The Legion Lonely
August 11, 2017 11:21 AM   Subscribe

Over the past few decades, loneliness has reached almost epidemic levels, with men uniquely suffering its effects. How and why has isolation become such a threat? The phrase “No known relatives” appears repeatedly in police reports of the dead men’s homes. Letters of regret were found on floors and in backs of drawers: “I would like to see you if that’s possible, when you come to the city”; “It seems to me that our family should have gotten along.” The single rooms of the deceased are described as “roach infested” and “a complete mess,” indicating few or no visitors. The women...had people who checked up on them and so kept them alive; the men did not. “When you have time please come visit me soon at my place,” read another letter, unsent.

What conditions lead to this kind of isolation? Why men?
On men, friendship and loneliness. By MeFi's own Stephen Thomas.
posted by chococat (118 comments total) 130 users marked this as a favorite
 
Related, by another of MeFi's Own: Not With a Bang
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:35 AM on August 11 [10 favorites]


“Online social contacts with friends and family,” as one study put it, “were not an effective alternative for offline social interactions in reducing feelings of loneliness.”

Welp, there goes that crutch. I'm fucked.
posted by Capt. Renault at 11:43 AM on August 11 [19 favorites]


You already knew it in your bones, Louis.
posted by radicalawyer at 11:49 AM on August 11 [7 favorites]


"'Fickle' and 'calculating' is what men tend to be as friends..."

it me
posted by radicalawyer at 11:57 AM on August 11 [5 favorites]


Oh my god, this is almost unbearably sad; and of course nobody, among the red pill or MRA crowd, will ever care enough about other human beings to see this as a problem that men can help other men with or be there for them to forestall.
posted by clockzero at 11:57 AM on August 11 [40 favorites]


I associate the rise of loneliness with the fall of smoking. I could smoke periodically during the workday, I was sharing/bumming cigarettes with everyone from random strangers to the boss, it didn't alter my brain, and it was likely to kill me before I became old and lonely. It's a lot harder for me to make acquaintances in meatspace now without that ubiquitous ice breaker. There are substitutes, but no replacements.
posted by mattamatic at 12:01 PM on August 11 [23 favorites]


This was amazing. Thank you.
posted by SinAesthetic at 12:02 PM on August 11


I moved in with my fiancee a month ago and I am terrified of this, especially if we move. Definitely going to contact friends this weekend to set stuff up.
posted by Hactar at 12:05 PM on August 11


Oh my god, this is almost unbearably sad; and of course nobody, among the red pill or MRA crowd, will ever care enough about other human beings to see this as a problem that men can help other men with or be there for them to forestall.

If the MRA were really about men's rights, and wanted to help men, they'd be all over this. Of course, they're about antifeminism, not "men's rights."

Traditional, patriarchal families, small towns, tight-knit "ethnic" city neighborhoods, etc. were very bad and abusive for many people (especially women, children, and LGBT individuals) but they did have that guarantee of a social and emotional safety net, with women's unpaid labor supplying the bulk of it.

I would never want to go back to that, and think it would be terrible and oppressive, but with that safety net gone, there is nothing that has really replaced it.

I think this is why so many young men fall victim to the MRA/Red Pill/right-wing Reddit forums. Lonely women get sucked into multi-level-marketing schemes; men into toxic forums. All are cults, and cults prey on the lonely. And the men in this article didn't even have a cult to belong to.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 12:08 PM on August 11 [70 favorites]


Is this a thing? Well, I'm going to assume it's a thing just for the sake of argument.

What about fraternal organizations? Elk or Moose or Lions or Eagles or Rotary or Raccoons or Water Buffalo or Sons of the Desert? That sort of thing. I'm sure I'll never try one myself. I'm convinced they're all stuffed with conservative middle managers who just want to talk about golf and investments. Places that wouldn't want me and that I wouldn't want.

But are there modern, progressive, inclusive alternatives to such things? Groups that could hoover up lonely people and put them to work on worthy causes while offering them companionship? Lonesome No More?
posted by pracowity at 12:09 PM on August 11 [6 favorites]


This is the sort of thing that used to be , and still can be meaningfully addressed by organizations such as the Freemasons, whether single-sex or not. I know any number of unmarried/widowed older men who have a large multigenerational social network as a result of their memberships in a club or fraternal order.
posted by slkinsey at 12:13 PM on August 11 [9 favorites]


Way told me about working with a class of seventh-graders just last year. She read them that quote from Justin who, speaking of his friends and himself, says, “sometimes two people can really, really understand each other and really have a trust, respect, and love for each other.” These seventh-graders started laughing. “The dude sounds gay,” one of them said. Way set them straight, telling them that 85 percent of the boys she interviewed over 25 years sounded like this.

They were totally quiet. And then someone said, “For real?” Way said, Yeah, this is what boys sound like. All of a sudden, the boys were waving their hands to tell Way about their close friendships, their relationships, “and two boys who had just so-called ‘broken up’ their friendship, even started to talk to each other about the friendship.” As Way said, as soon as they learned having emotions and loving their friends was normal, “they were allowed to access what they really knew, and they were like, ‘This is me.’”
posted by Barack Spinoza at 12:16 PM on August 11 [106 favorites]


Yeah...I work from home and a lot of days it gets to be really fucking lonely. I don't really fit in with any of the guys around here (and they aren't around during the day anyway) so there really isn't any camaraderie in my life.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:20 PM on August 11 [5 favorites]


Great read, thanks for posting. I moved to China right after college (great way to get a head start on weakening all my college and high school friendships!), and one of the things that struck me and most of my other expat friends about social interaction was how touchy-feely most friends were with each other, men no less than women. Adult men holding hands, walking arm and arm, sitting around with arms slung over each other's shoulders, etc. This is fairly common around the world to greater or lesser degrees, but not in America. It took me awhile to realize this wasn't just a different, but morally neutral, set of social norms, but rather an objectively better, healthier way for humans to interact.

By the way, working/studying/living overseas has been the source of nearly every single post high-school friendship I've ever had (most of my college friends of any substance came from my study abroad time, including my now wife!). Throwing like-minded people into fun, intense, but stressful situations is a great way to forge friendships. But the downside of this has been that it doesn't last, my friends are now all over the world, some have come back to the US, others have stayed overseas. Which means those friendships have faded (I think) much worse than they would have had I just stayed in one place for the last 15 years. This causes me a good bit of regret, because I don't think I would have been happy if I had quickly settled down after college, and I definitely wouldn't be nearly the same person. I got a late start on a grown-up career, but now that I'm 40, I'm hoping our family will be able to find a "forever" home pretty soon, but we will probably need to move at least one more time before then and I worry about having basically one last shot to make friends, at an age where most people have made most of the friends they will have. Also, it's made me unconsciously feel that where I am now, there's no point to trying to make friends, since we plan to leave within a year or two. Making friends is so hard, who wants to put all that effort into something you know won't last?
posted by skewed at 12:24 PM on August 11 [12 favorites]


I view books as good friends. They will never abandon me.
posted by SPrintF at 12:26 PM on August 11 [8 favorites]


In a study Pollack did of boys age 12-18, only 15 percent of them projected “positive, forward-looking sentiment regarding their futures as men.”

While all men derive some benefit from the structural biases in our culture/politics/economy (hereinafter abbreviated as "the patriarchy"), it's these 15% of men who are the true beneficiaries. The patriarchy is shored up and maintained specifically for the benefit of the few men who can comfortably fit within its narrow definition of manliness or masculinity, and for those who don't fit?

Well, the best those other men can hope for is the economic benefits that accrue to nearly all men more than women, because if they end up broken, poor, or lonely, or in other various ways too far from that 15% of winners, they become (and as described in the article, in part make themselves) utterly disposable, forgotten even in their lifetimes, and unlamented after their deaths.

It still perplexes me how few people see and admit that the patriarchy does great harm to men as well as women.
posted by tclark at 12:28 PM on August 11 [35 favorites]


I’m just going to go ahead and quote a section from a classic Eyebrows McGee comment that seems relevant—

“a lifetime of skipping out on "emotional labor" and the pernicious social expectations that turn it in to women's work (so that men who DO do emotional labor are sometimes bypassed by social structures that push it onto their wives) creates real and significant negative outcomes for men who suffer emotionally and physically from their social isolation”

One of the big themes of the original EL thread was that most men are not taught how to perform it, nor how its mechanisms work on a societal level, even when their lives depend upon it. This article takes it even further (as did some in the megathread)-- a huge number of men are actively prevented from learning to create and maintain these sorts of bonds, and even the men who try to circumvent that programming often end up being mocked and punished for their attempts by the other men they are trying to reach out to.

I wonder if the ever-growing body of research that shows the very real danger of this condition will somehow change behavior on a population level. The change certainly isn't happening fast enough.

I ask my widowed father if he has thought about telling one of his friends about his current emotional struggles, and he acts as if I have suggested something perverse and unthinkable. If I sent him this article, he would agree with everything in it, but I don't know that it would inspire him to make any changes.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 12:31 PM on August 11 [60 favorites]


If you are in S/W Florida you could become a Harry Chapin food bank volunteer.
posted by notreally at 12:31 PM on August 11 [2 favorites]


I haven't finished this yet, but wow does it speak to me. My girlfriend is out of town this week, and we had a bad fight over the phone the other day. I was pretty upset, and I suddenly realized there were exactly zero people I could talk to about it. I know hundreds of people all over the world, but all of my close friendships have fallen apart from neglect over the years. I never noticed how completely socially isolated I was until that moment when I needed someone and there was nobody left.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 12:32 PM on August 11 [49 favorites]


Friendship in adulthood is a challenge for a lot of people. On average, both men and women start to lose friends around age 25, and continue to lose friends steadily for the rest of our lives. As adults, we tend to work more, commit to more serious romantic relationships, and start families, all of which end up taking priority over buddy time. Even if, like me, at age 34, you don’t have full-time work, you’re not in a relationship, and you’re nowhere close to starting your own family, others’ adulting leaves you bereft.

