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The Difficult Truths About Male Loneliness

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The biggest threat to men’s health is male loneliness. Dudefluencer has covered it before when talking about the importance of male friendship, and especially the connection between loneliness and suicide. Still, I wanted to spend some time specifically focused on male loneliness. The most significant problem that persists when it comes to lonely men is that far too often, men don’t recognize they’re alone, and worse yet if they do, they are too afraid to admit.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but Dudefluencer started out of a sense of loneliness. For a long time, I believed that I couldn’t be lonely because I was surrounded by so many people. But loneliness isn’t about friendship, it’s about connection and building those more in-depth relationships. Not only was I convinced that I couldn’t be lonely, but there was also no way I’d have been able to admit that I needed something more from my relationships.

And while Dudefluencer continued to progress, I realized what I was creating what I needed: a community for men to discover who they were, and be given the tools to craft who they’d become. For me, that was accepting my need for closer relationships. As a mission, Dudefluencer wants to expand our community for men who are interested in crushing male loneliness and are ready to take the next step, crafting who they want to be.

What is loneliness?

Loneliness can be defined as the “state of distress or discomfort that results when one perceives a gap between one’s desires for social connection and actual experiences of it.” But what so many people mistake is that just because you might be surrounded by people, that you cannot be lonely.

Dr. Stephanie Cacioppo, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral science, said, “Because loneliness is a state of mind, being physically alone is not a necessary nor a sufficient condition to experience loneliness. One can experience a lonely state of mind while being with people at work, at home, or even in a marriage.” That’s why men can go out to bars, play recreational sports, and be generally well-liked at work and still struggle with male loneliness.

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That also means those who enjoy their introverted time, and solitude, aren’t necessarily lonely. We need to rethink our definition of loneliness to reflect the fact that it isn’t just a physical thing, but loneliness is a mental thing. According to a survey by Cigna Health, three out of five Americans are experiencing loneliness, which has risen nearly 18% since 2018. Loneliness causes lethargy, anxiety, and depression. Loneliness is a problem, but it’s not abnormal either. Most people have felt lonely before, and loneliness statistics might only scratch the surface of the issue since it’s challenging to admit feeling alone.

But now that the loneliness epidemic in America is gaining more notoriety in the media, it’s time that we take the steps needed to end male loneliness. Whether it’s gathering up the emotional courage to tell your friends you want to build a deeper connection, or finding a community who wants to help you craft your best self, now is the time to fight back against loneliness.

Why are men lonely?

Lonely men suffer in different ways, but Dr. John D. Moore wrote out five reasons why men are lonely. I want to take some time and break each of them down a bit more because to defeat the loneliness epidemic in America, it’s essential to understand why men and loneliness are becoming synonymous.

Men fear appearing weak.

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This is an age-old problem for men. We have been told since birth that we need to be strong and stoic but only based on traditional male gender norms. That means physical strength is considered masculine, emotional strength feminine. Going deeper, men fear that the more feminine they appear, the weaker they are seen.

Even something as simple as “Men don’t ask for directions” has a direct correlation to the idea that asking for help is a weakness. It’s no wonder that men would be fearful of telling another man that they are depressed, or struggling and that they need help because that’s all men have heard from society. Men are lonely because they are afraid to look or admit weakness in front of their friends.

Men don’t talk about their feelings.

Phrases like “man up,” and “men don’t talk about their feelings,” perpetuate the idea that men lose their masculinity the moment they start talking about their emotions. Lonely men struggle because not only are they fearful of admitting something is wrong, they also have no idea how to even begin that conversation.

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Unfortunately, decades of stereotyping have instilled in men the idea that they need to talk about sports, or women rather than develop authentic and healthy relationships based on emotional courage. The only way we can crush loneliness is if we find a way to destroy the stereotype that men aren’t supposed to talk about their feelings.

Many aren’t comfortable talking about their feelings.

If you’re wondering what the key to building close male friendships is, it’s honest communication. But one of the more significant issues men face is the fact that they don’t know how. We watch television and see every male friendship remain at arm’s length only to recreate those same missteps in our lives.

Niobe Way highlights that when we are young, boys are willing to have those deeper conversations and build intimate friendships. But as the young boys age into men, those friendships change due to fear of the outside world, calling them out for not living up to the male stereotype. And without a generation of men showing signs of positive masculinity, men are destined to suffer alone for a long time.

The need for hypermasculine assertiveness.

Ahh, the alpha-type. I’ve heard that over and over again, mostly from dude’s who feel the need to call other dudes betas. The idea that some men have been told is that to be desirable, to be worthy of love, you must conquer all. You must be the strongest, you must be the toughest, you must be the alpha.

Because of that, men are too afraid to admit that they do struggle and are unable to understand that failure does not make you weak. Ronald Levant’s book The Tough Standard explains, “They [lonely men] are emotionally isolated from their families due to their inability to express their own vulnerability and caring or to respond to the vulnerability of family members with a caring, empathetic response.” This isolation is the direct result of feeling forced to live within the standards of masculinity, which only allows for “the strong” to thrive, and those who are considered weak to fall behind.

