In my last post I shared about how I’ve struggled with my definition of masculinity and often not felt like a “real man.” Thankfully God is redeeming that in me. As part of that process I’m realizing that my insecurity in this area has contributed to me at times being isolated and not in real or close connection with other guys.
I’ve often believed the lie that if I opened up and shared the true parts of me and was vulnerable with other guys they would think I was weird or weak and reject me.
I’ve also often hoped that I’m not the only one who has felt this way. Through conversations with friends and some research I have discovered that I’m definitely not.
According to an article in Salon.com “adult, white, heterosexual men in America have the fewest friends. Moreover, the friendships they have, if they’re with other men, provide less emotional support and involve lower levels of self-disclosure and trust than other types of friendships.”
A study done in Britain showed that, “only 11 per cent of single men across the spectrum in their early 20s to late-middle age say they have a friend to turn to in a time of crisis, the number rising to 15 per cent for married men.”
Apparently my reasons for a times being isolated are common as well. In another study highlighted in Psychcentral.com, “researchers found that men indeed were more reluctant to admit feelings of loneliness. And interestingly, the more “masculine” a man perceived himself to be, the more reluctant he was to acknowledge any social deficit of any kind.”
Here’s the problem. As humans, one of our most important needs is connection. Not just casual, surface level friendship but true meaningful deep connection with people that know us at significant levels and who we can turn to when we most need them.
It is not just an issue of emotional health. It is also an issue of physical health. Judith Schulevitz, in an article for the New Republic titled The Lethality of Loneliness, writes: “Emotional isolation is ranked as high a risk factor for mortality as smoking. A partial list of the physical diseases thought to be caused by or exacerbated by loneliness would include Alzheimer’s, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, neurodegenerative diseases, and even cancer—tumors can metastasize faster in lonely people.”
In short, loneliness and isolation are making us physically sick.
I know many of us guys who are married or in a significant relationship might think that relationship is enough, that we don’t need deep connection beyond that. But I don’t think that is a fair burden to place on our significant others. Yes, they definitely can and should be a source of significant connection but they cannot be the only source. That is a weight that isn’t fair to ask them to carry. As guys, we need other guys we can rely on as well.
Even if we have some good social connection with other guys it is probably limited to mostly doing activities together. We play golf, watch sports, go hunting, fishing, etc. Those are not bad things. In fact they are very good places for relationship to start but it cannot end there.
So what do we do?
To begin with we have to believe that we are worthy of this kind of connection. Brené Brown in her book The Gifts of Imperfection writes, “If we want to fully embrace love and belonging, we must believe that we are worthy of love and belonging. When we can let go of what other people think and own our story we gain access to our worthiness – the feeling that we are enough just as we are and that we are worthy of love and belonging. “
Trust me, I know that isn’t easy. It takes serious work, faith and trust to believe that we are worthy. The verse Romans 5:8 comes to mind. “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”
Yes, we’re all broken and imperfect but that didn’t stop God from sending Christ to die for us. He loves us that much! So despite our imperfections, we are still worthy of love and connection.
The next step is reaching out and being real with others. As we begin to believe in our worthiness we can gain the confidence to do that. That is probably one of the scariest things to do because we’re afraid of what others will think and of being rejected. But here’s what I know, every time I’ve opened up with a guy friend it has turned out much better than I thought it would. Usually their response is something like, “I feel the same way” and they are grateful that I was real with them because it made them feel less alone as well. Someone has to take the risk so why not you?
As we slowly become more confident in our worthiness and make more real connections with each other I believe we can begin to heal ourselves and each other and begin to change this epidemic of loneliness one person at a time.