A young man was standing in the wings, preparing to enter the sanctuary to marry his wife. His best man, and Father, placed his hand gently on his shoulder. “Son, before we open that door, I want to share some advice.”
“Never forget your friends”, he said, “they will become more important as you get older.”
Culturally, we are struggling to understand what modern friendships look like. We’ve replaced long-term, “mono e mono” friendships with the digital efficiency of social media. It’s digital, but not deep, and these superficial, digital relationships are part of what’s making us increasingly lonely.
Yeah once Ted married Tracy we all kinda grew apart. But I still keep in touch with Ted on Facebook.
Barney Stinson (How I Met Your Mother)
A 2006 analysis of over two decades of survey data on social isolation, published in the American Sociological Review, found that adult, white, heterosexual men have the fewest friends of all people in America. Apparently “pale, male & stale” is an accurate moniker.
According to a more recent poll, 22 percent of millennial kids say they have “no friends” at all. This despite being widely lauded as the most connected generation in history.
“Regardless of how much you love your family and the children you happen to have, you will always need friends.”
Thirty percent of millennials also say they “always” or “often” feel lonely. Could there be a blooming epidemic of loneliness in our country?
”Remember to go out with them occasionally (if possible), but keep in contact with them some how.”
Vivek Murthy, the 19th surgeon general of the United States, has said many times in recent years that the most prevalent health issue in the country is not cancer or heart disease or obesity. It is isolation. And there’s good reason to believe he is correct. The rate of suicide is highest in middle-aged white men. In 2017, men died by suicide 3.54 x more often than women.
”Over the years, he became aware that his father knew what he was talking about.”
Medical professionals believe that meaningful bro-mances promote overall healthy habits because they can encourage us to trade harmful habits for healthier ones. Whether it’s a better diet, more exercise, or permission to take a well-deserved break, our friends’ influence can help lower the risk of many health problems. This includes high blood pressure, obesity, and depression.
So, how is it possible that the most connected generation in history is feeling isolated and lonely? Especially in a time when Facebook, Instagram and SnapChat have become mainstream.
“Inasmuch as time and nature carry out their designs and mysteries on a person, friends are the bulwarks of our life.”
For most men in their twenties and thirties, having twelve close friends seems like a fairy tale. Studies show that men become lonelier as they grow older. If Jesus had lived longer he might have ended up with only 4 or 5 Disciples.
Modern dads take parenting seriously, spending approximately three times as much time with their children as men did two generations ago, and they’re doing a lot more during that time.
And, men are extremely hesitant to share genuine thoughts and emotions with other men. There is a fear of looking weak.
After 70 years of life, here is what I’ve learned:
Jobs come and go
Life goes on
Children grow up
All this hesitation to be authentic leads men to internalize their emotions. As if we simply do not need any help, ever. We can handle everything ourselves.
Do you know what they call someone who has an incapacity for friendships, grandiose sense of self and shows little emotion? They call them sociopaths.
American author John Eldredge presents this challenge vividly in his legendary book, Wild at Heart.
The issue was, and is, that men simply are not bonding much these days… and we are either purposefully choosing or unwittingly failing to make bonding…..a priority.
We work as if our survival depends on it. It’s in our genes. In ancient times hunger, thirst and physical security were matters of life and death. Mentally we live in a world that no longer exists.
Children cease to be children and become independent. And, to the parents, it breaks their hearts. But the children are separated from the parents because they start their own family.
I’m not suggesting that men should shirk their responsibilities. Our commitments to family make us better people. And work tends to pay the bills.
No matter how hard you try, it’s impossible to outrun the American Express bill. I’ve tried. But in all things, there must be balance. Achieving bodily comforts and having fancy job title does not in itself satisfy the longing for connection.
In my mind, long-term friendships are like a patchwork quilt. Each patch on the quilt represents a memory. But over time, even the best quilts will fray and the best memories fade. It’s important to be mindful that as the memories fade, they must be replaced with new, shared experiences. Great friendships cannot be comprised solely of memories of an earlier time.
I don’t have no friends. I don’t want no friends. That’s how I feel.
Former NFL Wide Receiver and 6-time Pro-Bowl nominee
Women on the other hand make friendships a priority. Whether it’s book clubs, bunko night or bible studies or simply chatting on the telephone, women seem to be less lonely than men.
”But, true friends are always there, no matter how many miles away they are.”
When men do engage, the connection is often less personal. Most conversations begin with a discussion of how busy we are.
Busy is the new Xanax
There is an inherent social value in our busyness. I can recall an earlier time when I felt that my frequent flyer status was a kind of badge of honor. And my 2.5M miles in the air felt like a purple heart. There was a status and an identity that came with all that busyness, even if it was just in my own head.
“When we started this adventure called life, we did not know of the incredible joys or sorrows that were ahead.”
In all likelihood, the opportunities to live a truly meaningful life will not spring from how many frequent flyer miles we have amassed or how busy we are. When you get to heaven, I’m pretty sure that nobody is gonna check to see if my frequent flyer card is made of metal or plastic.
It’s counterintuitive, but creating a meaningful life is not an individual journey. It’s a relational journey and one that derives meaning from the strength of your personal relationships. And friendships require authenticity and vulnerability, neither of which is easy for men.
“Love your parents, take care of your children, but keep a group of good friends.”
Despite our best efforts at creating the perfect life, happiness is really about deep and meaningful connections with other people. It’s about lasting and intentional friendships. It’s about the intertwining of our lives in a deep and meaningful way. We must have people of substance to “do life” with. And you cannot “do life” with people on Facebook and Instagram.
It’s about enjoying your life. If you have no family, no friends to enjoy it with, it don’t matter how much you have, how much success you have, how much fame you have, how much money you have. Ultimately, those things simply don’t matter.
So what about you? How many friends do you really have? And don’t count people at work, they are “friends of convenience.”
Take a break from Instagram and Facebook. Call your friends and pour your heart out once in a while. You know, “the new job’s a hassle and the kids have the flu”. It’ll make your life richer and you might just live longer as a result.
Previously Published on tomgreene.com