Ep. 31: What Does Loneliness Look Like in Men?
Not long ago I wrote about who men talk to when they’re feeling lonely or have a problem. You guessed it – no one.
It turns out that men don’t really talk to anyone when something is bothering them. They tend to go off on their own and figure out the problem in some logical fashion that feels right for them. They generally prefer to mull things over in their head, preferably alone, before they make their next move.
What I didn’t talk much about was how often men actually do get lonely and that they suffer from this just as much as women can. The difference is, men don’t talk about it or seek out a friend to discuss it with or find others who are also feeling the same way.
Society has made it difficult for men to even admit that they’re lonely let alone talk about it freely. Men feel the pressure of portraying themselves as strong and stoic, as if nothing bothers them and nothing can penetrate their armor of steel.
Meanwhile, men suffer from feelings of seclusion and many of them long for a deeper connection with women, as well as other men.
In his book, Breaking the Male Code, Dr. Robert Garfield talks about how men have long struggled with emotional intimacy, which he describes as: “The experience of being deeply connected to another person who knows and understands your most important feelings and who shares his or her own with you.” He goes on to say that guys who struggle with emotional intimacy are more likely to withdraw and isolate themselves during times of stress, when they most need help.
In my conversations with over 400 men, I noticed this pattern of isolation and loneliness that became apparent the more I spoke to them. Men of all ages feel lonely at times and many feel as though they have no one to talk to.
Married men are concerned that their wives wouldn’t understand their loneliness, nor would they have much sympathy for them, and most men assume their male friends aren’t willing to hear how their buddy feels alone and depressed.
Guys talk about work, sports, politics and attractive women, probably in that order.
Because I interviewed both married and single men, I was able to see the differences between the two groups.
It turns out, according to my research, that men who have been married for several years and have children are the loneliest of them all. This of course does not mean that all married men with children are terribly lonely, but the majority that I spoke to felt very lonely and isolated in their marriage. It stemmed mainly from the feeling that their spouse was no longer interested in them and they had fallen to the bottom of the priority list.
Countless men told me that once their wives had given birth, everything changed. It felt to them that the children, their wife, the house, and even the dog had become more important than them. And while men are more inclined to put their wives happiness first, typically before their own, they felt as though their lives no longer mattered.
These men described themselves as, “incredibly lonely.”
The majority of these men had also become accustomed to very sparse sexual encounters with their wives. This fact alone contributed to much of their feelings of isolation.
Men connect with women sexually and a good part of their happiness comes from being sexually active with, and receiving affection from, the woman they love. These men were not looking for threesomes, anal sex, swinging or even oral sex for that matter – they were mainly looking for affection and the feeling that they still had the ability to turn their wife on.
A 54-year-old engineer from Nevada who had been married for 16 years with 2 children told me that one of the most devastating things that can happen to a man is to know that he no longer turns his wife on and that she can’t stand the idea of being intimate with him. For him, this was at the heart of his feeling lonely and miserable.
The irony of these stories is that almost all the men said they couldn’t imagine being married to any other woman and that they still loved their wives, but the lack of sex and affection was sometimes too much to bear.
There were some men who told me they felt they had no other option but to have an affair, but many said they suffer through this isolation because they love their families and can’t imagine cheating on their spouse or living life without them; so they press on.
Is “pressing on” the best we can hope for these days?
It was very disheartening to hear so many stories of men who feel they can’t share their true feelings with anyone. Most of the men I spoke to didn’t have male friends that they felt comfortable discussing such deeply personal issues with, and typically married men have few close female platonic friendships.
So where does this leave men who are feeling hopeless and isolated?
I don’t have the answers, but I can tell you that it is extremely prevalent and I would guess that more than half of the wives out there have no idea how terribly lonely and miserable their husbands truly are.
Fortunately we live in a time where it’s becoming more acceptable for men to openly discuss their feelings, but we need to foster that safe environment in which they can do so.
If you’re a woman reading this, flirting with your husband and letting him know that he still lights your fire could go a long way.
If you’re a man and this resonates with you, perhaps try telling your wife your real feelings and ask her for some understanding.
Let her know just how much her affection means to you and how much you desperately miss the girlfriend you married.
Please continue sending your questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org