Notes & Essays

It's Time We Addressed the Epidemic of Male Loneliness

It’s real but barely spoken about.
IMAGE Unsplash / Andrew Neel
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Seeing all the social media posts during the holidays, you’d think people overdosed on Christmas cheer and just can’t help projecting it out into the world. But we all know Facebook isn’t real life, or, at least, doesn’t give us a complete picture of what people are actually going through.

We rarely ever see people advertising their own struggles, their conflicts, and their pain on social media. That includes expressions of loneliness. Not only is it discouraged and frowned upon, but it can be seen as embarrassing or weak. 

In a global study carried out by Exeter, Manchester and Brunel universities called the BBC Loneliness Experiment, young people, men and people in "individualistic" societies report higher levels of loneliness. The survey, published earlier this year, carried responses from 237 countries, islands and territories.

“Contrary to what people may expect, loneliness is not a predicament unique to older people," said Professor Manuela Barreto of the University of Exeter. “In fact, younger people report greater feelings of loneliness. Since loneliness stems from the sense that one's social connections are not as good as desired, this might be due to the different expectations younger and older people hold.”

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Shoulder-to-shoulder vs face-to-face

Men are particularly ill-equipped to acknowledge, much less handle, loneliness. In a piece on the Washington Post last month, professor Geoffrey Greif of the University of Maryland thorized that male friendships are often rooted in shoulder-to-shoulder interactions—such as watching sports games or playing video games. Sports is a common bonding activity that nurtures male friendships, so it makes sense that they would have a hard time during a period when games are put on hold because of the pandemic.

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I’ve been on my own since I was 20 and while I might have had some roommates and/or housemates for a few years, it was only in 2019 when I finally moved to a place where I could finally be on my own. The freedom to be able to do anything I wanted without needing to worry about what a housemate had to say was exhilarating at first, but that soon gave way to uncomfortable feelings of isolation. Solitude can be its own reward at times (hey you can walk around your house naked!), but what happens when it’s 2 a.m. and you’re wide awake and there’s nobody to talk to?

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Not that I developed any deep-seated and serious feelings of loneliness or despair, but that experience helped me recognize the flipside of living alone and made me appreciate my friends even more than I already did. There were a couple of scary episodes of extreme anxiety, especially during the pandemic, but what helped me get through it was the knowledge that there were people I could reach out to for help if and when I absolutely needed it. That and a brisk walk outside with my dog.

Close friends

I realize I may be in the minority of men who actually admit to bouts of loneliness and mild depression from time to time. There’s not a whole lot of formal, academic research conducted about the so-called epidemic of male loneliness specific to Filipino men, but one can assume that, outside of factors such as age, culture, and social standing, there are similarities with how we’re feeling relative to our colleagues in Western countries where data is available.

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In the United Kingdom, for instance, a YouGov poll  said that almost one in five men (18 per cent) owned up to not having a single close friend, and one in three (32 per cent) stated that they didn’t have a best friend. These figures were lower for women, at 12 and 24 per cent respectively, which suggests that, on average, men in the UK are leading more solitary lives compared to women.

A separate study on gender differences by in loneliness by Shelley Borys of the University of Waterloo and Daniel Perlman of the University of British Columbia, found that males typically have higher loneliness scores. 

“In terms of self-labeling, women more frequently than men admit being lonely,” it said. “Sex role factors may help explain these seemingly contradictory results. Of the various possible explanations of the gender differences in self-labeled loneliness, most assume that social influence processes play a crucial role. To test this viewpoint, an experiment was conducted. Subjects (N = 117) were presented with a case history of a lonely person, which varied only the target person's sex. The subjects were more rejecting of a lonely male than of a lonely female. These results support the view that women are more apt to acknowledge their loneliness than men because the negative consequences of admitting loneliness are less for women.” 

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Do something

One can argue that we have a totally different social structure here in the Philippines, especially in urban areas, where communities are generally more tight-knit, and families are typically larger and members are often more involved in each others’ lives. But even if a percentage of men here admit to feeling lonely, that’s still a worrying trend that needs to be addressed.

Our suggestion: check on the men in your life. Uncles, grandfathers, family friends, old classmates and colleagues. Send them a text, give them a call or, if possible and with proper health protocols in place, organize a casual get-together. While you’re at it, check on the women, too. There are other things we can do to confront and chip away at the epidemic of loneliness, but in cases like this, a little goes a long way.

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About The Author
Paul John Caña
Associate Editor, Esquire Philippines
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