No man is an island, the saying goes—but tell that to all the 35-year-old men whose friendships have all drifted out to sea, perhaps never to be reeled in again. So says a new survey of 1,200 men in Britain.
The reasons men pare it all down to one, the loneliest number, often relate to losing a job or a relationship; bereavement; or moving to a new city. Around 11 percent of men say they experience loneliness every day, and 9 percent say they don’t see any friends at all on a regular basis.
This is troubling, but it isn’t surprising. The average American man marries today at age 29 (and starts a family around then, too), so age 35 seems like a logical time to be swamped with the demands of fatherhood and marriage. This is also the age when, career-wise, a man is likely putting in long hours as he hustles up the ladder. None of this is going to leave much time for pursuing the relationships that once happened without much effort. (One theory about why men suck at friendships is the male deficit model, which posits that if the activity that kept men together ends, so will the friendship.)
In 2015, The New York Times reported on why male friendships are such a struggle, particularly when maintaining them has such an obvious benefit: They increase our life expectancy by 22 percent. The Times, too, landed on the idea that most male friendships are more superficial, so the ties that bind them can snap in an instant. Men, challenged to share their emotions, are much more likely to consider their spouse their best friend. Women, on the other hand, often maintain a bevy of female friends in addition to a romantic relationship, all of whom they can summon telepathically at will.
MEL staff writer John McDermott has written about how stopping playing fantasy football killed off many of his college friendships, and mentions a 2015 study that found that the 20s are when men gradually but steadily begin losing buds. He spoke to five men about their dwindling relationships and found that the men had often put all of their efforts into careers, wives and children, or girlfriends, leaving little time to meet up with the guys.
Brian, a 30-year-old from Sacramento, summed it up nicely:
Male friendships tend to be more superficial; it’s about what you share in common at the time. Women are more comfortable sharing deep emotions, and when that happens, there’s more incentive to nurturing the relationship. And women are better at communicating. A guy wouldn’t text his friend, “Oh, I heard this song and it reminded me of you,” but a woman would.
This would all be well and good if men were happy as loners, but it obviously takes a toll on their quality of life. Some 35 percent said the loneliness was depressing, while 40 percent said they felt isolated.
The survey was conducted by the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness as part of its Spotlight on Men month. The commission says it will spend the next few weeks trying to figure out why men so often lose their friends.
“Now is the time to break the silence and start a conversation,” commission co-chair Rachel Reeves said of the results. If the point here is that men want to bond over the doing and not the sharing, maybe we should focus on helping them keep up the activities that kept up the friendships in the first place.