Over the past week, I’ve seen this story, “The biggest threat facing middle-age [sic] men isn’t smoking or obesity. It’s loneliness.“ making the rounds on Facebook. The title didn’t strike me as a big surprise, but with so many people sharing it maybe it was a shock to most readers. The article states that U.S. Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, has said often that the most prevalent health issue in the country is not cancer, heart disease or obesity. It is isolation. While I’m glad to see this getting the attention of the federal government, this is certainly not the sort of issue we should sit back and wait for some sort of government response on.
There is much you can do about loneliness; one thing I do not recommend is for you to call yourself a loser, which the author of the article does repeatedly. That really bothered me. While the author, Billy Baker, was taking on an important issue he equates “not having time for his friends” with “being a loser.” Here is a man with a job he seems to enjoy, a happy and healthy family who refers to himself as “a loser” because he doesn’t see his oldest friends very often. That attitude isn’t helping anyone.
Drifting away from your friends over the years, or finding yourself too busy—between work, family and other commitments—to see friends doesn’t make you some sort of sad, pathetic person. It makes you a member of today’s society that, especially for men, doesn’t put an emphasis on time with friends. So it is up to each man to create that emphasis. If there is something you want in life, or want more of, and you do nothing about it – that is more akin to a loser than being lonely is.
I know loneliness well. I have felt isolated and alone many times in my life, regardless of physically being isolated or not. When I was in high school and then in college, there were countless occasions when I was at a party surrounded by people and feeling alone. Connection isn’t merely physical; a true connection is emotional, mental, and spiritual as well. I can be with people but be lost in my own head, adrift in my own, often negative thoughts, which add to my feelings of isolation and loneliness.
What does work for me is combining all aspects of being: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. When I’m with other men in activities that touch all four of those areas I am not lonely or isolated at all. I encourage you to look into area men’s groups and Meetups. Every interest you can think of has groups dedicated to it who get together. Explore I-Groups with the ManKindProject or scan this international listing of men’s groups. If you are truly not near any like-minded men, explore virtual groups. Not just a blind chat room experience, but immersive groups with video to feel more of a connection.
Research shows that guys need regularity. I’m not talking bowel movements, I’m referring to consistent, scheduled time with other men, and that time being focused on an activity is a great help too. Whether you visit a local bar or a local AA meeting, engage with other men. Don’t go to a new place only to isolate yourself once there.
Admitting you are lonely is not admitting you are a loser. Admitting to feeling emotional pain is authentic and vulnerable, and such an honest self-confrontation is the first step to changing how you feel. Admitting you are feeling isolated and being willing to do something about it is empowering and courageous.
We can’t change anything we aren’t aware of. So if you realize you are lonely, celebrate that awareness and have the bravery to do something about it. Remind yourself that in any group of adult men, others are feeling as isolated and in need of connection as you are. Instead of the old public speaking tip of imagining people in their underwear, imagine all the other guys are nervous, 7th-grade wallflowers and introduce yourself.
Be willing to make a new connection, try a new activity, or visit a new place. The only person who can change your loneliness is you. Please do.
Photo credit: Flickr