AARP Eye Center
American men are suffering through a friendship drought that is making life a lot more lonely.
But it doesn’t have to stay that way. After age 50 it might feel challenging to make connections, but the right sentiments and strategies can help men unlock new friendships and deepen those they have at every stage of life.
It often just takes practice. Todd Adams, 50, of Elmhurst, Ill., has been making male friendships a priority for 20 years – ever since he realized a decade into their friendships that he didn’t know much that was personal about his college buddies. Back then, Adams decided he wanted deeper friendships and launched a men’s group in his living room about connecting in ways that didn’t focus on sports or alcohol. Now known as MenLiving, the group hosts approximately 400 virtual and in-person gatherings a year for a growing community of some 1,600 men.
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“There is a desperate need for friendships for men of all ages, but more specifically for men who are retired,” Adams says. “I’ve heard from so many men that when their ‘identity’ of being an income producer goes away, so does their value of themselves. That can feel very isolating and lonely.”
Male friendships wane after retirement
American men are suffering from a “friendship recession,” according to the American Enterprise Institute’s Survey Center on American Life. The survey found that the percentage of men with at least six close friends fell by half in the last 30 years, from 55 percent in 1990 to 27 percent in 2021. In the same period, the percentage of men with no close friends at all jumped fivefold, from 3 percent to 15 percent.
Even the most social men are struggling, according to the survey. Asked to reflect on their most recent social interactions, only 30 percent of men said they’d had a private conversation with a friend during which they shared personal feelings, and just 21 percent said they’d received emotional support from a friend.
There’s a lot to lose in lacking friends, and a lot to gain from having them, says clinical psychologist Marc Schulz, associate director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development. Established in 1938, the study has spent 84 years following the lives of more than 700 men as they age to determine the biological and social determinants of happiness.
“On days when people spent more time with others, including friends and acquaintances, they were happier,” says Schulz, coauthor of The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness.
Happiness — or lack of it — impacts physical health too. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), social isolation significantly increases a person’s risk of premature death and is associated with increased risks of dementia, heart disease, stroke and depression. It can even be deadly. Men aged 50 and older account for over one-third of all deaths by suicide, and men aged 75 and older have a higher rate of suicide than any other age or gender group, according to the CDC.