There is an epidemic facing the men of the 21st century.
Although it’s staring us right in the face, few of us are even aware of its existence.
It increases our risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s, and can damage your health just as much as smoking.
What is it that I am referring to?
A seemingly innocuous consequence of our hyper-developed society that has some very real and tangible implications for the modern man.
More than 35% of middle age men report experiencing chronic loneliness and the number of millennials who self-report feeling alone and isolated continues to rise on a daily basis.
As a result, more men than ever before in history are suffering from depression, crippling anxiety, suicidal tendencies, and other mental illnesses that our “Fix it with Chemistry” society seems to ignore.
Men in 2018 are facing a real problem, but not an unsolvable one.
Somewhere around our second or third year into the workforce, most men simply concede that loneliness and lack of real friendship is just “How it is” today and that it’s “Just Life”.
Heck, even your older mentors may have told you as much.
Eventually, the loneliness and isolation just felt like a normal, everyday feeling that every “man” is supposed to experience at some point.
But I’ve got news for you.
This isn’t how life is meant to work.
Building and maintaining relationships might have seemed like a passive activity when you were younger, but just like anything else in real life, it’s something that takes real work and devotion to maintain.
Saying “It’s just life” is a cop out to the reality of the fact that relationships, whether creating new ones or maintaining old ones, takes real, genuine work.
The inconvenient truth of the matter is that the need for male friendship has become a taboo subject someone signifying that a man is weak if he can’t function as a lone wolf.
And in the same way that our society has avoided addressing anxiety, depression, and suicide, we have avoided discussing our need for authentic male friendships to the point that most men feel awkward when they even think about trying to make new friends.
Quality friendship is a necessity for a well-rounded, happy life, for both your mental and your physical health.
So today, I’m breaking all of the stigmas and stereotypes and talking about why you, yes, you need to invest serious time and energy into cultivating high-quality friendships.
Why You Need More Guy Friends (and Why Sometimes You Feel Like You Don’t)
Let’s begin our conversation by forever ridding ourselves of the toxic “Lone Wolf” stereotype.
We see it in the movies, see it all over popular culture, maybe even older male role models push the idea on you.
The idea that independence and lack of emotions are a quintessential part of the puzzle of modern masculinity.
I personally grew up watching Hugh Jackman not give a f*ck about companionship in every X-Men movie. I always thought his lack of companionship and his complete independence was totally badass.
And so I thought to myself, “If he can do it, why can’t I?”
This is just one in a ton of examples of small, unrealistic portrayals of manhood that seem to permeate every corner of popular culture.
The truth of the matter is that, while he may have looked powerful and stoic for his 90 minutes of screen time, in the real world, his character would have suffered from serious psychological and even physical trauma as a result of his seclusion. (As you see in the final film)
But enough about superheroes and hypotheticals…
Let’s step away from the stigma and get down to some cold hard statistics of the ill effects of loneliness.
“Some studies, including one published in March by Brigham Young University researchers, suggest that loneliness, isolation and living alone can be as threatening to health as cigarettes, excess alcohol and obesity.” ~Gary Kennedy on How Loneliness Affects the Mind and Body
“The subjective feeling of loneliness increases the risk of death by 26%, according to the new study in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science. Social isolation – or lacking social connection – and living alone were found to be even more devastating to a person’s health than feeling lonely, respectively increasing mortality risk by 29% and 32%.” ~Justin Worland on Why Loneliness May Be the Next Big Public-Health Issue
It’s not rocket science.
Loneliness makes you feel like shit.
Humans evolved to live in communities and tribes where they had a safety net and support system so it’s no wonder that our mismatched lifestyles have resulted in depression, anxiety, suicide, and deteriorating physical health.
Having an authentic, steady group of male friends has a ridiculous number of benefits, many of which are not immediately obvious.
- It gives you peers to evaluate and give feedback on good and bad decisions.
- It gives you people to share your successes and your failures with.
- It makes you less clingy in your relationships.
- They keep you accountable.
- They force you out of your comfort zone and make you see things in a different light.
And that’s the tip of the iceberg.
Having more authentic relationships improve your overall quality of life.
But even with that knowledge, it seems a large number of the male population don’t know how to initiate the conversation, the practice, or even the steps of combatting that loneliness.
So Why is it So Hard to Make New Friends?
Men have a harder time tapping into their emotions than women do, partially because of societal conditioning, and partly because of evolutionary necessity.
But the great irony that all men face is that even though showing and sharing your emotions is deemed as “weak” or “beta”, it’s actually much more difficult to be authentic and share your true self with others.
So these so-called “tough” guys, in reality, are many times taking the easy way out by staying isolated. They’re avoiding exiting their comfort zone to create and maintain these relationships.
