As a therapist, I have seen countless men in my office because they were depressed and lonely. Sadly, this was becoming common for men during the pandemic as social isolation prevented many from engaging in activities with others. Add to this the set of traditional masculine values that men have learned—be tough, invulnerable, self-reliant, and independent—and you have a perfect storm for loneliness.
Having been brought up with such beliefs, I used to isolate uncomfortable feelings and keep them hidden. As a boy, I had yearned to be like the superheroes in my comic books. Since they prided themselves on being invulnerable and not crying, I tried to be like them.
It wasn’t until I became a therapist and later joined a men’s group that I realized that shutting down and hiding my emotions stopped me from feeling connected, both to myself and others. Isolation and loneliness caused deep pain. Fortunately, I discovered the way out and that was to build bridges of connection where I shared feelings with others I trusted. When I did so, I felt closer, and if I resolved conflict with another successfully, I was drawn into a closer bond.
To grow and develop as men, we need face-to-face connections where we break out of isolation and deal directly in a non-competitive manner with other men. When we do so, we receive countless benefits: a deeper understanding, appreciation, and love of self; more meaningful relationships; opportunities to satisfy emotional needs; increased vitality and vigor; and a genuine desire for greater connection. In other words, we grow as men in relationships.
Consider the following steps to build connections:
1. Seek friendships with men who value relationships and who are willing to talk about their lives, including dreams, hopes, desires, and fears.
2. Reach out to another man and invite him to share his experiences, emotions, or senses, face to face, with you.
3. Increase your awareness of what you are feeling or sensing in the present moment and acknowledge them without judgment to a trusted friend.
4. Practice being vulnerable with those you trust and listen to, encourage, support, and validate them to be open and vulnerable. If you’re a father, become a model for your children.
5. Ask for what you need in relationships and consider the other person’s needs.
6. Stay committed to the ongoing process of building connections as you strengthen your relationships.
Sometimes we need to withdraw into our caves and reconnect with ourselves to recognize thoughts and feelings. Once grounded, we can then re-emerge into the world of relationships. Connection is about balancing the flow between self and another like the rhythm of inhaling and exhaling air. Inhaling alone does not promote growth. When we express our thoughts, feelings, and needs, we reduce isolation and loneliness, revitalize our spirit, and feel deeply connected with others.