I agree with the premise, as well as many arguments presented, and possible solutions.

I also obviously agree that this hurts not only men, but women in their lives, and society as a whole.

The one thing I might add, or contend with, is the cause of this. It seems implied in the statement that this has been happening for generations, that this is an issue of men not being emotionally open to friends, or this is a long standing issue. That strikes me as not quite right. I cannot speak for my father, or grandfathers, but by my recollection, they did/do have male friends, and are not particularly emotionally open. It strikes me as more likely that this is a recent phenomenon (as argued in Bowling Alone and other great books), and the cause may be different.

I suspect many men do not feel they can socialize in the way that is natural for them, and feel pressured to socialize in the way they see modeled, as opposed to ways that are "toxic."

Men often tease, mock, offer solutions and support, show up to do favors, all for friends. But all those friendships start out with the teasing, the good natured jokes, boundary pushing to see how people respond and if they will bail when you say something that is off color, etc. Working with young men in a community organization, I see that behavior stopping, and they tend to seem unsure how to proceed. Men are not going to just open up, they need to warm up to each other, know the person can hear them say things that may turn a person off without running, and through that, know they can be counted on to be there when there is need.

I worry that pushing men to get friends, while discouraging the things that men do with friends (tease, mock, test boundaries, all without malice) is like asking cats to enjoy the outdoors without hunting birds and mice. They seem to go hand in hand.

Thank you for writing, and for taking seriously the issue that many men do seem to be struggling. As you said, it is a problem that we can see dragging everyone down.

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Yes, maybe. I'm curious in what ways you see older boys and men discouraged from that sort of behavior, what does that look like? I'm in a pretty progressive suburb and I see guys surfing, watching sports, on mountain bikes, etc, and they do have that sort of jocularity. My college-aged son and high school son seem to have that vibe with their friends, too: the coarseness, the roughness, the sarcasm, etc. But obviously ('m not living as a man so I am sure there are things I don't see and am very curious so we can discuss in our book, in particular!

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Oh no, I was unclear, apologies. I see that amongst older men, and some younger men. I think that is why older men are not struggling in the same way, they have the types of bonds formed in typical male ways. Fortunately, so do some younger men.

None of these have quick fixes, unfortunately. Perhaps the communicating better with partners, but that is still easier said than done, most likely.

I think a large group of the younger men that are lonely tend to lack this, and many seem to lack it because they feel that to behave that way is unacceptable. I suspect there is a self filtering mechanism, namely that guys who have these friendships are the ones out and about. The ones that lack them are sitting behind computer screens or video games, often going way beyond teasing into outright bullying or truly bad behavior, protected by anonymity, and not constrained by the socialization that comes from being physically present. Guys tend to self regulate teasing, because if you go to far, you lose friends, or get hit. (The hitting is not ideal, and isn't recommended.)

Most of the older gentlemen I know that seem lonely seem to be a different situation. Empty nesters whose families live some distance, perhaps widowers, or older men who have lost their friends through natural life processes, illness, accident etc all seem to be a very different situation then the loneliness epidemic impacting younger (say sub-40, but that is a totally arbitrary line) men.

As for your sons, great news!!! I hope they maintain those friendships as life continues. Unless men are active in a church, union, sports league, whatever, we seem to have a hard time striking up new friendships as adults. At least until kids are born, and we are somewhat forced into it by proximity again.

The things I see that strike me as getting in the way of male friendship are, in no particular order:

-lack of participation in community organizations (religious, kids/adult sport leagues, unions, volunteering for charities, etc).

-a fear of crossing lines deemed "toxic" (this only effects men with a strong desire to behave well, act correctly, have ethics. psychopaths don't care if they are bad).

-misunderstanding what is allowed/acceptable in their relationships. I have multiple male friends convinced their wives want them around the house, not socializing. Their partners tell mine they wish their husbands were out more. Why they with each other is beyond me.

-failing to grasp the importance their friendships have. A subset of men seem to have idealized something like a lone ranger attitude, which is bonkers to me.

-fear of rejection (not by women) but by men or the world. Video games are formulaic, do this, earn this. Go here, get prize. Life is not like this; you fail, and it hurts. I suspect after a life of helicopter parenting, fear of failure is paralyzing.

