Guyside: “Engage” isn’t just for Captain Picard

Posted by on Mar 19, 2014 in aging, Boomer, Guyside, men | 1 comment

Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart may be appearing together in “Waiting for Godot” in New York, but even a Google search for their names will quickly give you the sense that they are great friends. (photo: BBC)

I had a feeling, but there’s data to support my gut: the demographic group with the smallest network of friends is… me. The adult, straight, white dude. I’m probably an outlier in that sense: I have a lot of people who I’m proud to call friends, some of whom are very close friends indeed.

But it appears that guys like me are in need of social engagement, and not just because we look weird sitting at the bar with a beer and a plate of chicken wings, alone. Actually, that sort of engagement — beer, food, a sporting event- – is often called “shoulder-to-shoulder” friendship. The counterpart to that is “face-to-face” friendship, and the big-brained folks who study such things suggest that women tend to have more face-to-face friends. F2F friends share more information about their lives, their emotions, and they derive more benefit from the friendship than do the friends who go to a concert or a movie together and may rarely talk about what’s happening in their lives.

I’ve come home from evenings out with a friend and had my partner ask “so, what’s new with George?” and be at a loss to tell her anything significant.

But the benefits of real friendship are as real as the friendship itself. A 2010 journal article makes the point that social isolation is one of the first things used to punish or torture, and that social engagement can halve the risk of death.

So let’s say you’re an aging guy, and you just don’t have friends you can realistically take from shoulder-to-shoulder to face-to-face. What to do?

Perhaps you should think about finding a volunteer activity. I tend to be a bit of an overachiever in this area; I say yes to way too many volunteer activities. Right now, for example, I’m on the production team for a major fundraising event for a choral festival, I’m raising money for a fundraising bicycle ride (BTW: DONATE!), I do a monthly radio piece on the history of folk music for a local community radio station, I’m part of a monthly ukulele get-together (you haven’t lived until you’ve been at a bar with 100 ukes!), I’m a sometime contributor to a local arts and culture web magazinemy partner and I do house concerts every month or so, I do this column, and I’m hatching a plan with friends to change the way chemotherapy drug costs are covered in my home province.  That’s probably too much. But not all of it happens all the time, and I can always practice that “saying no” thing I’ve heard so much about.

All of those things expose me to new people and deepen my relationships with people over time (I’ve been involved with the Show Tune Showdown for 8 years). And volunteer activities have their own beneficial effects. A Canadian government report details the many benefits of volunteering for seniors:

  • Building new relationships
  • Sense of contribution to the local community
  • Learning and practicing new skills that can be applied to other things
  • Learning about new subjects

Even though that report is focused on seniors, I think the benefits extend down to someone of my tender years — or yours.

One Comment

  1. 3-19-2014

    Good points, Bob, and I admire your vol work, quite the list, and I agree 100% with the benefits of doing such things. Meanwhile, I’m lucky to have some great male friends, but regret that many of my childhood/teen friends have vanished, or when I reconnect with them, there’s little interest in bonding beyond the old stories which evaporate with the last beer.

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