I'm 39 and nonbinary, married, with a toddler and a full-time job. A couple of years ago I started doing weekly Skype dates with three dear friends who live far from me, and a weekly dinner date with a friend who's local. Since my child was born and it's become much harder for me to go to the evening social events I used to attend, I've especially treasured those times of connecting with friends. We talk about ourselves, our families, our work, what we're reading, politics, whatever comes to mind. I really strongly recommend doing this, regardless of your gender or age or stage in life, if you're starting to feel that friendship attrition happen. Even those who have a lot of commitments can usually take 30 minutes a week to chat and catch up.
posted by rosefox at 12:34 PM on August 11 [21 favorites]


What about fraternal organizations? Elk or Moose or Lions or Eagles or Rotary or Raccoons or Water Buffalo or Sons of the Desert? That sort of thing. I'm sure I'll never try one myself. I'm convinced they're all stuffed with conservative middle managers who just want to talk about golf and investments. Places that wouldn't want me and that I wouldn't want.

One issue is that "fraternalism" and membership in social clubs is only now beginning to revitalize after several decades of steep decline. Because of the "generation gap" this created in these organizations, many potential participants make the same assumptions as you. Some of these assumptions are correct, of course, depending on the location and the local branch. But I do have to remark that the average Freemason I might be likely to meet in NYC today is far more likely to be a 30something lefty-liberal tatooed Wiccan who wants to talk about the western esoteric tradition, than a conservative middle manager who wants to talk about golf and investments.

Some of fraternal organizations such as the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, the Fraternal Order of Eagles, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, the Loyal Order of Moose and the Modern Woodmen of America, etc. (the Raccoon Lodge and Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes are fictional) were founded during the "age of fraternalism" and seem unlikely to rebound. But Freemasonry seems to be reviving, and many of the service organizations such as the Rotary Club seem to be doing well.
posted by slkinsey at 12:35 PM on August 11 [19 favorites]


What about fraternal organizations? Elk or Moose or Lions or Eagles or Rotary or Raccoons or Water Buffalo or Sons of the Desert? That sort of thing. I'm sure I'll never try one myself. I'm convinced they're all stuffed with conservative middle managers who just want to talk about golf and investments. Places that wouldn't want me and that I wouldn't want.

My own personal anecdata here is that I, and a lot of people I know, are atheists and thus we're explicitly forbidden from joining groups like the Freemasons. Can't make friendships with people who directly say you aren't worth having as a friend.
posted by haileris23 at 12:40 PM on August 11 [34 favorites]


When I was growing up I was always going places and doing things with my dad, surrounded by uncles, great-uncles, cousins, and family friends. Building things, fixing cars, hanging out at the barn, the garage whatever. But now I have moved far from my family, most of the older generation is dead, and the rest are scattered to the winds. I gotta say I miss that fraternalism. When I was younger, any project always had lots of helping hands. Now I fix and build things by myself. Not nearly as much fun.
posted by fimbulvetr at 12:41 PM on August 11 [12 favorites]


[Comment removed. Find a way to make your point without tossing around homophobic phrases or just skip the thread.]
posted by cortex at 12:44 PM on August 11 [9 favorites]


My own personal anecdata here is that I, and a lot of people I know, are atheists and thus we're explicitly forbidden from joining groups like the Freemasons.

This is certainly true of many of the largest and oldest fraternal organizations, although depending on the local chapter they may have far broader views of what can constitute "believing in god" than you might think. There are also plenty of offshoots that don't care about that at all. To the best of my knowledge, none of the service organizations have this requirement.
posted by slkinsey at 1:00 PM on August 11 [2 favorites]


atheists [are] explicitly forbidden from joining groups like the Freemasons.

I would join the right kind of atheist organization, especially if member families met every Sunday morning downtown to eat pancakes and watch old Warner Brothers cartoons in their pajamas in a building with a high tower and stained glass windows and a really loud bell that they were somehow permitted to bang over and over throughout the day and extra often on Darwin's birthday.
posted by pracowity at 1:02 PM on August 11 [50 favorites]


-I think this is why so many young men fall victim to the MRA/Red Pill/right-wing Reddit forums.

-One of the big themes of the original EL thread was that most men are not taught how to perform it, nor how its mechanisms work on a societal level, even when their lives depend upon it.

Both points remind me of this essay on Eric Hoffer's The True Believer. The True Believer is about the conditions that give rise to fanatical, totalizing mass movements and the social safeguards necessary prevent to people from falling prey to them.
Right now we have the following necessities: self-regard and valuable activity. Even if you don’t have those there’s a safeguard: community.

[...]

You’re going to say that mass movements are a “kind” of community, and I’d agree. But I think there’s a very important distinction between the two. Community – family, friends, whoever – make you accountable. They require action, and your identity is based in reciprocating those actions. Of course, you’ll always be your mother’s son, but for “being a son” to mean anything to you there have to be duties. At least you go to the funeral, right? More important: you can never fully give up your self, because “who you are” is obviously important to other people you care about, and it’s unique. To liquidate the self would be to harm them, which is inexcusable when done intentionally. There’s a reason that Dante put traitors in the very bottom of Hell.

All of this implies some kind of behavior. Movements, on the other hand, require only belief and identity.
In other words, participation in fanatical movements does not require emotional labor, which partly explains their attraction to frustrated, rootless people unwilling or unable to perform that labor. Conversely, performing emotional labor (or, as the essay suggests elsewhere, "meaningful work" of any sort) immunizes the laborer against the seductions of extremism.
posted by Iridic at 1:05 PM on August 11 [48 favorites]


The part about married men really hit home for me.
Aside from old friends that I see maybe once in a year, my real-life friends are the couple we see down the street (parents of my daughter's friend) and my wife's friends, (who are all awesome, but they are her friends.) I was the at-home parent for 3 kids starting in 1998 and the loneness seems compounded lately by the fact that my teenaged kids don't really need me much anymore and have their own thing going on. An old photo of my kids when they were small will get me weepy and I've been putting off archiving all the old home videos because I know it will make me an emotional wreck. I miss my kids like crazy when they aren't home and I'm sad for like a day if they are all away at once.
And I feel like I've sort of brought it on myself, isolated myself over the years. I like to do a lot of solo-stuff, making music/film etc. I hate talking on the phone. I don't even have the social media thing, besides Instagram and Twitter; I'm not on Facebook 'cause it grosses me out so I usually get "oh, so-and-so says happy birthday" type things through my wife's Facebook.
posted by chococat at 1:05 PM on August 11 [15 favorites]


I didn't have very many close friends going into my late 20's and early 30's, but what few I had contracted drastically having a kid. Most of my peers are not married, nor do they have children. I try really hard to keep in touch with them, but it's difficult when you work M-F and then have to pick your kid up from school, while they're doing service industry work with nonstandard hours and weird days off. Making more compatible friendships is made super difficult as a parent who doesn't really like being a parent. Like, I don't want to make friends with the dudes at my kid's soccer practice. They're tolerable and nice and all, but they're also all a solid generation or so ahead of me, usually far better off financially and their kids are neurotypical (ours is not). It's really hard to strike up a conversation with someone when they're drinking out of a $150 Snow Peak coffee mug and yelling at a ref about offsides or something, and feel like you're even going to have anything in common. Most of my hobbies are decidedly not kid friendly, so meeting parents through those hobbies is really, really difficult.

I had an interaction that crystalized this whole phenomenon really well for me, but because it was a moment of really nice true, deep friendship. A fairly good friend of mine from high school ended up living in the same neighborhood as us, and he got married and had a kid about the same time we did (we actually reconnected at one of those birthing classes. It was weird, and pretty great). I was slated to help him move some furniture (mostly as an excuse to hang out) and was getting some stuff ready around the house for our kid to go to bed. A super aggressive door-to-door sales guy come to our house. He wouldn't leave, he balked when I pointed him to our 'no soliciting' sign, and was just really disrespectful and a total asshole. I suffer from PTSD and historically one of my triggers has been people coming to our house unannounced. I was handling myself fairly well, but was still pretty dysregulated. I was trying to shake it off, and was on the phone with the company he's with to report his behavior. Not wanting to let this really get to me, I set off to my buddy's house. I get halfway there, turn a corner and this door-ro-door asshole almost bumps right into me. This guy starts to freak out that I'm following him (which, historically...is totally something I would do), and eventually takes a swing at me, which, in a moment of weird supernatural adrenaline filled bullet time, just barely missed me. My wife had texted my buddy because she was worried about me (again, my historic normal reaction to an event like this is to freak out and chase people out of the neighborhood screaming. It...it isn't pretty). He just set off to meet me halfway, and runs into me trying to get away from this guy. My friend rolls up, and is just there. Ready. Literally getting ready for a defensive brawl with The Threat he knows nothing about other than he's hassling me. This wasn't some macho expression or anything. Neither of us are fight club material, and are both tired, somewhat out of shape dads, so this is equal parts absurd and hilarious. The situation defused as a neighbor called the police and everything got settled more or less without any further incident.

But the fact that my friend was physically there, was SO HUGE and SO OVERWHELMING emotionally to me. I know so few people in my life that would literally, actually step up like that to protect each other, or the neighborhood, or whatever. I made it a point to tell my friend exactly how much that meant to me over a couple beers, and tried my best to convey how important that whole situation was. Trying to actively cultivate that kind of friendship going forward is a top priority of mine! It turned a super shitty situation into a really treasured moment.


When I was growing up I was always going places and doing things with my dad, surrounded by uncles, great-uncles, cousins, and family friends. Building things, fixing cars, hanging out at the barn, the garage whatever.

I never had that growing up, and oh how I wish I did. My social circle growing up was very much that of our religion (re: root cause of PTSD). I like fixing things, and working on stuff. We were financially in a place where I could buy a cheap shitty (fucking awesome) little motorcycle to work on. I have my friend from the neighborhood over every once in a while, and neither of us knowing a ton about motorcycles, slowly tinker away on it, often it devolving into us sitting in my garage drinking a beer. Working on it alone is fine, but working on it with a friend is rad. Best motorcycle ever.

