Guys, do you find yourself lonely and without any real friends?


Engaging in a group activity that promotes a positive environment is one way for boys and men to form close connections with one another. — Filepic

With loneliness and social isolation becoming a crisis in the United States, particularly among boys and men, more is being done to address the problems as they become more acute.

Experts say this epidemic harms men in significant ways, thanks to not only technological forces, but also masculine norms that encourage individualism and stoicism, rather than deep friendship with other men.

US Surgeon General Dr Vivek Murthy, in early May (2023) at the start of Mental Health Awareness Month, called the widespread lack of social connection an “epidemic of loneliness and isolation” that poses health risks as deadly as smoking up to 15 cigarettes daily.

He outlined in an advisory, a plan titled the National Strategy to Advance Social Connection to help combat the problem.

Men often have fewer friends than women with 15% saying they have no close friends.

Experts provide recommendations on what boys and men can do to combat social isolation:

> Engage in a group or team activity

Men tend to have side-by-side relationships with each other, says Dr Joe Grasso, a licensed clinical psychologist with a PhD who specialises in masculinity and men’s issues.

Participating in a group activity like sports or gaming can help facilitate connection and team-building.

“Men are more likely to build friendships around shared activities, whether that’s fantasy football or playing in a rec(reational) league or just getting together to watch a game,” he says.

“Those are all ‘socially-approved’ ways for men to hang out together and connect.”

> Be positive

Dr Niobe Way, a professor of applied psychology at New York University and author of 2011’s Deep Secrets: Boys’ Friendship and the Crisis of Connection, says group opportunities prove especially helpful if the environment surrounding an activity, like sports, is positive.

“You need a good coach to really turn sports into something that you can build lasting friendships on,” she says. “A coach that sort of nurtures that.”

> Be intentional

Prof Way has found that boys do desire deep friendship connections with each other, but cultural norms often prevent them from pursuing more emotional intimacy with their pals.

“When they’re being honest and they feel safe enough to be honest, they’ll say ‘Of course I want that’,” she says.

“And they have a hard time finding other men in part because they don’t believe that other men want that.”

Overcoming that hurdle is most of the work, she adds.

“It really is as simple as reaching out to others and asking them to do something with you,” she says.

> Participate in conversation

Dr Grasso says men tend to distance themselves from relationships that are too hard to maintain, which makes friendship difficult.

He adds that they often suffer from a lack of vocabulary about what they’re feeling.

Prof Way says men could be more active in their social interactions to achieve deeper friendships.

“Ask questions about what they are saying rather than just waiting to share your own story,” she says.

“We don’t ask enough follow-up questions of each other, and thus, we often don’t feel listened to.

“Men are particularly bad at asking follow-up questions. ...

“Follow-up questions allow us to understand someone else’s experience more and allows us to feel more connected.” – By Myah Taylor/The Dallas Morning News/Tribune News Service

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