No Man is an Island (Unless He’s Over 30)

Men and Relationships
Why Guys Need Friends, Why They Lose Them, and What You Can Do About It!

Written by Joshua Duvauchelle

[dropcap]2009’s blockbuster movie I Love You, Man, the main character Peter Klaven gets engaged. He suddenly realizes he has no group of close friends from which he can pick a best man for his wedding. One of the movie’s running gags involves Klaven going on “man dates” to expand his social network, with notoriously humorous results.[/dropcap]

While the movie’s plotline may elicit laughs, the character’s problem mirrors real life. Researchers have found that guys build and maintain their network of friendships until they’re approximately 30 years old,  after which men tend to grow apart and become more isolated. 

But friends are more than just a digit on your Facebook profile. In a 2013 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, researchers followed 6,500 people and found that being isolated away from friends and family is linked to a 26 percent higher death risk over seven years.  “Social relationships are central to human well-being,” reports the study’s researchers. Everyone has kind of always known that, but now there’s a growing body of research verifying it.

In his book Buddy System: Understanding Male Friendships, Geoffrey Greif, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work, agrees. “It is important to men’s survival that they figure out friendships and improve them if they are unfulfilling,” he writes. “If men can improve the number and quality of their friendships, they may live longer and healthier lives.”  

Knowing why it’s important for men to cultivate friendships, and understanding why guys tend to become isolated as they get older, can help you tackle this issue head on, whether you’re worried about yourself or concerned for the man in your life. 


If you’re quick to think that friends are simply something nice to have, but not necessarily critical to your life, you may want to reconsider. “There’s surviving, and then there’s thriving,” says April Hand-Cameron, a licensed professional counselor at the Center for Effective Change in Virginia Beach, Va.  “The emotional exhaustion of holding up the world can be better faced with having the protective benefits of camaraderie within an established social network. Unexpected crises…can strike any of us in life. Established friendships can help men be more ready for…unexpected stressors.” 

“We are social beings,” agrees Dr. Stan Rockwell, a psychologist with the Psychological Associates of Williamsburg in Williamsburg, Va.  “Friends give us support…when we are hurting, celebrate with us when things go well, and teach us how to get along in the world. They give us someone to talk to and to listen to and accept us for who we are, and can help us get better—and we give the same in return.

“There are many studies on the benefits of friendships for mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health.” For example, researchers have found that social isolation increases your risk of cardiovascular disease and infectious illness.  


If friendships offer so many perks, why do men often become isolated and lose the close friendships they forge in their early- to mid-20s? It’s often because life gets away from us. Sociology expert Rebecca Adams tells the New York Times: “As external conditions change, it becomes tougher to meet the three conditions that sociologists since the 1950s have considered crucial to making close friends: proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other.” 

This is especially true for the 30- to 55-year-old male experiencing the busiest moments of his career, which may require geographic relocation. “People move a fair amount these days,” says Rockwell.  “There are lots of ways to communicate online and by phone, but there may not be the emotional intimacy and honesty that you have in a face-to-face relationship,” and this can cause friendships to suffer.

Greif also sees stage of life as a key player when it comes to men and their limited friendships in their peak years. In his book, he writes that male friendships “apt to be most intimate and intense…into young adulthood, a time when men break away from their families but have not yet established a career or gotten married.”  He notes that men with busy careers or married men with child responsibilities “have the least time” for friends until “their children leave the nest and their work lives slow down.”  

Thus, as marriage, family and career requirements reach their peak during a man’s 30s, 40s and 50s, it’s contrasted with a significant drop in a man’s time and ability to forge and cultivate meaningful friendships. Unfortunately, it’s during this exact time when life’s demands are at their greatest that a man could best benefit from the mental, physical and emotional support of friends. 


If you find your life starting to mirror the plotline of a friendless Hollywood movie character, experts offer several tips for expanding your social network and reaping the benefits of friendship:

  • Know yourself. “Each of us has our own story,” says Rockwell.  “I try to work with the person in front of me and see what can help them to get to where they want to be. The first friendship I encourage him to look at is the friendship with himself. How do you treat yourself as a friend? How do you respect yourself as a friend? What qualities do you look for in a healthy friendship? Do you have these qualities in yourself? I would encourage him to work on his friendship with himself, for that is the only lifelong relationship he will have.”
  • Join a group of guys who are doing something that you’re interested in or passionate about. “Being part of a natural group, where you have common interests and are brought together automatically, is the easiest way to make friends,” writes Gretchen Rubin, author of the bestselling book The Happiness Project.  Examples include groups at your place of worship; a community sports or recreational league, such as a soccer team or hiking club; a hobby group, such as a car enthusiast club; or a volunteer group for a local charity that supports a cause you love. Groups help you solve the three friendship factors—proximity, spontaneous interactions and an open setting—identified by sociologists. 
  • Make existing friendships a priority. If necessary, set an “official” appointment in your calendar so you’re not tempted to blow it off when life gets crazy. For example, block off time in your smartphone calendar for that phone call you’ve been meaning to make to your best friend on the other side of the country.
  • Stay authentic. Don’t try to fake it to impress people or to make new friends. “Friendship, like love, works best…when a person can be himself,” writes Greif.  “If a man is himself with another man, the friendship should work. Getting comfortable with oneself and seeking out men who are a good counterpart is the best way to have meaningful friendships.”

When men enter the peak years of their prime, the busyness of work and family life can make it far too easy to turn inward and become isolated. By making friendships a priority in your life, you can start the journey toward a healthier you—mentally, physically and spiritually. 


Trying to meet new people? Check out these tried-and-true social networking options:

  • Attending church or a local place of worship, which often will have men’s groups and events
  • Joining a local sports team or recreational club
  • Becoming a “regular” at community hubs or hotspots (e.g., your local gym or pub)
  • Logging into the dozens of online friend-making sites available, such as
  • Volunteering at concerts and community events
  • Inviting casual acquaintances to play bigger roles in your life, such as having a coworker or neighbor over for dinner