Whom do you go to when you need to talk?

You might call a parent, drop in on a sibling, or maybe spend some time with a friend. Whether you’ve known them since nappies or met them a week ago, the fact is, friendship is an intrinsic part of human nature — something that may be reflected in the fact that people with stronger social relationships have a 50 per cent lower mortality risk than those without. Unsurprisingly, loneliness does the opposite: increasing this risk by 26 per cent, with one study likening its detrimental effects to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.  Still, one in eight Britons (12 per cent), say that they have just one person whom they consider to be a close friend. By all indicators, the friendship pool seems to be running dry, and with rates of loneliness reaching record highs, it seems that the friendship economy is entering a hopeless depression. 

Pandemic Blues

Adult friendships are becoming rarer, with 51 per cent of Britons saying that they find it difficult to make friends. And this recession is widespread, with 12 per cent of Americans believing that they have no close friends, compared with only 3 per cent in 1990. The currency of friendship has been on the downturn for a while now, with the rise of technology making friendships less essential to an exciting life. However, one factor turned a slow decrease into a landslide in 2020: The Covid-19 pandemic.

With schools closed and work relegated to the home, the places where people would typically meet new friends were no longer accessible. As the majority of people make adult friendships through their workplace, the removal of these places from people’s lives was bound to have an impact. This isolation dealt a devastating blow to a country already struggling with friendships. Forty per cent of Britons reported losing contact with some of their friends since the beginning of the pandemic. 

Covid also radically altered the workplace structure, giving workers fewer opportunities for meaningful social interaction than ever before. Pre-pandemic office workers went into the office an average of 3.8 days per week. However, post-Covid, this figure has dwindled to just 1.4 days per week.  

Men Overboard

Another casualty of the pandemic has been the youth. Young people’s friendships were disproportionately hit, with 47 per cent of those aged 16-24 stating that their friendships have been changed in some way by the pandemic. Barred from seeing their friends at school or university as the country plunged into quarantine, unsurprisingly, lockdown had an inordinate effect on Britain’s youth — perhaps more so than the older generation. 

While young people did suffer a great deal from the loneliness that came with months spent locked inside, there is one group that was perhaps the greatest victim of this isolation: Men. Between 1990 and 2021, the percentage of men with at least six close friends has fallen from just above 50 per cent to just over 25 per cent. Young women are also more likely than young men to lean on their friends for personal support. Social isolation can weaken not just your mental health, but your physical health too, and with one in five single men saying that they have no close friendships, this perceived lack of community amongst men could have serious consequences.

But why is this friendship deficit seemingly affecting men more than anyone else?

There is no concrete answer to this dilemma, but we can definitely hypothesise. Men are becoming increasingly separate from social situations. One factor is that 52 per cent of Americans aged 18-29 are now living with their parents. While this statistic is applicable to all genders, it works in tandem with the way that we socialise men by exacerbating a growing culture of loneliness. 

Women are much more likely to seek out emotional support from their friends, with a study by the AEI’s Survey Centre on American Life finding that 48 per cent of women had shared personal feelings with a friend in the last week, compared to just 30 per cent of men. Men are also a lot less likely to tell their friends that they love them. The same study found that 50 per cent of women had told a friend that they loved them in the last week, compared to just half that amongst men. It’s a well-known fact that men are frequently socialised to hide personal feelings. This can result in a reluctance to seek emotional support from those around them. Men’s conditioned emotional aloofness partly explains the decline in friendships during difficult times, as well as the inability to foster new relationships. If we want to tackle the growing loneliness among men, it may be time to reassess some of the qualities traditionally ascribed to them.

Friendship is a theme dominating the literature, TV and films that we consume daily. But art, in this case, does not seem to imitate life. Google returns 2 billion results in response to the search for ‘quotes about friendship,’ and yet, none of these cliche and empty words offer a solution to the unfurling crisis. Loneliness is deadly, and we are facing an epidemic of it. The friendship economy appears to be on a terminal decline, but it doesn’t have to be. So call up your parents, drop in on a sibling, or maybe even spend some time making a new friend.

DISCLAIMER: The articles on our website are not endorsed by, or the opinions of Shout Out UK (SOUK), but exclusively the views of the author.