It’s a weekday night and I’ve met a good friend for a pint or two in our favourite pub. This friend has, along with others, been incredibly supportive of me over the last few years, but here I am talking to him about how lonely I sometimes feel.
We talk about how our friendships with others have evolved as we’ve gotten older and how, with memories of the pandemic, connecting with like-minded people is now more important than ever.
I have tears in my eyes as I describe how I don’t feel like I have much in common with anyone, that friends from my childhood are no longer nearby, and I often doubt if I’m liked.
Writing this I realise how unfair it was to say that to this particular friend, a friend who has been nothing but supportive of me through personal and shared challenges over the last few years.
While lockdown and the pandemic hit a lot of us hard, and in varying ways, I was at the same time going through a marriage breakdown, redundancy, and difficulty finding somewhere to live.
To cut a long story short, all has worked itself out in the end, but the phrase “it’s not until you’re down that you know who your friends are” is certainly true.
The last few years have shown who my true friends are, and with that the number of friends I have has decreased.
Don’t get me wrong, that isn’t a complaint.
Part of the gang
I now know who will leave me feeling good about myself after a night out, be up for a beer at a moment’s notice, or be ready to give support and advice without judgement.
While my true friends may be few in number, I consider myself very lucky to have them in my life and I am truly grateful.
Now, it’s worth pointing out that the loneliness I sometimes feel is solely connected to friendship.
I have a fantastic partner who I love very much and who brightens up the darkest of days for all who know her.
However, humans aren’t just about spending their time with one person.
We’re social creatures and our brothers, our mates, our tribe, are the ones who are there to celebrate our successes, pick us up when we’re down, and keep us in check.
They’re the ones who’d give you a kidney without a second thought, but also tell you you’re an idiot when you’ve done something stupid and take the piss all night for what you’re wearing.
Along with that special someone, they’re an integral part of a happy life and without friends, life is barren and boring.
Eight million men
Speaking to my friend that night it became apparent my feeling are shared by others. In fact, researching the subject further, it seems ‘middle-aged’ men, in particular, are increasingly experiencing loneliness.
The Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness estimates that eight million men (of all ages) in the UK feel lonely at least once a week.
While this report was in 2017, more recent studies suggest that figure could be greater as men, traditionally, don’t talk about their problems.
A YouGov poll, looking at loneliness in men and women, found that women were more comfortable with talking about feelings of loneliness than men.
10% of men surveyed in the poll even openly said they would never admit to feeling lonely, preferring to keep it hidden.
Another study, this time by the Samaritans, suggests a lot of this is down to what it means to be a man.
The report stated, “Masculinity, the way men are brought up to behave and the roles, attributes and behaviours that society expects of them – contributes to suicide in men.
“Many men prefer not to open up about their loneliness, so it’s not surprising that loneliness among British men has been described as a ‘silent epidemic’.”
Reading these findings is bitter-sweet. On the one hand, it’s frustrating and worrying that many men don’t feel they can talk about how they feel.
This has, for better or worse, never been a problem for me. As this column proves, I’m happy to share, I’ve always worn my heart on my sleeve, sometimes to a fault.
On the other hand, this data offers a strange sort of comfort. It proves I’m not alone in feeling lonely. There are others out there who struggle with believing they’re liked and wanted too.
I hope that others reading this will feel the same, that they’ll too see that they aren’t alone.
If you are one of those lonely people, I say this to you.
The idea you don’t have anyone to talk to simply isn’t true and that while it might be difficult to admit how you feel, you certainly aren’t weak because of it.
I can assure you, you aren’t alone.
Where you can find help
If you’d like help and support, or just want someone to talk to then the following organisations may be able to help.