Current Events Devotional Intimacy Loneliness Pornography Random Ponderings relationships

The Epidemic of Male Loneliness

Our culture subliminally tells men that they need family and a job...but friends? Why do close male friends seem so WEIRD to us today?


I recently began reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s monumental biography of Abraham Lincoln, Team of Rivals, and within the first couple chapters, noticed a theme which kept popping up.

Goodwin begins by giving a thorough background to each of Lincoln’s rivals for the presidential seat, and nearly every description at some point mentioned a close male friend of theirs. Writes Goodwin:

Such intimate male attachments, as Seward’s with Berdan, or, as we shall see, Lincoln’s with Joshua Speed and Chase’s with Edwin Stanton, were a common feature of the social landscape in nineteenth-century America…In the absence of parents and siblings, they turned to one another for support, sharing thoughts and emotions so completely that their intimate friendships developed the qualities of passionate romances.

To highlight the extremity of these relationships, Goodwin recounts the story of William Henry Seward who met a young man named David Berdan while they were both in school together. They shared everything together, including theater, books, songs, and vocational aspirations. Tragically, Berdan contracted tuberculosis while traveling overseas and died on the ship back to America. “Seward was devastated,” writes Goodwin, “later telling his wife that he had loved Berdan as ‘never again’ could he ‘love in this world.’

Let’s just take in the obvious fact that that’s not something you say to your wife.

That aside, I’ve been wondering why these deep male-to-male friendships seem so odd to me as a 21st-century reader. I think the idea is related to a previous post of mine regarding men and their lack of physical touch, but it’s also a different issue. I mean, guys don’t necessarily have to touch in order to be close and brotherly.

Personally, I feel like I have been blessed to have known (and to continue to know) a slew of really, really great men. The first being my father, which the older I get, the more rare I realize this is. Growing up, my best friend for as long as I can remember was Dave, and he is still my best friend to this day. In college and my travels abroad and my intermittent seasons of homelessness and vagabonding, I have always come across men with whom I can share everything.

I can’t help but wonder if many heterosexual men veer away from such relationships as they may be perceived as homosexual or weird in some way. What this leads to is an abundance of loneliness, causing men to satiate their loneliness with more insidious salves.

How many fathers have been caught in a pornography or alcohol addiction, despite having a relatively enviable, stable life? This is conjecture, but I can’t help but wonder if addictions like these arise because men think that their wives and kids should be enough human connection to satisfy them, never thinking their souls may be craving more male friend connections. How many men feel this loneliness but feel weird about seeking out male friends, so they settle for the false intimacy of porn or the artificial ecstasy of substances?

I know men who—like Paul Rudd’s character in I Love You, Man—prefer the company of female friends, because they may be intimidated by other men. Others find themselves a girlfriend and cut off communication with all other friends indefinitely. I also know those who simply opt for very few or no friends at all, believing any sort of vulnerability or emotional nearness to other men to be un-masculine.

I would argue that the opposite is true.

Take a look at King David from the Bible. This is a dude who killed lions and bears with his bare hands while growing up as a shepherd. This is a dude who lusted after and married several women (not a GOOD thing, but it proves that he was very straight…). This is a masculine dude that any man would be wise to look up to.

And this is also a dude who had a close friend named Jonathan. And we get this verse after Jonathan’s death where David says, “I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women.”

As a very heterosexual man, this makes me feel a little weird. I mean, here is this emotion toward another man which seems like it has no place being in the Bible! I mean, aren’t men only supposed to love women or else things get weird?


Our perverted culture has twisted up the word ‘love’ to a very base and carnal definition which can only be interpreted sexually. In other words, we cannot hear that “David loved Jonathan” without immediately thinking “David was gay??”

I do not think that’s what this passage is saying at all. There is so much more to love than mere sex. I think he was deeply grieving for a very close friend of his. I would certainly express a similar sentiment if Dave or any of my other close friends were to pass away, because I really love my guys a lot.

And I tell them that often.

And I am very straight.

I think this problem has arisen out of fear and a misled perception of masculinity. Our culture subliminally preaches the idea that real men are lone wolves who do not need help or close friends. They need a wife and they need to be a good father and good worker…but friends?? There’s not really a category for it anymore.

In my experience, the breakdown of close male relationships has led not only to a breakdown of male friendships, but of other man-to-man relationships like mentoring and accountability. I can count on one hand the number of guys I know who have intentionally sought older men for the sake of growth and wisdom. For millennia, there was a system in place for younger men to be raised up and encouraged by older men, but that seems to have disintegrated with a culture telling us that we can do it all on our own.

So what do we do about this? How do we begin to address a culture which informs us that male friends are weak or weird? I think the first step is to name it. Identify that our culture (especially Christian culture in America) gets weird about men being too close.

If you’re a man and as you read, you’re thinking to yourself Gee, I don’t have that many close dude friends! it may be time to change that! It is not healthy to have a life devoid of testosterone. If your only friend is your girlfriend/fiancée/wife, or you have a host of female friends without any guys, you are missing out on brotherly fellowship which, I would argue, is necessary for a healthy and holistic life.

If you’re a woman reading this and a particular guy keep popping into your mind as you read, perhaps it’s worth gently bringing up the topic and encouraging him to find men to do life with. I do think it’s toxic when a man only has female friends and confides in them things which should be reserved for other men or a spouse.

