyebrows on the street. He has some interesting things to say about music, fatherhood, Aussie culture, mental health and the social gymnastics of group chats. This is his column for Esquire.
If I had to take a conservative guess, I’d say I’m a card-carrying member of at least 23 separate group chats. Some of these are with various family members, others are for work projects and then there’s the niche groups comprising two or three geeky friends I share new music or Black Mirror analyses with. There are also a handful I didn’t even want to join, but now feel too invested in to leave.
What all of these groups have in common is that each of them was instigated by a woman. The one exception to this rule is a thread that involves a bunch of boys I’ve known since we were in primary school, which I both started and, to this day, generally contribute the vast majority of the dialogue.
Group chats full of male friends are not unusual, but they are unique. They can lay dormant for days, sometimes weeks or months at a time, which I know never happens to any of the message threads my wife is part of. We log on to send each other terribly unfunny memes, news articles about dickheads we went to school with who are now monied real estate agents, or to confirm sporadic catch-ups. But not much else happens. Starting a conversation here can often feel like shouting into an abyss, which is sad. We used to tell each other everything.
The ancient joke that men are bad at multitasking becomes amplified when you throw in very young children, which almost all of us in this particular group chat now have. One of my closest friends, also a member of said group, once told me privately that he genuinely hates texting. This makes him sound like my 94-year-old grandfather (who incidentally is exceptional at WhatsApp and even knows how to use emojis) and not a man halfway through his fourth decade on Earth, almost all of which have been characterised by the use of mobile phone technology.
It was this same friend that recently decided to alleviate the problem of us failing to connect digitally by scheduling in bi-monthly dinners for which our attendance is vehemently encouraged. Of course, we still had to use the dreaded group chat to find one day that suited six guys working around various nap schedules and work commitments. War criminals have been tried quicker at The Hague.
The dynamic of male friendships, especially once we become fathers, is frustratingly difficult to predict. It’s like one minute you’re practically begging mates to have a beer with you, because if you mainline any more of Twitter while on the john you might actually start agreeing with Andrew Tate, and the next you’re being dragged for suggesting it might be time to invite a new guy from outside the central group in.
The line between disengaged and enraged is often impossible to draw, but at least ‘enraged’ is proof you’re not the only one who cares — and it helps galvanise a chat that’s fast going the way of the dodo.
Don’t get me wrong — I love my friends dearly. But I wonder why we’re so average when it comes to getting basic friendship shit done. It used to be that social structures like school camp, band practice or weekend soccer put us all into proximity without trying. The girls in our group somehow figured it out; they still see each other all the time, effortlessly. Surely it’s not that difficult? Besides, the warm vibes present during our Thursday night schnitzel specials clearly demonstrates that we’re all pining for a connection beyond our private dominions.
According to a recent study by Movember, one in five Aussie men haven’t seen their close mates in over six months, while a third admitted they hadn’t organised any catch ups because they were too busy in their everyday lives. The science backs it up too: male friendships are unbelievably important for our wellbeing, and the number one place you’ll find them still kicking in Australia is on a sports field — somewhere you’re hard pressed to find any of my mates.
We’re also not huge drinkers anymore, as most of our generation aren’t, so we’ve lost the two main reasons to go out and see one another; to tackle one another at groin level or get pissed while watching other, bigger blokes tackle one another at groin level. What that leaves you with is forced fun — or to be more polite, pre-organised socialising — which men tend to flock to like ducks to the Sahara.
A few weeks ago, Apple released a lush VR headset so immersive that we’ll essentially never need to leave the house again. In case men didn’t have enough competition when trying to carve out time for each other, we’ll now have the joy of weighing up a Sunday coffee against the allure of blocking out the world and watching panoramic pornography in spatial audio.
On the plus side, the company says that standard apps — like WhatsApp, perhaps — will be more dazzling than ever. Maybe once they’re surrounding us in infinite space, our neglected group chats will finally become too engaging to ignore.
Like all proper columns, this one will be back next week.