It’s a Tough Time for Men With No Friends

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S1: This ad free podcast is part of your slate plus membership.

S2: Could you describe to me your ideal friend, like what kind of friendships do you want to have?

S3: You know, maybe a group of like three or four people who all know each other pretty well.

S4: And on a weekend we you say let’s let’s come over to my house and have a barbecue. There’s sort of objective to it. Right. But it’s not like a clear cut objective. It’s you know, it’s sort of relaxed enough people would feel. Next, a conversation pays’ would kind of be very casual and people would be casual or drunk or both.

S5: I mean, I’d already have like a super high expectation. Like I’d only expect my close friend to come and save me or donate a kidney for a year or something. Just some people who can get along fine and share like laughter.

S4: I feel laughter is like so priceless. You can’t even like work hard for it or buy it. Right?

S6: You have to just have that.

S7: That’s shoe hunk. He’s on the West Coast or they’ve been on lockdown for weeks now. He was feeling especially lonely. So he posted a note online asking if others felt alone during isolation. Too many people commiserated about missing their friends or their routines.

S8: Others said that they were short on friends in the first place. She hung counted himself in that group.

S7: The exchanges laid bare another thing that self-quarantine is revealing just how thin many men’s social lives really are and how little support they have in this crisis.

S9: Hello and welcome to MAN UP, I’m your host, A-minus mine. And on this show, we crack questions big and small about manhood.

S7: This week, how the pandemic is leading men to confront their social isolation and not just because of quarantine. So she hung his knowing that he has an issue with friendships for a while now.

S10: I think moving around has probably curtailed my sort of human connections.

S11: You know, I was boring in China, in mainland China, and then, you know, at age twelve, like, my family moved to Canada.

S10: I don’t have any brothers or sisters. So that’s again, a source of the dislike, the source of loneliness. I think. I lived in Canada for 10 years and then went to the east coast of the United States in New York City and lived there for six years, and then I lived in Seattle for six years.

S11: You know, I lived in a dorm in college and I liked the experience. And we had a dining hall and I was able to meet like so many different people and just to have that kind of camaraderie and that collective living environment. So I think that I was like so happy as I’ve definitely that that was one of the happy. I think the happiest period in my life. And it’s hard to kind of replicate that after, you know, you become like a full adult.

S2: I don’t know about you, but I got a little depressed when I graduated and I had like that first shock when I realized that I didn’t have that that community. No, I’m serious. I’m serious, man. It was dark for me because, you know, you’re starting your full time job. You have all of these experiences that you want to share, but nobody to really share it with you. You couldn’t go home to your dorm and unpack your day with with 40 or 50 different people, you know?

S5: I totally understand. And in some ways, like, you know, I was able to have that extended undergrad experience because I did graduate school for a few years and I was able to leaving these like really cool dorm with like people from 90 different countries.

S10: And I was like, super awesome. That’s sick.

S12: You know, it’s been like, you know, eight years since then. And my social life has definitely like shrink down. I’ve been living in this West Coast city for the last six years, and I wouldn’t say I have any close friend here.

S11: I mean, normally from Monday to Friday, I go to my office to do sort of, you know, office work and I find a large part of my happiness and productivity and life comes from being able to be in that environment with, you know, other people whose company I enjoy. And it’s all it’s a sudden change to working from home. Kind of took that away and has kind of a negative effect on my, you know, happiness mood.

S10: So if I don’t get, Dave, this daily dose of, you know, social interaction, even like a small water cooler conversation, it just feels like I don’t want to really do anything. I feel disconnected. And my mind started going kind of a little bit crazy, like I want to really go out and do some stuff, but I know I’m not really supposed to do that.

S2: So what makes keeping in touch with people so difficult right now? Like what are the what are your challenges on a day to day basis?

S10: I think it’s just a matter of like overcoming like initial kind of inertia of having to contact someone, you know. So I think like in person also offers that, like you might run into some people and then you just start that conversation spontaneously, whereas now you’d like you might have to call somebody, but then that person might you don’t know them well enough to really call them. Right. Like you know them well enough to say hi. You know, always. But not to make a phone call. But of course, if you don’t like, you know, say hi and grow that relationship, you’re never gonna be closer to that person.

S2: Yeah, I have a rule, like if somebody calls me and I don’t feel like I know you well enough to pick up the call, I’m just not going to pick up the call.

