4 April 2024

Is it harder for men to keep friends as they age?

| Zoya Patel
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Photograph shows Hands Like Houses posing in front of the sky

It’s easy enough to make friends when you are young but is it harder to keep them as you age? Photo: File.

Life changes rapidly in your thirties. First there’s the gradual shift in your work life – perhaps a promotion or a change in career, the change from more casual or entry-level work to more demanding roles with higher accountability.

And that increase in responsibility is mirrored in other parts of life – if you’re lucky, you might enter into a mortgage, or other financial investments. Or you might have a kid or two, start caring for aging family members etc.

But perhaps the saddest and most unexpected shift is in our friendships – and the loss of close friends and diminishing social lives has a distinctly gendered tone.

In my twenties, I would have staunchly insisted that I would always have the energetic social life I had then. My weeknights and weekends were always packed with social engagements and I counted myself lucky to have dozens of close, meaningful friendships.

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It was inevitable, and indeed welcome, when the volume of socialising slowed down in my thirties, corresponding to my lower energy levels. But I was glad to retain the close friends I had, whether our interactions were mostly online or more occasional. The depth and impact of the friendships have stayed the same.

But when I look at the men in my life, the contrast is stark. The vast majority of them have very few meaningful friendships, and can go weeks without having an interaction or catch up with a friend one-on-one. Most of their socialising is jointly with their partner and, if they’re single, they are likely to be more isolated.

It’s hard to know what the drivers for this are, but it’s common enough that it makes me question how society impacts the way men are taught to nurture and prioritise friendships.

Of my female friends in relationships with men, universally we worry about whether our partners have enough support outside of our partnerships, if they’re lonely, and what would happen if we weren’t there to provide for their emotional needs.

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As we get older, that isolation becomes starker. How many relatives and colleagues have I had in their fifties or sixties who have virtually no social life? As life gets more demanding, already dwindling friendships can disappear entirely.

But the impact of this isolation is real. When I’ve spoken to men I know about their social lives and friendships, one of the key issues that comes up is a sense that they don’t feel comfortable pursuing new friendships – there’s a sense of vulnerability that chafes in putting themselves out there, and a fear of rejection. Other than playing sport and meeting people that way, there aren’t a lot of organic ways to shift a casual acquaintance into a true friend.

As the new mother to a son, I already worry about his emotional supports outside of family as he ages, and I wonder how to support and equip him to be open about his needs and to embrace the vulnerability of seeking friendship.

Is this an inevitable part of growing up, or are male friendships the victims of engrained gender stereotypes that discourage displays of emotions as being counter to masculinity?

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What a sexist article. If you believe genuine differences between the sexes then you’ll understand why a gender pay gap exists!

davidmaywald2:31 pm 21 Mar 24

Here are some options for men in the Canberra region:

1. Join The Men’s Table, which is quickly growing towards 200 tables nationally and already has 10 tables in/around Canberra (Michael Collins is the Regional Host). Groups of about 10-12 men meet for dinner once a month.

2. There are also about 10 Men’s Sheds in/near ACT (enter your postcode into the “Find a Shed” function at mensshed.org). This might appeal to older/senior men most, but they are very happy to welcome men of any age. They get on the tools, as well as catching up socially.

3. Menslink holds a friendly Midweeker event on the 2nd Wednesday of each month, at the Statesman Hotel in Curtin. They have a different speaker each month to keep it interesting.

4. If you have young children, there are Dads Groups who meet regularly (such as Canberra Dads Playgroup and Dads of North Canberra, both on Facebook). Good chance to meet a handful of other fathers and children, and explore new playgrounds/kid-friendly venues.

5. Finally, if you’d like to tick the exercise box as well as socialising, then join a group who walk/run/ride/etc (such as Running for Resilience, Blokes Walk & Talk, The Man Walk, or a local bike group). Some of my best conversations with men/fathers have occurred while riding in a bunch of people for an hour or two. It’s less confronting, slowly builds relationships, and is great for your body + mind.

Dear Ms Angst
I refer you to the latest World Happiness report, (just released) which shows that Australia is the 10th happiest country and that the self evaluated life satisfaction for people aged over 60 is higher than for people under 60. Boomers have higher life evaluations than your lot. This is alarming evidence of an age happiness gap which requires your urgent attention. So don’t worry about older males. Worry about yourself and work on closing that gap.

What I discovered is that there are many ways to be connected, not just by leaning on friends. Going back a few decades, with a young family that became the focus. Yes you have mates but my experience is that you see them more with the family in tow. Now I have those mates still, a few have moved on, relocated etc. As we’ve gotten older a few of us have more regular catch ups. I have a hobby that has introduced me to a wide set of mates, literally across the country that I see at regular events and speak to on a weekly basis. I can’t emphasise enough how much I value the mates I have as a result of that hobby. Our conversations have gone into family, life stuff at a deep level. Sport brings a different group of male and female friendships. The message from me is that diversity and having a wider network is a good thing. Don’t rely too heavily on a few close friendships.

A cause of many friendship losses are the phases of going in and out of romantic relationships.
Firstly, getting in to a relationship. As it takes up most of their social time, the connections with friends fades away. It’s also common in relationships that the partner filters and deters the friends she doesn’t like.

Secondly. coming out of a relationship. When a relationship ends, some other people can’t help but spread rumours. Quite often the presumption is that the man was somehow “bad”. And if the woman is upset about the end, she can say things that can turn entire social groups against the man.

In any case, the depression at the end of the relationship can mean former “friends” avoid the man. In the meantime some of his former “friends” might be swooping in to explore romantic possibilities with the woman.
The man gets the message that that social group doesn’t want him around.

As that scenario plays out numerous times over several decades, it leaves men with a hard lesson in reality.
Some men, who still yearn for social acceptance to give them a sense of self-worth, they succumb to substance abuse and suicide.

Other men get through that or bypass it. They are wary that relationships and friendships inevitably lead to pain. So they give up on those. It’s a waste of time. They rediscover the joy of the projects they loved to do in younger years; before a relationship partner steered them out of spending time on those. Men can find happiness if: they stop caring about being approved of by others; they focus on projects they love to do. For men who need some company, dogs and cats are wonderfully loyal, so long as you give them love and respect.

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