Life as a Lone Wolf: Why Do So Many Men Feel Lonely?

Man in red shirt leans on railing to look at cityMost people crave social connection. While social media, endless apps, and new technology promises to connect more people, many people feel lonelier than ever. While isolation can be a trigger for loneliness, loneliness and isolation are not identical. A person can feel lonely even when surrounded by others, especially if they don’t have deep connections that feel meaningful to them.

Loneliness doesn’t just feel bad. It can have profound implications for health. Some research even suggests that chronic loneliness can be as harmful to a person’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes per day.

Research on gender differences in loneliness is mixed. Some studies show that women are lonelier than men; others show the reverse. Most researchers, however, agree that single men tend to be especially lonely, and that certain social norms governing masculinity may increase the risk of loneliness in men. Some early research on loneliness also suggests men may be less likely than women to admit to feelings of loneliness.

Social Isolation in Men

Studies consistently find that women are more likely to have dense social networks than men. From childhood, women are socialized to value friendship, confide in their friends, and to foster deep intimacy with close friends. Even when men have many friends, they may feel uncomfortable sharing emotions or airing feelings of vulnerability.

A 2018 analysis of people living in rural regions found that 63 percent of men felt comfortable opening up to friends, compared to 74 percent of women. Women were also more likely to participate in activities, such as church gatherings, that foster friendship and a sense of community.

Although social isolation is a serious concern among single men, research suggests that emotional feelings of loneliness are even more important. A 2011 study tied social isolation to reduced life satisfaction, but the link was even stronger for emotional loneliness. Researchers also found that male university students were significantly more likely to report emotional feelings of loneliness than female students.

How Stigma Can Be a Cage

Masculine social norms teach men that vulnerability is weakness. Homophobia is also prevalent. Straight cisgender men may fear being labeled “gay.” These two forces can make it very difficult for men to reach out to others in friendship. Even when men have friends, they may fear judgment if they display weakness or ask for help.

Heterosexual male friendships often feature a boastful sort of masculinity, in which men brag about their sexual prowess, their financial success, or their independence. This culture can make it hard for men struggling in their relationships to share their challenges. It also shows men that the ideal man is one who uses others—not one who invests deeply in interdependent relationships.

This isolation can be a self-replicating intergenerational cycle. Men may discourage sons from showing weakness or emotion. Boys also witness their fathers modeling stoic behavior and may mimic it. In this way, the stigma of emotionally connecting to other men passes from one generation to the next.

The Marriage Effect

Men in most studies are more likely than women to have long-term partners. These partners can ease some loneliness. Indeed, many men rely on their partners as a primary or sole source of emotional support. This increases men’s vulnerability to loneliness when relationships end or partners die. A 2017 survey found women are more comfortable being single than men. Sixty-one percent of single women in the UK reported being happy, compared to just 49% of single men.

In addition to supporting their male partners, women in long-term heterosexual relationships may help them socialize by building and fostering social networks. Emotional labor like remembering birthdays, sending holiday cards, planning family get-togethers, and scheduling outings with friends has traditionally fallen to women. When a man loses his partner, he may lose an important social lubricant. That may mean losing friends and social opportunities.

How to Build Bromance

Building friendships with other men can be challenging, especially when a man is no longer in school. A few strategies may help:

  • Join communities and organizations that foster intimacy. Churches, volunteer organizations, and support groups may offer groups specifically for men looking for closer relationships.
  • Seek friendships with men who value alternative forms of masculinity and who are willing to talk about the need for human connection.
  • Consider working to turn acquaintances into friends. Invite a social media friend who speaks out against toxic masculinity or male loneliness to an outing.
  • Take a more active role in family efforts to grow relationships. Don’t rely on women to plan all social outings or reach out to others.
  • Try starting a new group or organization. Ask other dads to meet up once a month or invite acquaintances from church to start a group for men who want to grow meaningful relationships.
  • Identify any harmful beliefs you have about friendship or masculinity. Do you believe that crying indicates weakness or that real men don’t need others? Work to understand where these beliefs come from and actively correct them.
  • Practice conversations with other men ahead of time. Think about questions to ask them about their lives or opinions. Consider what you hope to share about yourself.
  • Don’t rely on social media as a sole or primary source of socialization. While social media can bring people together, it also relies heavily on brief interactions rather than the sustained, meaningful connection that grows lasting friendship.
  • Model vulnerability to other men and boys. Men who see that strong men can be vulnerable may feel more comfortable being vulnerable themselves. Sons who see their fathers invest in friendships may be less reticent to do so themselves.