S10: Well, listen, I think you’d better say sure. I mean, nobody calls me sir.

S2: But let’s talk about that. I really want to get a sense for what’s so hard about making new friends and how satisfied you are with the number of friends that you have now.

S12: Yeah. So, like, I’m not satisfied at all. And I tried to put effort into kind of expanding that, but it’s still pretty hard and I’m not sure why every people feel this way.

S10: Maybe one factor is at least in my line of work, which is like software work probably applies generally to office work. People spend most of their time like working on their project. So you might occasionally talk to your co-workers, but it’s like, you know, you talk about work. You don’t really talk about it. It’s a personal life so much. I think you sort of into North American culture. There’s kind of this expectation of privacy. So people try not to ask too many things about, you know, how’s it going at home?

S12: Like, are you happy with your marriage? Of course. Tough questions like that. So, I mean, there’s kind of that barrier. And then because of that barrier, people don’t really connect that. There’s also a kind of office politics because people may be competing against each other. So I think all three of these things contribute to this barrier that you and I both feel.

S2: Have you tried to get in touch with anyone during this whole lockdown?

S10: Yeah. I mean, I contact friends through like Facebook because most of my friends are still from are not necessarily look local to this area. I mean, even before us, a lockdown like there are often times when it’s like I would feel quite like very lonely and. But I just try and try to translate that into action. I feel that, you know, like loneliness is basically our brain telling us that we have to go out and do something like make effort. Right. And I think like us, as we get older and graduate from, you know, or get out of school, we have to actually make it like planned for to do something like, you know, join a sports league. I think I think that’s a big thing like finds find activity, which is like social and people do it together to sort of generate that spontaneous interaction. You know?

S13: Loneliness is one of those things that I try not to feel like I’ll just try and make myself busy. I’ll go on Instagram and scroll up and down and like things as a way to just have some kind of level of social interaction, even if it’s very shallow. But it I don’t know it. It doesn’t ever make me feel like I’m not lonely.

S10: I think that’s part of the big part of sort of the masculine culture we live in. Right. Because I think Moli, this is probably like one of the worst pain. I mean, I’d rather probably get kicked or punched or something. Yeah. Right.

S2: So that’s that’s that’s exactly what I want to talk about. Pain, right. No, I’m serious. I’m serious. Because we don’t ever talk about that as men. We never talk about that.

S13: And even when we’re by ourselves and we’re feeling it, we don’t sit with those feelings.

S2: We just, you know, try to do anything else. That’s what I do, at least. I don’t know about you. But let’s try. Let’s let’s try like a little experiment right now and just sit with that feeling. What does that do to you? Why would you rather get punched than feel that way?

S14: Because that’s just like a horrible. Debilitating, kind of like a virtual solitary confinement. I would say, and you just want to scream, but there’s no one to like listen to you. So what are you gonna do? And I go and bang your head against a wall. I mean, it’s just a whole horrible, empty feeling. That was worse, like, you know, way before I got married. I was there some days when these like very hard to do anything. That that debilitating, like sadness is like hard to overcome. It’s very hard.

S15: There anything that you’ve learned about yourself during this whole crisis?

S16: To be honest, like so far, it just reconfirms my, I guess, prior understanding of myself that I’m you know, I’m a somewhat extroverted person, like not not super extroverted based on the test I took, but somewhat extroverted. And, you know, antisocial connection is like probably should be too high. I think MERS was always place it as a second per- highest priority in my life after health. You know, a lot of time people, especially when they’re young, like they’re men, like we’re told that we should, like, do well your careers. But I’m pretty sure that’s not going to be really making my happiness so much higher. And health. We don’t really have control. Yes, I gonçalves you can eat. Okay. But maybe the social life. I think it’s like we can try to put some effort in. A lot of it is also outside of her control.

S7: We’re going to take a quick break. When we come back, we’ll hear from a guy who has gone through this quarantine thinking about how much he likes being alone.

S2: Does any part of you wish that you had a roommate right now? Like someone to commiserate with? No.

S17: You know what I really wish that I had was a dog.

S18: This has been fresh. He’s a podcast producer for Slate. I sit right next to him while we’re on the slide office. Well, usually for the last three weeks, he’s been alone in his apartment.

