Last weekend, four mates from school and I went away on our annual boys' weekend away. We swap locations each year and the 'Hoffsite' (Husband Offsite) is now as deeply etched into the annual calendar as birthdays, anniversaries and special occasions.
Over the years some participants have had terrible allegations cast against them, insinuating such weekends are purely an excuse for drinking beer, eating meat and reminiscing about days of old (including successes, or lack thereof, with the ladies). But to all of the cynics out there, I postulate that a Hoffsite is much, much more than that. Determined to prove my hypothesis, this year I took a strategic approach to proving why such exercises are a good thing not just for men, but also their partners and families .
Step 1: Feedback from the boys
Sitting on the deck of a houseboat on the Gold Coast Broadwater, I started reflecting on how it's great that our friendships have endured after all of these years. No matter what is happening in our personal or professional lives, that one weekend where we get away together is special. Sacrosanct, even. I asked the boys for their comments (apart from the mandatory fart jokes and the fact that our agenda and stories remain the same. Every. Single. Year.) and their answers strongly corroborated my hypothesis:
Lupo: “I enjoy reconnecting with a bunch of mates that I don't connect with enough while I fulfil my usual full-time role of working and being a family man. Hoffsite allows me to relax emotionally and mentally, and I find this happens the very nanosecond greeting handshakes are exchanged (OK, and hugs). We talk all things from football to farts (how could we not), but I most enjoy hearing stories the boys share about their families that give a window into their lives. My wise father-in-law said he has friends he can catch up with after not seeing them for years and they can pick up the conversation like they've just left the room to put the kettle on. I now know what he means. If I had to sum up my boys' weekend in one word, it would be cathartic.”
Deano: “Hoffsite is where you can listen to the races on a transistor radio, wear ugg boots the whole weekend, drink beers from 9am, and watch whatever you want without ridicule. It's where you can 'totes' be yourself as there is no one to impress or any false expectations to live up to. After living on bacon, sausages, chops and nachos, it is also an opportunity to put houseboat plumbing through its paces.”
Mario: "Each year Hoffsite is a time for me to catch up with good mates, and it also provides an opportunity to check where I'm at in my life. It's like having a yearly barometer where I think about where I am in relation to family, work, finances and fitness.”
When I asked Eggo what he thought, he just cracked a big burp, laughed out loud and kept smiling whilst staring out over the water. He didn't need to say anything more.
Post-Hoffsite, I was talking to a work mate, Hinksy, who was coincidentally having a boys' golfing weekend with a bunch of banking colleagues the following week. After asking if they could also use the term 'Hoffsite', Hinksy told me: “As much as I love my wife and kids, around them I can't eat bacon at every meal with a beer, hit golf balls off the balcony, talk sport all day, take the piss out of each other, and debate the hottest Bond girl of all time. The boys' weekend lets us get back to our childish selves that we can't always be now we've grown up. It's also great for the other half, as space is important and my wife has a credit for a girls' weekend away.”
Step 2: Supporting research
It seems us blokes are not alone in our thinking. A study at Cornell University found men who do not spend enough time with their friends can actually feel less attracted to their partner. Professor Benjamin Cornwell noted that reducing contact with male friends can be dangerous. “A man's ability to play a round of golf or to have a few drinks with a friend who has only a passing acquaintance to his wife or girlfriend is crucial to preserving some independence in life,” he says. The researchers also found erectile dysfunction was almost double in the group whose wives had steadily cut ties with their husbands' old friends.
Co-author Edward Laumann commented: “(A man needs) to have someone to talk to about the things that matter to him – whether it's football, politics, what car he is going to buy, or worries about his health or his job. The important thing is that he can let it all hang out and know that what he says isn't going to get straight back to his wife.”
Another study from Ohio University published in Personal Relationships highlighted that “friends are essential because they provide emotional stability in a person's life, and long-term friendships provide a sense of shared history that can be a rarity in today's environment. Friends from our youth anchor us in this age of constant mobility.”
And in a 10-year longevity study, researchers at the Centre for Ageing Studies at Flinders University concluded a solid network of friends is more likely than close family relationships to increase longevity in older people. Researchers found people with extensive networks of friends outlived those with fewer friends by 22 per cent, while close relationships with children and relatives had little effect on longevity.
Step 3: The conclusion
For any man out there wanting evidence to show his partner that a boys' weekend is not just about reminiscing about our misspent youth, drinking beers and telling fart jokes, feedback from Deano, Lupo, Mario and Hinksy (plus Eggo's brief but meaningful contribution) along with additional research allows me to conclude (albeit rather loosely) that an annual boys' weekend:
• allows you to nurture friendships that are almost impossible to find in today's constantly connected, mobile world;
• builds deep emotional attachments;
• provides a supportive and nurturing environment for men to express their feelings, hopes, challenges and goals;
• provides a safe environment (ie. a barometer) to check in and assess how different domains of your life are going;
• can increase life expectancy, and;
• makes you feel more attracted to your partner and can reduce the risk of erectile dysfunction (it's a long bow, I know, but I had to draw it).
So a boys' weekend has a multitude of emotional and psychological benefits. How can you argue with that?
1. Friends are more important than family to increase longevity. (Centre for Ageing studies, Monash University, Adelaide, 2002)
2. What makes college buddies lifelong friends? (Personal Relationships journal, Purdue University, 2007)
3. Boys night out may be key to a happy marriage (National Social Life, Health and Ageing Project, Cornell University, 2011)
Do you have a boys' (or girls') weekend away? What do you gain from it? Are there any downsides?