I've got a spare beer koozie if anyone wants to come help. Prior knowledge or interest in motorcycles is not required.
posted by furnace.heart at 1:09 PM on August 11 [53 favorites]


I'm the mother of a male toddler and this story made me so sad. He is such an emotionally open, delightful little ray of sunshine right now and there's part of me that wants to just keep him out of school so he'll never be exposed to this toxic culture. I know that won't work, but god, I just hate to think of him ending up so lonesome.
posted by potrzebie at 1:16 PM on August 11 [26 favorites]


Guess it's time to get good at bowling alone.
posted by johnnydummkopf at 1:26 PM on August 11 [2 favorites]


This is so exciting for me to have this posted (I made this bizarrely gushy post in 2009 and I still feel the same, though I've never been a frequent commenter). I'm glad the response here seems to be so positive.

Since Barack Spinoza highlighted Niobe Way's anecdote from the end of the piece, I thought I would share with you the director's cut, which had to be trimmed due to length considerations, but which is so much better in Way's own words:
I’ll tell you one story. I work with seventh graders now. Black and Latino, and a few white kids. In an all-boys school. You gotta imagine twelve-year-old boys. Petite, with these little high voice. And they’re sitting there, reading Deep Secrets [Way's book]. And the first page, there’s that quote, from Justin, that says, “I love him so much, I can’t live without him,” etc. And they start laughing. And I knew why they were laughing. But I said, Why are you laughing? And no one would tell me. And I said Come ooon, tell me why you’re laughing. So finally one kid says, Well the dude sounds gay. And I said, Well, I actually didn’t ask him whether he was gay, but let me tell you something. I have been interviewing boys for over twenty-five years, and this is what boys sound like when they’re teenagers. 85% of my boys that I interview sound like this at some point during adolescence. And they were totally quiet. And then someone said, “For real?” And I said “Yeah, this is what boys sounds like.” And then all of a sudden, within under a minute, the boys were waving their hands to tell me about their close friendships, their relationships, and two boys who had just so-called ‘broken up’ their friendship, even started to talk to each other about the friendship. All I needed to do was say, “This is normal.” And that changed the entire tenor of the classroom. They all had their stories to share, whereas a minute before they had said ‘this is gay’. So all I had to do was normalize it, and then they immediately went to what they really know, which is that they have friendships or they want them or they’re struggling with them or whatever it is, but their first read is this shallow, false interpretation, that the guy’s gay. The second read, after I said it’s normal, is, ‘This is me. And let me tell you about me! This is about my friendships.’ It was remarkable.
And I need to share one more part of Way's interview, none of which made it into the final essay:
I teach adults and talk to adults in interviews, people who call in to radio shows, etc. I get men from across the country, and it’s always fascinating to me what their comments are.

So, the suicide rate peaks, it’s the highest for men 40-55. I think that block is most likely to commit suicide, and it’s also the group that's increased the most dramatically in the last 15 years. Like 50% in the past 15 years. By the way, look up suicide rates men between 40-55. I think that particular age group is just off the charts in terms of suicide rates. Anyway, what’s consistent with these call-ins, is that those are the men who’ll say things like, “This is not true for me. I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I’ll say, “Okay, it’s not true for everybody. How are your relationships with your guy friends?” And they’ll say “I have lots of guy friends! I don’t need anymore guy friends! I have lots!” And I’ll say “Well, that’s great, glad to hear. I’m wondering, is there any one of them you could really talk to, if something was going on in your marriage, or something that was going on that was a little more challenging?” And almost always the response is, “Oh no. I don’t need to talk about that!” Meaning, that the guy friends, for the most part, are guys he works with or hangs out with or whatever it is, or he’s known since he was younger, but they’re not necessarily the kinds of friendships that the boys when they’re 13 are saying that they need and want. Which is the ones they can be vulnerable with, the ones who won’t laugh at them, the ones to whom they can tell their deepest secrets – those are the friendships they want. And the fact that these men happen to be the highest group of suicides, I don’t think that’s random.

Then when you get men over 60 – and again this is all anecdotal, men calling me, writing me – they almost always will have the opposite reaction. They’re the ones who will say “You’re telling my story. I wish we had this book in my generation.” This one beautiful man drove like three hours from upstate in Maine to hear me give a talk. And then he brought the library book of Deep Secrets, because he couldn’t afford the book, to show me he’d read the book. And he said, I drove three hours because I really wanted to hear you talk, very emotional. He’s probably 70 or 75. He said “This is my story. We needed this when I was younger.” I’ve heard from lots of older men, that sense of, I had a man come up to me after a talk, in his 70s I’m guessing, and he was all teary-eyed, and said, “I’ve been trying to find the friends I had when I was younger my whole life. And I’ve never found it. Although recently my daughter just turned 40, and I’m starting to discover that I can have an intimate friendship with her. But otherwise I’ve been looking my whole life.” Just lots and lots of stories from older men like that.

And then I get the 20 year olds, the undergraduates, who will say “Oh my God, oh my God, this is me! I had this friend...” Or, “This is what I worry about!” There’s so much loneliness around college students. We go over this book in the classes I teach. And inevitably the men are crying, the women are crying. There’s so much loneliness. And looking for deep connection. And definitely a sense that men are struggling with this more than women, for obvious reasons.

The pressures to man up, the pressures to disconnect from a core human need that is not just a need, but is the need – to connect deeply with other people.
It was a really incredible interview. I can't recommend her book highly enough, if you're interested in this topic. Deep Secrets.
posted by skwt at 1:29 PM on August 11 [80 favorites]


So this is my #1 fear, quite possibly my only real existential fear. I have a good marriage. I have a good relationship with my kids. But as I age becoming isolated is a real fear, even surrounded by people. My wife wants to retire in the country (someday). My attitude is that I'd prefer to retire to the downtown of a big city as I need as many possible sources of friendship as possible around. But apparently that, as the Chicago example shows, isn't enough.
posted by GuyZero at 1:30 PM on August 11 [6 favorites]


One of the best parts about my kids becoming old enough where they're mostly-autonomous is being able to hang out with friends and family again sans kids. None of the article's concerns about men's experiences as kids rang true to me. The pressures one has as a teen (don't be emotional and so on) certainly did, but none of that damaged my ability to have male friends.
posted by jpe at 1:36 PM on August 11


I see this coming for me and don't know what to do.

I don't like most other men. I communicate better with women, because they actually fucking communicate. A series of moves and disruptions and a shitty, isolating and abusive marriage later (and a second marriage that wasn't that bad, but wasn't great either) and I find myself kind of a ghost.

Most men I meet are asshats, or just plain dull, and most women are (rightly) hesitant to make friends with a solitary man. I don't seem to have friends anymore, only lovers. Other parents are sometimes cool, but it's like they live in some other, kinder world. (Or a far shittier one, sometimes, to which no thanks.)

I went to a therapist, once. I felt so pathetic for paying someone to listen to me that I stopped.

You'd never know it if you saw me. I'm reasonably handsome, friendly, always quick to hold a door or help a stranger.

I just don't know what to do next.
posted by BS Artisan at 1:40 PM on August 11 [43 favorites]


It can be grimmer still for gay men, who struggle with loneliness even more than straight men.
That's ironic, considering how much the fear of being seen as gay (and/or womanly) drives the isolation of straight men.
posted by clawsoon at 1:43 PM on August 11 [10 favorites]


I had a great core group of close friends in college and into my mid 20's. Then marriages, careers, kids and relocations changed all that. I know the friendships have drifted away, and I feel like I should do something to recharge them. I just can't seem to get myself to do it. I wonder if my old buddies feel the same way?
posted by bwvol at 1:46 PM on August 11 [4 favorites]


I went to a therapist, once. I felt so pathetic for paying someone to listen to me that I stopped.


It's not pathetic. Therapy can be really, really helpful. It's helped me.

But a therapist is not a friend, and friends can be supportive, but ultimately they're not therapists.*


* Unless your friends are literally therapists in which case they probably don't want to hear about why you hate your mother over drinks
posted by GuyZero at 1:48 PM on August 11 [18 favorites]


I am a gay man in my 30s whose friends are mostly (but not by any means exclusively) other gay men in their 30s and I can confirm that there is something particularly disturbing about the types of loneliness that I see in us, mostly centering on people that spend extraordinary amounts of time holed up in their homes smoking pot.

I'm just fortunate I don't like pot.
posted by Automocar at 1:54 PM on August 11 [4 favorites]


I'm the mother of a male toddler and this story made me so sad. He is such an emotionally open, delightful little ray of sunshine right now and there's part of me that wants to just keep him out of school so he'll never be exposed to this toxic culture. I know that won't work, but god, I just hate to think of him ending up so lonesome.

I know you have the best of intentions and such, but this is an easily seen sort of cultural Freudian slip - instantaneously reacting to this grand alienation by instinctively trying to alienate your kid further as a first reaction, like reacting to paranoia by becoming paranoiac yourself.
posted by hleehowon at 1:54 PM on August 11 [2 favorites]


I wonder if my old buddies feel the same way?

More than likely.
posted by fimbulvetr at 1:55 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


One of the most surprising things about my father's death was all the men who adored him and came out of the woodwork to let us know he'd been their rock. Men I knew as my dad's casual acquaintances or fellows I didn't even know existed called to tell my mother and me how much they grieved for his loss. One man told us that he knew something was up when my dad didn't call him the week before. He said, "Sam calls me every week to check in. He makes sure my chemo went okay and that I'm eating right and we talk for about an hour every time. When he didn't call, I knew something was wrong." Another man, one of Dad's horse trading buddies, said in the most heartbreaking voice, "Who will I talk to now?"

Others told me that Dad got them through divorces, helped them get new jobs, talked them through problems with their kids, and all the heavy emotional shit that I never thought he did. Here was a man who hated crowds, would happily sit in silence with the women in his life that he loved and felt safe with, but he apparently would spend hours each day on the phone with all his friends.

But of course, for all the listening he did to their problems and for all the comfort he provided others, he didn't call a single one when he found out he had cancer and less than a few weeks to live. Because he didn't want to "put anybody out."
posted by teleri025 at 1:55 PM on August 11 [90 favorites]


I myself use a remote cronjob to send emails to remind myself to contact my friends to meet in the flesh. It's better than Facebook since there's no third party, no ads, no news feed, no distraction, although I've been procrastinating on a multi-layer queue for the timing on the reminders for like 2 years. UI is also crap, and I've been procrastinating on making a better UI for 2 years too.
posted by hleehowon at 1:56 PM on August 11 [9 favorites]


That's ironic, considering how much the fear of being seen as gay (and/or womanly) drives the isolation of straight men.