S19: I’ve had pretty good luck with roommates, especially since I moved to New York, but I can’t imagine wanting to live with them in this moment. I think it’s really about this. That sort of idea of control is sort of what it goes back to for me, where it’s just like I can play whatever music I want. I can play whatever podcasts I want. I don’t know. I can be extremely slovenly for days at a time if I need to.

S7: In the US, more than twenty eight percent of us live alone. And those numbers shoot up in coastal cities like New York and Seattle, where most of us live in Manhattan.

S20: It’s closer to half.

S21: Do you have advice for people who are kind of suffering through loneliness right now because you seem to be handling it particularly well?

S19: I really think that my ability to survive in this context is very particular to my personality, I guess. But I have really I’ve found doing the virtual hangouts to be really fun. I will say that next Netflix party, which if you don’t know, is the thing where you you can watch Netflix movies with other people. And then there’s like a chat window, which is a great way to like watch a crappy movie and just rag on it with your friends.

S22: And I’m baking bread. I actually have to do a Bambury, which I’ve never done before.

S23: So at some point I actually may have to put some bread in the oven.

S21: Do you see, like any challenges between making real social connections in this time with men versus women?

S19: Yeah, I think you know that weirdly, the image that comes into my mind is not a modern image, but like I don’t know if this is in clueless or that era of films where you had like women sort of were more used to sort of social networking in groups virtually like all of the girls on a conference call together or something. And it’s only with this current crisis that I’ve actually started doing that with some of my guy friends more.

S22: I think that there is also a dimension that has to do specifically with gay men.

S19: I think that gay men are a little bit better maybe about mediating their social experiences remotely maybe than straight people are just because growing up, especially for gay people, it’s like you might not know that many that are near you. So you might have more connections with people who might live further away, who’ve you’ve met online, who you have shared interests with. Whereas, you know, if you’re straight, you can just go pick up a new straight friend at the baseball game or I don’t know, wherever straight people go to hang out.

S24: I feel like in situations like this, introverts are going to be fine. But what about extroverts? I’m wondering about them and how they keep their groups of guy friends together in normal times. And what about right now?

S25: I’m an unfortunate situation where I have a job, where I can work from home. And we’ve been under a work from home mandate for four or five weeks this Wednesday.

S26: I honestly can’t even remember at this point, but my biggest source of human face to face interaction is just going out with a dog and, you know, letting him socialize with the neighborhood dogs on the street.

S27: While many owners, you know, keep our strict six to 10 foot barrier between each other, you know, there are people I can still see from afar and feel like I’m not completely isolated from the rest of the world.

S24: This is Dan likes you hung. He lives on the West Coast in Seattle and has been on lockdown for a while now. He’s got his tiny apartment to himself. It’s just him and his dog. And then never used to bother him because he was rarely home. But now, like a lot of us, he’s forced to be.

S28: There’s definitely a strong feeling of loneliness that I think you have to kind of deal with day by day and come back the best you can. It’s those shared moments are what make friendships so special. And it’s hard to recreate that in the virtual sense. You know, going to a concert and feeling, you know, the vibrations of on the floor sending next when you’re best buddies and then talking about it after. That’s not really something you can really recreate locked in your apartment.

S29: But you’ve tried to write.

S26: Yeah. So I have a tight knit group of friends from childhood and we all know we became tight. Growing up as the skateboard kids in our town. And these are a group of friends that are kind of scattered across the country. So, you know, I moved away from. My home in the East Coast five years ago, so their friends that I get to see maybe once a year, but the situation’s actually made it much easier as for us all to get together virtually just because no one has anything else they can do. So we’ve had some really nice, you know, just little happy hour sessions where we maybe have eight or nine or ten people on a video chat. And, you know, that’s that’s one of the positive upsides, I guess, of all of this. You know, the people maybe that you don’t get to interact with so often, they’re suddenly as except as accessible as the people you would ordinarily be able to interact with.

S29: So where are your friends at right now?

S26: So we’re pretty well scattered. I have some friends in New York, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Texas, California and Washington. Be myself. So, you know, we have we’ve got the country pretty well covered. Oh, and I’m sorry. Poor John Moe.

S30: And we also have a friend in Ohio. And as you forget about those non coastal, non coastal states. Was there ever a time that you were afraid that you’d lose touch?

S26: That’s been a I think losing touch with with people I care about has been the hardest thing about living on, you know, two and a half thousand miles away from my friends and family. And it’s it’s something that definitely bothers me. And I think about a lot.

