In light of International Men’s Day, I wanted to talk about male friendship. I found an article about a survey about the topic. The Movember Foundation released a survey which found that more than 2.5 million British men have no close friends:
Stoicism and isolation make lonely mates of too many men.
New research by the Movember Foundation reveals that a devastating number of men feel friendless.
The survey found that 51 per cent of respondents – the equivalent of about two and a half million British men – have no close friends.
Being married or middle-aged significantly increases the likelihood that men have no one (apart from their partner, if they are married) they feel they can turn to in a crisis.
I do not agree with the author’s premise that stoicism leads to loneliness. Controlling one’s emotions has little to do with making friends.
I do think that our society’s continued mockery of masculinity and male bonding, as well as the unbalanced focus on women’s needs, can lead to a profound loneliness. We teach boys that turning to other males for their emotional needs is either bad or “gay.” We then force them to place all their emotional dependence on their wife or girlfriend, despite that half of these relationships will end.
One would expect people to separate and lose contact with old friends as they grow older. This may happen during high school or college. It could happen as a result of a new job. It could happen due to a change in interests, meeting new friends, or falling out with old ones. As such, it is understandable that some middle-aged men may end up with few friends.
Marriage, however, presents a different problem. It is not an issue of proximity. We hear the jokes about “the old ball and chain” all the time. This trope of the wife or the girlfriend cutting their partners’ friendships with the boys is ancient. It also is apparently true. One can imagine the devastation that can create as a man gains a life partner but loses everyone else that matters to him.
The potential for this going bad is obvious as well. As I mentioned before, at least half of these relationships will end. Think of the situation that puts the men: they lose their only emotional support and they have no one to turn to in order to rebuild it.
Blaming stoicism does not help, yet the author of the article seemed to like doing so:
It seems that a culture of stoicism in men and difficulty reaching out and making connections to other people is at least partly to blame for the problem.
In similar research carried out last year in Australia by Movember, 70 per cent of respondents said they didn’t reach out to others because they figured that problems are just part of life and something they had to suck up.
“I never remember talking about feelings with my father or my brothers,” said one male participant, commenting on why he was reluctant to talk about emotions with his mates.
The Australian research found that one quarter – or 1.1 million – of men aged between 30 and 65 have few or no social connections, while about one third were unsatisfied with the quality of their relationships.
The two main reasons for this were that they didn’t feel as if their mates could help them with problems they were facing, so they didn’t bother bringing them up (79 per cent) and that they didn’t feel emotionally supported (76 per cent).
“One of the things we see is that men are out of the habit of striking up new friendships,” Sarah Coghlan, director for Movember UK, told The Telegraph, London.
“Women are quite comfortable with striking up a new friendship and saying ‘Hi, do you want to go for a glass of wine after work or even see a film next Tuesday’.
“For men that’s just not socially acceptable in the same way.
“We have to find innovative means that are out there, how do we get men to reconnect with each other?”
This did not used to be the case. One need only look movies from the 1980s and down to see that. It was common for men to invite another man out for a drink. Yet much of that bonding culture is gone. Part of that is because we demonize and sexualize male bonding. Imagine what would happen today if a man asked another man out for a drink. Many people would assume it was a gay flirtation.
Likewise, the notion of sharing one’s problems with friends is something that men used to do. Yet again, as a society we taught boys that asking for help even when they need it is a sign of weakness or them getting in touch with their feminine side.
Much of that could be averted by allowing boys and men to socialize and build the needed bonds to get around the society programming, yet the spaces where men do go to bond, like sporting, gaming, and geek communities, are under constant attack for being “misogynistic” and “homophobic” and “racist.” There is a push to remove these spaces or make them open to women, therein defeating the entire point of them.
Yet even casual interactions between males like hugs and back-patting is turned into a political whipping boy. God forbid any man touches another man. That will be the start of a “bromance” or some other idiotic catchphrase that allows society to shame men for wanting to be around other men.
The problem with this is that even though there may be benefits for men being in long-term relationships or getting married, they still do better when they have close male friends:
Research this year revealed that men’s mental and physical health benefit from marriage, more than women.
A separate study, however, showed how much men still need their mates. The researchers found that male bonding is more likely to lower a man’s stress levels than a night out with his partner, or time spent with the family.
“I think it is just about balance, like all things in health, but the interesting thing about asking that question here is having that male lens, the way men approach these things is different from the way women do,” Ms Coghlan said.
“If you look at the modern world most families are two working parents, that puts a lot of pressure on men, they don’t have the same time in their lives.”
That is nonsense. It is not just about a lack of time. It is about how we as a society react to male bonding. My godson constantly touches his friends. They do the same with him. They hug, they put their arms around each other, they sit next to each other without a seat between them. These things are considered by many of the other boys as “gay.”
Take a look at photos of soldiers at war. They do not have these hang-ups. Those ideas are not there because they need each other for support. They would think nothing of hugging another man or letting another man sleep on their shoulder. I doubt they will walk down the street holding hands, but the notion that they cannot have an emotional connection with each other is not as present.
If we do not show boys how men relate to each other, partly because it is gone from most of our media and partly because fewer men are in boys’ lives, how can we expect boys to form lasting friendships so that they have that support as they age?
Boys are not girls and they do not relate like girls. They do not talk about their feelings the same way and they do not bond they same way. We cannot attempt to force boys to behave like girls or force men to behave like women and think that this will work.
Males know what types of relationships they want. We have to allow them to have those relationships rather than constantly shaming them for wanting to have a connection to another man. It is not a “bromance.” We already have a word to describe the bond between two unrelated males: friendship.