friendship, gender differences, loneliness, masculinity, men, relationships

Men and Loneliness

Suicide is one of the top causes of death among middle-aged men in the United States. In the last few years, a handful of men I’ve known have taken their lives. You’ve probably known some, too.

The reasons are many, and varied, and complicated. But a lack of true friends, and a strong feeling of loneliness, is part of the problem here in the U.S.

American men form their closest friends during their school years. Once out of high school or college, we focus on our jobs, our families, and our responsibilities, often to the exclusion of everything else.

I realize that I’m one man and that I do not represent all men, but the above is true for me. If I need a friend I can cry in front of, I can only imagine going to one of my old school friends, and I’ve been out for decades. In the few years after college, I formed a handful of friends that I would still drive across the country to see. In the last fifteen years, I’ve had buddies who come and go, but no one I’d ever call again if I were to move away.

Many wives will read this and say, as my wife has, “My husband has plenty friends.” And who is she thinking of when she says this? Her friends’ husbands, who I, like millions of other men, am forced to be around, but would never choose, and will be glad for the day when I never have to see them again.

Why don’t grown men have friends? One theory I’ve read is that we see other men as competition, and this keeps us from getting close to each other. We may be buddies that participate in activities together, but it rarely goes beyond that.

Another theory is that we’ve been taught to shun any appearance of femininity, and friend making, or being open in a way that would draw men closer, somehow falls into that category. As silly as this reason is, I’m sure it is true for me. My male acquaintances in real life don’t know that I write—writing is girly. We don’t talk about anything serious. I recently told my weight lifting buddy, in a moment of weakness, that my mother is dying of cancer. I immediately felt awkward, coughed, and changed the subject. The only time I’ve hugged a man other than my dad or little boy in the last ten years has been at funerals. And then I usually wish I hadn’t.

Men in other countries are not like this, or so I’ve read. It is normal for them to show affection for each other. I saw male friends holding hands when I was in Africa, and it was normal there. Men, and even little boys, would be ridiculed for that here.

I’m often more comfortable around women because, I guess, I’m not in competition with them. I don’t feel like they judge me for being too “soft.” I don’t have to be bigger, or stronger, or louder than them, or crush their hand in a handshake before they crush mine. I can have real conversations about real things, and not need to cough and change the subject to balls or boobies. Actually, that would be awkward.

But, at least here in small-town USA, married men can’t have female friends, or people begin to talk.

The result is loneliness.

If a man has a wife, of course he should be able to go to her. But she has her life, too, and her job, and worries, and problems, and kids, and chores, and friends. And the husband is expected to be the strong one in the family and not add to his wife’s burdens. I would be as embarrassed to cry in front of her as I would in front of the big dude who fixes tires at the motorcycle shop.

So we go along, coaching little league, serving on boards, going to work, going to the gym, smiling and acting manly, lonely as hell while surrounded by people.

Maybe that is why I write. But I don’t want to investigate that too deeply; introspection isn’t manly. I’m offering no solutions here, and I’m obviously part of the problem. And I can’t come up with a final point to make, but it doesn’t matter. Probably I will be embarrassed by my honesty here within a day or two and delete this whole post anyway.

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About Nowhere Tribune

A husband and daddy, striving to love his neighbors and be kind to his pets. I love good food, good beer, and a few good friends. My other interests are hiking, taking walks, lifting weights, reading books by manly authors like Hemmingway and Twain, and splitting fire wood with my bare hands.

Discussion

49 thoughts on “Men and Loneliness

  1. I hope you won’t delete this. It’s very good. 🌷

    Posted by ellie894 | September 13, 2018, 6:41 pm
  2. One thing all despondent men have in common. One thing most mass shooters have in common. One thing suicide victims have in common. They are alone. I have a lot of acquaintances, but only one friend that lives across state. Fortunately I have a positive natural outlook on life and have no issues with depression or feelings of loneliness but occasionally. Others, not so lucky that way. My wife and I have spoken about this recently and says I need some man friends, but seems everyone is too busy or stressed financially to take time off. It’s a real dilemma but have no solutions. I do enjoy WP, but people here disappear for months or forever too and all live countries apart. Hang in there John. We’ll figure something out. But your post is right on for most of us.