Therapy can help many men practice and master new social skills. Men may also benefit from therapy when social anxiety impedes relationships or when loneliness is so severe that it leads to depression.

GoodTherapy connects people to caring, ethical therapists who can help with a range of challenges, including loneliness and making new friends. Find a therapist who can help you here.

References:

  1. Henning-Smith, C., Ecklund, A., Moscovice, I., & Kozhimannil, K. (2018). Gender differences in social isolation and social support among rural residents [Ebook]. University of Minnesota Rural Health Research Center. Retrieved from http://rhrc.umn.edu/wp-content/files_mf/1532458325UMNpolicybriefsocialisolationgenderdifferences.pdf
  2. Neville, S., Adams, J., Montayre, J., Larmer, P., Garrett, N., Stephens, C., & Alpass, F. (2018). Loneliness in men 60 years and over: the association with purpose in life. American Journal of Men’s Health12(4), 730-739. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6131432
  3. Salimi, A. (2011). Social-emotional loneliness and life satisfaction. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences29, 292-295. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877042811027029
  4. Sex differences in loneliness: the role of masculinity and femininity. (1998). Sex Roles38(7-8). Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1023%2FA%3A1018850711372#page-2
  5. Yarrow, A. (2017). All the single ladies: 61% of women in the UK are happy to be single, compared to 49% of men. Retrieved from https://www.mintel.com/press-centre/social-and-lifestyle/all-the-single-ladies-61-of-women-in-the-uk-are-happy-to-be-single-compared-to-49-of-men

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  • Paul

    Paul

    November 16th, 2020 at 11:06 AM

    I read the artical but its too simplistic about men men have alot more issues with integration and socialisation there are situations which men have no control over and need help but because help and therapy revolve around groups many men don’t seek help with there mental health mental health as a long way to go to to properly understand the real issues of depression

  • Mike

    Mike

    December 11th, 2020 at 7:20 AM

    If women had been like the old days, then love would’ve been very easy to find the way that it did happen for our family members. Most women today are very high maintenance, very independent, since they really don’t want many of us single men anymore, selfish, greedy, spoiled, picky, narcissists, and very money hungry today more than ever before. Back in the old days most women were the very complete opposite of today, and real ladies as well which made love very easy to find back then. What in the world happened to these women today? Now it has really become very dangerous for many of us single men just to say good morning or hello to a woman that we would really like too meet, and there will be times they will even Curse at many of us men for know reason at all. Not easy at all for many of us men trying to find love these days unfortunately.

  • Eddie

    Eddie

    December 16th, 2020 at 4:54 PM

    Just keep on wearing a mask. No one can see a smile , no one can read the facial expressions that we humans count on . Just keep on wearing the mask.

  • Richard

    Richard

    December 19th, 2020 at 9:34 PM

    Stop blaming “social norms governing masculinity” for male loneliness. Just stop it. It is just a roundabout way of blaming men for their own loneliness. It’s getting tiresome.
    The reason men are lonely is because no one cares about them, it has got nothing to do with not wanting to appear gay (for god’s sake that is such an unbelievably stupid line of reasoning). The vast majority of people (especially women) just aren’t interested in listening to a man who wants to talk about his problems. They dismiss him as “whiny”, “unpleasant” and yes “weak”. Men have learned to keep their emotions bottled up because every time we let them out we find that it either pushes people away, or allows more malicious individuals to take advantage of us.
    It is always a tragedy when a depressed woman commits suicide, but when a man does it, he’s just a statistic. No one cares. Men are expendable and always will be.

