Most people want a social connection. While social media, endless apps and new technology promise to connect more people, many people feel more lonely than ever. While isolation can cause loneliness, loneliness and isolation are not identical. A person may feel lonely even when surrounded by others, especially if they do not have deep relationships that make sense to them.
Loneliness doesn’t just feel bad. It can have a profound effect on health. Some research even shows that chronic loneliness can be as harmful to a person’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Research on gender differences in loneliness is mixed. Some studies show that women are more lonely than men. others show the opposite. However, most researchers agree that single people tend to be very lonely and that certain social rules that govern masculinity can increase the risk of loneliness in men. Some early research on loneliness also shows that men may be less likely than women to admit feelings of loneliness.
Social isolation in men
Studies consistently show that women are more likely to have dense social networks than men. From childhood, women are socialized to appreciate friendship, trust their friends, and enhance deep intimacy with close friends. Even when men have many friends, they may feel uncomfortable sharing feelings or radiating feelings of vulnerability.
A 2018 analysis of people living in rural areas found that 63% of men felt comfortable opening up to friends, compared to 74% of women. Women were also more likely to participate in activities such as church gatherings that promote friendship and a sense of community.
Although social isolation is a serious concern among unmarried men, research shows that emotional feelings of loneliness are even more important. A 2011 study linked social isolation to reduced life satisfaction, but the link was even stronger for emotional loneliness. The researchers also found that male college students were much more likely to report emotional feelings of loneliness than female students.
How Stigma Can Be A Cage
Male social norms teach men that vulnerability is a weakness. Homophobia is also widespread. Equal cisgender men may be afraid to be labeled “gay.” These two forces can make it very difficult for men to communicate with others in friendship. Even when men have friends, they may fear the crisis if they show weakness or seek help.
Heterosexual male friendships are often characterized by boastful masculinity, in which men boast of their sexual prowess, financial success, or independence. This culture can make it difficult for men struggling in their relationships to share their challenges. It also shows men that the ideal person is the one who uses others – not the one who invests deeply in interdependent relationships.
This isolation can be a self-replicating intergenerational cycle. Men can discourage boys from showing weakness or feelings. The boys also testify that their fathers formed stoic behavior and imitated it. In this way, the stigma of emotional connection with other men is passed down from one generation to the next.
The effect of marriage
Men in most studies are more likely than women to have long-term partners. These partners can make loneliness easier. Indeed, many men rely on their partners as the primary or only source of emotional support. This increases men’s vulnerability to loneliness when relationships end or partners die. A 2017 survey found that women are more comfortable being single than men. Sixty-one percent of unmarried women in the UK said they were happy, compared to just 49% of unmarried men.
In addition to supporting their male partners, women in long-term heterosexual relationships can help them socialize by creating and cultivating social networks. Emotional work such as birthday memories, holiday cards, family reunions and spending time with friends have traditionally fallen on women. When a man loses his partner, he may lose an important social lubricant. This can mean losing friends and social opportunities.
How to build Bromance
Building friendships with other men can be difficult, especially when a man is no longer at school. Some strategies can help:
- Become a member of communities and organizations that promote intimacy. Churches, volunteer organizations and support groups can offer groups specifically for men looking for closer relationships.
- Look for friendships with men who value alternative forms of masculinity and are willing to talk about the need for human connection.
- Think about working to turn your acquaintances into friends. Invite a friend on social media who talks about toxic masculinity or male loneliness on a trip.
- Take a more active role in family endeavors to develop relationships. Do not rely on women to plan all social excursions or communicate with others.
- Try starting a new team or organization. Ask other dads to meet once a month or invite church acquaintances to start a group for men who want to develop meaningful relationships.
- Identify any harmful beliefs you may have about friendship or masculinity. Do you think crying indicates weakness or that real men don’t need others? Work to understand where these beliefs come from and to actively correct them.
- Practice talking to other men in advance. Ask questions to ask them about their lives or opinions. Think about what you hope to share with yourself.
- Do not rely on social media as the only or main source of socialization. While social media can unite people, it is also based on short-term interactions rather than a constant, meaningful connection that develops lasting friendships.
- Patience pattern in other men and boys. Men who see that strong men can be vulnerable may feel more comfortable being vulnerable themselves. Sons who see their fathers investing in friendships may be less reluctant to do so on their own.
Treatment can help many men practice and gain new social skills. Men can also benefit from treatment when social stress hinders relationships or when loneliness is so severe that it leads to depression.
GoodTherapy connects people with caregivers, moral therapists who can help with a number of challenges, such as loneliness and making new friends. Find a therapist who can help you here.
- Henning-Smith, C., Ecklund, A., Moscovice, I., & Kozhimannil, K. (2018). Gender differences in social isolation and social support among rural residents [Ebook]. University of Minnesota Health Research Center. Retrieved from http://rhrc.umn.edu/wp-content/files_mf/1532458325UMNpolicybriefsocialisolationgendernderdifferences.pdf
- Neville, S., Adams, J., Montayre, J., Larmer, P., Garrett, N., Stephens, C., & Alpass, F. (2018). Loneliness in men 60 and older: the relationship with the purpose of life. American Journal of Men’s Health, 12(4), 730-739. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6131432
- Salimi, A. (2011). Social-emotional loneliness and life satisfaction. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 29, 292-295. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877042811027029
- Gender differences in loneliness: the role of masculinity and femininity. (1998). Sex roles, 38(7-8). Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1023%2FA%3A1018850711372#page-2
- Yarrow, A. (2017). All Unmarried Ladies: 61% of women in the UK are happy to be single, compared to 49% of men. Retrieved from https://www.mintel.com/press-centre/social-and-lifestyle/all-the-single-ladies-61-of-women-in-the-uk-are-happy-to-be – single-comparison-with-49-of-men
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