Men and Loneliness

In several previous posts, I talked about loneliness and its devastating impact on the physical and mental health of older adults.  And men seem to have a lot more difficulty than women on this score.  Perhaps that has to do with the loss of work contacts that comes with retirement. Those contacts  support our identity and our sense of meaning and purpose.  Many men have concentrated on their work, and have not had time to build and maintain friendships outside of the work place.  But once you leave the job, those friendships will fade, unless you have something in common with those people outside of the job.

In the movie Five Friends, the narrator quotes the American writer and philosopher, Elbert Hubbard, who said, “My father always used to say that when you die, if you’ve got five real friends, you’ve had a great life.”  Why is it so difficult for men to maintain five real friendships?

There is growing research about masculinity, including men’s friendships.   Dr. Daniel Duane, writing in the Men’s Journal, says that men have different types of friendships:  Convenience friendships involve an exchange of helpful information.  Mentor friends are just that – tutors. The third type is the activity friendship – fellows who get together to do something together -fish, ski or go to a ball game, for example.  With men, these types of friendships fade when there is no longer a need for them.  Earlier research called this The Male Deficit Model, and attributed it to norms about masculinity.  A different type, which women do much better than men, is the intimate friendship –where parties feel safe in confiding feelings, giving and receiving social support.  For some men, the only person they can confide in is their spouse, who is also the primary organizer of the couple’s social life.

How does a retired man find new friends?  Here are some suggestions

  • What activities do you enjoy? Look in your area for groups that are engaged in those activities. Their meetings will be listed in your local paper.
  • Check out your local senior center or place of worship. They frequently have men’s groups.
  • Volunteering is a great way to engage in activities you like to do and meet new friends.
  • Meetup.com is a website listing groups all over the country. Type in your location and you will get a list of groups meeting near you.  You can also search for specific types of groups.
  • If you look around the local coffee shops or mall food courts, you may see a table full of older men having breakfast, lunch or just coffee, and involved in conversation about just about any topic. These are ROMEOs– Retired Old Men Eating Out; they form spontaneously or may be organized by a local organization.  Ask if you can join them.  IF you can’t find ROMEOs group in your area, start one.  AARP has an article on them at http://www.aarp.org/relationships/friends/info-01-2011/romeo_retired_men_club.html

So guys, get off the couch, turn off the TV and get out there with others.  It’s good for your health, not to mention your joy in life.

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