Before the advent of the Internet, people worked mostly in the presence of others.
Whether they were in the fields of a farm, the sea of typists in an office, the floor of a factory or behind the counter of a retail store, other people and relationships with them were the stuff of every day life. Millions of stay-at-home mothers, who may have been alone with their babies most of the day, nonetheless had that child to hold and other mothers at home to seek out.
Men, who in western culture frequently have trouble keeping friendships beyond classroom educations, made and sustained important relationships with others on a daily basis. These work friendships may have been more temporary than lifelong, but nonetheless gave men the social interactions we humans, who are wired for connection, need as much as air, water and food. And while marriages or dating relationships have kept men emotionally connected, they can’t carry all the emotional connection needs men have.
I have noticed that increasing numbers of my clients are working alone at home. Technology is allowing all kinds of people to put in their work hours without long, gas-guzzling commutes, endless team meetings and even much face to face interactions. While the quality of their work may even improve with less interruptions and increased personal satisfaction with flexible scheduling, their emotional isolation can be an unrecognized drain on their emotional well-being and mental health.
Many of these workers are lonelier than ever, and can’t quite figure out why. Friendship making is getting harder and harder with less workplace interactions, fewer people connecting to churches, fraternal, political, sport and social groups, and neighborhood relationships. No wonder so many people, particularly men, sit alone at their computers and post anonymous angry comments on every article, tweet, post or meme they can find. It’s a very quick way to be reminded there are people in the world when you irritate, enrage or frighten others with your words.
Friendships have always been an important part of our personal worlds. With fewer and fewer places to interact with one another, they are becoming increasingly important and rare. Loneliness is a critical mental health concern for our culture, and especially for men. We may be able to save a lot of suffering if we can help our children and teens learn to make, be and keep good friends.