That is not comprehensive, but I suspect that like most of the problems we face, there are many factors, each contributing in different proportions for different people.

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Also, the idea that female rejection causes male loneliness is absurd. It may be a factor, but that isn't a female problem, and the solution seems to me that men need to take care of themselves, and that problem would most likely resolve itself.

I have plenty of single male friends who are doing just fine in their late 30's and 40's without partners, just the same as I have female friends in the same situation. The ones who are thriving have a wide community, intimate friendships, and meaningful relationships in many forms. None of those are an option if an individual shuts down completely, which seems to me to be the issue.

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I agree strongly. I think the people putting forth this theory may be intending to say "apps remind a particular group of men that they are feeling lonely" - as in, if they are feeling lonely, rejection on an app makes it feel worse - and the apps magnify that rejected feeling because there are so many more opportunities to be rejected there compared to, say, a book store where maybe you smile at a woman in the Magazines section and she either does or does not smile at you, and then you go home.

But what I hear the "masculinity bros" saying is more like "women only like tall guys, or rich guys, and because of that, a huge number of us are not going to be able to reproduce" which is ... IDEK... stunning. LOL. I don't even have a better word. Go to any big box grocery store on a Saturday. All sorts of men have been reproducing lol - short, tall, rich, poor, big, small... And that's good! People deserve to be loved and grow families when they want them. It's just such a strange thing to ask men to pretend they don't see the wide diversity of men in the world who are relatively satisfied with their lives, and instead act like it's only Denzel Washington and George Clooney who get to have kids.

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Late to this party but enjoying the discussion!

I wonder what is the deeper cause of rejection being such a sting that it would turn a man on himself and others. When I look at all the times I felt rejected in my past (as a young or not-young man), I can honestly say that whenever it really hurt, those were times I had already (unconsciously) rejected myself somehow.

Looking for the cause of self-rejection is murky -- is it a message from society? is it a childhood abandonment experience coming back to be healed? or a way to fit into a peer group that is all self-rejecting?

Regardless of cause, it seems to me that an antidote to self-rejection (masked as blaming others) is hearing other men speak to their own self-rejection with self-compassion and acceptance (or even humor). In other words, self-rejection is a part of the human journey and getting stuck there can feel awful. And there are ways to move one's self out of that place, if there is a will to be courageous.

A huge pushback to that would be the impossible standard of a man always being self-assured. And the fear that if I admit to self-rejecting, I have lowered myself below the standard and become a target. Unless, I am in a space where admission is normalized and there can be an experience of a weight lifting from finally admitting that "I sometime really don't like myself, or trust myself, or believe in myself."

I would love to see more attention on celebrating all the people and groups that are doing such work with boys and men, meeting this need head on, like https://everforwardclub.org/ or https://mkpusa.org/ -- point the finger to the future!

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I suspect you are correct. The opportunity to get rejected is astronomical on apps compared to real life, and probably feels just as real. Apps existed, but were not widely used, when I was dating, so I can only really base that on the words of my friends.

But the idea that only tall, rich men succeed is crazy. It absolutely ignores the evidence all around us, constantly.

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>>I worry that pushing men to get friends, while discouraging the things that men do with friends (tease, mock, test boundaries, all without malice) is like asking cats to enjoy the outdoors without hunting birds and mice. They seem to go hand in hand.

Yes, quite. Behaviour that in my youth was considered perfectly normal is now considered 'toxic masculinity' if not worse.

I disagree root and branch with the premise of this article, indeed, I would argue that the failure of so many men to marry and parent leads them to also fail at forming good friendships. Both are disastrous, but the first is by far the most dangerous for society.

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I’m currently writing an essay about similar topics to this article and was wondering if you could give me an example of previously perceived as normal behavior that is now seen as toxic masculinity because I know there is a lot of nuance there and it can be a case by case basis

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That would be quite an interesting list to compile!

In the meantime I might suggest that you do a search on movies. Take some movies that came out in the 50's, 60's, 70's and even eighties and look at some of the themes and ways they handled it.

I have also seen some of these click bait type sites that do things like 'advertisements that would not be acceptable today'.