  • Jeff Alberter

    Jeff Alberter

    December 31st, 2020 at 5:40 PM

    “Sixty-one percent of single women in the UK reported being happy, compared to just 49% of single men.”
    Which of these two groups is more likely to be sexless? I can fathom a guess.

  • john

    john

    January 3rd, 2021 at 2:57 PM

    This article is completely clueless. Men and women are fundamentally different because of evolutionary biology. Women are very choosy about their mates because sex leads to pregnancy. Picking a bad mate means potentially having children with poor genes and pregnancy itself is a health risk.

    This has a profound influence on male and female behaviour. Men spend their life in competition for the attention of women, women get the attention of men by default. To show weakness, to show flaws is to be branded as low status by women and rejected by them. That is why men are the way they are and why they don’t have close friendships.

    Men are in competition with other men, men don’t want to open up with other men, they want to beat them. They want to be the funniest man in the room, the most successful man in the room and the toughest man in the room. Those are the men women notice, the other men in the room invisible to them.

    There is no such competitive pressure on women. Every women in a friendship group can get sex anytime she wants, she can get a relationship anytime she wants. Women are rarely in competition with each other, which means they can open up with one and other.

    Male behaviour is policed by women but to say that isn’t politically correct. So when male loneliness is discussed the toxic role of women is simply ignored.

  • Tony

    Tony

    February 4th, 2021 at 5:40 PM

    Put simply, men get shafted.

  • Guest

    Guest

    February 9th, 2021 at 7:39 AM

    With so many Gay And Bi women everywhere nowadays unfortunately, it does make it very difficult for many of us straight single guys trying to find love these days. Women are so much nastier now and very unfriendly more than they ever been these days, unlike the past when most women were the very complete opposite of today which made love very easy to find in those days. Very easy for our family members that had no trouble finding love back then.

  • Patrick

    Patrick

    February 28th, 2021 at 3:59 PM

    I invited some friends over, friends who have been campaigning against toxic masculinity and men’s rights (ending preference for maternal custody in divorce, fighting for toxic due process for men accused of Title IX violations, etc.). We talked about how much we hate being masculine and wish we could wear dresses and fight for free tampons and pads for all women. Then they went home.

  • Anonymous

    Anonymous

    March 3rd, 2021 at 11:00 AM

    Being in a relationship for many of us single men would be so much better than being single and alone all the time.

  • Genius

    Genius

    March 17th, 2021 at 2:42 PM

    Nobody talks to us mentally. I’d say perhaps one in thousands does, and she’s always pushing a shopping cart thinking she’s found her next victim. A female…as even just a friend….. I’ve never even heard of around here. I once took out a girl who never had a friend. Ever. She started a group for those who get social anxiety, well it didn’t last long. lol I joined the thing because I found the idea profoundly comical.
    I have to mention that corporate impact is a major factor…..the machines that actually dictate society……and not so much “societal masculine norms” or whatever that read and meant (I’d replace that with bad habits associated with depression if I was to be taken seriously). They have profound control over women’s early lives. School, religion, meddling members of society (especially the elders), and countless other entities occupy the purses and time, needlessly, and don’t create room for young women to grow and get them to Want to take some of their options.
    Good Therapy is just going to have to deal with this term Corporate Impact, because it’s coming to a theatre near you, and it’s not going away.

  • Guest

    Guest

    March 25th, 2021 at 12:28 PM

    Women have it so much easier dating with no trouble at all, especially when it comes to men with a ton of money. Many of us single men have just enough trouble meeting a good woman to have a serious relationship with as it is, now that most women are very picky and just want the best of all. Since so many women these days are real Feminists, which makes it even much more worse for many of us men as well unfortunately.

  • renee

    renee

    May 12th, 2021 at 8:20 PM

    I’m just lonely
    Every other part of life is good
    Just still feel lonely

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