How Not to Die From Loneliness
By Karol Markowicz / NY Post
Turns out American men aren’t just dying lonely deaths — they’re dying from loneliness itself.
And they don’t even realize it.
This month, the Boston Globe’s editors turned to one of their writers, Billy Baker, and asked him to write a story on how “middle-aged men have no friends.” At first insulted, Baker quickly realized he was exactly that man. The way he tells his tale, it’s easy to imagine him as a man in his 60s, decades from the traditional days of making close friends, isolated.
Then he admits: He’s 40.
John T. Cacioppo, author of the book Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, writes that “social isolation has an impact on health comparable to the effect of high blood pressure, lack of exercise, obesity or smoking.” Numerous studies have concluded that loneliness is actually killing men prematurely.
Writing in the New York Times, Dhruv Khullar, a resident physician at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, noted that “a wave of new research suggests social separation is bad for us. Individuals with less social connection have disrupted sleep patterns, altered immune systems, more inflammation and higher levels of stress hormones. One recent study found that isolation increases the risk of heart disease by 29 percent and stroke by 32 percent.”
Isolation is deadly. So why aren’t we doing anything about it?
For starters, there’s a stigma against admitting loneliness, especially for men, and there’s a whole other taboo against openly wanting to make new friends.
We celebrate lifelong friendships and treat the friends we make earlier in life as more legitimate than the ones who come later. The early friendships are filled with inside jokes, funny stories of crazy nights and that thing that happened that one time that still no one can believe. We know all the background stories, each other’s full biographies. It’s deep, there’s no doubt about it.
It’s also nearly impossible to maintain. The group of friends who hung out until sunrise most weekends in their early 20s will have a hard time keeping it going into their 30s and 40s.
Most friendships end up getting relegated to social media. We like each other’s pictures as a way of staying in touch, but don’t actually make an effort to get together. We fight off screen time inside our families but don’t realize we have friends whose lives we only learn about on Facebook.
We don’t have the time for friendship the way we once did, especially after kids enter the picture. One of Baker’s key points was that he couldn’t go out too much and leave his wife alone with the kids. That difficulty leads to the real key of grown-up friendship success: the couple friends.
When our oldest child started nursery school, my husband and I scoffed at the events the school put together to introduce the parents. Why did we need to have a cocktail hour with a bunch of strangers? We already had plenty of friends.
But we also started noticing that our previously close friend group was starting to fray. People were having children, moving away, pursuing time-consuming careers. It was getting harder and harder to get together with our group, and though we enjoyed our time with just the two of us, that’s all we seemed to have after a while.
We started to make a conscious effort to make new friends. It worked. Not every couple we met was a home run, but 100 percent of them excitedly agreed to go out when we asked.
Our old friends remain indispensable to us and the handful of times we all get together each year are some of the best times. But the new friends are important, too.
We expect everything to change as we get older, but we somehow want our friendships to stay exactly as they were. Make an effort to see your old friends, and revel in joyful experiences with them. But don’t forget that in 30 years, your new friends will be your old friends.
Unless, of course, you don’t make them in the first place.
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