Are men lonelier than women?
In general, men and women experience and handle emotions differently, in both how emotions are experienced and how they are expressed.
According to a study, men have a more intense emotional experience, while women have more emotional expressivity. However, this varies depending on the type of emotion. One such emotion experienced by both genders is loneliness. But do both men and women experience loneliness similarly? Is one gender more likely to experience loneliness than the other?
What is loneliness?
Loneliness is a deep emotional disconnection, an emotional “desert”; an emotion you experience when you feel as though you are not getting your needs met from social contact and your relationships. This becomes a craving for social contact.
There is a general misconception about being alone and feeling lonely. Feeling lonely is like being surrounded by other people but still feeling disconnected from them. Being alone, however, is a physical state of being by yourself without the negative feelings attached to it. You may even feel calm or at peace with yourself.
Causes of loneliness
Various factors can contribute to feelings of loneliness. Some examples are isolation, moving house, divorce or even the loss of a loved one. Most often, loneliness is linked to feelings of disconnection from others. We feel as though those we are surrounded by do not understand us.
Alternatively, loneliness is also associated with feeling disconnected from ourselves. We experience this sort of loneliness when we spend a lot of our time focusing on other people’s needs. We no longer recognise who we are and what gives us purpose.
Differences in loneliness in men and women
According to research, women express feelings of loneliness more than men. However, one study showed that, actually, women might not feel lonelier than men, but may in fact be more comfortable admitting they feel lonely. This could be explained by the notion of toxic masculinity that exists in several cultures. Many generations have been raised with the belief that “boys don’t cry'', which means that males don’t complain or express any negative emotions; they just bottle them up.
The expression of emotions is considered a “feminine” trait. It makes sense that women are more comfortable and more likely to express feelings of loneliness, since men face consequences when they are viewed as not “masculine enough”. This leads to men being more reluctant to admit to feeling lonely.
What are the signs of loneliness in men?
As with most things, the signs of loneliness differ based on the persona and the situation. However, generally, men express loneliness differently from women:
As a result of toxic masculinity, the negative stigma of admitting to feeling lonely can cause men to remain silent and keep the feelings of loneliness tucked away inside.
Not feeling connected to the people around them and not enjoying activities that once used to be enjoyable can leave one feeling empty and lonely.
Isolating from friends and family can be an indication that a man is feeling lonely and disconnected from the people around him.
Engaging in risky behaviour
To fill the void of being without others, some men may find comfort in abusing alcohol or other substances. For some, engaging in risky sexual activities is a way of coping and an attempt to find a connection with another. Less common in men, but also possible is overeating.
Mood and behaviour changes
Raging from feeling fatigued to bored; or from agitated and annoyed to sad, men can find themselves trapped in mood and behaviour changes. This can result in others close to them distancing themselves, further adding to the feelings of loneliness they experience.
Why do men feel more lonely?
On the general scale, women have reported having higher levels of loneliness than men. Except for one category: single men are the lonelier group compared to single women.
- Women are more socially minded and are therefore able to better maintain close relationships than men. From a young age, women are brought up to value friendship and develop deep intimate relationships with those friends.
- Men focus on and value getting a group of acquaintances while women focus on the quality of one-on-one relationships. Larger groups of acquaintances make it difficult to share emotions and express any vulnerabilities.
- Men are more reluctant to admit having feelings associated with weakness and are then less likely to be completely open and vulnerable with others. This, in turn, makes it more difficult to develop meaningful and open relationships. Instead, this can lead to feelings of being on your own and without any support.
- Women are more likely to participate in communal activities that help foster a sense of community and connection.
How to feel less lonely as a man
The following practices can help men who are struggling with loneliness:
Focus on developing quality relationships
Look for people who share similar values and interests to you. If your aim is only to find a partner, it might be possible that you will miss a good opportunity of connecting with others without judging them for whether they are good enough to be your partner or not. Leave the checklist at home and be present in every interaction that you find meaningful and valuable.
Strengthen your current relationships
While making new connections is important and healthy, it doesn’t mean you need to shut out those already in your life. Building on to the relationships you already have is a great way to fight against loneliness and develop more meaningful connections.
Join a community
Volunteer organisations and support groups for like-minded others can be especially helpful for men looking to develop closer relationships and to reduce feelings of loneliness.
Find meaning and purpose in life
Find activities or interests that are important to you. If you struggle to do that, find your top five values in life and reflect on whether you are doing something to meet them.
Do things you enjoy
Being alone doesn’t mean you will be lonely. So, enjoy spending some time with yourself by doing things you enjoy! And remember, loving yourself is setting the way of how you want to be treated by others.
Don't go through things alone
Experiencing loneliness is tough. Not being able to talk about loneliness, or even admit it to oneself, is even more difficult. The pressure on men to protect their masculinity and act “strong” can make loneliness feel worse.
Loneliness is not an uncommon emotion for men. While it is underreported, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t there. It takes a lot of confidence and strength to overcome the barrier of “boys don’t cry”. You’re not alone.
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