    Posted by jim- | September 13, 2018, 6:49 pm
  3. Let’s face it, friends are a pain in the ass. At least every friend I’ve had. There’s always something appealing about them that makes me willing to be their friend. But there’s always something unappealing too. I think being willing to put up with the pain-in-the-ass part can be the difference between making friends and making friendly acquaintances.

    But I get your point. I’ve noticed some men seem to feel nervous about friendship, as if it might lead to a misunderstanding about sexual orientation.That can feel frustrating. It can be helpful to have a trusted person outside the family to talk frankly with. And good for mental health. Unfortunately, those friendships can be hard to come by.

    Posted by Tippy Gnu | September 13, 2018, 7:36 pm
  4. I have another theory as to why grown men don’t have friends; well it would apply to me anyway. When we grow up as kids, we go to school, then high school, and for some of us, university. In all these situations, social interaction is forced on us. We HAVE to hang around with all these different people, but it means that we befriend some of them. Since we spend a significant time with these people, our friendships grow. One could choose to not have friends, but there’s this underlying thing where no friends = bad when it comes to school, plus I think school would be miserable without friends.

    But after leaving home, becoming an independent adult etc, making friends becomes much harder, because it means you have to go out of your way to meet people – they don’t just meet you. So that could mean joining some kind of club with people who like the same stuff as you, but even then, it’s not QUITE the same, because you don’t nearly spend as much time with these people as you did with school friends. In the work place, making proper friendships is harder I find too, because many of the people there I might get along with, sure, but I don’t feel I relate to them on a personal level.

    TLDR: Making friends comes easy as a kid because it’s forced/pressured on you, but as an adult it’s hard because you have to go out of your way to meet people. Also, having limited free time = limited time to develop deep friendships.

    This is a great post by the way, please don’t delete it.

    Posted by TheCovertAtheist | September 13, 2018, 8:03 pm
  5. Around here, men seem to bond over sports, cars, and other “masculine” hobbies ~ golf, tennis, pickle ball, football, soccer, antique car shows, serving on committees, playing poker, etc. That said, the bonds I’ve observed may be fairly superficial.

    As they say, the first step is admitting that you have a problem. Good luck finding a solution that works for you.

    Posted by nrhatch | September 13, 2018, 8:11 pm
  6. I am with you, buddy. I was thinking about this on the way home from work today. I wonder if it is too late for me to make another old friend.

    Posted by Jason Frels | September 13, 2018, 8:18 pm
  7. We seem to have a distorted sense (or ideal) of masculinity for men. As well, we see a distorted and warped view of femininity for women these days.

    It is sad that more men do not reach out for help. Suicide is a terrible tragedy.

    Posted by larryzb | September 13, 2018, 9:29 pm
  8. Don’t be embarrassed, I think this is really helpful for others! Thank you for your honesty. That’s so disappointing that when you mention something you’re going through (about your mom – I’m so sorry to hear it and know what that pain is like) that it sounds like your friend didn’t step up and offer support. Talking about issues like these is the best thing for it!

    Posted by whatsnonfiction | September 14, 2018, 3:55 am
    • Thank you; you are right that talking is best. I need to be more willing to do that. Like I said, I think I’m part of my own problem. Probably a big part. Thank you for commenting; I always appreciate what you have to say.

      Posted by Nowhere Tribune | September 14, 2018, 7:16 am
  9. Please don’t delete this post, John! There is also an issue with male suicide here in Europe too, I understand, and it should be of concern to everyone, male or female. I don’t feel qualified to say why this situation exists, but your theories sound as good as any I’ve heard, and talking about it has got to be better than silence.

    I wonder whether women don’t suffer from a similar kind of loneliness too – as we grow older, our oldest (and often best) friends move away, get married and have children. We meet potential new friends, but they tend to be our contemporaries and usually already have lives and families of their own. We also have less free time, and of course forming and sustaining friendships requires a certain investment of time. The easy companionship that once characterized our friendships just isn’t there anymore. But of course, the female suicide rate is much lower so there’s far more to it than that. Good post!

    Posted by Mari Biella | September 14, 2018, 4:42 am
    • Hi Mari. I always love hearing from you and appreciate your thoughtful posts. If there wasn’t an ocean between us, I’d suggest we have a long conversation over a beer or two soon. I agree–what I’ve described probably holds true for men and women.