Glib oversimplification alert:

What do you think drives the isolation of gay men? (especially if you don't live in one of the gay bubbles like the stretch from Boystown to Edgewater)
posted by PMdixon at 2:03 PM on August 11 [6 favorites]


chococat, thank you for bringing this essay to my attention. I'll be re-reading and sharing it. And thank you, skwt.
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:09 PM on August 11 [3 favorites]


My dad wasn't like this at all. He's one of the few men I know who wasn't. Lucky for him - in some ways - it was like there was something broken in his social processing that didn't register subtle negative reactions from other men.

He - and some other men like him - found a home in the Evangelical church, where - in some corners, at least - crying and emoting and sharing were a-okay. He was able to form close, supportive, sharing friendships with other men like him right up until the end. (I'm realizing now that many of them were, like him, former-Mennonite-turned-Evangelical.) He formed friendships like he was a kid who hadn't yet learned about vulnerability.

I was not blessed with the same openness or the same beliefs.
posted by clawsoon at 2:12 PM on August 11 [4 favorites]


I've got a group of friends and we've known eachother since high school or earlier. We meet as a group maybe every month or 6 weeks or so and maybe some of us will meet individually in between that as well. There are 4 of us (used to be 5 but one of us moved out of the country). We're pretty close and we can and do confide in each other but the group has already gone from 5 to 4 and life events could easily make it smaller. That group and maybe two other people are my real close friends. I'd love to have more but that requires time that I just don't have. Between work and family it is already hard to schedule time to meet up with my existing close friends. Finding the time to make new close friends feels like an impossibility to me right now.

I'm going to call a couple of people this weekend to make plans to hang out because I'm pretty sure they're lonely and my wife and kids are out of town so I have more time to be social.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 2:21 PM on August 11 [3 favorites]


In my work as a community college admissions rep, I have talked to thousands of adult men, many at some kind of transition point in their lives - job loss and divorce, for example.

Many are alone and a bit adrift. Sometimes they say that, others it's just obvious.

The easy part of my work is simply helping people sift through program options, navigate processes, understand the timetables of education. That's easy. In fact, it's all on the website or in our publications. They know that.

So why are they in my office?

I think they visit for the other half of my work. I start every single visit with the same question: "What brings you here today?"

In practical terms, they could tell me that in 60 seconds, and some do. But most tell their stories. Haltingly, at first, with little eye contact. They start with events like a recent split, a move back with their parents, a downsizing at the shop, an OWI. If I just keep listening, and especially if I ask open-ended follow-ups, they tell me - an utter stranger - how they feel. Usually not in so many words, but it's there if you listen.

I can often hear loneliness in their voices, I think, in their openness to even our fleeting connection across my desk. I can see it in the way they settle in, physically, as they relax a bit while simply talking at length, maybe especially with another guy.

My therapist told me that the brain responds to positive, affirming conversations on a chemical level. I haven't looked into the science, but I'm inclined to believe it. It seems likely these men have not talked about their lives and hopes and fears with very many people, if at all, in a long time.

One reason I sometimes hope they commit to a training or degree program is so they can be around other people more. They'll get small talk, and maybe some degree of friendship, out of reporting to the same classroom, workshop, or lab on a regular basis. That's gotta be a help.

All this became a lot more relevant for me this year. In the months leading up to and since my divorce, I found it far too easy to isolate myself. When I moved out, I found myself, per our child custody agreement, alone 50% of the time. It was unspeakably lonely, some nights. My gifted therapist and - yes - Metafilter were great helps. My dad called, and my brother, and my oldest friend. My coworkers invited me out, or to their homes. I met new neighbors.

I've crawled out of the shell I began building around myself, partly out of sheer determination to avoid becoming the sort of lonely man who craves connection so much he unburdens himself on the first peer who will listen.

I'm very, very lucky to find myself in a better situation than so many men (and women). This article is like a stab to the heart of my life and work, though welcome in ways difficult to explain.

Thank you for sharing it.
posted by Caxton1476 at 2:22 PM on August 11 [32 favorites]


My Dad was fairly quiet. A core of a few close friends, and good relationships with business acquaintances. He joined Rotary and the Masons, and threw himself into some community and social projects. He always people to draw on, right to the end.

There's definitely a void in many peoples' lives now that church membership is declining.

Me - I look for interest groups to join. When I felt lonely in a new town, i forced myself to join a little theatre group, where I met my now wife.

Now, our circle of friends comes from the arts organizations my wife has volunteered at, our boat club, and a few close friends that we've hung onto over the years.

To anyone who's lonely: join something. Seek out people who you share an interest with. Sports, hobbies, art, whatever. If you don't have such an interest... try something new.
posted by Artful Codger at 2:27 PM on August 11 [13 favorites]


You have to join something that demands something of you, and not by the mail. Putnam noted the illusion of the mass membership of the mailing list organizations: those are not in the flesh. If you can't poke their nose, you didn't join anything.
posted by hleehowon at 2:29 PM on August 11 [7 favorites]


If you just joined Metafilter, you didn't join anything, either. Don't succumb to such an illusion. Sorry, folks.
posted by hleehowon at 2:32 PM on August 11 [6 favorites]


Joining a faith community is another way to get meet people, get hugs, contribute to the community, and have people care about you that aren't relatives.

For those of you who are atheists, have you considered the Unitarians? Or maybe the Center for Spiritual Living or some other non-Christian, non-theistic faith community? When I was still Unitarian, I knew tons of people who weren't sure if there was a God, or adamantly didn't believe in any sort of God, but still went on work trips, fed the hungry, marches for causes, and snacked on warm cider and Wheat Thins. It's worth investigating.
posted by dancing_angel at 2:35 PM on August 11 [4 favorites]


This is my fear, as well. Not just of being lonely, but of paradoxically turning down chances to connect. One of the benefits of being in AA is not only in working the program but in simply being able to connect with people in some kind of social situation that doesn't involve going to a bar, and if I turn down a chance to hang out with friendly, considerate people with whom I have something very important in common, I have to turn that around and ask myself if it's that good of an idea to make excuses and go home to watch TV or play videogames.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:37 PM on August 11 [9 favorites]


If you just joined Metafilter, you didn't join anything, either. Don't succumb to such an illusion. Sorry, folks.

MetaFilter, like most things, is what you make of it. For a lot of folks it may not mean much besides a place to read stuff on the web. For a lot of folks it means more. It's okay wherever you fall on that, but don't try to peg everyone else to wherever you are.
posted by cortex at 2:44 PM on August 11 [44 favorites]


This reminds me of a study (which I posted previously) which found that boys - not girls, as usually assumed - are most likely to engage in "relational aggression". Not sharing with other guys just seems... prudent.

dancing_angel: For those of you who are atheists, have you considered the Unitarians?

Yeah, I went to a Unitarian church a couple of times. It... I dunno. You can't just turn that openness back on.

Last time I was looking for glasses, I found myself wanting to find the kind of glasses that were worn by the kindly, comforting Mennonite Brethren-Evangelical men that my Dad somehow stayed connected with across multiple moves and hundreds of miles and passing years. I wanted to capture a teeny bit of that slight smile and gentleness.

(The built-in misogyny and homophobia, though, maybe not so much.)
posted by clawsoon at 2:53 PM on August 11 [5 favorites]


This is an issue I think about often as I approach my 60's.

A few years ago I moved across the country; I didn't do it to alienate myself from my immediate family but of course that was a consequence. I stay in touch with them online, though as Capt. Renault quoted above, it's not the same. In my current job I've worked from home for the past 6 or 7 years, and while I'm generally very happy with the arrangement I recognize that it further separates me from direct contact with others. I have local friends (largely thanks to the Metafilter community), and there's a great sense of camaraderie when we hang out, but getting together only happens sporadically.

I've been single for over 15 years and I'm okay with it - not thrilled, but c'est la vie. I'm capable and self-motivated enough to keep house and eat sensibly and so on, and I've learned to do some or all of my own emotional labor (as someone mentioned upthread) to the extent that's possible. I'm introverted, or as I prefer "monk-like", enough to face my solitude with tranquility. So most of the time I don't feel particularly lonely.

But I'm keenly aware that my ability to drive and hold a job and care for myself - and afford things like A/C and an Internet connection - won't last forever. I find myself wondering when I will have to unwillingly give up that sort of freedom and independence, what few choices I'll have at that point, and what if anything I can do in the meantime to prepare for it.
posted by Greg_Ace at 2:54 PM on August 11 [18 favorites]


Halloween Jack, I've noticed that all the sober people I know have built strong social networks through AA.

As for me, I grew up in the UU church, or at least I went with my family until I lost what little faith the UU church required at the age of 14 (basically, I just didn't see the point anymore). There's been a part of me that's wanted to go back for the sake of community, but it's not something I can put my heart into anymore. I don't feel like I can relate.

There is also that sense of feeling like the patient zero of loneliness described in the article; at this point I don't even know how to feel around other people, and especially other guys. It ends up driving a lot of how I approach social gatherings. I wasn't always the guy who sat in the corner and left early, but I am now. I can still entertain people at a dinner table, but frankly, it just wears me out now that I'm in my 30s. It seems like I just don't form the bonds that I used to. The energy isn't there anymore.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 3:04 PM on August 11 [9 favorites]


If you just joined Metafilter, you didn't join anything, either. Don't succumb to such an illusion.

That's where Metafilter's numerous meet-ups can come in. After all, MeFi IRL's motto is "get out. meet people."
posted by Doktor Zed at 3:25 PM on August 11 [5 favorites]


I'd like to propose a Metafilter meetup where we eye each other warily across the table for an hour or two, then drift away silently, satisfied that we did not make ourselves vulnerable.
posted by clawsoon at 3:30 PM on August 11 [57 favorites]


You can't just turn that openness back on.

