By, Rebecaa Ogle, MSW, LCSW
Over the past couple of years, I’ve noticed a concerning trend amongst men in their 20’s and 30’s: Social isolation.
Five to ten years after high school, many people have lost touch with their friends from school. There are few places to meet friends as an adult outside of the workplace. Many folks with disabilities can’t work, so they don’t even have that has a potential source of connection.
Social connection is essential to our mental and physical health. Research indicates that loneliness can increase stress and depression. A ten-year research review even indicated that folks with low social support have increased risk of poor prognosis in heart conditions.
It’s true that it’s hard to meet people. Partly that’s environmental, but partly, it’s emotional. It’s intimidating to approach someone new, to strike up a conversation and risk rejection… especially for men. Starting in childhood, men are taught that showing vulnerability makes them a ‘sissy.’ Even if you consciously disagree with that message, it’s difficult to overcome when it’s so infused into our culture.
If you’re interested in meeting new people, but aren’t sure where to start, here are a few tips:
- Frequent the same places. It’s less intimidating to chat with people who recognize you, and who you recognize. Try going to the library, the gym, the grocery, or a coffee shop; ideally, around the same days and times. People are creatures of habit, and you’re more likely to see the same people if you get on a consistent schedule.
- Comment on the obvious and neutral. “How ‘bout this weather?” or “Wow, it’s hot/cold/busy/quiet in here today!” are two good options.
- Gauge the interest of the person you’ve made your opening comment to. If they make eye contact, smile, and talk back, they may be open to conversing. If they avoid your eyes or say very little in response, take it as a hint that they don’t want to talk.
- Try not to take rejection personally. Sometimes people are having a bad day, or are just not in the mood to talk.
- Ask questions. When a conversation stalls, ask the other person a question. Keep it surface level at first – “How’s your day going?” works well, because it allows people to share as much or as little as they want to.
- LISTEN and stay curious. Ask follow-up questions about what the other person said. For instance, if someone mentions walking their dog, ask what the dog’s name is.
Masculinity is a broad spectrum. Men absolutely have the ability to forge strong, emotional connections with others; they just need the motivation and skills to do so.
Does this article remind you of yourself, or someone you know? The Men-Powered therapy group at Kenneth Young is designed to help men in their 20’s, 30’s and above navigate social interactions gracefully, and learn how to make and maintain meaningful friendships. It will also empower them to accept themselves and others as they are.
If you’re interested in joining this group, please e‑mail me: [email protected]kennethyoung.org.
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