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.