real life

Men are lonelier than we think.

They are the stuff of legends (well, book and movie plots) when males are young.

The narratives surrounding coming of age friendships. Long summer holidays, boredom, a mystery, boys on bikes, secrets, discoveries, the first sting of adulthood.

But what happens when those wonder year boys grow up? Do they take the strong friendships with them, or do they leave them behind?

A UK study released recently found one in eight men had no friends to turn to if they needed to discuss serious issues such as worries about money, health or work, and that a man’s chance of friendlessness trebled between the early 20s and late middle age.

Basically, men in their 20s have the most amount of friends they will have as an adult, and the number of friends a man has drops sharply with the decades.

lonely men
The narratives surrounding coming of age friendships are the stuff of legend for young men.

The men’s cancer fundraising charity, Movember UK also found married men have the lowest support outside the home, with 15 per cent of married men saying they have no close friends to turn to compared to 11 per cent of single men. This figure is not the same for long term men who co-habit (they are more likely to have friends to turn to than their married counterpart) meaning that marriage, not co-habiting, makes a difference in male-on-male friendships.

Which begs the question: are married men more inclined to rely on their wife to fill the roles of both lover and friend?

In a study the University of Oxford released earlier this year, scientists examined around 112,000 Facebook profile pictures from nine world regions and found women prefer more intimate relationships, while men prefer groups and there is a “universal and fundamental difference in the function of close friendships for the two sexes”. And there are “quality-quantity trade-offs suggest [ing] a universal and fundamental difference in the function of close friendships for the two sexes”.

Movember’s Rhett Corker told Triple J radio agreed that male/female friendships take different forms. He says men prefer to socialise “shoulder to shoulder through an activity, such as sport, while women are more comfortable simply meeting for conversation”.

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Movember runs a men’s shed movement (where men come together to work on practical projects like fixing up engines). Designed to combat men’s isolation, Corker says younger men haven’t grown up with sheds and Movember has set up a $5 million dollar grant in Australia, the U.K. and Canada to harness “disruptive ideas” beyond the men’s shed movement to help “men connect”.

lonely men
“Men prefer to socialise shoulder to shoulder”. Image via Pexels.

Past the research and grants and numbers are an increasing number of men who admit they are lonely, or men who are still uncomfortable about discussing important worries with mates and this in turn, Corker says, has the potential to impact mental health.

We talk to five men, from different backgrounds and ages, and ask what they really think about male friendship.

How many friends do you have?

“I’d say I would probably have around 15 good male friends. Guys that I talk to regularly or would not think twice before giving them a call.” Will, 32, Tech Entrepreneur.

“I have about six male friends – the boys I go to the pub with, and people I’ve known for years. I classify a friend as someone I talk to more than once a month.” Peter, 55, Self Employed.

“I’d like to know what you define as friends? I have a lot of men who I catch up with in groups, but if you are talking about a friend like my wife has friends, one I would say.” Tony, 50, Lawyer.

“I have two really good male friends and I’ve become friends with a couple of my wife’s friends husbands. I’ve ended up hanging out a lot with them due to group barbecues and kids.” Matt, 45, Executive.

“I have a lot. From school and uni and work. Maybe 12 good friends. Of that I’d hang out with about three of them over the weekend. The ones that are single and have nothing better to do because I’m single.” Jack, 28, Film editor.

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Do you have a male friend to talk to about your worries?

“Of those 15 friends (and not including my brothers), three of them I would consider talking to about something I was worried about. It’s not like I would go to any of them for anything though. Some of them I would feel comfortable talking about certain things and not others.” Will.

“I don’t think guys are  good at talking to their mates about personal things anyway. Sometimes the group I go to the pub with once a month or so is a bit of a sounding board, so it might not be one-on-one – there might be four of us there. Or sometimes I’ll just talk to Bill or Richard.” Peter.

“Yes I do, one probably. I might talk about a few things that bothered me, but not the significant stuff.” Tony.

“There’s probably one mate who I would talk to and he’s busy and we don’t meet up that often. It’s not like I would call him up to talk about something that was bothering me. The timing would have to work in that we are meeting for a drink and I have a problem I need to discuss right then.” Matt.

“Yes, We talk about everything. Money mostly and girls and work.” Jack.

lonely men
“If you are talking about a friend like my wife has friends, one I would say.” Image via Instagram @honeyholden.

Is it hard to make new friends as you get older?

“I think it is probably different for everyone. I have always been kind of reserved in new social situations so I was never that good at making friends straight off the bat. But found it much easier in sporting groups or other situations where I was naturally spending time with people. Most of my close friends are from sport, school or social groups that were adjacent to those activities.” Matt.

“Yes.” Tony.

“It’s not hard to make friends as you get older – it’s the same as any other time. You just have to put in a bit of effort and I do that.” Peter.

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“If I was to make new friends it would be either through work or through my kids (which sounds weird). I find at work, at a certain level, you’re not interested in hanging out together and knowing each other’s personal business. You do that in your 20s. I have a family I want to get home to and all the men around me are basically in the same boat – they spend a lot of time at work and want to get back to their personal lives as soon as possible. So, yes, I haven’t made many new friends as I get older.” Matt.

“No, the ones that click, just click.” Jack.

What do you think of female friendships?

“I’ve never really had really close female friends like I do male friends. Most of my female friends have been more social friendships rather than people I would turn to. I feel like it would be better for everyone if there was a better mix of male and female friendships. Just looking back at my group of friends, we definitely could have used a female perspective at times. There is a lot of bullshit that can fly around between guys that doesn’t really help anyone. I feel like having a female opinion or even just presence gets rid of a lot of that crap.” Will.

“They obviously tell each other a lot. I’m not sure I could, or would want to, do that. But I can see it has benefits.” Tony.

lonely men
“The ones that click, just click.” Image via Pexels.

“I watch my wife get on the phone for ages to her friends and go out with them to do “nothing”. They’ll have a coffee or go for a walk but she always seems energised when she comes back and she makes the time to do these things. To be honest, I don’t need that kind of intimacy. Maybe it’s because I speak to my wife about anything that concerns me.” Matt.

“I have a lot of friends who are female but I know they would tell more to their female friends than to me. That’s probably because they go into a lot of detail and want to talk about the same thing again and again. I’m happy not to do that. When I talk to my male friends we talk about something and move on.” Jack.

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