      Posted by Nowhere Tribune | September 14, 2018, 7:13 am
  10. I’ve noticed this myself. I would say that “I” am my husband’s best friend because that is what he says. He does have one friend from his youth that he keeps in touch with by phone sometimes, but I am not sure how deep the private talks ever get. Anyway, you might be surprised at how lonely women often feel. Even married women, or maybe especially. I often feel that my husband is not ‘there’ when I need him even though he is at home. I do have one friend now that I confide in BY MESSENGER. We live many states apart, but we chat every morning and throughout the day. I think as adults we get to the point where we don’t want to burden people, but really that is what real friends do, carry each others burdens willingly. Male or female. I do have a suggestion. Check out Team RWB. You don’t have to be a veteran or a good runner. You can be in any shape but willing to try. They offer companionship, encouragement, and a community of people seeking friendship and sharing fun events. Check it out! Also, I know you’ve given up God, but maybe you could try going back. 🙂

    Posted by pkadams | September 14, 2018, 6:55 am
    • Good morning, PK. Thank you for your comment and kind thoughts. I am a member of some fitness type groups, but our relationships revolve mostly around exercise, running, and weight training. All of that is great, but sometimes you need something deeper. I’m glad you stopped by.

      Posted by Nowhere Tribune | September 14, 2018, 7:11 am
  11. I am not a man nor will I pretend to understand them, but as a wife with a husband who tries to act manly and all that crap, trust me when I say, your wife will not think less of you for being vulnerable or crying or showing emotions. I tell my husband all the time I hate his secrecy and walls he puts up with his emotions. In therapy, it was stated he wasn’t doing that to protect me but to protect himself. Because men seem to struggle with the idea of being vulnerable.

    Believe it or not, I don’t have friends. I have one friend and she lives too far away to hang out. So I am in the same boat with the friends thing. It’s lonely. I find myself with too much down time and fear my thoughts and loneliness. But I’m learning to be OK with some of it. I used to distract myself too much and never explored why I felt how I did. Now I do but it’s not pretty. I’ve cried 2-3 times a day for the last 2 weeks. And althoufh I worry about depression, I’m not suicidal. I think it’s just grief. I described it as this deep, dark black hole kind of feeling. Like you reach down into yourself and find it empty. Because it once was filled with so much and now it isn’t. That sounds bad. Maybe it is. But tears have helped me because I’m not stuffing it or ignoring it. I’m dealing with it. But yes, it’s lonely.

    And I’m glad you write… I’m glad you wrote this. Maybe I’m a little less alone. We share the struggles in our humanity.

    I’m also sorry about your mom. That’s so hard. Please don’t think you are alone in the world because you aren’t. I care, and so many others do too.

    Posted by Michelle | September 14, 2018, 9:10 am
  12. I think it’s part of the human condition to feel lonely. Everyone wants just one person they can be vulnerable with. Women are usually more emotional than men, so it’s easier for us to remedy the loneliness problem, but men are emotional creatures who crave a deeper connection, too. Men just have an exterior of manliness they’ve been conditioned to maintain. I hate that I don’t have a solution to offer, but I’m sure you’ll figure it out.

    I don’t think you should delete this post.

    Posted by Shayne | September 14, 2018, 11:15 am
    • It irritates me that you are so wise at your age; I wish that I had been when I was still young. I think that everything you said is right, and since you say not to delete the post, I won’t. Thank you for always adding to the conversation!

      Posted by Nowhere Tribune | September 14, 2018, 2:10 pm
  13. Reblogged this on Ideas.Become.Words and commented:
    This is beautifully written, while having an undertone of safness through the honesty.
    Men have eternally fascinated me, on a much deeper level than being potentially entertaining in the bedroom, or having the criteria to be my husband (Man of the Woods is still working that one out 😂).
    My fascination with the male mind is what I’ve spent a lifetime exploring and I have more male friends whom I can call genuine than female. (And I’m not referring to my female readers as they are all gorgeous and divine. I’m talking about flesh and blood ‘friends’ who turned out not to be.

    I really enjoyed reading this post and am honoured that this reader follows my writing and enjoys some of it!
    Keep writing 💫
    Keep talking to us.
    Big hugs.

    Posted by Viola Bleu | September 15, 2018, 1:22 am
    • Thank you so much, Viola Bleu. I appreciate your taking the time to come by and read, and I appreciate your kind words even more. And of course I follow your blog–everyone should.

