How many close friends do you have, and by close, I mean someone you can call at 3 am in an emergency? I am talking about someone to whom you can reveal your deepest and darkest secrets without fear of judgment. Data indicates that friendlessness is becoming more common, and this trend was exacerbated during the pandemic. COVID taught us many things. One of the most important was that it tested the quality of our relationships. It highlighted weak relationships and consolidated strong relationships, and left a huge void in the middle. Pre-COVID, it is possible the majority of your social interaction was at work on a superficial level. When we were forced to work from home, the majority of our “meaningful” social interaction terminated. We also saw a spike in divorce which has been a major driver of male friendlessness. Wives arrange social interactions, and most gatherings are with their friends, and men spend lots of time making friends with the spouses of their wife's friends. When marriages rupture, those friends are no longer in play because their wives force these friends to side with the ex-wife.
Friendlessness is not only the plight of middle-aged men - it is also affecting younger men. Traditional bonding grounds are no longer inhabited by these men. They are not going to university, they are unemployed, they do not go to church, and they are not playing team sports. Instead, they withdraw into the online world of gaming, which gives them a sense of community, but no meaningful friendships.
Now that we understand the problem, we need to understand the wrong solution. To address the issue of male friendlessness, the common mistake is assuming that men and women make and manage friendships in the same way. Women seek each other out. They go on weekends away where they sip on chilled rose and tell each other how much they love them and how important they are in their lives. Men do not and will not ever do that. It is not part of our evolutionary biology. Women were then the ones who stayed behind in the villages and raised the kids. They relied on other women in their daily chores and duties. Men on the other hand went out on hunting parties to ensure the village was fed and nourished physically. So what does this mean in the 21st century? The ancient rule of hunting and fighting wars no longer exists, but the feminine role of childbearing and raising children remains (although feminists would encourage women to shun them like the plague). Now that we no longer live in villages, traditional bonds men used to share no longer exist.
Men and women connect in friendships in different ways. Women don't need a reason to get together with their friends. They can agree amongst themselves to go for a weekend away to the wine region. Implicit in this invitation is that they will share, confide, complain, and drink. Men need a reason to get together. They need a common purpose - like watching a football game or going fishing. Australia, in an effort to address the issue of men's mental health and wellness, started to set up meet groups but no one arrived. Someone then came up with the idea of men's sheds. This is what these guys get up to according to their website: Men’s sheds may do a variety of activities from manual crafts to gardening to beekeeping. Some may undertake community projects such as making toys for local childcare groups. Men’s sheds may provide an opportunity to learn new skills such as first aid. They may hold health and well-being events and provide contacts for men to follow up on their health needs. Men’s sheds can also provide company or an opportunity to make friends.
If you decide to set up a men's support group, it is important to attach an activity to the event. The activity does not need to be noble and meaningful, like building homes in marginal communities. It can simply be to meet up at a pub to watch a sports game, go hiking or collect garbage on the beach. Around this, the most important thing to do is build trust. It’s about creating a space where someone feels safe enough to risk telling the truth about themselves and know they won’t be judged or shamed. Your group will be much stronger for this and will grow into something more than a pure support group.