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Guys, We Have A Problem: How American Masculinity Creates Lonely Men

A man sitting by himself at a picnic table.
Maciej Toporowicz
/
Getty Images

When Paul Kugelman was a kid, he had no shortage of friends. But as he grew older and entered middle age, his social world narrowed.

"It was a very lonely time. I did go to work and I did have interactions at work, and I cherished those," he says. "But you know, at the end of the day it was just me."

Kugelman's story isn't unusual: researchers say it can be difficult for men to hold on to friendships as they age. And the problem may begin in adolescence.

New York University psychology professor Niobe Way has spent decades interviewing adolescent boys. She points to the cultural messages boys get early on.

"These are human beings with unbelievable emotional and social capacity. And we as a culture just completely try to zip it out of them," she says.

This week on Hidden Brain, we look at what happens when half the population gets the message that needing others is a sign of weakness, and that being vulnerable is unmanly.

Resources:

This episode refers to the Harvard Study of Adult Development, Niobe Way's book, Deep Secrets,and research on suicide rates and social interaction.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Shankar Vedantam is the host and creator of Hidden Brain. The Hidden Brain podcast receives more than three million downloads per week. The Hidden Brain radio show is distributed by NPR and featured on nearly 400 public radio stations around the United States.
Rhaina Cohen is an associate producer for the social science show Hidden Brain. She's especially proud of episodes she produced on why sexual assault allegations are now being taken seriously, on obstacles to friendship that men face and why we rehash difficult memories.
Tara Boyle is the supervising producer of NPR's Hidden Brain. In this role, Boyle oversees the production of both the Hidden Brain radio show and podcast, providing editorial guidance and support to host Shankar Vedantam and the shows' producers. Boyle also coordinates Shankar's Hidden Brain segments on Morning Edition and other NPR shows, and oversees collaborations with partners both internal and external to NPR. Previously, Boyle spent a decade at WAMU, the NPR station in Washington, D.C. She has reported for The Boston Globe, and began her career in public radio at WBUR in Boston.