S31: And I try. You know, I think guys in particular aren’t always great about keeping up connections and stuff. And sometimes they get in this habit of his thinking, oh, you know, we won’t talk for six months, but we could pick right back up and maybe you can. But I you know, I think that there is something more to any relationship than that.

S28: I think that’s oversimplifying the male relationship to think, you know, you can talk twice a year and everything’s as as normal as it could be.

S32: I totally know what you’re talking about. I feel that way and maybe a little naively.

S31: Yeah. And I mean, there are people that I I mean, this weird position where I want like, I really miss them and I really crave talking to them. But I don’t know that we have enough to maintain like a healthy relationship. Why live out here?

S27: And it’s kind of like heartbreaking, you know, old, old childhood friends that I’ve kind of fallen out of touch to like and love to reconnect with that. I just don’t know how possible that is.

S29: So are you discovering new ways to hang out with your group friends?

S25: Yeah. So one one of the really fun new ways I’ve discovered is an app called House Party. And what makes it a little bit different than some of the other video chat apps is it’s it’s a little bit more casual to jump in and join someone. You know, you have a friend list, kind of like AOL Instant Messenger and you know, it’s pulled from Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or whatnot. So if you and I were chatting. Anyone who’s either of our friends could basically wave at us and ask to join our house party. And so it’s it’s really kind of like fun. Fred Roulette. You can kind of play. So the other day, I was I had an episode of Seinfeld synched up and was watching it with my friend Ted in California. And then out of the blue, my buddy Antonio, who used to be my neighbor in Brooklyn, but now lives in Florida. It has a little baby girl. He waved at me and he popped in and we caught up a little bit. And Ted knows Antonio also. So it wasn’t totally random. And then he took off. I went to bed. And then a little bit later, my old college roommate and friend here in Seattle, Mary, popped in and we chatted for a while. That sort of ease of just having conversation. It’s kind of cool. And it’s something that I don’t think I would have probably discovered or used if not for this situation.

S29: So have you had any reluctance for for any of these folks to get on the calls? Have you seen any is anyone resisted the idea of like meeting up online?

S26: So I live in Seattle and it’s almost as if there’s people that I would ordinarily hang out with in Seattle are a little bit harder to get in touch with on, you know, video chat and this kind of thing or even on the phone. So I have found it’s more that people who I am friends with who I wouldn’t see otherwise, but I’m slowly cocking some of those friends down. I’ve done a couple of video chats with with some Seattle people. How do you convince them?

S33: You know, you just kind of it’s going to nag a bunch.

S30: And, you know, for a couple days in a row, I keep every time my one buddy who I won’t name.

S34: Every time he help, he’ll text me. I’ll be given the agat on that House party app so we can hang out so we can watch TV together, all the stuff we would normally do.

S30: And what does he say?

S33: Well, just yesterday, I think he finally downloaded it. We have yet to chat, though.

S13: Yeah, that feels but feels smart to me. But also like the idea of like making a casual and low stakes, but also the idea of, you know, being comfortable if they come if they don’t come at all, you know.

S35: Exactly. Yeah.

S25: I think if you say, hey, we’re starting this thing, join if you want and that’s another thing, you know, maybe get some other people involved so they don’t feel like it. So why don’t why? I do think one one can feel pretty intense.

S2: Yeah, I want it. I want to get you talking about the differences in how genders get along because there is a good traceable difference. Like, it’s way harder for me to open up with my guy. France, for example, even if I’m like, I have something that I wanted to meet up with them and talk about it. It almost feels like it’s a tougher nut to crack because, you know, just to maintain someone’s attention and to keep their attention seems like it’s its own challenging task.

S33: I recently got out of a relationship maybe, you know, for really right before this whole quarantine thing started. And that timing was just a matter of irony. But during one of these video chats with my friends, the subject came up and I hadn’t told most of them about it. And so I was kind of having a heart to heart moment. And in the midst of that, one of my buddies who I think had consumed a few more weight claws than the rest of us, popped into the screen and sort of made like heartfelt explanation. And the moment was lost and it was OK.

S30: But, you know, I think that’s one of the one of the difficult things that the virtual, you know, chatting is there’s not there isn’t that cadence necessarily.

S34: You know, it’s harder it’s harder to read the non-verbal cues.