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Sadly my essay is very specific to U.S. dating standards and relative factors/topics but I’ll definitely take your suggestion for future use and interest!

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That’s different. Do you know about first base? And cows/milk? And shotgun wedding?

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Joanna Schroeder has suggested I write an article on this subject. The draft is about to be sent. Maybe you can see it soon. Bill Meleney, mostly retired psychotherapist, procrastinating on starting training for therapists. See my neglected SubStack: Be A Better Psychotherapist.

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Oct 17, 2023Liked by Joanna Schroeder

Male mental health is such an important topic !

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Love this. Women (including romantic partners) are not responsible for men's emotional well-being. Blaming women for rejecting men feeds into an idea that men are owed something by women, based on... nothing currently accurate.

In my experience, men need to gather with men in prosocial brotherhood and find themselves, sometimes by resonating with what a courageous man is willing to candidly say in their presence.

I am so grateful that a therapist encouraged me to join a men's group in 2006. Now I'm in a dad's group. These support systems have been, and are still, crucial in my life. As a man, I feel honored to let other men know this pathway of group support has given me more self-awareness, self-compassion, and a greater ability to relate to others in all areas and walks of life.

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If it's a parenting problem then it is disproportionately a woman-generated problem, because women are increasingly bearing the load of parenting duties. If it's an education problem then it is disproportionately a woman-created problem because women are the vast majority of K-12 teachers. I don't necessarily think it's either one of these but if you do then it's hard to see how women DON'T contribute to this trend.

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Oh good lord. First, "women are increasingly bearing the load of parenting duties" - patently NO. Women are not increasingly bearing the load of parenting duties. In fact, women are bearing LESS of that load as more and more of us go to work and men are "increasingly" bearing the load. Women do still bear MORE than men, even when both partners make the same amount of money, but it's not "increasing".

The rest of this is bizarre hogwash. Sorry, but no. Men are adults responsible for their own adult emotions and responses. Don't infantilize yourself.

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Yes, men are responsible for their own emotions and responses. That doesn't mean that women are not contributing to a trend though. If ALL teachers were women we would have to state that education would be, at least in part, a woman-related enterprise. Men would still be responsible for their responses but that doesn't mean an education-related trend has NOTHING to do with women.

If every woman in the United States decided to stop dating men, tomorrow, men would still be responsible for their emotions and responses but it would seem to be flawed to say that a trend of increasing male loneliness in that scenario has nothing to do with women's decisions.

Saying that women are contributing to a social trend isn't saying that they bear some blame or moral responsibility for its effects... and it's not saying that men are infants or lack responsibility. Maybe you could explain how you connected those dots...

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I'm not interested in the division of labor within marriages. That wasn't what I was talking about. I assume that trend is being swamped by an ever-larger number of women doing ALL of the parenting. Maybe you have a different perspective?

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Men are increasingly bearing the load in married couples. But married couples are increasingly smaller shares of the families overall. The US has the highest share of single parent homes, and the vast majority of those parents are women. Something like 70% of black American kids are parented solely by a woman and the trend in that direction is increasing in all groups (except for immigrants and among high-earning white people).

If fewer families have adult men in them at all, which they do, how are women not bearing more of the parenting load?

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Male loneliness has increased, according to all data, in the past 5 decades. A factor which has been operative for generations cannot explain that increase. In fact, I think the elements of masculine training which you lay out here have decreased in the past 20 years.

So: what do you think explains the increase in male loneliness? Common sense tells us that this can't be a factor which has stayed constant or decreased with time.

Also, loneliness is particularly acute for men in relation to women. Male friends CANNOT fill the hole that lack of marriage or partners leave in many mens' lives. Male loneliness and female loneliness are two sides of the same coin and they are both increasing rapidly. This isn't about 'blame.' Obviously if men or women are seeing a drastic increase in loneliness the opposite sex is going to be involved in that and affected by it. First, though... my first question. Why do YOU think men are lonelier?

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Loneliness appears to be increasing in people across the gender spectrum, but men seem to be having the most profound fallout from that with the startling rates of death by suicide and accidental OD/drug poisonings, so we talk about it a lot.

