Have you ever been in a room full of people, but felt like you had nothing in common and didn’t belong?
Have you ever been lying in bed with someone and felt a divide between you the size of the Grand Canyon?
Do you spend time with family, the people who are supposed to know and love you best, but find that too many conversations become a dead end of misunderstandings or arguments?
Is it difficult for you to let others in on what you’re feeling, although you’re overwhelmed with all the emotions you’ve got going on?
If you answered yes to any of these, you’ll know that loneliness doesn’t necessarily mean being alone. You may have people around you all the time and yet still feel that you have no one to turn to.
As human beings we need connection, which is more than just being in close proximity to others. Connection is the emotional closeness we share with another person that allows us to feel understood, listened to and supported.
It gives us a safe space to talk about the important things that are on our minds as well as the day-to-day niggles, frustrations and successes. We need people we can be real with. We need people we can trust.
Trivialities in abundance can be shared over a pint and social media and gaming are great at breaking the silence and distracting us from ourselves and our own isolation, but if all we ever have is surface-level conversations from a distance, our relationships don’t begin to touch the sides of what we crave deep down: to be part of a tribe where we truly belong and are totally accepted, because the existentially terrifying alternative is to be lost in a wilderness where no one can hear our screams.
A few years ago, an article in The Telegraph shared the following:
“A study of relationships in the UK found that men’s chances of friendlessness almost treble between their early 20s and late middle age. And married men are also significantly less likely than their single counterparts to say they have friends to turn to outside of the home.”
In our culture there’s a big emphasis on individualism, which values self-reliance and independence, and those qualities are etched into the DNA of the ‘perfect man’. The one who stands alone, separate, enigmatic and powerful, the lone cowboy, the Man With No Name, is the stuff of legend.
But the reality is we need each other and that ideal of the strong, silent type is doing men a disservice.
When your life goes wrong or you simply want some banter with guys you like and respect, clamming up isn’t going to cut it, no matter how impressive your poncho.
It’s important that we can find ourselves mirrored in those around us because then we know we’re not alone. It validates us. And it’s obvious when you’ve found your tribe: you’ll feel happier, more alive and more yourself after time in their presence. Or perhaps you’ll have shared what’s on your mind because you felt safe enough to do that without fear of ridicule or rejection. Those are your people.
However, connecting can be a challenge too because it means taking a leap of faith and allowing yourself to be honest. That level of openness can feel like a vulnerable place to be.
Equally, opening up about more difficult emotions requires you to admit to yourself, first and foremost, that you’re not OK and might even be struggling right now. And as a man, aren’t you supposed to deal with that stuff, whatever it is, without flinching?
Admitting to yourself that you need anyone else can be hard. Reaching out to others can challenge your sense of independence on a profound level. Doing it anyway takes a courage that deserves to be celebrated because it will take your life to the next level and help you build connected, authentic relationships with real integrity.
When we start being real and showing that face to the world, we give others permission to be the same. When we drop the mask, that’s when we start finding out exactly how much we all have in common.
Image: Jordan Whitfield/Unsplash