Saturday, March 11, 2017

The loneliness of the American middle-aged man

...as I ran down the list of those I’d consider real, true, lifelong friends, I realized that it had been years since I’d seen many of them, even decades for a few. ...

I turned 40 in May. I have a wife and two young boys. ...

I love “dada time.” And I’m pretty good about squeezing in an hour of “me time” each day for exercise, which usually means getting up before dawn to go to the gym or for a run. But when everything adds up, there is no real “friend time” left. Yes, I have friends at work and at the gym, but those are accidents of proximity. I rarely see those people anywhere outside those environments, because when everything adds up, I have left almost no time for friends. I have structured myself into being a loser. ...

Beginning in the 1980s, [psychiatrist Richard] Schwartz says, study after study started showing that those who were more socially isolated were much more likely to die during a given period than their socially connected neighbors, even after you corrected for age, gender, and lifestyle choices like exercising and eating right. ...

My wife and I also have other couples we like and see often. It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that’s good enough — and for many men it is, at least until their spouse gets the friends in the divorce. ...

In February at a conference in Boston, a researcher from Britain’s University of Oxford presented study results that most guys understand intuitively: Men need an activity together to make and keep a bond. ... That’s why, studies have shown, men tend to make their deepest friends through periods of intense engagement, like school or military service or sports. ...

Researchers have noticed a trend in photographs taken of people interacting. When female friends are talking to each other, they do it face to face. But guys stand side by side, looking out at the world together. ...

But in the middle years of life, those side-by-side opportunities to get together are exactly the sort of things that fall off. ... Planning anything takes great initiative, and if you have to take initiative every time you see someone, it’s easy to just let it disappear.

That’s why Schwartz and others say the best way for men to forge and maintain friendships is through built-in regularity — something that is always on the schedule. ...

“Wednesday night,” Ozzy explained, was a pact he and his buddies had made many years before, a standing order that on Wednesday nights, if they were in town, they would get together and do something, anything.

Everything about the idea seemed quaint and profound — the name that was a lack of a name (such a guy move); the placement in the middle of the week; the fact that they’d continued it for so long. But most of all, it was the acknowledgment from male friends that they needed their male friends, for no other reason than they just did.
--Billy Baker, Boston Globe Magazine, on friendship beyond your 20s