The article from the Telegraph features a study where the subjects were UK males in their early 20s to late middle age. It describes findings showing that 2.5 million men have no close friends. The author, John Bingham, Social (and religious) Affairs Editor of the Daily Telegraph, extrapolates and shows that 51% men in the study said they had 2 or less friends, with 12.5% saying they have no friends. Moreover, 4 in 10 men responded saying that have thought about suicide. The study also shows that as men get older, they have less close friends.
A paradox of our modern society is that one is surrounded by people, yet we are lonelier than ever. When one moves into their first white-collar job after college, life changes. The true meaning of “day-in, day-out” becomes apparent, as David Foster Wallace beautifully describes it in his commencement speech at Kenyon College. The average job leaves you in an exhausted state where all you wish to do is unwind, not exactly the state you’d choose to be in to meet new friends. There are many aspects of society that I find dysfunctional, and this is one of them.
This study shows a truth that is not often talked about, that as men we have a hard time forging close relationships. We talk about things superficial, we don’t tell each other how we feel about ourselves, nor the other. Being emotional is not a highly valued trait within the parameters a man functions. Make it big, be a provider, have a beautiful wife, or should I say several girls. None of these factors allow for emotional instability. However, the problem is that we have no support system; a lack of close friends, because we don’t talk about our feelings. It’s a self-supportive feedback loop.
I am lucky that my personal experience is not that of these 2.5 million men. I’ve always been lucky to have good friends. In High School, a good group of guys that hung out, cared for, joked around with, and partied with each other. I would call them close friends, but we never talked about our feelings. There were girls of course, but those emotions were directed elsewhere.
So came college. I put my people-skills to use, but made no close friends. Enter collapsed lung and homesickness, you’ve got the recipe for loneliness. I was lucky I found my Fraternity. Now, two years past, I imagine if I kept on the same path I might be like those 2.5 million. However, in my Fraternity it is commonplace that we talk about serious topics, our internal feelings, and our feelings about each other. This raises the question of how do males connect and develop friendships?
We do it through shared experience. Men bond over tough situations and resolving them, over shared pain, over shared joy, shared growth. As much as this is true and poetic, it is not the whole picture, because that is exactly what my high school friends and I did. Men also bond under common values, and older brothers instilled in me such values as sincerity, openness, and brotherhood. Integrating these values with the preexisting values of our culture allowed me to find refuge in strangers.
In conclusion, our society of progressive values does not accommodate for many primal needs, and one of them is the need for close friendships. Relationships are one of our primary sources of happiness, hence lacking closeness is highly toxic to our mental health. Improving upon this would require many shifts, in both collective mentality and industrial organization, among various other factors.