The lonely man: a national epidemic
When I first meet with a patient, I try to snap a snapshot of what is going on in their life. We educate ourselves on relationships, family history, sexual history and, in general, who they are. One of my final questions is, “Who are the intimate friendships in your life – the people you give the courage to, cry to, hug, and turn to when things go wrong?” Tragically, less than 20% of the men I speak to, I find intimate male relationships to sustain them through life.
“The average American has a best friend. He’s his college roommate and lives a thousand miles away. “I don’t know where I first heard this statement and I haven’t been able to figure out who said it for my entire life, but it’s funny and sad at the same time. I’ve found this statement to be pretty true for most of the men I speak to. We all have such relationships. These are wonderful guys that we love and who have had and maybe still have a wonderful connection. But the truth is, these are not the relationships that support us on a daily basis over time. These are wonderful relationships that go in and out of our lives depending on the circumstances. We may be able to pick up exactly where we left off, but that’s not the same thing as being in regular contact with someone who knows everything about us and with whom we can be completely open and honest.
In America men die of loneliness. The Good Men Project is a wonderful organization that “has the conversation that nobody else has”. They offer dozens of stories and articles each month dealing with masculinity in the 21st century. You recently published an article, The Friendless American Male, that talks about this problem. Read it.
Loneliness and isolation are known to have negative health effects. A lack of friendships also weighs on marriages. I often grimace inwardly when I hear someone say, “Oh, I married my best friend.” The person we marry is ideally our lover, life partner, maybe our children’s mother, roommate, and social worker , economic and spiritual partner. That’s a lot of work to put on a person’s shoulders. Yes, ideally we should love hanging out and laughing and having a good time with our loved one. But that doesn’t make them our best friend.
Asking this life partner and lover to be your best friend along with everything else is an incredibly unrealistic expectation of emotional work. I think in our society we confuse the definition of friendship and the lines become blurred. A wise therapist said to me, “If we have a lover, we probably shouldn’t have sex with our boyfriend. If we’re having sex with our boyfriend, they should probably be our lover – don’t confuse the two. “
The bottom line is that in our culture, men find it very difficult to develop and maintain intimate male relationships. As you get older, it becomes more difficult if circumstances don’t automatically make connections. Making friends was easy in high school and college. When we end up with the family, we sometimes meet other men through activities and sports for children. But as we get older, these opportunities decrease. I have had many patients in the last third of their lives with many wonderful friendships from their past, but no one actively supports them in everyday life.
Making and maintaining friendships is a lot of work. It’s a skill that many of us don’t have. Sometimes I think it’s almost like our culture doesn’t want men to have intimate male relationships. If you’re one of those guys who is feeling more lonely and isolated than they’d like, take a look around and see what communities you can get involved in to make friends. I think organizations that run projects like Habitat for Humanity, community theater groups, and community engagement in general are great places to find people with similar interests. Suppose most men are always looking for more friends. It is never too late cap make new friendships – Your health depends on it.
If you have any sexual health concerns, contact us for a free phone consultation at Maze Men’s Health. We’re here to help.
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