There’s a friendship recession, and it’s hurting New Zealand men


Steven can be on his way to a party and feel lonelier than he’s ever felt before.

By Zoe Madden Smith for Re: news

“Although I’ll be meeting up with friends, I’m going there alone, and after that I’ll probably go alone,” he says.

“In these moments, loneliness hits hard.”

The 31-year-old from Tāmaki Makaurau, who asked to remain anonymous for privacy reasons, says he was always surrounded by crowds of people through friends, football clubs or work. But it’s rare that he feels a close or emotional connection with these people.

“I would say there was about a decade after high school that I didn’t have anyone in my life to tell everything to.

“I have friends, but it’s those close friendships that I’ve missed.

“I think I’ve been in denial for a long time. I felt down and frustrated and then didn’t know who to talk to about it because I didn’t want to show that side of myself to others.”

That Study 2021 found that the percentage of men without close friends is five times higher today, rising from 3% in 1990 to 15% in 2021.

Single men were particularly hard hit. One in five American men who are single and not in a romantic relationship say they have no close friends.

Not only do men have smaller circles of friends, but they also reported being less emotionally connected to the friends they have.

In contrast, women were found to be more successful in forming these types of relationships and reported far higher levels of emotional engagement and support from their friends.

Why is it harder for men to make friends?

The study found that although younger men tend to reject traditional notions of masculinity, many still struggle with being vulnerable and seeking emotional support from friends, making it difficult to form lasting social bonds.

Longer working hours, more telecommuting, and increased job rotation have also made friendships harder to find in the workplace.

A previous studies in 2019, the same researcher found that higher loneliness rates among millennials may also be related to lower religious participation, lower marriage rates, and greater geographic mobility, making it harder for people to meet regularly.

Another study It has also been found that women tend to invest more time and energy into maintaining relationships than men. For example, they call and visit each other more often, while men tend to be less motivated to keep in touch regularly.

How culture can affect loneliness

Ricky Sione, a counselor who specializes in working with Māori and Pasifika men but also works with men of other ethnicities, says loneliness can also be broken culturally.

“I’ve noticed that the Pasifika and Māori men who come to me are always surrounded by friends – but whether they open up to them is another story.”

Sione says when he asks European customers if they have people in their lives to talk to, they’re more likely to say they have none or very few.

“So much of that can be related to raising a person. European men, for example, have been told their entire lives that independence is success, but striving for independence can mean working longer hours and feeling isolated.

“Whereas in Pacifica cultures there is a greater emphasis on community.”

Sione has also noted how intimate relationships can cost friendships.

“If someone comes from a broken home, maybe love wasn’t a priority for them growing up. So when someone finds a partner, they can commit quickly because they’ve never felt that feeling before.

“Sometimes that bond can cost friendships because when the relationship ends, they can go back to their boys and some may be there, some may have moved on.”

The cost of living affects social life

Steven says the rising cost of living is definitely a factor in men having a harder time making friends because men can rely more on sports and hobbies to meet people. But when working long hours, it can be difficult to find the time and energy to socialize.

“Regarding football clubs, fewer people are giving back by coaching or joining bodies, some people have just disappeared. But it makes sense why they don’t have money because they don’t have time. When they finish work, all they want is to rest.

“Hobbies also cost money, so access could also be an issue.”

For Steven, football plays a big role in his social life. In recent years he has grown closer to a friend on his football team and feels like he can open up to him.

He says football teams used to be “jock-like environments,” but now it feels a lot more supportive.

“With men’s mental health in the news a lot, I’ve noticed a slight shift towards people trying to be better friends with each other. Guys are more open to hugging and reaching out and telling each other that they love each other. But it’s still not easy.”

Find out who’s in your corner

The percentage of men with at least six close friends in 2021 has halved from 55% to 27% since 1990, according to research from the Survey Center on American Life.

But Sione says, “You don’t have to have a lot of close friends when you identify a person who can be there for you.”

“I like to use the analogy of a boxer,” he says.

“A boxer has a couple of people like a trainer or a paramedic who play certain roles in his corner, so no matter how things are going in the boxing ring, he can always come back and trust who’s in his corner.

“That’s why I encourage men to figure out who’s in their corner and whose corner you’re in too. If you can identify a person who will be there, that’s all you need.”

Where to get help:

1737: The nationwide advice line for mental health around the clock. Call or text 1737 to speak to a trained counselor.

Suicide Crisis Line: Free call 0508 TAUTOKO or 0508 828 865. National 24/7 support hotline operated by experienced counselors with advanced suicide prevention training.

youth line: Free call 0800 376 633, free text 234. Nationwide offer with a focus on youth development.

OVERVIEW NZ: Freephone 0800 OUTLINE (0800 688 5463). National service helping LGBTIQ+ New Zealanders get support, information and a sense of community.


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