Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

A Man Alone

Several people have been passing around a Boston Globe Magazine article about the tendency of middle aged men not to spend time with friends.

I’d been summoned to an editor’s office at the Globe Magazine with the old “We have a story we think you’d be perfect for.” This is how editors talk when they’re about to con you into doing something you don’t want to do.

Here was the pitch: We want you to write about how middle-aged men have no friends.

Excuse me? I have plenty of friends. Are you calling me a loser? You are.

The editor told me there was all sorts of evidence out there about how men, as they age, let their close friendships lapse, and that that fact can cause all sorts of problems and have a terrible impact on their health.

I told the editor I’d think about it. This is how reporters talk when they’re trying to get out of something they don’t want to do. As I walked back to my desk in the newsroom — a distance of maybe 100 yards — I quickly took stock of my life to try to prove to myself that I was not, in fact, perfect for this story.

First of all, there was my buddy Mark. We went to high school together, and I still talk to him all the time, and we hang out all the . . . Wait, how often do we actually hang out? Maybe four or five times a year?

And then there was my other best friend from high school, Rory, and . . . I genuinely could not remember the last time I’d seen him. Had it already been a year? Entirely possible.

There were all those other good friends who feel as if they’re still in my lives because we keep tabs on one another via social media, but as I ran down the list of those I’d consider real, true, lifelong friends, I realized that it had been years since I’d seen many of them, even decades for a few.

I can identify with some of this. A couple of cross country moves over the last sixteen years mean that I've got friends I no longer live near (and friends who in their turn have had to move away.) Even though we take a comparatively minimal approach to activities in our family, there's scouts on Monday nights, dance on Tuesdays and Thursdays, language lessons on Wednesdays. The only free nights are Friday through Saturday, and if we're not caught up then with weekend activities MrsDarwin and I are usually happy to spend some time at home with each other.

There are plenty of people I know at work, and so I'm certainly not starved for human contact. Indeed, another reason I'm hesitant to schedule time out of the house is that I know MrsDarwin is the one who's normally at home with only kids for company, so if there's someone who needs a chance to go enjoy some outside adult company, I figure that it's her.

In some ways I'd always thought of this as particularly the result of my particular religious attachments and intellectual interests. In this day and age, being an orthodox Christian gives you a different set of attachments and experiences than many other people have, and people who share my particular historical and literary interests and not always thick on the ground. But from the article I take it that it's a more general theme among men in our culture at this time.

Unlike the author, I don't know that I have any particular program for mitigating it. There simply isn't much time. I often feel that I don't even have much time alone with my wife, and while friends are important, given the choice I'd rather go out for dinner with MrsDarwin than head out to have a beer with the guys. But it does serve as a reminder that there's a whole network of connections that in the frenetic pace of middle aged family life with many children I'm leaving unaddressed. One of these days, given the time, I'll have to remember to work on rebuilding them.


Agnes said...

I have mixed feelings about this. Of course, I'm a middle aged woman, not a middle aged man, but I really don't feel that the long chats on the phone (I sometimes do have them) solve this problem for me.
I think it's simply a fact of life that old friends can drift apart if there is physical distance and/or if the practical situations in life don't bring them together. I also think one needs a medium, an apropos to bring friends together. It can be a religious activity or a hobby or any activity. I doubt the "Wednesday nights" in the article can work out long term if there is nothing in particular the buddies are doing together. If everyday life (work, kids, hobby, religious group activity, exercise) don't bring the buddies together, they are not going to keep the appointments because life will interfere. Just hanging out in pubs doesn't work for this phase in life.
I also think it's a great blessing (and probably a necessity for a good marriage) if one is really good friends with one's spouse, so the time together serves also as friends time. I certainly think it's good to have other couples as friends, especially if they are in the same phase of life (e. g. with kids similar age). In a later phase of life as the kids are grown up and gone from home, there will be another phase of life to strengthen the network of adult friends, to cultivate hobbies and group activities. I certainly would not think I'm isolated/lonely for not having regular "girl time" with friends.

Jeff Stivers said...

This is tough, because the time limitation is very real. One small way I've found is to meet up for lunch during the workday every so often. This of course is only for in town friends, but it's normally time I'm by myself and doesn't take away from time with my wife.

Brian said...

What strikes me in both the Boston Globe story and Darwin's account is that each man is married with children. Consider that single men have the same issue (perhaps accelerated as married friends consolidate free time into family time as Darwin notes). Of course, orthodox Christianity's conflicts with the secular world are even harder felt when trying to chastely date in one's 30s-40s than in a large nuclear family (not to discredit begat either man here is going through). Hence we see the problems of modern unsettled culture filtered through an often-unobserved prism (said prism having always been educated to stoically swallow such yearnings for human interaction as unseemly).