In that sense, it’s almost cowardly to allow that fear to stop you from opening yourself up to new relationships.
But I definitely won’t put all the blame on the individuals.
“Whether we want to admit it or not, men all over are products of generations of male ‘coding.'” ~Dr. Garfield on Why Strong Friendships are Key to Men’s Mental Health
Our fathers, and our father’s fathers, and our father’s father’s fathers – that’s what they taught us.
And that has led many if not all men to never really understand how to develop meaningful relationships with other males without the “gay” stigma hanging over their heads.
And yes, it is essential for men to be able to be “the man” in many situations in life – to be the rock for the people that rely on us, to be a leader in tough situations, to push through hard times, to support our loved ones, etc..
But the reality is that it takes a real, emotionally intelligent man to be able to differentiate when it’s appropriate to be emotionally closed or open depending on the situation they’re in.
Unfortunately, emotional intelligence is not something that many of us were taught.
So whether you want to blame it on how we were raised or that no one taught you how to be emotionally intelligent – the bottom line is sometimes men have to put in a little more work to understand, create, and maintain relationships.
I think the most helpful thing to remember when it comes to male friendships is deep down – every single person has felt the tough sting of loneliness, and most men, no matter how much they aren’t willing to say it out loud, crave male companionship.
You aren’t alone.
Loneliness affects everyone.
And whether you realize you need to reignite old friendships, maintain existing relationships, or create new ones – one thing remains true.
An essential step of emotional intelligence is understanding that friendships and relationships aren’t passive occurrences that “just happen.”
It takes work to create relationships. It takes work to maintain relationships. And both are often out of comfort situations.
Now that you understand why it’s so important to meet new friends, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of actually putting yourself out there and cultivating real friendships.
Where to Meet New Guy Friends
Did you feel awkward reading that heading?
Yeah, I felt a little awkward writing it… Damned societal stigmas.
But let’s not overcomplicate it guys.
A lot of the “keys” to friendship, per se, are common sense, and when it comes to meeting like-minded people, the biggest and easiest tactic is finding people with similar interests.
Make a list of what you enjoy. What your hobbies are. What your beliefs are.
Then get up, go into the real world, and find the millions of other people who share that with you.
- Go to the gym.
- Go to local organizations and meetups.
- Find online groups.
- Attend networking events.
- Join a sports league.
In today’s connected world, there is literally an endless number of platforms to connect with people with similar interests.
There’s a club or group for every single interest, belief, or problem every invented.
Do you like sports? So do millions of other people.
Oh, you enjoy knitting? You better believe there are a thousand knitting groups out there.
Oh, you believe the world is flat and everything is a simulation? There’s an ever-growing group of people who (oddly) believe the same.
Find common ground with other people.
You’d be surprised at how many things you share with seemingly complete strangers if you’re willing to get out of your comfort zone.
Again, you aren’t stupid. You know what you’re interested in, and you know there are ways to find others with that interest.
The key is to realize you have to put in the work to find those people.
But know that there are millions of others looking for you as well.
How to Keep Male Friendships Strong
“What sustains relationships over time is a regular rhythm of seeing each other,” Dr. Schwartz said. “It’s best to build a regular pattern of activities rather than having to make a special effort to see one another.”~Dr. Schwartz on the Challenges of Male Friendships
When we think about relationships, no matter who it might be with, we often retreat to thinking it just happens without us thinking about it. I’m not going to mince words – at one point or another, every single one of us has taken a relationship for granted.
Every single one of us has had a relationship slowly fade away until one day we find ourselves asking, “Whatever happened to so and so.”
Again, to repeat a point from the beginning – It’s not “just life” for relationships to fade away. It’s in our power to keep relationships alive.
Fortunately for us, maintaining relationships is a lot more fun of an ongoing activity than say, having to maintain your taxes.
But because of the fact that we find a lot of these things fun, it can be easier to forget to maintain.
It seems like it’s not as big a deal to blow off.
Create habits, set your calendars, whatever it takes. Make these meetings with your friends a priority.
Establish regular rhythms to meeting up. It’s something really easy for us to overlook. Something comes up so we cancel, say we’ll raincheck.
But just like when we try to grow ourselves at whatever skill it is, we need to put in regular work to our relationships as well.
Make time for your relationships, and do something active that you enjoy.
Here are a few examples of weekly/monthly rituals that you can create with your friends to ensure that your relationships stay strong.
- Or any other sports you enjoy. Unless you’re one of the lucky bastards who’s significant other actually enjoys watching sports with you… watch them with people who do enjoy it.
- Throw in a fantasy league if you have the extra time, energy, and gambling spirit. (You’re looking at the 2017 champ right here, baby. Thank you Gronk.)
