A serious question for you: how often do you feel lonely? Not spending time alone but actually feeling lonely and isolated. It happens to all of us from time to time – we find ourselves on our own at a time when we’re craving a connection with someone. We feel lonely when we move to a new city or when we’re between relationships; when we go home for weekends and we have nobody to spend time with. We may feel especially cut off when we see all those happy couples and groups of friends out and about and having a good time.
Most of the time, loneliness is fleeting. It’s a temporary feeling, something we know is going to pass with time. The loneliness that comes after a break-up or a loss prompts us to reconnect with others. But for many of us, being lonely is something we feel all the time, a state of being rather than a momentary issue. And that chronic loneliness can actually hurt us over time.
That’s not hyperbole. Beyond the health issues that arise from social isolation, feeling chronically lonely triggers changes in us on the cellular level that can suppress our immune system, cause inflammation reactions and leave us more vulnerable to infection and disease. So, how do we overcome that loneliness?
Making friends is hard. Making close friendships among men is even harder… and yet as we get older, it’s something we need more of. As we get older, men tend to have fewer and fewer close male friendships, even as we crave it more. While it’s taboo to say out loud – it tends too close to being femme for toxic masculinity – men want the same emotional intimacy, support and and closeness from masculine friendships that women have with their friends.
Ironically, we don’t have this problem when we’re younger; making friends, even close friends, comes more naturally to us when we’re kids. But as we get older, we tend to have that skill drilled out of us.
As friends drift away or lives change as we get older, we’re left with a growing emotional void. It’s one of the perversities of getting older for men that our need for emotional intimacy doesn’t change but the outlets we have for that intimacy shrink. Because we fear the consequences of being open and vulnerable to others, we tend to rely on our romantic partners for emotional needs. Intimacy becomes something shared between lovers, not between friends and so closeness between men takes on romantic overtones.
We joke about “bromances” between two close male friends, with the teasing undertones of “there must be something there even if you won’t admit it.” Even when the social condemnation – the implicit “no homo” – is taken out, audiences still tend to interpret close friendships between men1 as being romantic.
Needless to say: people worry that in trying to make friends, they’ll be seen as trying to make a move instead. And so the skill – and opportunities to exercise it – wither away.
And so we end up alone in crowds; dozens or even hundreds of connections on social media but nobody to prop us up when disaster strikes.
So how do men relearn how to find and foster closer, more emotional friendships with other men?
- To be sure: part of this is because there’s a distinct lack of partnered homosexual main characters in genre fiction, which means that there’s a hunger to see such relationships portrayed… and the issues brought up by the overlap between the two would make an article all on its own [↩]