One of your New Year’s resolutions may be to deepen and expand your interpersonal relationships. After all, scientific research has revealed the emotional and physical benefits of social connections, as well as the deleterious effects of social isolation. Although loneliness resulting from social isolation can afflict any gender, it is a particular problem for males — especially older, heterosexual adult men.
Research indicates that men are more likely to suffer feelings of loneliness. And they are less likely to admit to them and seek help. There are various social and psychological factors contributing to male loneliness, but it boils down to a culture of masculinity that discourages the emotional vulnerability that goes with close friendships, Boys are taught early that to be vulnerable — to acknowledge personal challenges and to ask for support — is a sign of weakness.
Men in long-term heterosexual relationships tend to rely on partners for social connections. From a young age women are socialized to value friendships. Therefore, they are often the ones to make friends and maintain social networks outside the home. Women also tend to shoulder the “emotional work” of remembering birthdays, planning family gatherings and stepping up when a relative needs help. And so they provide the social lubricant which is lost when the male partner is divorced or widowed.
Mental health problems arising from chronic loneliness can include depression, addiction, anxiety, disturbed sleep, low self-esteem, and even self-harm. But it’s important to distinguish between aloneness and loneliness. The former is simply the state of being alone, a condition the individual may sincerely prefer. The latter is emotional distress occurring when a person isn’t getting the social connection all of us naturally need as humans.
Most heterosexual men feel lonely at times. But if it’s a continuing challenge for you, consider these suggestions for establishing close friendships with other men:
- First, reconsider your own beliefs about masculinity and the stigma of sharing feelings with other men. Seek out men who value close friendships and are not afraid of showing their vulnerability.
- Make friendship a priority. Take the time and make an effort to maintain the friendships you have. And turn acquaintances into friends by taking the initiative to extend social invitations.
- Take more responsibility for establishing and maintaining family connections as well as social networks outside of the family.
- Potential friends may be found among people who share your interests or hobbies. They could be at clubs, gyms, adult classes, political groups, volunteer organizations, etc.
- Use online resources, such as Eventbrite and Meetup, to discover local gatherings and events where you can meet new people.
- Join organizations — such as spiritual and religious institutions or support groups — that encourage intimacy and connection among participants.
- Join or start a men’s group where members can share their life challenges. Many cities have men’s councils that offer men’s retreats and foster the creation of ongoing support groups for men.
If feelings of loneliness become severe, it may be valuable to consult with a mental health professional. Therapists can help clients practice social skills and alleviate social anxiety. They can also help you deal with circumstances that can trigger loneliness, such as breakups, divorce, retirement, death of a loved one, etc.