This is an excellent way of putting it. Post divorce I am now kinda sorta getting to the point where there is more than one person at a time I will let in. And it is so hard. Any kind of emotional vulnerability or risk taking - especially outside of a 1-on-1 setting - feels incredibly dangerous. And it's not just letting people see in - accepting comfort still feels wrong even if I just spent 30 minutes crying in front of someone. It's like, alright, I have done the unspeakable and been not-OK in front of you, oh god now you're going to behave in ways that show you were paying attention and processing my shit? Fuck - can't we just abruptly change the subject to bitching about work?

I-and-I-think-most-men spent a lot of time and energy walling that openness off. To not be an emotional autarky is to have failed, basically - however pathological that metric may be. And accepting that you have to be vulnerable to stay alive is one thing - not feeling that failure while doing so is another, harder, one.

I don't think I've managed the latter yet.
posted by PMdixon at 3:44 PM on August 11 [12 favorites]


I'm lucky. Well, sort of. My grandmother was a bit of a crazy shut-in. Some of this was her career: she was a writer, and speaking as one myself, I often just want like three weeks to myself to finish a project and the entire world can just Go Away.

But a lot of it was just that she didn't ever get out,she didn't have friends to speak of. It was just her and my step-grandpa, and they didn't really do a lot together by the time I was old enough to know them, (they lived pretty far away), and it was plainly driving her bats: work at home, live at home, never really see anything past your front lawn.

Our relationship was pretty fraught and didn't end well, and I blamed her isolation for most of it. The rest, I blamed on us being too alike, and not all of it good.

I resolved never to turn out like that, and so I made a proactive effort to connect with people even though I'm a pretty die-hard introvert. When I'm happy, it's easy. When I'm down, I think of it like medication: 'I don't feel up to talking to people, but if I don't, I'll go literally insane and I've already decided not to try that.' I think without that certainty, it would've been easy to shed pretty much every emotional anchor I've developed over the years. I mean, it's easy to be disconnected: life moves on.

It hadn't really occurred to me until a lot later that this was a problem lots of men had, and not just me. (Part of this is that I can count my RL male friends on one hand, so I'm a lot more familiar with problems that happen to women at this point.)

I'm watching someone in my girlfriend's family getting radicalized toward crazy right-wing stuff through this as we speak - no friends, bad home situation, and all his online friends are horrible Gamergate bastards. It's turning him into sort of a monster, and it's so sad because he could be so much more. I need to pass her this article later.

Thanks for the link, and stuff to think about, chococat.
posted by mordax at 3:51 PM on August 11 [14 favorites]


My dad wasn't like this at all. [...] He - and some other men like him - found a home in the Evangelical church, where - in some corners, at least - crying and emoting and sharing were a-okay. He was able to form close, supportive, sharing friendships with other men like him right up until the end. (I'm realizing now that many of them were, like him, former-Mennonite-turned-Evangelical.) He formed friendships like he was a kid who hadn't yet learned about vulnerability.

One wonders to what degree this factor contributes to the popularity of Evangelical churches. It surely most be more than negligible, if these are the only places where emotionally unconstricted men can feel comfortable and free expressing themselves in this society!

(One wonders, too, how such men could ever leave such an environment, even if they came to be disenchanted with other aspects.)
posted by tenderly at 3:55 PM on August 11 [6 favorites]


The red pill/gamergate/etc. connection is interesting. It's as if the template for being a man was a) you shut down your vulnerability and b) you got a wife who took care of your emotional and social needs. Being entitled to a wife just for being alive is no longer done for obvious reasons of justice, but shutting down vulnerability is still very much part of the template. The result is total emotional isolation. Men getting the new deal sense that it's a broken deal. It is a broken deal. Our society should not be structured so that a large proportion of half the population ends up totally emotionally isolated.

I hope that someone smarter than me can figure out how to change male-male culture so that we no longer get this broken deal.
posted by clawsoon at 4:07 PM on August 11 [11 favorites]


Somehow bros before hos didn't quite do it.
posted by clawsoon at 4:11 PM on August 11


The red pill/gamergate/etc. connection is interesting.

Also you get to replace all those different confusing emotions with a nice single, clear-cut one: anger towards the other. Mostly women, sometimes foreigners, "cucks", etc. Feel sad, lonely, isolated, frustrated, confused? Nope. You're just angry.
posted by GuyZero at 4:16 PM on August 11 [21 favorites]


...Like the rhesus macaque monkeys in a horrific 1965 study who were kept in a “pit of despair” and then shunned when reintroduced to the group, “humans may similarly drive away lonely members of their species,” concluded the authors of the Framingham study. Over time, lonely people are pushed further and further away from others, which only increases their loneliness further, which causes further ostracization.
Please don't follow the Wikipedia links at this point in the article, unless you're ready for some fairly depressing reading.
posted by ovvl at 4:19 PM on August 11 [7 favorites]


Also you get to replace all those different confusing emotions with a nice single, clear-cut one: anger towards the other. Mostly women, sometimes foreigners, "cucks", etc. Feel sad, lonely, isolated, frustrated, confused? Nope. You're just angry.

I don't think this was talked about in the article, but I've noticed for myself that there's another simplification: Desire for tenderness is often shrunken down into sexual desire. I'm not sure if that's part of the general emotional simplification that men are socialized into, but it seems like it might be. And maybe that ties into the homophobia? If your emotions have been simplified so that you can't feel tender without feeling sexual, and feeling sexual toward another man is the great horror, then tenderness toward another man is unthinkable.
posted by clawsoon at 4:28 PM on August 11 [35 favorites]


If I can give a suggestion to guys here that are wondering how to reconnect to friends that you think would also like to get in touch - share something. I am the person in one of my social groups that holds people together, and I do that by hosting get-togethers. Have people over for a bbq, or a movie night, or dinner. It doesn't have to be expensive - you can make a big pot of spaghetti, or grill up some hotdogs, the trick is to just make the effort to get people together. It takes a little patience and understanding - sometimes you need to propose a few different dates and then pick the one that the most people can attend, and you have to not get annoyed if someone can't make it. It's work, but maintaining friendships is effort that is repaid in joy, love, and support. it's so worth it.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 4:29 PM on August 11 [15 favorites]


Yeah, seeing a lot of myself here, even if I'm not quite in the danger zone right now--I'm in the band aid group, with a wonderful spouse who keeps me from feeling lonely. A problem, though, is that unlike the author, antisocial has always been a pretty good descriptor for me. My wife too, so we're not in the group where the wife manages the social life, we just take care of each other. (Though she does have a lot more social connections than I do, she really doesn't like hanging out in groups.)

I never had a lot of friends, but I had a few close friends in high school, then a different set in college, and a third set in grad school. Since grad school...yeah, pretty much nothing. I keep in contact with exactly one person from grad school (we do tabletop RPGs--just my family, my one friend, and one of my wife's).

I get emails from the college crew, talking about visiting at class reunions/homecoming, but (a) working three jobs doesn't mix easily with taking a trip and (b) I basically feel like a failure in everything but my marriage, so I'm reluctant to meet up with them and chat.

We've seen studies like this before, and can see trouble ahead if my wife passes before I do, so she pushes me to commit to going out and meeting people in that circumstance...but we dislike socializing so much that there's no way we're going to go out and do that now, when it would make more sense.
posted by Four Ds at 4:39 PM on August 11 [6 favorites]


There's a lot going on in this article, it's a hell of a great read.

I think about my dad, who drove everyone away from him (myself included) that nobody really noticed he was going from "The government is coming to take my guns!" To "No seriously, the government is in a van watching me and they're coming to take my guns any minute now." There was no one he could really reach out to that would've seen his suicide coming, because he'd alienated a lot of the family and he never really had any friends. He'd always start to develop a friendship, then there'd be some slight, imagined or otherwise, and poof, they're gone forever.

I think about my mom, who doesn't really have any friends because she put so much stock in family. She basically hung around with her mom (my grandmother) at every opportunity until she died and put going to family events as more important than anything else. Now that my grandmother has passed, the family is off doing their own thing and my aunts and uncles have their own lives. It's *abundently clear* she's sort of expecting that we're going to hang out all the time and be best buddies but a 60+ year old woman that works basically part-time and a near-40 year old dude don't have a whole lot of common in terms of interests and even if we did, I have a significant other and a life of my own. It's frankly exhausting when she gets some time off and it's like WE HAVE TO GO TO THIS THING AND WE HAVE TO DO THIS AND WE ARE GOING TO GO ON A FAMILY CRUISE... Then I have to say no, I can't, because I have obligations, and I'm the jerk that doesn't want to do anything fun. But while she has social groups, she doesn't have friends she hangs out with, because that's what my sister and I are for (in her head). And she's deeply offended that my aunt who has friends and kids of her own and a life doesn't want to hang out with her all the time. How dare she!

In my case, I do have some pretty good friends, but it's hard to stay in touch and I feel a lot of the "potting" argument is correct. My girlfriend and I were part of a social group in the town we just moved from and were kind of worried we'd be missing out. But we moved, then another couple that we hung out with moved, then one of the single girls paired up and went into "I can't go anywhere without my spouse" mode, and the remaining guys were always hard to drag out anyway. So in the end, I'm glad we didn't stay because the band was going to break up anyway! In that case it was largely cost of living in the city driving everyone away.

But at the same time, if my partner dies before I do, I have a sister about my age who lives nearby but we don't have much of a relationship, and my friends are scattered to the four winds, and my family is largely cousins all over the place who'd feel no obligations, so yeah, it's entirely likely I'll die alone and unlamented and be eaten by my cats. That's actually fine with me. I've always been a loner type and honestly I can't say I've ever felt lonely. I was just thinking my ideal job would be a forest ranger if there was an indoor equivalent, because I could hang out by myself and not have to deal with anyone, and it would be pretty sweet.

The RedPill observation crystallized some of my thinking about that whole sphere. I read a lot of RedPill/Incel-type forums because I like gawking at trainwrecks and for a bunch of men who don't need women, they are absolutely obsessed with women and what they're doing. But at the same time, their standards are basically "An 18 year old virgin with a porn star body that likes everything I like and will never so much as look at another man," and they obviously don't have anyone in their lives to talk to and gently hint that's, uh, unrealistic, or to steer them into socializing or otherwise help them out of the mental and social corner they're backing themselves into.

