By: Bill Farrand, MA, LCPC
While the 21st century may not quite yet be time to lament the demise of the once- venerable institution of “Buddyhood,” the latest research clearly does not bode well for its future. If prevailing trends continue, it may well soon become more likely than not for the average adult male to report having no non-family members with whom they would discuss a serious problem.
If you consider that an unrealistic projection, bear in mind that already 51% of men currently report having only one or two such close friends, while one in eight already say they have none at all.
As a psychotherapist in Chicago, I have noticed this unfortunate theme in the men who I see in my practice and it is supported by the latest research. Four in ten men said they have no close friends at work – the same proportion of those who report having contemplated suicide.
Men have fewer and fewer close friendships as they get older: 7% of those under 24 said they had no friends with whom they would discuss important matters, compared to 19% of those over 55.
Perhaps even more alarming, the study shows that while marriage may (ideally) offer lifelong support and companionship, married men have among the least degrees of support beyond their homes.
They’re a full third more likely than their single counterparts to feel they have no friends to consult outside of immediate family: 11% of single men said they had no one to whom they could turn in times of crisis, rising to 15% among married men.
Surprisingly, suggesting that marriage itself is the cause (rather than simply being in a long-term, committed relationship), married men are more than twice as likely as unmarried men who nonetheless cohabitate with a partner to sever (or neglect to the point of withering) ties with friends.
Further bad news strongly suggests that this effect could well be permanent: the overall chances of divorced men having close friends they could turn to for help typically hover at 15% even after the marriage ends.
The implications of this trend are immediately obvious: a study following nearly 1,500 older people for 10 years recently found that those who had a large network of friends outlived those with the fewest friends by 22%.
An immediate response to this information is often the resolution to go out and make yourself some new friends, which of course is all well and good. Far more powerful, though (at least in terms of the level of influence they might have), is the renewal of old friendships that, for various reasons, we’ve allowed over the years to drift apart.
Obviously, this must preclude those you’ve consciously chosen to end due to the unhealthy influences they may have had upon you, but – for most of us – that still leaves a good number that have simply been neglected due to perfectly understandable logistic or time-management priorities on both sides of the equation.
These people – those who know your history because they were part of it – can offer a unique perspective on current issues you might be having that newer friendships simply don’t have the capacity for. Of course, the availability and/or practicality of getting back in touch with a mindfully selected few is well augmented by the fresh perspective only newer friendships can offer.
The point is, both new and older friendships are invaluable, well-documented resources of support and emotional nourishment that have immediate, positive effects upon both our mental and physical well-being. Nurturing these relationships leverages every aspect of our health and happiness. Truly, few things in this life offer so much.
If you find this issue to describe what you are going through right now, you may find the book “The Shaman in the Disco and Other Dreams of Masculinity: Men, Isolation, and Intimacy” by James Thomas to offer further insight.
Of course, if you are feeling often depressed for extended periods of time, you may find it helpful to consult with one of our expert therapists here in Chicago at 2nd Story Counseling. The sooner you take action, the sooner you will start to feel better!