Until we do something about society projecting loneliness and depression as weaknesses, we would go a long way towards crushing loneliness.

There are a lack of bonding opportunities.

And at the end of the day, we are bound to fight loneliness with the tools we have available to us. That means finding, and in most cases, creating bonding moments with other men to develop more profound, more fulfilling relationships. Far too often, we spend our time playing sports, or shooting the shit, without taking the time (and emotional courage) to go further.

Groups like Dudefluencer, all operate under the idea that every gathering is a chance to build a stronger bond with someone else. Whether it’s an online dude chat or an outdoor retreat, the goal is the same: provide an opportunity and space where men feel okay being honest amongst one another.

What are the signs of loneliness?

Identifying you might be experiencing loneliness is complicated because everyone has different symptoms. You’ll recognize that there is a lot of commonality between those who are lonely and those experiencing depression. Cigna highlights the following symptoms of loneliness:

  1. Inability to connect with others on a deeper level
  2. No close or best friends
  3. Overwhelming feelings of isolation regardless of where you are and who you’re around
  4. Negative feelings of self-doubt and self-worth
  5. When you try to reach out, you’re not heard
  6. Exhaustion and burnout when trying to engage socially

So much of the male loneliness epidemic revolves around fulfillment: are we fulfilled with the friends in our lives, and if not, what should we do about it? A fulfilling friendship is one that both parties feel equal, are comfortable being vulnerable, and willing to put in the work to keep their friendship healthy and meaningful.

If you think you are experiencing loneliness, the first thing you might want to do is reflect on your male friendships. Do you feel comfortable talking to them about the tough stuff in life, or are your conversations more shallow? When you spend time with your guy friends, do you feel excited or exhausted?

If you find yourself struggling with male loneliness and recognize that you’re not connecting on an emotional level with your friends, you might need to be the spark in the relationship to go deeper, to build something more substantial. You can use some of the tips featured in our article on building close male friendships to take those initial first steps.

Something to keep in mind though is that your experiences may vary in terms of deepening relationships. Some guys are totally able to step up and be the friend you need to be. Other men struggle opening up, and might not be ready to get on your level.

You must learn about yourself and focus on your needs. If, at any point, you recognize these symptoms, don’t just let it fester inside. Reach out to people you love, or find a men’s support group that meets regularly.

What do you do if you feel lonely?

Identifying that you might be lonely needs to be the first step, but what options do you have for what comes next? No matter what action you decide to take, it’s going to take a lot of effort from you (which is hard because you might be feeling lethargic, depressed, or scared). But I promise you that your life will feel infinitely more rewarding once you confront your loneliness and crush it.

Admit it.

If you haven’t sat down and admitted you’re suffering from male loneliness, this should be the first thing you do. It requires a lot of introspection, and for us to push back on traditional masculine gender norms. Feeling lonely should not be stigmatizing, nor should anyone who suffers from loneliness be made to feel like a loser. Neither of which is true. Everyone, at some point in their life, has felt lonely whether they are strong enough to admit it or not.

Kory Floyd, professor of Communications and Psychology at the University of Arizona, said in an interview, “That stigma encourages us to avoid admitting when we’re lonely. Denying our loneliness only perpetuates it, so before we can recover, we have to be honest — at least with ourselves — about what we are experiencing.” Before you can take on any challenge with our mental health, accepting that we have a problem needs to be the first step. You won’t get anywhere if you don’t believe that there is something you want to change. As Floyd states, the more often we ignore our loneliness, the more prevalent it will become in our lives.

So if you’re struggling with male loneliness right now, take a seat and a deep breath, and reflect on what’s going on and how you’re feeling. Once that’s done, it’s time to take charge. Remember, you’re not alone in feeling this way.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to your friends.

Reaching out to your friends might be the simplest, but most vulnerable step when it comes to crushing male loneliness. Remember how close you were with your best friend when you were younger, how you weren’t afraid to tell them how you feel? It’s a shame that you lost that kind of relationship with your guy friends.

But it’s not too late to try and build something more. When I suffer from loneliness, I always worry about not looking manly enough in front of my friends. It’s only natural because we’ve been conditioned to think so. Yet, the moment I reach out to my close friends, tell them I am struggling, depressed, or need help, they always find a way to be there.

And even if you’re not struggling at the moment, let your friends know that you’re there for them too. Let them know you care about them. Gasp…even tell them you love them. 

Before you brush off your friends and think that they won’t reciprocate, you need to give them a shot. Men and women both desire healthy, meaningful friendships, and the people you surround yourself with care about you. Worst-case scenario, they don’t respond appropriately: understand that you can’t change who they are, and recognize your needs aren’t being met.