I think a lot of it is actually schooling and never really learning to function as an independent social person. Because you go to school for 12, 16, 20 years, and every day there are lots of people to socialize with even if you don't really like them, and there are activities and programs catered to you, and there are lots of adults with an interest in making sure you're a semi-functional person...and then you graduate and it's entirely possible to go to work, come home, sleep, repeat for 60 years until you die and no one gives a single damn if you've talked to another living soul.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 6:15 PM on August 11 [24 favorites]


I'm lonely. It's because when my wife and I split, everyone I knew in town treated it like a triumphant heroic liberation and couldn't wait to lend her a hand, while basically completely dropping me or expecting me to reach out and make the effort, even though I was retraumatized and triggered into an acute state of abandonment PTSD that makes trusting anyone enough to form healthy relationships next to impossible for me. There were literally women from FB groups bringing my wife Starbucks coffee every morning even when we were still cohabitating for the first six months of our separation and she was still leading me to believe that if only I followed every instruction and behaved exactly as she asked, she might decide not to make the separation permanent. I was up early every morning brewing coffee to bring her in bed, prepared exactly how I knew she liked it, but the impression among her local friends seemed to be she was some distraught victim who needed comfort and help to manage, while the assumption was that I must be doing just fine. At the end of that period, she told me I'd done perfectly, addressing every concern she had but that that had only made her angrier with me because she knew now I could have done it all along. I'm still severely emotionally screwed up and I don't know when or if I'll ever get another opportunity to feel normal and healthy again. It doesn't exactly help she rushed the divorce and wouldn't work with me through a mediator or counselor so now I'm also financially ruined.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:35 PM on August 11 [12 favorites]


Ghostride The Whip, I think the indoor equivalent of forest ranger is night watchman -- you work alone, and then the flipped work hours isolate you from others even more.
posted by Iris Gambol at 6:47 PM on August 11 [2 favorites]


I have so many thoughts and feelings about this. I've typed out this comment about twenty times in various ways, added thoughts and removed them and it still feels like a jumble.

Any kind of emotional vulnerability or risk taking - especially outside of a 1-on-1 setting - feels incredibly dangerous.

Yeah, this really resonates with me. I feel... vulnerable with more or less frequency, and it feels fraught to voice that feeling in most situations. When I ask myself "who can you be vulnerable with?" I have some names, but the list is riddled with qualifications. "I express THIS vulnerability with this person, but it can/must only be expressed in a certain way." And I can't be too upset about it. In practice, an emotional safety net of sorts can be cobbled together, but it is limited.

I think also for me, my capacity to do this is really limited, both in terms of expressing emotional vulnerability (it's hard work!), but also the act of having intense friendships. I need solo time, and between work, exercising, and being an active, engaged parent, there's not a lot of room. Weeknights are basically out except like once a month, and between swimming lessons, cooking, groceries, the lawn, etc etc, time on weekends is quite precious and I might not want to socialise; I might desperately want to relax with a book or a dinner at a restaurant with the kids (and my partner!!) But it comes at a cost.
posted by smoke at 6:57 PM on August 11 [7 favorites]


mordax is bringing up an aspect of male social isolation and loneliness which frankly TERRIFIES the shit out of me. The radicalization aspect of it. The Red Pill/MRA/Gamergate aspect of it. That Red Pill/ MRA/Gamergate side could just as easily be joining ISIS or kindred groups.
As a society, we have to counter this stuff.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 7:26 PM on August 11 [9 favorites]


That Red Pill/ MRA/Gamergate side could just as easily be joining ISIS or kindred groups.
As a society, we have to counter this stuff.


I constantly encourage my husband to reach out to guys. We had a conversation about it tonight in fact. His stock answer is "guys don't do that" or "guys have to have a reason to get together, we're not like women where we just say 'let's get together and drink wine' ". Meanwhile, all my girlfriends and I discuss (over wine!) basically arranging "play dates" for the husbands - the kids are an after thought and it doesn't really matter so much if the kids really like each other or get along well. When we do get the husbands together they all drink too much in order to cope with their " social anxiety" and then my husband monday morning quarterbacks a three hour dinner for the next three days, worrying that he said something offensive or working himself up over something that someone said so that he can claim to be offended and go back to isolating himself.

Going on two decades of marriage I've stopped doing all of the tender EL around it and I've started in with the " jesus christ man be a little more confident about yourself and stop worrying so damn much about what other people think of you." It's becoming exhausting to be around.

So while I agree that we have to participate in our communities and check in on one another, we can't just say that it falls to society. Frankly that puts the EL squarely back on the women in any given man's life. Society opens a variety of doors; it falls upon the individual to walk through one.
posted by vignettist at 9:10 PM on August 11 [24 favorites]


I think I really need to read the article. But I am actually scared to read it. I have been thinking lots over the past few weeks about how narrow my world has become and how lonely I feel at times.
posted by old_growler at 9:48 PM on August 11 [8 favorites]


vignettist, it sounds as though you may not hear and believe the genuine anxiety underneath what your husband says about this, and I hope that you can. It seems unfair to put scare quotes around "social anxiety" -- it seems to be very real indeed, based on your description of how he ruminates afterward about what he might have said wrong. I certainly understand your being exhausted after 20 years of emotional labor, in which case I think you have every right to bow out of exhorting your husband any further, and to set limits on how much you discuss it with him. It is certainly not fair for men to expect the women in their lives to do that work for them. On the other hand, the problem he describes is very real and very widespread, as just as much a struggle for other men as it is for your husband, as I hope you can begin to see by the number of men speaking up in this thread. (And speaking up is one of the most useful things men can do to start addressing this -- I hope your husband sees this thread!)
posted by Dixon Ticonderoga at 10:24 PM on August 11 [12 favorites]


This might seem weird. I think I had a connection with MeFi in my thirties, pre-other-sites-that-aggregate-news/articles-etc. Returning these recent few months has given me a feeling of welfare that some people do take the time to not just link meaningful articles, but add their own, lengthly observations about either the article(s) itself/themselves or that subject matter in general. This kind of article hits home in exactly the way I appreciated back then.

This specific article hits home, period.

As in "." <-- the thing we leave on R.I.P. articles when we don't know what else to say, or the article says it well enough.

Timely, in that just yesterday I sent off a reconnection note to an old friend while I feel it will not fix the break between us. And, UGH! That truly hits home.
posted by filtergik at 4:19 AM on August 12 [4 favorites]


This fear of making oneself vulnerable is real. Not long ago, I connected with a guy at a career workshop and made plans to meet at another similar event. And I choked. I've isolated myself rather than follow up on other opportunities for male friendship, too, and I think part of it is that I know how fraught men are these days about male friendship... because I've discussed it with male friends. (Those same friends have also taught me it can be dangerous to be vulnerable in male friendships -- or introduce them to your girlfriend...)

I ran into a dude I used to argue with at the food bank yesterday, and I was trying to figure out what shared activity I could come up with so an offer to exchange info wouldn't look "suspicious." We don't follow the same sports and I was stumped.

Those 13-year-old bromances of yore had something going for them that's hard to recapture: the doing together of something vital. Those of us who wouldn't know what to do with a motorcycle usually pretend we're writing a screenplay together or something. I was recently invited to meet with a group of men trying to come up with some variation of a get-rich-quick scheme, and it was great -- the possibility of friendship is there, but it's not under the microscope, so we can get on with outdoing each other's knowledge, covertly fighting over who gets to be the voice of authority, like every group of men I've ever been a part of.
posted by Paddle to Sea at 6:01 AM on August 12 [7 favorites]


.
posted by sammyo at 6:03 AM on August 12


Paddle to Sea: ...so we can get on with outdoing each other's knowledge, covertly fighting over who gets to be the voice of authority, like every group of men I've ever been a part of.

Heh. So true. If this problem is going to be solved, the solution is not going to start in groups of men. One-on-one, yes, but add an audience...
posted by clawsoon at 6:22 AM on August 12 [2 favorites]


A photo history of male affection.

Contrasted with this recent Twitter conversation, which is amusingly and positively framed but immediately goes straight from "picture of two men in physical contact" to "fuck yes, that's gay as hell".

I am of course all for normalizing same sex relationships and skewering propaganda and making jokes. But the mere fact of two men touching being even worthy of comment is reinforced everywhere.
posted by middleclasstool at 6:31 AM on August 12 [9 favorites]


My partner has a friend - we have now known him for many years - who read something similar to this and came to him and basically said, "I read that older men are the loneliest and I see this happening with a relative. I don't want that to be me...wanna hang out more?" Luckily, they have some overlapping interests and have started just going out to do their shared thing or, if they don't have enough time, the standard "get a beer."

Something that I've seen countlessly in the media and blogs and chatter at and among women: the notion that you alone are responsible for your happiness. It's basically in line with the "positive thinking" movement that I often take issue with. But there is a kernel of truth. And I think women have to learn these tough self-determination skills even more than men because the world kicks at them and they are already behind. I see some men just letting the world come to them. And when it doesn't, they get isolated and angry and lonely.

I was once questioned by my partner about why I don't have any hobbies or interests. He has so many side projects. Truly, as life's obligations have mounted, I have found fewer "projects" that retain my interest. But the one thing I consistently do is go out and socialize a few times a month. Mostly with other women. We will get a nice dinner. I pointed out to him that this is my side hobby. What I think he really wants is a garage-tinkerer buddy.

I do miss socializing with men. When left to my own devices, I often gravitate toward male friendships. But it's so hard to do that in regular hetero married family life.

Boys should stop watching action cartoons and start watching My Little Pony. It could really help. Friendship is magic.
posted by amanda at 6:39 AM on August 12 [8 favorites]


As a social/service club Rotary does have the advantage of (theoretically) not excluding people on the basis of race, religion or sex. But, if you're over 30 (by which time you're expected to have made something of yourself I suppose) they're very explicitly only for "business professionals and community leaders". It's also contingent upon having money, at least in my town. Here there are annual membership fees, fines (some "friendly/joking", some not), and the weekly meetings are held at a mealtime at a local restaurant or hotel. Last I heard opting out of the meal was not an option (fixed menu or buffet fee ~$25) and failure to attend weekly was frowned upon socially.