      Posted by Nowhere Tribune | September 15, 2018, 7:23 am
  14. All of that sounds very similar to where I live (Finland, northern Europe). Loving your honesty!
    Luckily there are at least blogging friends/acquaintances… Personally, I find blogging helps during moments of loneliness or when you just want someone to hear you.

    Posted by The Snow Melts Somewhere | September 15, 2018, 1:19 pm
  15. Also, sorry to hear about your mother

    Posted by The Snow Melts Somewhere | September 15, 2018, 1:25 pm
  16. I think your points above are very valid. Toxic masculinity has made it so men can’t reach out when they have a problem or just want to express something. And there is definitely a sense of competition. But the most manly men I know are ones who are so confident in themselves, they can: hug other men, cry if they’re upset, and even wear the colour pink! While you can’t change learned behaviour overnight, I think at least recognising your loneliness and what spurs it on (a lack of deep connections) can be helpful.
    I created this list of concrete strategies to help people experiencing loneliness:
    https://www.grainofseasalt.com/blog/loneliness
    There are so many different ideas on the list, so I hope that some of them work for you. My biggest advice (if that’s ok) is for you to join a group or club where you will meet men you can talk to. So a sporting club might be a bit too testosterone fuelled and competitive. But a chess club, drawing class, book club, developers club (or even writers club!) could be good. I know these aren’t stereotypically ‘strong alpha male’ pursuits. If you have any good ideas on this front, let me know & I can update my post to help more people 🙂 In Vancouver, they have the Samurai Brotherhood. Is there something like that near you?

    Posted by grainofseasalt1 | September 15, 2018, 8:03 pm
  17. Once you leave school it’s hard making friends. It’s been difficult relocating from England to upstate NY because I left all my friends behind. It’s not just a guy thing but I think maybe it’s harder for them to admit it

    Posted by the britchy one | September 16, 2018, 3:16 pm
    • You are right, I’m sure. We men may or may not put up more barriers, but loneliness is a common condition regardless of gender. Thanks for the comment!

      Posted by Nowhere Tribune | September 16, 2018, 3:22 pm
  18. I’ve missed you! Sorry to hear you’re feeling this way. One thing that might be helpful is to pick up a niche hobby where others who participate are dedicated to planning get-togethers. Anecdotally: I ride Onewheel, and a LOT of the folks I ride with are dudes in their 40s (some older, some younger, but that’s a major demographic in this community) and I think for many of them it’s both an escape and a source of camaraderie they may not be getting elsewhere. I’ve had deep enough talks with a lot of these guys to know they are there for each other and would be there for me in a pinch. I hope that you’re able to find folks like this in your life, too. It’s not girly to need genuine human connection. It’s just, well… human.

    Posted by Amanda Crystal | September 18, 2018, 6:52 pm
    • Ah, thank you so much, Thamanda! 😉 I appreciate your noticing that I’ve taken a break. Actually, I sent an email to you during my slump to see if you wanted to write. Did you see it? Thank you for the thoughtful words; I do indeed need to find my group. And you are right–we men are only human.

      Posted by Nowhere Tribune | September 18, 2018, 8:33 pm
  19. Since I went to bed last night, I have been contemplating on how lonely I was
    Then I read your post and I can say that it is inspiring and just what I needed at this moment.

    Posted by Jonathan | September 19, 2018, 9:07 am
    • Oh, man Jonathan. Your comment alone makes me glad I wrote this post. One thing we can both learn from the comments here is that we aren’t alone; apparently it is common for all of us, men and women alike. I don’t have the answers, brother, but maybe we kind find them together.

      Posted by Nowhere Tribune | September 19, 2018, 9:30 am
  20. It’s very similar where I’m from, about the loneliness and the way men are forced to be guarded. I wish there was something we could do, not to get men to open up more, but to make it safer and more comfortable for them to do so, free of judgement, outside a therapist’s office.

    I’m glad you didn’t delete this post before I could get to it. Thanks for letting yourself be vulnerable, even if just to a bunch of online strangers!

    Posted by Jay | September 27, 2018, 5:48 pm
  21. I really like this post. It shows honesty and vulnerability.

    Posted by Clever Girl | October 6, 2018, 10:20 am
  22. Do not delete.

    Posted by archercrosley | October 18, 2018, 2:01 am

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