Much is made about the importance of friendship to women. Our social contacts and circles are where we draw a lot of support, empathy, understanding, and a sense of connectedness from. But why is it so different for men?
Guys often have more friends when they are younger—friends from school, other single guys from their workplace, and guys that belong to their urban tribe (if they belong to one). However as men enter committed relationships, marry, have families, and move along in years—they often let their old friendships lapse. Given the transient nature of our lives, and the demands of work and family life—this is very understandable. Yet women, even working women, tend to make an extra effort to keep track of friendships and keep at least some connections alive.
By middle age, many men experience a loneliness that only friendships with other men could fill. Billy Baker penned a great piece on this topic for The Boston Globe. In it he talks about how this loneliness men feel impacts their health and happiness. Vivek Murthy (Surgeon General) has spoken many times about isolation and called it the most prevalent health issue in our country today.
But how can a guy be lonely when he has a family and work to occupy him? Apparently, these connections add value and depth to our lives, but they also drain us and make demands that only someone who doesn’t need/rely on us can help feel. In other words, me time with like-minded folks, engaged in play, conversation and bonding—fills a need that nothing else can.
If what I have said so far doesn’t give you pause, digest this. Beginning in the 1980’s, repeated studies have been showing that people who are socially isolated are much more likely to die during a given period than their socially connected peers, even when the studies correct for gender, lifestyle, and age. One study said loneliness is the new smoking. Now that should give everyone pause.
When married men share couple friends with their spouses, this can fill a part of that need. Other dads they meet through sports and school events, and actually connect and hang out with—can make a difference as well. Actually, these are common ways that women meet new friends. But what about all the single and divorced guys? They might just be the loneliest people on the planet.
It seems one of the best ways for men to meet other men and form friendships is through shared activities that bring them together regularly. Sports, volunteer work, a passion like scuba diving, running marathons, or rock climbing—can all help men to form real connections, not just those superficial ones that lead nowhere.
So if you are a lonely man or woman, consider pursuing a passion, joining a cause, or finding a way to give back in your hood—and make this a consistent and regular part of your life and schedule. Through regular contact with like-minded people (at least in one thing), you could develop new friendships with depth.
If you are married and reading this, don’t panic that your spouse could meet someone of the opposite sex and find that deeper connection. Encourage them if they need this in their life, put any feelings of insecurity aside, and consider doing the same for yourself if your old friendships have drifted away. Good partners care about what is best for one another and encourage them to get it.