Paul and I were inseparable. We were part of a close-knit group of friends who spent many happy years together between our late teens and mid-twenties, sharing experiences that should have bonded us for life. For several years we worked in bars together and backpacked around Central America one summer. We shared laughter and heartache.

Then one day, he had a work commitment and missed my birthday party. Afterwards something changed. I didn't feel he had a good enough reason to miss what had been a meticulously planned event. From then on there was always a slight kink in what had been a perfect bromance.

Soon after, I stopped calling him and he stopped calling me. Nothing happened; there were no rows or fights over women. It just fizzled out. We now haven't spoken for well over two decades. However, within the paradigm of male friendship, he's still a mate.

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Friends without benefits

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The pattern is one many middle-aged men will be familiar with. As we get older, friendships lapse. One-by-one, the large cohort of male compadres I hung out with through my twenties and thirties were pruned away like deadwood. Wives and children came along. Lives got busy and friendships I spent years cultivating slowly faded. I always felt slightly guilty, but never guilty enough to do anything about it.

Which is why I was so relieved to read about Sir Elton John and Rod Stewart and the abrupt end of their decades-long amity. According to Rod, Elton has given him the cold-shoulder since March last year over an innocuous comment made in an interview.

Rod explained: "I did email her [Elton] and said: 'What, again, dear?' And I didn't hear anything back."

They've not spoken since. Perhaps, considering how many times Elton's announced he is no longer touring, the wisecrack was too near the knuckle. His latest tour is named the Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour but as far back as 1977 Elton was telling fans he was no longer playing live and his 2015 tour was called The Final Curtain.

Still, 19 months of silence? I know all too well that the longer the silence, the harder it is to reconnect. And losing a friend like this can be more brutal for men because we often have far fewer friends than women.

When I first met my wife, ten years ago, she was concerned about my reliance on a few very close long-standing male pals and implored me to find more. I was encouraged to join a cycling club and she even dragged me along to salsa classes. The aim was to build me a supportive network of male companionship; a masculine mirror-image of her own considerable female clique. It didn't work, I simply prefer the comfort of an old pal.

I'm not anti-social or introverted, indeed I love socialising. A straw-poll of other male middle-aged friends (yes, I do have them) confirms that I am not alone in these strange and contradictory behaviours.

One friend explains how he commutes to work every day, and actively avoids any colleagues or friends he sees on the train. He'll even change carriages, rather than talk to people he knows. Several friends confirmed that after divorces, they never bothered keeping in touch with the husbands of their ex-wives' friends, with whom they socialised regularly as couples.

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And there is a likely evolutionary reason for this, as Robin Dunbar, Professor of Evolutionary Psychology and Oxford University, explains: "It's not been particularly well worked out, but one suggestion is that women in traditional hunter-gatherer societies moved from their family grouping into men's family groups and needed to bond and mix with in-laws and extended family. They had to form close bonds with people who were not their own family."

And this, explains Prof Dunbar, is why Rod and Elton's, mine and Paul's and countless other male bromances come to an end, sometimes abruptly, while women's friendships tend to endure.

"If women have friends who move away, they will keep in touch on the phone or through social media, whereas with men, it's a case of out of sight, out of mind," he says. "Men have a capacity to form working friendships with anyone, whereas female friendships are much more targeted and specific and perhaps more demanding."

But when an old friend disappears, I can't pretend it doesn't hurt. I still wonder what Paul is doing, what we would make of each other if we met up again for a night of reminiscing and old times' sake. The trouble is, the time spent apart has brought a silence between us that I can't bring myself to break.

So, anyone out there fancy a pint?

Some names have been changed