An Isolation Crisis is Devastating American Men
This is a transcript from my radio show. Listen live weekdays from noon to 3 PM here.
There is more and more data showing a crisis of isolation, and particularly it's a crisis of loneliness among men. I am the exact opposite in that at this point in my life, I want to be left alone. For example, I've got stuff I've got to do this afternoon. I've got to cut a couple of ads for advertisers and take care of a few other business things. But at 3:00 p.m, when this microphone goes off, I don't want to see another person or talk to another person or do anything. Yet, I've got a long list of things I've got to do today, and people I've got to connect to, and it's already making me anxious because I realize I'm at the point where I know I need to unplug.
This is why I joined a golf course. I love being able to just go out on the golf course with a friend or two and hit a few balls and just be left alone for a few hours. The other day, I played golf with a buddy of mine. I left my phone in the car and took off my watch so no one could in any way, shape, or connect with me.
However, most men at this point are living in social isolation. There's a friendship recession. This is from National Review. They're recounting a new study that has come out from American Survey Center in a compilation from Survey Center on American Life.
The percentage of men with at least six close friends fell by half since 1990, from 55 percent to 27 percent. The study also found the percentage of men without any close friends jumped from 3 percent to 15 percent, a fivefold increase.
Single men fare the worst. One in five American men who are unmarried and not in a romantic relationship report not having any close friends.
Even men with a couple of close friends are not in great shape. When it comes to our social circles, size matters. Americans with one close friend are not any less lonely or isolated than those without any close friends. And those with a couple of close confidants are only modestly better off. For those with three or fewer close friends, loneliness and isolation are fairly common experiences: More than half say they have felt that way at least once in the past seven days.
The bad news doesn’t end there. Not only do men have smaller friendship circles, they report being less emotionally connected to the friends they do have. Both men and women benefit from developing strong emotional bonds with their friends, but women are more successful in establishing these types of relationships. The study finds that women report far higher rates of emotional engagement with and support from their friends. This type of intimacy matters. Americans who receive regular emotional support from their friends are far less likely to report feeling anxious or alone than those who do not, and this is true independent of how many friends they have.
This is why I speak about this in personal terms. As an introvert, I am anxious about the number of people I am connected to on a daily basis. Yet, the number of people who I would call close confidants is smaller than ever. I have more and more people that I'm connected to in my life on a social basis and fewer and fewer who I want to hang out with and have deep, meaningful conversations with.
What I'm finding and what these studies are showing and what you have to be mindful of in terms of mental health in particular for men is that more and more men have regular contact with a large group of people, none of which is really meaningful or fulfilling. So you have lots of people who want to be a part of your life but only want to connect on a social level. You have fewer and fewer people you can be vulnerable with and it's affecting people’s mental health.
Every single one of us who is married has things we want to talk about and share with friends that we don't necessarily want to talk to our spouse about or our parents about. We want to be able to process it with someone we view as more removed from the situation. All of us have fewer people we can do this with which is one reason why therapists are going through the roof right now. There are more and more people going to therapy. But over time, this friendship deficit turns into a mental issue. The rise of therapists and psychotherapists is actually not healthy for society. It's one of those reasons why I really, as much as I talk about wanting to keep people at arm’s length right now, I feel like I need to be intentional about connecting with people for meaningful interaction on a regular basis.
The way I do this now is on Sunday nights, a small group of friends, oftentimes just one, gets together on my front porch and we spend the night having glasses of bourbon and smoking cigars. It does me a world of good to have a meaningful interaction with one person or two or three people. What is striking is how that's not happening at all for a lot of men. The default is that most men are going out with groups of people where they have lots of contacts yet no meaningful interactions with any single one of them.
It's causing mental health problems for a lot of men out there. It's causing depression. It's causing despair. But then there's something else, and let me talk very specifically to those of you who are married, particularly those of you who are married and have kids. It is overwhelmingly common for men and women who have children and are married to isolate themselves within the family. And at some point, all of us need a break, even from our family. That's just the truth. None of us wants to talk about it. We feel guilty for saying it, but sometimes you need a break from your spouse and from your kids and in the 21st century, it is harder and harder to get that. Frankly, society and advertising culture make you feel guilty for thinking you need that break. But everybody does, and with men in particular, even more so than women, they feel an obligation to isolate themselves from their friends.
I am 46. My kids are 12 and 15. I feel guilty to this day if I want to go out and play golf with a buddy of mine in the afternoon, because shouldn't I be spending time with family? Shouldn't I stay home? I more and more feel compelled to tell myself, “no, I need to go. I need to take a time out. I need to take a break.” I realize I'm somewhat rambling here, but the point here is the data backs me up on this. The data is showing we have a crisis in mental health, particularly for men in this country right now, as they have given up meaningful relationships with a small number of people for minimal relationships with a maximum number of people. And do you know what the side point of this is? It corresponds to a decrease in men going to church.
Women in this country continue to go to church. Men in this country do not. Their isolation corresponds to a decrease in engagement in church and civic organizations. The moral of the story is, get yourself involved in a spiritual community and you will be physically healthier long-term. The more men are isolated from everyone, including from spiritual activities like a church, the rate of suicide, depression, alcoholism, and drug abuse only increases. If you want to solve those problems, get yourself plugged in. If you're not a religious person, find a civic or a non-political civic organization to get yourself involved with where you can connect in a meaningful way. Here's the thing, I've got to tell myself this, you must force yourself to do this because otherwise you're not going to and it's going to have a long-term detrimental impact on you.