When I read this article, a slow feeling of recognition came over me. Whilst I have a wonderfully full life of varied job roles, the understanding of people through my psychotherapy, meeting interesting people, an amazing partner and supportive family, I’m actually quite lonely.
Sure I can easily occupy myself with a good book, a fresh coffee, music and movies. I’m even happy to jump in the car on my own and go visit a far away place for the day. But what I don’t have is regular friends. The one’s in my life are from when I was young and they live far away so we don’t get to meet up much. Apart from those, there are acquaintances through work but that’s more on a professional scale.
Thinking about all of this has opened up the fact that I have trust issues with letting anyone in my life. People that I had let in to my life had either let me down, betrayed my trust or simply disappeared.
What this has done is made me assess what I would like from friendships, who I’d like to be friends with and how to go about it. Some work to do me thinks…
Comment by Mark Jones – Psychotherapist
What, in your view, is the loneliest place in the world? An icebound hut on the Siberian tundra, home to a solitary hunter? Or a remote hermitage on a Tibetan mountain, where a silent monk resides? For me, it’s my old coffee shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, on a weekday afternoon. Inside are 20 20-somethings with 20 slick laptops, nursing 20 cups of coffee, wearing 20 sets of headphones and none of them having what you could describe as a conversation. Even the café’s name was suggestive of the half-life: Hungry Ghost.
As a foreign correspondent for a British newspaper, without a proper office or colleague within 3,000 miles, I used to wander down to the café in the winter of 2017 to be among people and nibble on a croissant. Isn’t that what we freelancers do: gather together for WiFi and warmth? Perhaps I would chat to a charming, angst-ridden poet, or a brilliant scriptwriter conjuring up the next Girls over a flat white.
But I never did. I sat, not working, gazing at my neighbours. I felt an almost dizzying sense of isolation, with no one to call and nowhere to be. My loneliness was so sharp it ached. I needed friends. I became depressed. My weight spiked. I fell into a vicious cycle of social alienation.
This experience is becoming troublingly commonplace; I’ve no doubt many others in that café felt the same, drowning out their gnawing solitude with a constant buzz of digital stimulation. It’s common among men and women, young and old, but there is a particular problem among blokes. A recent YouGov poll found that almost one in five men admitted to having no close friends, with 32% saying they had no one they counted as a best friend. Just 12% of women reported the absence of close friends.
I had no one to call, nowhere to be. I needed friends.
And it’s taking a toll on both our mental and physical health. As many as 35% of men report feeling lonely at least once a week and, according to a 2017 study at Brigham Young University, greater social connection is associated with 50% lower odds of early death.
Some of these men have moved to the suburbs with their families, away from friends; others have allowed the alliances of their youth to slide and failed to replenish their stock of mates. Some are lonely because they’re afflicted by the modern curse of ‘busyness’, unable to devote the time needed to nurture friendships; others are adrift in the anomie of freelancing and the gig economy. But one thing they all have in common is that finding new friends when you need them is a tough business.
Mark, 31, a writer and academic, has just moved to New York with his wife and is struggling to build meaningful friendships. ‘I’m not a big drinker or dater any more,’ he says. ‘And neither are the guys I’m trying to make friends with. So we go for these awkward man-dates from, say, 6-9pm so we can be home for dinner. It’s not that fun.’
The friends he has made tend to come through work. ‘I can make professional friends relatively easy,’ he says. ‘they’re interesting but shallower relationships. The truth is I don’t really want that many new friends. I just want to see much more of my old ones.’
Today, we change jobs more and know our neighbours less, so finding the stable, reciprocal communities we need becomes ever harder. Our society is increasingly fractured, sedentary and unmoored. That was the root cause of loneliness for me. I realised I had no idea how to make friends outside of institutional settings: school, uni, sport, work. Calling my mates back in London to tell them I was struggling felt like admitting failure. I was supposed to be the bachelor having it large in the Big Apple. They were meant to be envying me, not the other way around. Whether out of pride or awkwardness, those conversations didn’t come easily.
That’s the problem then. But what are some solutions? For me, it was cobbling together a patchwork of anti-loneliness measures. One was a football team. Another was making some female friends – the idea that women tend to be better at nurturing relationships is more than just a stereotype. But really I just circumvented the problem by finding a girlfriend and falling in love.
This is a dangerous game, though. Relationships can fail and, even if they don’t, one love isn’t enough. ‘We don’t need one connection to sustain us, we need a range of them to find meaning,’ says Kate Jopling, director of programmes at the International Longevity Centre and former director of the Campaign to End Loneliness. ‘It’s important not to become too dependent on your loved one.’ According to Kate, the first step is for men to tackle our complacency about friendship.
‘It’s vital that men take their friendships more seriously and really invest in them,’ she says. ‘Try getting to a point where you check your relationship balance as often as you check your bank balance. Think about who is important to you – what are the really meaningful relationships in your life, and how will you sustain them as life changes?’ So, if we’re thinking of moving house, or city, we should think about how it will affect our friendships, and how best to maintain them.
And if lack of friends is the issue? Well, if we are single, we date. So if we’re lonely, we should friend-date. We may nd it hard, but it’s worthwhile. We have to be intentional about these things, which means admitting weakness and need when necessary.
The good news is that I think some men are starting to address these issues. There has been a rapid growth in men’s groups aimed at reducing loneliness, from the Hackney ‘brocals’ social group, which helps men to find friends, to New York’s EveryMan Project, which leads wilderness bonding tours. These groups acknowledge that at the heart of any solution is having open conversations. For until the issue is properly acknowledged, it will never be solved, and too many of us will continue to be hungry ghosts, living half-lives.
Read the original article at graziadaily.co.uk HERE