So, while I would love to join a service organization, it will not be Rotary because they consider me socially un-fit and I'm too poor to afford them anyway.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 7:35 AM on August 12 [12 favorites]


I can't help but contrast this discussion of male fear with the research mentioned in the Google misogyny doc that claims to find higher rates of neuroticism and anxiety in women. It makes me wonder whether we're just not good at measuring male anxiety. Maybe the researchers looking at male displays of anxiety and male responses to questionnaires are blind to it. Maybe their default is to read typical masculine behaviour as "not anxious", and to code their research that way, so that it's hidden from the researchers as effectively as we hide it from ourselves.
posted by clawsoon at 7:37 AM on August 12 [12 favorites]


middleclasstool: A photo history of male affection.

Fascinating pictures and discussion. It talks about the post-WWII pathologization of homosexuality, which reminds me of the post-WWII pathologization of hearing voices that's discussed in Muses, Madmen, and Prophets. Short version: The author's father was filled with shame and fear about his voices and plunged into depression, while his grandfather figured that his voices gave good business advice and bad horse-race-betting advice and didn't worry about it beyond that. It wasn't that homosexuality and hearing voices were never previously condemned, but there seems to be something unique about how we post-WWII generations internalized and were overwhelmed by the fear of being like that. What new techniques of propaganda accomplished this feat?
posted by clawsoon at 8:05 AM on August 12 [8 favorites]


vignettist - I have (barely) sufficient skills to be able to socialize with strangers over a shared interest, and to make friends, so I'm not boxed in like your husband seems to be.

Is he depressed, by any chance, or is it just bad habits, few social skills or reluctance?

My wife has sometimes had to push me a little to come out to some events with her social circle, but I'm now pretty easy-going, so it's not that hard a push, and i can usually have a reasonable to good time, and I'm better at not drinking to excess. Life is good.

For us it's important that we also have a few activities that we share (together, and with other people), and we enjoy the planning, the prep, and the renewed contacts with the people we met through those activities. And we enjoy the activity.

Sounds like you have an unpleasant stalemate right now. I hope you two can work through it. Would counselling be helpful?
posted by Artful Codger at 8:39 AM on August 12


Loneliness is just another ghost in the corner for me. Another shadow. I don't feel it too starkly anymore. I just don't have much in common with the people in this town in terms of interests and general sensibilities. I'm polite and pleasant by default, but care nothing for sports, or hunting, or guns, or trucks. There's not a lot to talk about, and I really don't like feeling like some phony, so I just try to care for my very limited little domain and find whatever satisfaction there is to be had there.

I'm fairly certain there are other people around here that I could relate to very well, but I figure they're much like me; hunkered down and waiting for the 24/7/365 shitshow to pass on by. Sure is taking its sweet time to do that.

No, loneliness is just a reasonable trade off for the kind of merciless treachery that some people will indulge themselves in when they realize that you're fair game, due to economic circumstance, social status (or the lack thereof,) or whatever else the justification of the day may be. Family, friends - it only takes one asshole to turn everything upside down for you. US culture produces them in abundance. Loneliness is a pretty mild experience in comparison.
posted by metagnathous at 9:13 AM on August 12 [12 favorites]


I have become such a difficult person I could scarcely in good conscience offer to be anybody's new friend.

A few very tenacious people have managed to hold on over the years, and I am more grateful to them than they might be comfortable hearing.

It's a national problem alright, and is just as dangerous as Katjusa Roquette says; as DH Lawrence put it back in 1923: "The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted."
posted by jamjam at 10:18 AM on August 12 [4 favorites]


I think about my mom, who doesn't really have any friends because she put so much stock in family. She basically hung around with her mom (my grandmother) at every opportunity until she died and put going to family events as more important than anything else.

This scares me - five years after I left my friends behind to move close to my now-wife and had to start all over with her friends group, she wants to move close to her family because (in her words) "I have no friends here."

I get wanting to be close to family, I want it too, but being close to family won't solve the problem of not having friends.
posted by Tehhund at 11:11 AM on August 12 [2 favorites]


The problem with social safety nets is that they require you to be social to maintain them.

I've been dealing with chronic disease for a couple of years now, and it's really limited my ability to socialize. A lot of the time, it's all I can do to just take care of basic hygiene and housecleaning in a day; the idea of getting together with friends is pretty far fetched.

And yet, that's what my social circle was based on. I'd have said, a few years ago, that I had a few really close friends who I could depend on. I was there for them when they needed me, and I was sure they'd say the same. But as I descended into the chaos of diagnoses and treatments and side effects and pain, we had less and less in common. I wasn't fun to be around anymore. They drifted off, and I let them go.

Time and time again, that's been my experience. When the really difficult emotional stuff happens, breakups and deaths and illness and job loss, I turn to the people I thought would help, people who I've been there for, and they're not there.

It's not much of a safety net if it collapses when you need it.

The concept of emotional labor has clarified the issue for me considerably. If I put in enough emotional labor, I can have good relationships with close friends who I might or might not be able to count on to put in the emotional labor to maintain the relationship when I need them.

When you put it like that, it's much easier to build support networks based on something more concrete. If I'm asking a friend for a ride to the hospital, I've got to wonder if they're going to show up, I've got to console them because they're worried about me, I've got to worry about whether I've strained the relationship too far by asking too many favors, I've got to apologize for not being able to host game night again...

If I call an Uber, I just pay them twenty bucks.

If relationships are investments, then they're terrible investments. You can plow time and resources into building what you thought was a strong support system for years, only to have it fail when you most need it. Being dependent on people is a risky position, and those of us who are done with that sort of thing have very good reasons for moving beyond it.

When things are at their worst you'll be alone, so you'd better be good at being alone.
posted by MrVisible at 11:51 AM on August 12 [17 favorites]


When things are at their worst you'll be alone, so you'd better be good at being alone.

That's more of an indication that society is currently crap, than some eternal statement about a truth.
posted by hleehowon at 11:59 AM on August 12 [5 favorites]


from Jane Jacob's The Death and Life of Great American Cities:

For example, in one New York City project which is designed—like all orthodox residential city planning—for sharing much or nothing, a remarkably outgoing woman prided herself that she had become acquainted, by making a deliberate effort, with the mothers of every one of the ninety families in her building. She called on them. She buttonholed them at the door or in the hall. She struck up conversations if she sat beside them on a bench. It so happened that her eight-year-old son, one day, got stuck in the elevator and was left there without help for more than two hours, although he screamed, cried and pounded. The next day the mother expressed her dismay to one of her ninety acquaintances. “Oh, was that your son?” said the other woman. “I didn’t know whose boy he was. If I had realized he was your son I would have helped him.”

This woman, who had not behaved in any such insanely calloused fashion on her old public street—to which she constantly returned, by the way, for public life—was afraid of a possible entanglement that might not be kept easily on a public plane.

posted by hleehowon at 12:08 PM on August 12 [3 favorites]


The single rooms of the deceased are described as “roach infested” and “a complete mess,” indicating few or no visitors.

What conditions lead to this kind of isolation?


Anybody else just join a pair of dots there?

Why men?

Because for some of us, the idea that it's not somebody else's job - specifically, some woman's job - to clean up after us is quite literally unthinkable.
posted by flabdablet at 12:51 PM on August 12 [8 favorites]


Because for some of us, the idea that it's not somebody else's job - specifically, some woman's job - to clean up after us is quite literally unthinkable.

American men used to be the best in the world at emotional work, at least in male-only societies and stuff like that. If the Freemasons used to be a vibrant group organization thing of millions, then it was all men who did it and maintained that group by their emotional work and had the spaghetti and drinking parties and weird hats, even if they neglected emotional work at home. But now, they can't do it, and they can't do it anywhere
posted by hleehowon at 2:04 PM on August 12 [3 favorites]


Because for some of us, the idea that it's not somebody else's job - specifically, some woman's job - to clean up after us is quite literally unthinkable.

I'm perfectly aware that it's my job to clean up after me, I'm just bad at it. The more depressed I am the worse I get, and I have often joked that I only invite people over in order to force myself to clean the house. Neat people find it actively bothersome to live in a messy place; messy people don't. For messy people, cleaning isn't done for oneself, but for the comfort of others. If there are no others, the effort is unnecessary. It may be that the cleanliness level of my place is an accurate barometer of my emotional well being. But being the kind of down that turns my place into a pit also means being the kind of down that finds it difficult to get it together to make it non-pit-like.
posted by Diablevert at 2:55 PM on August 12 [6 favorites]


It's interesting because men have additional avenues for connecting. I don't like to go to bars alone, but guys don't get harassed. They can go watch the game. I'd visit a bar where I could watch the news with a group, or Game of Thrones, or whatever. There's usually a morning coffee group of mostly old guys at many McDonalds and other fast food joints, unofficial, but the same guys at are there the same time every day and it's a little community. Guys play sportsball and golf together. I've traveled alone a lot, and people are often shocked that I'm on a major road trip with just my puny dog; men probably have less fear about being attacked.
posted by theora55 at 3:21 PM on August 12 [8 favorites]




This really hit home for me, as I'm about to embark in mid-life on one of the Great Isolaters: divorce. I have my own thing going on, I have friends of my own, I play in a band - but still, no matter how much my deep introversion makes solitude appealing, part of me is dreading those coming solo days and nights. Even as I semi-bitterly send friends things like this, the thought of not being able to kiss my kids goodnight every night is so, so tough.

Two things I find comforting amid the shitstorm - well, three if you count awareness of the risky terrain ahead as one. The other two are a men's therapy group I joined earlier this year, which is turning out to be a lifesaver, and the support I've already started getting from friends I've reached out to. Even guys who are part of couples that have always been "our" friends, whose own marriages are doing fine. In fact, reaching out has brought me closer to a few guy friends than I ever expected.
posted by gottabefunky at 10:30 PM on August 12 [8 favorites]


Also, fuck homophobia and the damage it causes.
posted by gottabefunky at 10:31 PM on August 12 [7 favorites]


Probably worth mentioning here since it's similar in topic to a previous thread, there is a MeFi-spinoff Slack for men/male-affiliated people to have some space to talk about things like this, reach out to each other, and generally have some non-aggro space on the Internet to be able to connect; Hug Life.