If you’re feeling lonely or lost, or just want to tell your friends how you feel, reach out to them. You’ll be surprised at how welcoming they will be.

Think about joining a team.

Maybe you’re like me and moved away from home and all of your friends. You find yourself home alone, bored, and want a group of local guys to bond with. I ended up meeting one of my closest friends by joining a wiffleball league. Yes, the sport that was designed for eight-year-olds, that wiffleball. But by just being a part of a group of guys, I already felt better.

Of course, just signing up and showing up isn’t enough. You need to have conversations with them about things that aren’t related to what you’re doing. For example, if you’re playing beer league softball, use those as the small-talks that will eventually bridge the gap into something more meaningful. Male loneliness is too often the result of men being too proud to admit that they are lacking something, don’t let that get in the way of a happier life.

And it doesn’t need to be just sports. Maybe you join a trivia team, or heck, even play XBOX Live with the same group of dudes. Consistency and structure are two essential keys to building friendship, so make sure you allow yourself to do it.

Do something creative.

When I feel overwhelmed and lonely, I find myself creating more often than not to feel more productive. Whether it’s writing, or editing, or podcasting, it doesn’t matter. The feeling of creation means so much to me that no matter how bad I was feeling before, a good writing session always puts me into a better headspace.

And while this doesn’t directly tackle the challenge of male loneliness, there is something to be said for working on yourself in the moments you don’t have someone around. Self-improvement is a heck of a way to treat yourself. Besides, creative arts allow you to explore and express your emotions positively and safely. Writers, artists, and even mechanics all love creation, and what better way to build connections with others than sharing your creative endeavors.

Think about this the next time you’re feeling lonely: what creative exercise can I do today? Write a play, learn a new song, or even build the Lego DeathStar. By the time you’re finished, you’ll find yourself in a more energetic mental state.

Practice daily meditation.

Once again, meditation makes its way onto a list of things you should practice. This time it’s for loneliness, and yet I need to talk about how much I love Headspace (no, I’m not sponsored by them). They describe meditation for loneliness as, “Whatever has created or caused the feeling of loneliness within you, a meditation for loneliness doesn’t encourage us to move away from what you are feeling; nor does it look for a solution. Instead, you will be encouraged to explore and investigate the feeling to find a sense of ease, without letting the emotion take you down.” Since male loneliness is directly related to a struggle with being vulnerable or self-reflective, practicing a guided meditation might the boost in the right direction for you to crush loneliness yourself.

One of the most potent aspects of Tony Robbins Unleash the Power Within was our group guided meditations. Even though we were using Zoom to connect together, I still felt the energy of 23,000 other people deep in thought. Headspace delivers something similar: Everybody Headspace. It’s a global group meditation session that will connect you to other users in guided meditations every thirty minutes. It’s an incredible sensation that can bring you so much closer to people from all around the world.

Practice expressing gratitude.

Research from the European Journal of Psychology states, “gratitude can mitigate loneliness because it deeply includes a very close connection between being able to accept and to give, and both are part of the relation with the good object.” And there is nothing more fulfilling in life that a heart filled with gratitude. There are so many benefits of practicing gratitude, and fighting back against feelings of loneliness is one of the most important.

Gratitude works exceptionally well if paired alongside a meditation as you can identify how you are feeling as well as fill your heart with all of the love necessary to live a happy life. Practicing gratitude can change your mindset from one that is negative to a beautiful mindset. And that’s what we want: a more joyful life filled with gratitude and close friendships.

How can others help prevent male loneliness?

There’s a simple answer that requires a lot of work: we need to redefine masculinity and understand that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer for curing male loneliness. By redefining the standards of what it means to be a man, we can embrace vulnerability, emotional courage, and, most importantly, our truth. Too often, men have discussions about masculinity that involve everything they shouldn’t be (i.e., the toxic masculinity conversation).

Let’s take a moment and focus on what we should strive to be so we can crush male loneliness together. 

Men need to be introspective: identifying that you’re lonely is going to be the first step to fighting back.

Men need to be emotionally courageous: to build deeper relationships with your male friends, you’re going to have to be willing to be vulnerable to speak your truth. Talking to your friends about your emotions does not make you weak; it makes you durable.

Men need to be willing to break through to build a new foundation for their life- one built on their own truth and happiness.

None of this will be easy. We have generations of bad habits to undo, decades of behaviors to redefine. The goal will always be the same here at Dudefluencer: we want to help you become the best man you can be.

Let Dudefluencer help you discover who you are, and then you can craft who you’ll become.

Garrett Michael Carlson
Garrett Carlson is the founder of Dudefluencer.com, an online men's magazine dedicated to publishing articles around positive masculinity and men's self-care. A graduate of the Johns Hopkins Non-Fiction writing program, he loves to break traditional storytelling norms intermixing personal narrative, comedy, and research to talk about men's issues. Garrett currently lives in Northern Virginia with his wife, two cats, and Icelandic Sheepdog, Orla.

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