9 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?

Original Article published by Zoya Patel on Riotact.

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