Obviously I’m not pushing for an extreme here, where we should only have male friends and no female friends. What I’m pushing for is balance. We (men) are averse to intimacy with other guys, and I would love to see that change. We do not need to continue living under the stigma that men don’t need male friends, so let’s strive to repair this.

Let’s reignite the bromance.



26 comments on “The Epidemic of Male Loneliness

  1. Ethan , man you’re so right! I’m hearing this loud and clear. If I was just a little bit more vain, I might think you had read my bio or my last post on being a lonely Christian. I just now after reading this realize I didn’t even think of the fact that my life is devoid of peer influences. I’m one of those you spoke of who for whatever reason particularly I may have, I have given up seeking a brotherly relationship. But it’s not only me, this is truly pandemic. Thank you again for exposing this truth.


  2. “As a very heterosexual man, this makes me feel a little weird.” Ethan..what is the difference between a heterosexual man and a very heterosexual man? What is your definition of a heterosexual man?

  3. I agree with your main points but here is a question:
    Why don’t you address your comments to all men, not just straight men?
    Lots of gay men live just like the straight men you describe. Lots of gay men are forbiddingly remote, out of touch with their true needs, unable to make an emotional connection, fearful of seeming dependent or vulnerable.
    I wondered at several points in reading this column whether you assume gay men are more relaxed and more in touch with their feelings.
    Some are; many are not. Today’s social mores certainly do nothing to encourage them to forge deeper, more stable and productive relationships.
    Or do you just feel gay men don’t belong in these pages?

    • Reading the blog, they belong. However, it’s an another thing to draw a line between male to male friendships and in the context of homosexuality, the difference of preferences in a whole; which can be really complicated to fiber out in a single blog post. The bottom line of this post is about how men in general actually needs brotherly fellowship; as for homosexual men specifically, it may require two subjects to discuss: first, is the topic itself – male friendships and the second, the romantic intimacy which cannot be avoided to tackle in this matter (which we know is a sensitive case to casually discuss without a clear focus since this blog I think is not centered into mere humane principles, but of Godly perspective and standards)
      However, I hope the writer will address the gap in homosexuality issues soon.

  4. A lot of this comes from irrational homophobia of the wrong Kind. And I say this as one who doesn’t approve of homosexual marriage or activity.

  5. I <3 you(r writing) Ethan Renoe.
    You always make me think, and I often share your blog posts on my FB page or with men in my small group at church. Keep it up!

  6. THIS. Every word of this. Ethan, you and your writing are such a blessing! I plan to link to this article (with some thoughts of my own) from my own blog. In the meantime, thank you for speaking truth to our connection-deprived culture!

  7. Pingback: Renoe: The Epidemic of Male Loneliness | Strength of His Might

  8. Ian Larsen

    My wife and I were discussing this today … I have moved to three towns in 5 years … So the loneliness is there…
    I go to a large church and lately I have begun to question the lack of relatedness… Thanks this is a timely blog.

  9. Check out the book unlikely friend on Amazon by John cockroft this issue very well!

  10. Pingback: Men & Their Emotions – ethan renoe

  11. Pingback: "Lone Wolf Masculinity": Whats Happening to Our Boys After High School? - OnlineMoneyBiz

  12. Pingback: "Lone Wolf Masculinity": Whats Happening to Our Boys After High School? - Distinckt

  13. Pingback: “Lone Wolf Masculinity”: Whats Happening to Our Boys After High School?

  14. Pingback: "Lone Wolf Masculinity": Whats Happening to Our Boys After High School? | Daily Uplifting

  15. Pingback: Men & Their Emotions

  16. Pingback: "Lone Wolf Masculinity": Whats Happening to Our Boys After High School? | Lewis Store

  17. Pingback: The F Word – TV, Radio, Web, Mobile – “Lone Wolf Masculinity”: Whats Happening to Our Boys After High School?

  18. Pingback: “Lone Wolf Masculinity”: Whats Happening to Our Boys After High School?

  19. Pingback: “Lone Wolf Masculinity”: Whats Happening to Our Boys After High School? – Best Information Hub

  20. So I think this is a major problem, not just in the church, but with men as a whole.
    We have become isolated, independent, sometimes arrogant about the need for male interaction.
    Trouble is for many, outside the church how do men come into fellowship?

    Even within the church how many men go through the motions but remain isolated even within the church environment. How many avoid accountability to remain in sin? Avoid fellowship to keep their lifestyles hidden. Or worse attend their men’s groups and are never challenged?

    So how do men of faith disillusioned with the church find fellowship with others who believe as they do?
    How do we find each other?

  21. Pingback: The Epidemic of Male Loneliness

  22. Dan Ver Woert

    You should try being pastor, very hard to make friends,,

  23. Jason Salamone

    If you were raised an only child and a latch-key kid you learn how to be alone and rarely feel lonely. Loneliness being a male problem isn’t natural, so toughen up guys.

  24. Sounds to me like someone may have some issues with sexuality and is trying to deal with them in ways that ultimately will fail him. How is that Shakespeare term, “Me doth think he protests much” or something along those lines. I mean, who that is secure in their masculinity and orientation claims to be “very heterosexual” and try to pen a piece that its ok to love your fellow man? If you are secure with who you are, dude, then you won’t give a s^!t about what others think about your relationship with other people.

  25. Pingback: 男人与他们的情感 – Estudios y mucho mas

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: