This is a tough topic sometimes, because whenever you bring up dudes feeling bad about anything of late, it feels like it can get drowned out by “Look at what dudes have wrought on females!” All that is true. Dudes have done terrible stuff to women over time, and the #MeToo movement is just one small example of that. But I still think this discussion needs to happen.
Let’s do some backstory to start, with some reading materials to boot. Start with me at this present moment. I’m sitting in a coffee shop typing. Well, on what appears to be December 10, 2013, I was also sitting in a coffee shop — that one was in Minneapolis — writing about the decline of male friendships. That was almost six years ago and I doubt much has changed.
As for reading materials: Here’s a little ditty on “male loneliness killing millions,” here’s one calling the whole deal “an epidemic,” and maybe the №1 thing in this canon, a Boston Globe article about how loneliness is a bigger threat to dudes than obesity. You also might enjoy “Why do we murder the beautiful friendships of boys?”
Why is this a thing now? What’s happening?
It has probably always been a thing, in reality, but here would be my take:
Men tend to make friendships side-by-side, i.e. at bars, at sporting events, at conference tables, etc. As you get older and have more responsibilities/children, and/or your friends have more responsibilities and children, and/or people move for work, and/or you aren’t as athletic as you once were, well, the ways and opportunities for guys to make friends are less and less. Plus, in a lot of situations a wife with kids wants to work less, or not work at all, which increases the male commitment to work, i.e. you are now essentially beholden to work because that money is providing for your wife and x-amount of children. Who has time to find new friendships in that ecosystem, ya know?
If you want to go a tier deeper and talk about depression, well, listen … not having a lot of friends can be depressing. I know this personally very well. And male depression is an interesting thing. Boys are supposed to be tough, and men are supposed to be, well, men. Own it. Kill it. Conquer it. All that shit. So being legitimately sad can be hard for a guy, because they don’t have the right words and ideas and concepts and topics around it, because they were never supposed to land there, in the eyes of broader society.
My own personal deal
Look, everyone’s situation is unique, and my own situation probably colors a lot of how I feel on these topics (and general depression).
I was with someone for about nine years, married for four. I had a whole ecosystem of friends through that, mostly tied to NYC/the general Northeast. Me and her got divorced, and a lot of them, for better or worse, “went with her.” So that was a big blow to the people I had spent most of my late 20s/30s with in terms of a friend world.
I’ve also moved a bunch. I’ve been in the same place now close to five years, and I have some friends there, but I’m also an older dude (almost 40!), without kids, and I don’t like being the creepy uncle, ya know? When I got divorced I thought about moving to the DC area because I have some guy friends there, but they all have kids, so they wouldn’t have a ton of time to hang really, and then I’m like this oafish weird dude in their kids’ lives … that was a depressing convo to have with myself, but between that and cost of living I think I made the right choice.
I do think it’s harder than we admit to make friends over 30, and honestly I could also try harder. I have a little ecosystem of friends through my girlfriend, but I entered most of their lives when they were buying houses and having first kids, so I wouldn’t say I’m tremendously important to that group or anything.
I have a good college group that I interact with daily (Slack!) but none of us live in the same place and we see each other maybe once a year … and the once a year stuff only started back up again recently.
Now, it’s also important to note here that a lot of men derive pleasure and success from their job. I like what I do but it goes up and down; right now it’s kinda down. I’m trying to find some professional spark and that contributes to depression, too.
So, yes. I’m a dude, and I have some friends, but broadly I do feel lonely and depressed. And that’s OK to say, I think.
What all do we do?
At a broader societal level, I would say →
- Encourage new definitions of masculinity
- Talk more openly about this stuff
- Don’t shout down guys who want to discuss it because of the other terrible shit guys do
- Create more flexible workplaces
- Encourage people to get more involved civically
- Have more small groups for men
- Encourage men to find success definitions outside of work and sex
- Listen to the research
All these things are big, big shifts and will take time. But I think that’s where we need to head. And it all starts with dudes being able to admit that, yes, they do feel lonely and depressed.