Review: Billy No-Mates




Max Dickens describes himself as an author, a playwright and a recovering stand-up comedian. But he has a problem. He’s thinking of getting married, but not sure which of his friends he should choose as his best man. His book Billy No-Mates is an in-depth, honest and humorous investigation of male friendship and the story of how he figured out who the most appropriate friend was.

Dickens unpacks an account of how he struggled to compile a list of ten men friends from which to choose his best man. He googles the phrase ‘getting married, no best man’. He’s surprised to find 994 million results. He is hit with the bombshell realisation that he isn’t alone in his isolation.

He investigates the many factors which can affect our ability to make and maintain friendships. He talks about the risk of loneliness due to moving away from where your friends are, or having poor health which cuts you off from others. Divorce, bereavement, unemployment, or retirement can reduce and sometimes sever our connections with friends. Dickens refers to a 2019 YouGov survey suggesting that one in five men have no close friends, and, according to sociologists, men face ‘network shrinkage’ as regular contact with friends dwindles after the peak of connection around the mid-twenties.

Photo: Max Dickins

At one point Dickens says that with increasing regularity he found himself experiencing ‘a peculiar form of grief: the discombobulating experience of hearing about his male friends’ engagements, marriages, health scares and other massive life changes through social media’ rather than face to face contact.

I can relate to many of the scenarios he presents and have often wondered what would be a normal number of men friends to have. How many blokes do you need in your life who can be there when you are in a crisis or who you can trust with confidential information? Yet in our culture there are many who feel isolated, disconnected and lonely, with no context for meaningful connection and friendship.

Billy No-Mates has an interesting section on male banter, which has gained a bad reputation in recent years as it has transitioned from blokes having a laugh to some men taking the opportunity to put others down. I liked his point about how cruel men can be in giving their mates nick names and how the Best Man’s speech often is an opportunity to deride and embarrass the groom for all sorts of youthful misdemeanors.

Men have the reputation of being closed books when it comes to emotions, preferring to tough things out rather than appear needy. His research revealed that hanging out with male friends was considered by many men as an escape from the emotional intensity and expectations of their home and work life rather than an opportunity for close connection.

The popularity of men’s groups and men’s sheds is discussed. Some may provide a sense of belonging and purpose as men work shoulder to shoulder fixing stuff, while other groups are aimed more at improving mental health and wellbeing as men enjoy chat and friendly banter over a brew.

Clearly, making and maintaining male friendship is not something which happens automatically. It needs to be intentional, and that requires effort. Billy No-Mates is a good read with plenty of humour alongside the more serious findings of Dickens’ research, which included him trying out renting a friend. Who knew that was an option?

Billy No-Mates – How I Realised Men Have a Friendship Problem by Max Dickins – Canongate Books

Main Photo Credit: Courtesy of Max Dickins

Bob Fraser

Bob Fraser is a singer-songwriter, men’s group leader and Regional Director for CVM aiming to open up conversations about life and faith.

You may also like

Sorted Magazine

Sorted discusses the big issues of the day – focusing on subjects as diverse as culture, sport, cars, health, faith, gadgets, humour and relationships. We aim to be positive and wholesome in all we do. And we have been achieving this since 2007.

Every printed issue of Sorted is read by more than 100,000 men in 21 different countries – while digitally, the number of people reading our online content (free and via subscription) continues to soar.




Follow Us



Visit our shop for great gift ideas