Send me a MeMail with your email address if you'd like an invite, it's fairly quiet/low-volume right now but making small inroads like this is how you break this stifling loneliness.
posted by CrystalDave at 11:17 PM on August 12 [10 favorites]


When my father was in a nursing home, the social director told me that women were no problem-- organize a movie, an arts and crafts project or a book club, and they'd be there. His problem was men, who stayed in their rooms and wouldn't participate in anything. And it was true. My father made no friends and wouldn't participate even in the picnics or ice cream socials unless I was there to take him. It almost certainly shortened his life. Yet it seemed like such an easily fixable thing.

My father-in-law was in the Rotary club and seemed to have lots of friends there; certainly when he died, the Rotary showed up in force at the funeral. However, one of his sons gave a eulogy mentioning that he had fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and afterwards all his Rotary friends were astonished-- they had no idea he had fought in WWII at all. Most of the facts of his life before he came to this town were a surprise to them.

I'm really proud of the Mefites here who spoke out about their fears of loneliness. It must have been hard. We aren't *real* friends, but we're close. I can't imagine either my father or my father-in-law being able to post anything personal in a community like this.
posted by acrasis at 12:35 PM on August 13 [6 favorites]


I've known many WWII veterans who never said a word about their service. My uncle had half his hand shot off on the beach in Normandy on D-Day and even though you saw that he only had three fingers on his right hand, he never talked about it. My dad talked on the phone with him at least once a week for the 55 years after that event and his brother never mentioned it once.

My friend's dad, like your father-in-law, was in The Battle of the Bulge but my friend didn't know a thing about it until his dad was dying of cancer and started talking about the friends who he'd lost sixty years earlier. That generation especially just didn't like to talk about such things.
posted by octothorpe at 1:03 PM on August 13


I feel in the same boat mentioned by so many above. At 43, it seems I've forever confused drinking with friends and acquaintances with real intimacy. And it seems that need for intimacy drives so many men to alcohol as they move away from adolescence. Work, marriage, and children leave me with a near empty tank which can be quickly and easily filled with multiple IPAs.

This thread is fucking depressing and has me in tears. But within that I am inspired to know so many of us feel the same way. I can't help but think there is pent up demand for modernized fraternal organizations that leverage today's technology to find and foster connections and service amongst men in our boat.

There has to be solutions right?
posted by jasondigitized at 7:19 PM on August 13 [9 favorites]


At 43, it seems I've forever confused drinking with friends and acquaintances with real intimacy.

I feel you. I remember getting in touch with an old friend. We hadn't seen each other in a whole, but we spent a lot of time together before I moved away. I thought we were close friends at one point, but when he wrote me back, he said "hey, it's my old drinking buddy!" That threw me for a loop.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 8:07 PM on August 13 [1 favorite]


I'd imagine there'd have to be solutions, but at the same time, I'm not sure what they are. Most of what gets offered up as past/existing options which could be repurposed are out for various reasons (requirement of faith seems to be a big one, exclusionary politics, economic barriers...), and out of what remains there seems to be big unanswered questions.

What would something like this actively stand for, as opposed to merely being "Not being terrible"?
How would it recruit/draw people who would benefit in?
etc.
posted by CrystalDave at 8:37 PM on August 13 [3 favorites]


It's interesting because men have additional avenues for connecting.

In my experience, the examples you give aren't that great at fostering connection. Lots of men don't particularly want to play sportsball or golf. The guys at McDonald's every morning quite likely are real friends; it's also likely they've all known each other for years and met doing something other than drinking coffee at McDonald's. And people generally do not talk to men who are drinking alone in bars, unless you count the bartender.

One of the upsides of being a man is that, generally, people leave you alone. We don't (for the most part) have to worry about harassment. That's great. But there is a downside, which is that, sometimes, you don't want to be left alone.
posted by breakin' the law at 8:15 AM on August 14 [5 favorites]


Just wanted to throw in my two cents that joining a UU church did wonders for my social life and my sense of connection to a community in general. I'm a queer agnostic and my husband is an atheist. We've been welcomed with open arms. It's definitely not for everybody, but a church community without all of the shitty things about church was a real discovery for me. It's not without its problems and I can't claim to love all my fellow congregants, but I feel I get a lot out of it, especially when I'm willing to put in more.
posted by zeusianfog at 10:54 AM on August 14 [3 favorites]


This describes my husband to a tee. He never keeps friends. Even if he likes someone, eventually they will say something that he takes as an insult and it's on. He's always ready for a fight, and he'll end up with nothing but grudges. I said something to him last year that offended him, and I will probably hear about it periodically until the end times. What the hell is he going to do if we break up?

(How have I been married to this guy for 14 years and I'm only just realizing that he's kind of crazy?)
posted by corvikate at 11:33 AM on August 14 [4 favorites]


part of the problem is the skills around emotional labor are tacit knowledge, difficult to teach. probably not that difficult to learn and practice, if it were easier to provide that guidance.

it's much easier for me to imagine literally living alone in the woods than it is to imagine having a few close male friends in whom i can confide (without having like 12 beers first).
posted by vogon_poet at 4:23 PM on August 14


After reading this article, parts of it seemed too familiar. Having lived in London for over a decade, I've become used to having a lot of acquaintances who are too busy to actually meet up with. A lot of what I'd call friends here are people I might exchange a few words with if we happen to be at the same gig. I gathered it's the nature of a city like London, where there's so much on, and/or of having arrived here at the age of 30, when everybody else already had well-established social networks (for a while, the main people I'd meet up with just happened to be people from anywhere but here, presumably because, all differences aside, as fellow deracinees, they were in the same boat).

After a while, it becomes self-reinforcing. People you know age out of going to gigs, replaced by a new crop of rainbow-haired millennials, to whom you're just the weird old guy. Your musical tastes change. It takes longer to find an evening when both you and a friend have time for a drink than it does to get a NHS appointment. After someone declines the third invitation in a row (and in as many months), you mentally file them away as a “permabusy” and stop attempting, and they languish in the bottom of your friend list/address book, not officially unfriended but not an active part of your life either. You go for a week without talking to anyone you're not working with or buying something from, and then another one, and it becomes the norm. You console yourself with the time you have for other things: you'll learn French or Haskell or to play the guitar to play No Man's Sky or something. You'll write and record some songs literally nobody will listen to, whose only result will be comments from swarms of spambots trying to recruit you to some DJ-dude's SoundCloud hype team. You'll build something with that Arduino you bought three years ago. You'll finally get through the huge pile of unread books cluttering your tiny flat. You'll finally watch Twin Peaks/Lost/The Wire/The Killing/Game Of Thrones and catch up on the source of all the references you keep picking up everywhere. Though there are plenty of distractions. Occasionally, in moments of doubt, you wonder whether or not this is due to living in a big city where everybody's busy and everybody has friendships predating your arrival, or whether you are actually a garbage human being with whom dealing is an ordeal, or perhaps whether if you started off as only, say, 5% of a garbage human being, this increases through time spent alone, eventually passing some garbage rubicon past which there's no way back to society, and whether or not big cities can cause chronic depression. Then you load up a game or pour a drink or switch to a browser tab with some amusing cat videos or something.
posted by acb at 3:05 AM on August 15 [19 favorites]


I'm a woman but this may still apply.

and I have tried, god-dammit. A copule months ago I started sending out weekly emails to my friends - some of whom I've known for years - with a list of "hey, here's all the cool free stuff happening in the city this week, anyone want to come do anything with me?"

And I get SILENCE. Once, one person thanked me for sending the email out because "it looks like there's some great stuff here!" But....no one has ever taken me up on "hey, that movie on thursday looks good" or whatever. They're either all too tired or busy.

And I feel like I can't call anyone on it, because the one time I grumbled to someone about how no one was doing this stuff, they said that well, THEY were taking care of an SO with a hurt shoulder, and so-and-so is out of town, and such-and-such had their kid that day...and yeah, shit happens and I know. But people don't have hurt shoulders and sick kids every weekend, do they?

And so after a while you start to have thoughts that "you know, the one constant in all of these is me, and they must not really care enough to want to make time for me the way I would for them." which isn't true, but is a doubt in your mind, and it's a big enough doubt that keeps you from trying to make other friends becuase if the friends you ALREADY have don't want to make time for you who's to say a stranger will?

Let that go on for a couple decades and you get this.

MAKE TIME for your friends, you guys. Especially if they're single and you're a couple, and they're reaching out to you to go do something. Affirm that they're not alone.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:36 AM on August 16 [11 favorites]


Good news, everyone!
posted by fimbulvetr at 1:32 PM on August 16


If being lonely is as unhealthy as 15 cigarettes a day, that would mean I'm less healthy now as a nonsmoker than when I was a light smoker with a busy social life.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 1:40 PM on August 16 [3 favorites]


I'm sure it's on a scale. You know: 15 cigarette-a-day loneliness, 5 cigarette-a-day loneliness, pack-a-day loneliness, just-one-for-special-occasions loneliness.
posted by clawsoon at 3:56 PM on August 16 [3 favorites]


also kinda previously
posted by kliuless at 10:36 PM on August 19


Wow. I'm hitting 40 this year, and this has been a subject of discussion between me and my best friend with depressing regularity. I've moved from Paris to Lyon, and have now 3 kids while he stayed in Paris and he confided to me that he sees friendships decaying into oblivion; this scared him obviously, but I'm realizing that this scares me too. I feel like I don't have time to realize that my friendships decay because of the pareting-life hectic pace, but I suspect that I'm a bit too alone right now.

Let's give this Hug life thing a spin
posted by vrittis at 5:54 AM on August 23


The interesting thing about primate research is that isolated individuals tend to get attacked by groups.
posted by ovvl at 5:17 PM on August 27 [3 favorites]


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