Honestly, I"m not an expert in this. Richard Reeves has dug into it and I agree with most of his assessments - my gut and casual-level assessments say that there are two major causes and they're both about social structure transitions. First, I think progress toward gender equality and the dissolution of strict binary roles in the family and work has undermined a lot of the ways in which men bonded and felt less lonely. IE my grandfather's generation all went to work, their wives (generally) all stayed to tend children. In Michigan (where I"m from) men often went home from the factories, had dinner with the family around 5:30 or 6, then went out to bowl or go to a bar a few nights a week while the wives (continued) to stay home.

As we progressed, men no longer felt entitled to be gone all day, come home and eat, and then leave again. Women often went to work, which meant that "Don't Worry Baby" vibe of women communing while men were at work disappeared.

My dad's generation never changed a diaper, but my husband did. That change was huge and symbolized a man's interest in being home - but also his obligation to be home. This is GOOD progress, men deserve deep relationships with children and now that women are working full-time in the majority of families, it's the only thing that makes sense.

But that means most people are busting our asses 40+ hours a week and then coming home and busting our asses at home. That's a lot of people busting our asses literally every waking moment. That's the gender-based change.

The other is digital - as with all technology, as it advances we are supposed to get free from some of our labor, but it actually just frees us up to have more labor put upon us. (Read 'More Work For Mother' about how this affected women throughout history.) So now everyone is expected to be available for work 24/7 and to have a second income-generating gig. So unless you have great friends at a job and none of you ever leave, you probably don't have many good friends because you're too busy trying to survive. In essence - capitalism isolated us because we're more productive when we're tied to our devices.

I also think we've adapted to think our online connections count as social interactions - and they do! But they aren't the same as IRL friends. I'm interacting with you right now, but we aren't looking at one another, sharing expressions, reading each other's faces, adapting to the other's tone. There are likely other factors we don't know how to define yet that happen when people interact in person, mirror neurons or hormones or things like that, that satisfy a certain emotional need.

What's more, all of this digital practice has made us less adept in IRL situations so we probably avoid them a bit more. On top of all of that, I believe that Gen-X and older millennials are still functioning under the "men are supposed to be solitary islands made of stone, they don't need hugs and love and affirmation" model. So a man who feels lonely may not even realize that's what his feeling of unrest/discomfort is - and if he does, he may not feel comfortable reaching out or opening up. Women of these generations may also perpetuate this by finding a man with emotional needs "unmanly" - even if it's solely on a subconscious level. IE "I want a man who is emotional!" but then they meet that man and don't like it because they weren't socialized to accept it.

So, in essence, capitalism. Lol

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I agree that the idea that women are responsible for male loneliness is ridiculous.

Men are in need of their own revolution. I think we need changes in the cultural infrastructure to really get this going. If we want men to be emotionally engaged then we must value that in our society. Most women value that but our societal structure does not. Women fought to get in the door at work. We now need to fight to get men out the door of work on time. If men leave work on time then we are saying "we expect you to have an emotional and social life outside work." Give parents parental leave and require spouses take half the time. (This is one way that Sweden pushed employers to accept men taking parental leave.) Many younger men are embracing the joys of early parenthood but they have to fight to have the time to do that. Employers expect more and more time from their employees. Once a woman becomes a mother she's kicked off the "success" ladder but at least is able to take some time for family. Men stay on the "success" ladder but are expected to make no changes at work for a family. The best way to help women be able to stay on the success ladder, if they want, is to create an environment in which all workers leave at the end of the day and get their weekends off. This also gives single men time to have hobbies, clubs, etc. that allow them to make male friendships. In addition, when fathers parent newborns they develop bonds that move family and relationships to the forefront. This increased fatherly involvement (if they get the time for it) can allow boys growing up to see adult males in a nurturing relationship. This could further help break down old stereotypes. We are so focused on working more, harder, and longer in our society. We value works so so much. Much of that work mandate is aimed directly at men. We've all drunk the same poison. Many European cultures place much greater value on an adult's life outside of work. They have infrastructure that protects that time from greedy employers. We want men to break out of toxic masculinity and find friends? We need to ditch the workaholic cutlture and value time for human connection.

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