354: The Antidote for Midlife Loneliness
Two of my friends were helping me finish my upstairs bathroom. With about an hour of work left and a missing piece of plumbing, I popped out for a quick Lowes run. Flipping through the radio stations, I landed on an NPR interview with Billy Baker, the Boston Globe journalist who had recently published this intriguing article. His captivating headline? “The biggest threat facing middle-age men isn’t smoking or obesity. It’s loneliness.”
In short, Baker asserts that divorce, career pursuits, social media, and parenting demands have left guys with less time and availability to cultivate meaningful relationships with other men. (Dhruv Khullar recently published a New York Times article with a similar premise: “How Social Isolation Is Killing Us.”) Neither the contributing factors nor the medical consequences surprised me.
As I drove, though, I found myself grateful that these realities barely apply to me. Just two nights prior, I had paced in a tiny hotel room on a business trip, headphones turned up on a phone call—with my book study/prayer group. “We’ll put you on speaker,” my buddy blurted. The voices on the other end were circled in his workshop, which is fairly normal for our group. (We were talking that night about where we individually fit into the bigger plan for the world.)
The next morning, I received an email from one of the guys, a man who has participated in a number of fraternal subcultures and lived in at least two countries. He revealed that, in his 61 years of life, he had never been part of a men’s group so intimate and vulnerable. He wasn’t the first in our growing circle to say as much. In fact, I had given one of my pastors that exact review just a few months prior.
That authenticity has been deliberately nurtured. The men who’ve gradually become participants in this informal group have been individually invited by friends who knew they were searching for something like this. (We operate outside of our church’s official men’s and co-ed environments—and thus outside of their official announcement and attendance funnels.)
The academic world would note here that men tend to build relationships shoulder-to-shoulder in shared activities rather than face-to-face, as the women in our lives typically do. That is true, and I’ve done a lot of that over the last decade. It’s often easier to bare the soul while hiking or canoeing, running or lifting weights, road tripping or doing home improvements.
Almost all of my activity groups intentionally build time to look each other in the eye, and my Tuesday night “Dude Group” regularly finds ways to supplement our table talk with activities. We got this pattern from Jesus, who demonstrated this duality by how and when he interacted with his disciples.
It’s important for me to say that the mojo of my various community groups isn’t exclusive within my church. I hear these stories from other men and women in their respective environments—some in gender-specific groups and others with connections as specific as porn addictions, foster parenting, blended families, and grief sharing. It’s also not exclusive to just my church, my city—and definitely not to America.
Acceptance and affection are universal human needs. As someone who believes that Jesus is the hope of the world, I am thankful to be a part of a community that offers more than even the life-changing gospel. I’m grateful for friends who help each other pursue a healthy way of life.
I kid you not: when I switched off the gloomy NPR interview, I landed on a station playing Matt Maher’s “Hold Us Together.” His chorus rang, “And love will hold us together, make us a shelter to weather the storm; and I’ll be my brother’s keeper—so the whole world would know that we’re not alone.”
Maher was describing the blessing I try not to take for granted and the responsibility my friendships often require.
If you don’t have this reality in your life, you can. If you do have this luxury in your life, don’t keep it to yourself. There’s a world out there literally dying for what you have.
Stock image from iStockPhoto.com