On our podcast ‘Tales That Tethr’, tethr Founder & CEO Matt Zerker interviews entrepreneurs, experts, thought leaders, and regular people about what is means to be a man, the challenges that modern men face, and how to overcome challenges and live life in a more connected and authentic way.
When you think of the archetypal “Man,” what comes to mind?
Is it the guy with a six pack and arms as big as your head? Perhaps it’s the guy at the head of the conference table, impeccably dressed and brimming with self-confidence?
Then again, maybe it’s the guy standing in a crowded bar, surrounded by a crowd of wide-eyed admirers, or the stoic and self-reliant outdoors-man, hunting for his food and face baked with sun from hours spent in the wilderness.
These archetypes are just a few examples of what come to mind when we think of what the ‘ideal man’ looks like in our minds eye.
Indeed, the image of the ideal man has been one associated with traits like dominance, physicality, and success. But the real question is, do you see yourself in that image?
If your answer is no, you’re not alone by a long shot.
In a 2014 study performed by Dr. Michael Kimmel, a sociologist and masculinity expert, polling found that 93% of men did not identify with the way the media depicts masculinity. This means that while most men may consciously or unconsciously envision the ideal man as the fictionalized caricature we see in the media, the vast majority of us don’t see ourselves in that man.
It is this gap between who we think we ought to be and the reality of our dad bodies and thinning hairlines that leave us feeling inadequate, incapable, and in many cases, very much alone.
The loneliness and isolation experienced by men is well-documented, and the reasons behind it are complex.
According to a 2019 article in The Walrus,“the fluidity of modern life (we move and change jobs more), the weakening of community institutions such as service organizations and faith groups, the gig economy, and our increasing reliance on social media” have all contributed to the loneliness epidemic among men. In essence, we have less stability in our jobs and communities, places from which many individuals build their social foundation.
It is also the case that we are clearly still recovering from an era where vulnerability, openness, and affection between males was discouraged from a very young age. This increase in physical and emotional distance can be particularly harmful for men who have the same emotional needs as all people, but are culturally discouraged from finding healthy and expressive ways of meeting those needs.
Research conducted by Jacqueline Olds and Richard S. Schwartz for their book The Lonely American: Drifting Apart in the Twenty-first Century showed that men don’t work as hard at maintaining friendships and don’t work as hard at making new friends. This, combined with increased lack of stability in our jobs and communities and the near ubiquitous turn to social media for our sense of connection and community,means that men end up more and more isolated as they get older.
How high are the risks associated with social isolation among men? Higher than you might think.
Research has shown that more than 50% of men have less than two people with whom they can discuss serious topics, and 40% of men in crisis admit that they won’t talk to anyone because they feel they have no one to turn to.
The compounding effects of social isolation, a lack of spaces in which to share openly, and the hardships we all must inevitably endure have deadly consequences for men. While the statistic varies between countries, roughly 75% percent of all suicides are committed by men.
Compounding this problem is the social stigma around men expressing vulnerability, which has limited the potential spaces where men can find deeper connections without fear of being outcast, labelled,or judged. Men are overwhelmingly reluctant to show vulnerability, despite the fact that 77% of men have struggled with anxiety, stress, or depression in their lifetime.
And while men recognize that these negative feelings affect how they show up at work, at home, and in relationships, many men claim they wouldn’t seek professional help for these issues unless they were experiencing thoughts of self-harm or suicide. This is unfortunate and means that oftentimes for men the symptoms of illness need to be extreme before any help is asked for — and sometimes it is too late.
While many exclusively “male” spaces exist in modern culture, they are often founded on stereotypical representations of masculinity that leave little room for intimacy between men. Sporting events,bars, and clubs can be fun, sure. But how much vulnerability do these spaces allow for? Not much. In fact, as a man in these contexts it is often strongly discouraged from being open, honest, or vulnerable without anything needing to be said.
Indeed, the context really does dictate the content as in most social circumstances. If we look at online spaces, they often mirror these in digital form. One need not look too far down the comments section on any given Reddit thread to see social shaming in full effect.
So where do men go when we need someone to talk to?
Thankfully, this story can have a happy ending for all men, as thought leaders around the world are beginning to address the men’s mental health crisis. Now more than ever, men are creating safe spaces where other men can go to have honest conversations about life. Men’s groups are one option.In these groups, men can come together in person with the shared intention of supporting one another through life’s bumpy times.
Online spaces exist, too, and provide the convenience of a digital experience without the hurdle of having to show up in person and be immediately vulnerable. Often, the best way to approach this type of men’s emotional work is at a pace that allows you to keep building on your progress at a speed that is comfortable for you. The company we are building with tethr is one such space.
And herein lies the opportunity for men who are ready for change. There is support. There are places you can go to begin the process of connecting more deeply with yourself and with the people around you,especially the close male friends you already have in your life. Men’s groups,positive masculinity, social media, and decreased stigmas around mental health have made openly discussing these issues easier for men.
It is vital then that as men we restore close,supportive connection between us. It is a missing link in the modern world. Male friendship has been an indelible part of society for as long as we have existed. There is nothing wrong with it. In fact, there is something fundamentally important about men being able to provide and receive support from each other. Not just materially or physically, but emotionally as well.
Thankfully, we are living in an age where this is not only needed, but possible.