There are more people on the planet than there has ever been.
And thanks to technology, there are more ways to connect with one another than have ever existed in human history.
And yet, many people, including the US Surgeon General, believe that we are living in the midst of an epidemic of loneliness.
That might seem paradoxical. But it makes sense once you consider that loneliness is not the same thing as being alone.
Instead, loneliness is the state of wanting to interact socially in a meaningful way with other people, but being denied that interaction.
As this article in Psychology Today puts it, “loneliness is the state of distress or discomfort that results when one perceives a gap between one’s desires for social connection and actual experiences of it.”
With that in mind, the fact that someone is alone doesn’t tell you that they are lonely. Instead, there are other behaviors that suggest a man feels lonely in life.
Here are a few to watch out for.
1) He lacks close friends
As I said, being alone isn’t the same as being lonely. Still, a lack of close friends and other relationships can be a sign that a man is feeling lonely.
Psychologist Niobe Way performed a study on friendships among teenage boys and found that they often have a deeply fulfilling emotional connection with each other.
But by the time they grow into men, most of the time that connection has disappeared.
According to Way, this is not a natural phenomenon, but is instead a consequence of the society we live in.
“Boys know by late adolescence that their close male friendships, and even their emotional acuity, put them at risk of being labeled girly, immature, or gay. Thus, rather than focusing on who they are, they become obsessed with who they are not — they are not girls, little boys nor, in the case of heterosexual boys, are they gay,” says Way.
Speaking personally, I’ve found this in my own life. When I was a teenager, I had an extremely tight knit group of around six guys that were my closest friends. At the time, it felt like we were brothers.
Now, twenty years later? There isn’t a single one of them I speak to regularly
2) He distracts himself
Men often seem to get more deeply involved in their hobbies and interests than women do. And most of the time, that’s perfectly harmless and even beneficial.
Unless a man is using his interests as a way to distract himself from loneliness.
Hobbies like video games, sports, car maintenance, or just about anything else are fine by themselves, but many men use them as a stand-in for satisfying relationships with others.
Even worse, many men turned to abusing substances such as alcohol and drugs as a way to escape the negative feelings of loneliness.
There are lots of reasons for that, but the fact remains that often, lonely men will turn to substances to avoid facing their own loneliness.
3) He exaggerates his independence
“The lady doth protest too much, methinks,” Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet. But it’s not just ladies who profess to feel the opposite of what they actually do.
As I mentioned earlier, men feel a lot of social pressure to be strong, independent, and to not need anyone to make them happy. This can lead them to abandoning formerly close friendships, and it can also lead them to deny that loneliness and exaggerate their independence.
Sometimes, a lonely man will go out of his way to demonstrate that he doesn’t need anybody and that he’s better off alone.
Now, it’s true that there are some men who genuinely prefer their own company and like to be by themselves. But usually, those men don’t feel a need to constantly tell everyone about it. Instead, they show it through their actions.
On the other hand, men who are secretly lonely will often put up a false front of independence and strength to avoid having other people find out their shameful secret: that they are lonely.
4) He struggles to open up
It’s a cliché that men don’t like talking about their feelings as much as women do, but it’s a cliché grounded in truth.
Many men – myself included – are uncomfortable talking about deep feelings.
That by itself can make it hard to tell if a man is feeling lonely.
But it’s also true that the longer you spend alone, the harder it becomes to communicate with other people.
A man who has been lonely for a long time will struggle more than average to talk to anyone about anything, but especially about his innermost feelings.
In that way, loneliness can become a vicious cycle.
5) He settles for fake relationships
In many ways, it’s never been easier to have relationships than it is today. Unfortunately, most of those relationships are fake.
Often, a lonely man will resort to fake relationships to replace the social interaction he doesn’t get in real life.
These parasocial relationships come in many different forms. It might mean following influencers online or creating destructive relationships with women on sites like OnlyFans.
More and more these days, they may create fake relationships with artificial intelligence chatbots or videogame characters.
It may mean visiting strip clubs or sex workers. Contrary to what many people believe, these activities are often less about sex and more about the companionship men lack in the rest of their lives.
Check out this UK study which found that 18% of men reported not having one single close friend. 32% said they didn’t have a best friend.
That’s in contrast to the women surveyed, where the figures were 12% and 24%.
For many men, these fake relationships promise to fill the emotional void created by not having any real friends. So if you know a man who routinely uses these methods of connecting with others, it’s a good sign he may be lonely.
6) He lacks confidence
There can be lots of reasons why a man lacks confidence. But loneliness is definitely one of them.
Lots of people, both men and women, get a sense of self-worth from their relationships with others. That means that men who lack those relationships often feel they have less worth than people who have them.
If a man you know teams lack confidence and self-esteem, that might be the reason why.
7) He avoids social interactions
You would think lonely people would be desperate for social interaction. And in many ways they are. However, loneliness, especially over the long-term, can cause people to withdraw from social interaction and avoid it wherever possible.
The problem is, the longer you spend by yourself, the harder it becomes to relate to other people. Instead, you get trapped in your own world and lose the ability to make small talk or be entertaining around others.
This is another way that long-term loneliness can become a vicious cycle that is difficult to escape from.
8) He is married
This one is going to be controversial. I admit, as a married man, it came as a surprise to me.
However, a UK study found that married men are some of the loneliest men around. In fact, the study found they were 30% more likely than single men to say they have no one to turn to.
The study also found that men who are married are twice as likely to be lonely as men who live with a partner, but aren’t married to her.
It’s not clear why this might be. Perhaps because marriages involve more long-term relationships with children and other responsibilities that leave men with less time for cultivating friendships or spending time with their partner.
Of course, that’s not to say that marriage is a guarantee that a man will be lonely. But it is interesting that getting married seems to put men at a higher risk of loneliness, while it has no corresponding effect on women.
Identifying lonely men
Most people feel lonely at one time or another. But there’s lots of evidence to suggest that men are more susceptible to loneliness thanks to a lack of close friendships and the societal pressure to try to be independent.
That same pressure means men often won’t own up to being lonely. They will try to hide it, worried it makes them weak, until they can’t take it anymore. It’s possible this is one of the factors behind the much higher rate of male suicide.
That’s why it’s so important to reach out if you know a man you think may be suffering from loneliness. Because if you notice these signs, there’s a good chance the issue has been going on for a very long time already.