A Cigar/Whiskey Club:
- I don’t know what it is about a good cigar and whiskey that literally brings out the deepest and most intellectual conversations every single time. It’s like these unexplainable God-given tools that were created solely for the purpose of male bonding.
- I’m not here to advocate gambling, but I am here to advocate some healthy competition among friends. Nothing better than a night filled with small bets and big laughs.
Finding new restaurants:
- I’m a self-proclaimed foodie nut, and so is my chef cousin. We meet every two weeks on the dot to scout out new restaurants in the area. (Great bonus? An amazing way to amass a top-tier list of date spots to impress the women in your life)
- If you aren’t reading, you’re doing it wrong. Why not bring in some friends who can share in the journey with you.
Join a team.
- Back to the healthy competition. And staying healthy and fit.
- Travel is one of those things that are able to take your entire mindset to a completely new level. Being able to share that experience with other people is one of the greatest bonding experiences in life.
- Also, despite what many might think, traveling alone can be one of the most social things you ever do if you’re ready to get out of your comfort zone. I’ve traveled solo to over 18 countries, and I’ve created lifelong friendships on the road with countless people that I may have never even spoken to had it not been out on the road. Travel has a way of making you think in a completely different mindset, and at the same time meeting so many people who are themselves in that mindset. Instant common ground.
The keys here are to make your meetings a habit and a priority as opposed to something you only do if you have free time. Just because they’re fun doesn’t mean they aren’t important priorities.
Don’t take these things for granted.
The Case for Social Media
And let’s not forget social media.
While it is partially responsible for our societal loneliness, when used properly, it can be an amazing tool for maintaining relationships.
Sure, social media creates some bad habits without us even thinking about it. But like many other things in life, social media is a neutral tool that becomes just as detrimental as it can be helpful depending on how we use it.
Using social media as a replacement for everyday face to face contact is obviously a negative. In that respect, social media has definitely helped an entire generation become more isolated.
But when it comes to situations like reconnecting or keeping up relationships with old friends that are located across the country or world, we’re absolutely blessed to be able to have so many different platforms to reconnect with people at the touch of a button.
It’s something that shouldn’t be taken for granted and should be taken advantage of constantly.
And to those still resistant to using social media because of it’s “fad-y-ness” or however uncool you think it is … I really can’t think of anything else than to say… Get with the times.
A few years ago, people were saying that social media was the future – it’s not even the future anymore. It’s the present.
The amount of opportunities that exist on every social media platform is mind-boggling, and to resist the idea is purely foolish. I won’t even get into the business and marketing opportunities that social media allows – but when used correctly, the amount of connection that it helps create is like nothing that has ever been seen before.
This article isn’t a social media guide, but all I’m saying is don’t be so passive when it comes to stuff like that. Be thoughtful about what you do online.
Many times, rekindling a relationship really is as simple as pressing send on a message.
I’ve traveled the world and made real friendships that would have never been able to continue to flourish long after I left without the use of social media.
I’m not even exaggerating when I say sending an old friend one quick Snapchat of an inside joke that happened years ago on a drunken night in France has kept entire relationships alive, sparked new conversations about life, and allowed me to maintain friendships that never would have been possible just 10 years ago.
And going back to the shared interests, it’s easier than ever to connect with people that have a shared interest as you all over the world, and it’s as easy as a simple Facebook Group search. Not only people who have similar interests but similar problems and issues as well.
Sure, there are downsides social media. But that just means we have to be more thoughtful about how we use it.
If you aren’t able to physically meet face to face, use what you can – No one doesn’t have the time or ability to shoot a quick text to the people they care about.
If there’s anything you took away from this article, it’s that life is too short to let old relationships die because it was against the “man code” to show a made-up sign of weakness.
Listen, the times might be changing along with the “stigma of manhood,” but it really has nothing to do with that.
Companionship has always been and will always be an essential component to our mental and physical health, and isn’t to be taken lightly in any circumstance.
Life is too short to mistake loneliness for independence.
Life is too short to feel alone and not talk about it openly in a world where so many other men feel the exact same way.
Life is too short to be too stubborn to be the first person to reconnect with an old friend.
Life is too short to not allow yourself the pleasure of being surrounded by good friends that care about you.
Life is too short to not share your interests and accomplishments with people that are genuinely rooting for you.
Don’t ever take your past, present, and future relationships for granted. Connections are an essential part of life, for both your mental and physical health.
Don’t end up being another old man full of regret and loneliness all for a false sense of manhood.
It’s not dramatic to say that this can be a matter of life and death.
Stop letting your ego get in the way of your happiness.
Now go out there and break a few stereotypes. Your life may darn well depend on it.
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