S28: And but the best way I found to get my friends to kind of participate in the virtual hangout is to come up with an activity to do, whether that be maybe a show to try to synchronize up to at the same time, a happy hour. I’ve shared making a pizza with a friend just because they were cooking dinner and I was cooking dinner. So it kind of just, you know, set up our laptops and each prepared our own meal. And it was nice. You know, it wasn’t the same as preparing that meal for the person in person and sharing it, but it at least felt special and gave us something to bond over.

S29: Do you feel that you can be yourself while you’re on lockdown?

S27: You know, I actually think that the circumstances, you know, because we’re all experiencing this in a similar way, we can kind of be our genuine selves.

S36: And there actually is this like humbling humanitarian side to what’s going on. Everyone’s checking in on each other. Everybody’s worried about each other. And I and I do think that the interactions I’m having with people, they do feel genuine, you know, over again, over video chat and whatnot.

S33: It doesn’t feel forced at all.

S37: You know, it kind of sounds like you’re killing it during this whole covert thing. I’m not doing too bad. I’m trying to make the best of the situation. So I kind of want to steer this conversation into something a little bit more serious online. It’s uncomfortable for me to talk about loneliness and this idea of being comfortable by yourself. It almost feels like we’re not supposed to be, you know. Absolutely. But in a lot of ways, we kind of have to be right now for everybody else’s safety.

S32: Do you get lonely?

S35: Like, I definitely get lonely. And, you know, it’s one of those things that kind of strikes you at random moments and can often, you know, kind of catch you off guard, especially in your day can be so redundant and in the same, you know, six hundred and fifty square feet of apartment. And, you know, I find when that happens, the easiest thing for me to do is just try to maybe reach out to a friend or someone to make plans to do something in the future. Again, it’s obviously going to be something virtual, but just kind of putting something in the books can be really, really, I think, comforting, even though, yeah, it’s not going to be the same level of interaction.

S34: But, you know, I’m not only am I going through four weeks of isolation, but I’m also, you know, just ended a relationship. I got, you know, had a relationship. And so there’s that feeling of loneliness is a bit compounded. So I think I’ve actually been I think of my group of friends. I’ve been the one pushing for for hangouts and stuff the most aggressively.

S32: I know, man.

S37: I still feel like I’m not so sure if I’m lonely or not, like that’s that’s the level of loneliness that I’m experiencing. I’m a little bit in denial about it. Like, I’ll reach out to people and I’ll say I’ll miss them, you know, I’ll text them. But there’s a part of me that hates talking on the phone. And when I’m on the phone, I’m just at a certain point is looking for any reason to get off. Is there either is there is there a trick here? Is there like something that you need to believe yourself so that you can get the most out of these calls?

S38: Yeah. You know, that’s tough. I keep joking at people like this pandemic is going to be what gets millennial’s finally over their fear of talking on the phone. But I don’t know if that’s actually true. I do think that the pure audio take is hard. It’s hard for me seeing that face to face response is so important.

S39: Do you have advice for people who are feeling lonely?

S40: Yeah, I would say, you know, make plans with a friend to do something, even if it’s something simple as like, hey, let’s meet up and have a happy hour, a drink at eight o’clock and, you know, toast each other. I would say that that’s a start, at least if you’re someone who lives in a part of the country that’s more urban. Go outside and take a walk over a bike ride. Do it safely. But look at people, you know, observe.

S38: Walk down the street and appreciate the things that you see outside and appreciate these little things.

S41: I think if you could if people use this as an opportunity to, you know, take account of their life and assess things but step back, it’s not. It could. Have some positives.

S39: And that’s the show. Thank you so much for listening. If you enjoyed it, please hit us with that good reading in the podcasting app. And we also want to hear from you, too. If you know a man in your life was changing right now or if they’re showing you a different side of themselves for better or worse, or if you’re a man who’s been seeing things differently. Tell us what stories you want to hear on man up. Call us at 8 05 6 2 6 8 7 0 7. That’s 8 0 5. Men up 0 7. Or you can always e-mail us at man up at Slate.com. And don’t forget to make sure you subscribe to. Come on. This is important because we’ve got new shows every week. And believe me, you do not want to miss out. You Man Up is hosted and written by me, Ayman Smiley. It’s produced by Cameron Drewes. Our editors are Jeffrey Blumer and Lewen Lu. Gabriel Roth is the editorial director of Slate Podcasts in June. Thomas is a senior managing producer of Slate Podcasts. We’ll be back next week with more M&A.