Have you thought about how many close male friends you have? Not day-to-day acquaintances or the multitude of friends you have on Face Book (which may delude you into thinking that you are still connected) or colleagues at work who are really only friends by proximity that you rarely meet outside the office. I’m talking about close, lifelong friends; friends you can be yourself with and trust with your innermost thoughts, without fear of being laughed at.
What brought about such solemn existentialist reflections about my life? Working as a coach has made me aware that loneliness is not uncommon amongst middle-aged men. Isolation is one of the most prevalent health issues today; some say more so than smoking and alcohol abuse. Studies have shown that loneliness can seriously impact on a person’s life expectancy, and that socially isolated individuals are more likely to succumb to physical and mental health problems during a given period of time than people who are more socially connected. I’m not suggesting every middle-aged man is heading for an early grave but it has made me reflect on my priorities in general and friendships in particular.
Many men go through a long period in their life when their main focus is on embarking on a career, getting married, work, providing for their family and work again. This is not a bad thing; if you are blessed with a family this is a happy time but your focus is mostly on your family, and your career development and not so much on you. Most social interactions during this period are probably with couples you meet together with your partner or the parents of your children’s friends that you get to know whilst waiting for your kids by the school gate. As a family man you make room in your life for family time, and if you are lucky ‘me-time’ too at the gym or when you go jogging, but probably at the cost of ‘friend-time’. You short-change your friendships and before you know it decades have passed without you having had a sincere conversation with your best mate.
When it comes to personal issues men suffer from two major failings. One – they are often emotionally inhibited, and two – they tend to be thoughtless about personal communication. The upshot is that they let friendships lapse without even realizing it and suddenly they end up feeling isolated. Women maintain strong friendships by talking to each other over the telephone; most men on the other hand depend on some sort of activity to maintain personal connections. Research shows that when women talk together they do it mostly face to face, but men tend to communicate standing side by side. This is why strong male friendships are often forged during intense shared experiences, such as playing sports or during military service.
Thanks to greater acceptance of, and more openness about, mental health issues it is now easier for men and women to own up to problems such as depression and anxiety but it is still difficult for a man to admit to feelings of loneliness. Because advertising and popular culture glorifies the notion of the strong, self-sufficient male hero, feeling lonesome has stigma attached to it: loneliness is not perceived as being manly, and so it can make lonely men believe they are losers. Add to this a general male resistance to asking for help and you have a formula for a potentially unsettling and unhappy existence at a time in a man’s life when things should be looking bright.
So even if you’re the Marlboro man you probably need to pay more attention to your friendships with other men. Take a moment and make a mental inventory of that handful of guys in your life who are friends in the truest sense of the word, someone who if asked for any sort of help would give it unstintingly and without question. It is only a mental exercise so you can allow yourself to indulge in a bit of sentimentality if necessary. Then give one of them a call and arrange to go out for meal together, somewhere not too noisy where you can have a good chat. It’s more than likely they feel just as you so and would welcome the chance for a good one-to-one with you. Do it today; don’t leave it too late to re-kindle the bromance in your life.