Lonely Men in America
Men. From early childhood, we are taught to be rugged, assertive and above all – manly. So strong are these messages that entire marketing campaigns are created for guys about what it means to be a man.
Don’t believe me? Open up any men’s magazine and look at the ads. From razors to sports, it’s all there in high-testosterone color.
But are these messages doing guys more harm than good? Moreover, are they causing an epidemic of men in our society who feel isolated, abandoned, and alone?
I say the answer is ‘yes’ – big time.
In fact, I’d be willing to bet one of the major reasons guys struggle with loneliness is because of ridiculous “masculine blueprints” that permeate American society.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for being manly. It’s one of the things I help guys with as they try to project an outward image of confidence to the world.
That said, the idea of being manly has become so bogged down with “rules” that it’s causing an epidemic of male loneliness from coast to coast (Baker, 2017).
I’m a counselor who specializes in men’s issues. Folks, I can’t tell you how many guys (straight and gay) have walked into my office feeling sad, depressed, rejected, and angry about the condition of their lives.
While their stories may be different, they all share one common bond – loneliness.
From the Iraq War Veteran who can’t bring himself to talk about his recurring nightmares out of fear of being judged … to the Fortune 500 executive who doesn’t have a friend because he can’t let himself be vulnerable.
All of them are devastatingly lonely
In my experience and based on observation, here are five of the biggest reasons we’ve got a problem with lonely men in America. Moreover, it’s also why this worsening epidemic is literally killing them.
1. Men fear appearing weak
Want a solid reason for male loneliness – it’s this: So many of us are taught that to be a man, you have to “pull yourself up by the bootstraps.”
Translation: Don’t whine about your sh-t.
Here’s the problem. Some of us can’t pull ourselves up because we suffer from depression, anxiety or a mix of both. No man wants to be seen as weak. To avoid this perception, it’s easier to clam up and not admit to sh-t.
Which leads us to our next point.
2. Men don’t talk about their feelings
This one is a major reason so many guys are lonely. It is ingrained in us from the time of birth that “real men” don’t talk about their feelings.
And you know what?
Most guys would rather talk about anything other than what’s going on inside. It’s not that they don’t want to. They do.
But because of toxic male constructs, they fear being judged. And that fear leads us to our next point.
3. Many aren’t comfortable being vulnerable
Just yesterday, a middle-aged man walked into my office and confided in me that he was extremely lonely. When I asked him if he has any friends, he said, “No.”
While each guy is unique, a common thread you’ll find with lonely men is a lack of close friendships.
You may be wondering why?
It’s simple. To be friends with someone – as in real friends and not “bros,” you have to be vulnerable. That means sharing feelings.
Thanks to faulty male blueprints, it’s just not something dudes do. Ask the guy in your life about what I just mentioned and he’ll confirm just what I shared – without hesitation – for real.
4. Hypermasculine assertiveness
There’s nothing wrong with being assertive. In fact, the ability to go after what you want in life is a gift. But the messaging around this can often be caustic.
Not every guy is born with a “chip” to be alpha. For reasons we don’t fully understand, some men are just naturally more confident than others.
For the guys who aren’t, they are made to feel as if they are “less than a man” because they aren’t behaving to expectations.
Rather than try to become something they are not, many choose to isolate and withdraw inward.
And that – right there – is a huge reason why guys are lonely.
5. Few bonding opportunities
The research tells us that most men bond through shared, intense experiences. Examples include serving in the military or team sports.
But what happens if you don’t partake in those life events or when friends from those experiences are gone?
For guys, it’s a real problem.
Think about it. How many opportunities really exist on this front as you age? Not many – at least from my experience.
There are some options.
Examples include joining a gym, signing up for a marathon or joining a hiking group. But wow, that’s just super hard for most dudes to do the longer they’ve been lonely.
So what’s the answer? Well, I can’t say for sure but I do know this. The hypermasculine messaging around manliness that permeates our society needs to be addressed.
If it’s not, we’ll continue to be plagued by this problem.
Baker, B. (2017, March 9). The biggest threat facing middle-age men isn’t smoking or obesity. It’s loneliness. Retrieved from Boston Globe: https://www.bostonglobe.com/magazine/2017/03/09/the-biggest-threat-facing-middle-age-men-isn-smoking-obesity-loneliness
Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T., & Layton, J. (2010). Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review. SciVee. doi:10.4016/19865.01
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