Loneliness is killing millions of American men. Here’s why.

When I was 7, my best friend’s name was George.

He lived around the corner from me. George was tall and lanky. His elbows always akimbo, his cowlick stellar in its sheer verticality. He had an aquarium. He had a glow-in-the-dark board game. He had the 45 rpm of "Hang On, Sloopy," and he was a Harry Nilsson fan, just like me. I can still recall his house, and all of the luminous joy it held, perfectly in my mind's eye — all part of the frozen 7-year-old's mosaic that exploded into pieces when my parents' marriage failed.

After my parents split, George and I lived just an hour apart. But our parents weren't willing to ensure that George and I stayed in regular contact. Once or twice a year, we were allowed a sleepover, and George always came to spend the night on my birthday. His visit was the one gift I asked for.


Then one day it ended. My mother simply said, "no more." To this day, I don’t know what triggered that choice, but my guess is she was feeling vaguely uncomfortable that two boys, by then around 11 years old, were moving on to things more productive than comic books and sleepovers. I suspect she felt she could no longer sponsor something so ... intense. From her perspective, it was unnaturally so.

With that decision, it wasn't just my friendship with George that died. I lost my understanding of where close male friendships fit into my life.

The topic of male friendships remains largely undiscussed, but for American men, it can be a matter of life and death.

Niobe Way is a professor of applied psychology at New York University and the author of "Deep Secrets: Boys' Friendships and the Crisis of Connection." A number of years ago, she started asking teenage boys what their closest friendships meant to them and documenting what they had to say.

It seems that few scholars have thought to ask boys what was happening with their closest friendships because we assumed we already knew. We often confuse what is expected of men (traditional masculinity) with what they actually feel — and given enough time, they confuse the two as well. After a lifetime of being told how men "typically" experience emotion, the answer to the question "what do my closest friends mean to me" is lost to us.

Way’s research shows that boys in early adolescence express deeply fulfilling emotional connection and love for each other, but by the time they reach adulthood, that sense of connection evaporates.

This is a catastrophic loss; a loss we somehow assume men will simply adjust to. They do not. Millions of men are experiencing a sense of deep loss that haunts them even though they are engaged in fully realized romantic relationships, marriages, and families.

Photo by Anastasiya Lobanovskaya/Pexels.

This epidemic of male loneliness is more than just melancholy. Research shows us it can actually be lethal.

In an article for the New Republic titled "The Lethality of Loneliness," Judith Shulevitz writes (emphasis added):

"Emotional isolation is ranked as high a risk factor for mortality as smoking. A partial list of the physical diseases thought to be caused by or exacerbated by loneliness would include Alzheimer's, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, neurodegenerative diseases, and even cancer — tumors can metastasize faster in lonely people."

Loneliness can also affect the mortality rate more directly. Research also shows that between 1999 and 2010, suicide among men aged 50 and over rose by nearly 50%. The New York Times reports that "the suicide rate for middle-aged men was 27.3 deaths per 100,000, while for women it was 8.1 deaths per 100,000."

The boys featured in Way's book express, in their own words, a heartfelt emotional intimacy that many men can recall from their own youth.

Consider this quote from a 15-year-old boy named Justin:

"[My best friend and I] love each other ... that’s it, you have this thing that is deep, so deep, it’s within you, you can’t explain it. It’s just a thing that you know that that person is that person and that is all that should be important in our friendship. I guess in life, sometimes two people can really, really understand each other and really have a trust, respect, and love for each other. It just happens, it’s human nature."

This passionate and loving boy-to-boy connection occurs across class, race, and cultures. It is exclusive to neither white nor black, rich nor poor. It is universal and beautifully evident in the hundreds of interviews that Way conducted. These boys declare freely the love they feel for their closest friends. They use the word "love," and they seem proud to do so.

But Justin also senses, even as it's happening, the distancing that occurs as he matures and male intimacy becomes less accepted. He says this in his senior year, reflecting on how his relationships have changed since he was a freshman:

"I don’t know, maybe, not a lot, but I guess that best friends become close friends. So that’s basically the only thing that changed. It’s like best friends become close friends, close friends become general friends and then general friends become acquaintances. So they just, if there’s distance whether it’s, I don’t know, natural or whatever. You can say that, but it just happens that way."

According to Way, this "natural" distancing is a lot more artificial than it is innate — a result of toxic judgments leveled against boys by their environment and society.

"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," Way writes. "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."

The result? "These boys mature� into men who are autonomous, emotionally stoic, and isolated," as Way puts it. In other words, the pressures of homophobia and toxic masculinity push boys into isolation until they become swept up in the epidemic of male loneliness that haunts the majority of American men.

Photo by Myriam/Pixabay.

It is a heartrending realization that even as men hunger for real connection in male relationships, we have been trained away from embracing it.

Since Americans hold emotional connection as a female trait, many reject it in boys, demanding that they "man up" and adopt a strict regimen of emotional independence and even isolation as proof they are real men. Behind the drumbeat message that real men are stoic and detached is the brutal fist of homophobia, ready to crush any boy who might show too much of the wrong kind of emotions.

We have been trained to choose surface level relationships or no relationships at all, sleepwalking through our lives out of fear that we will not be viewed as real men. We keep the loving natures that once came so naturally to us hidden and locked away. This training runs so deep, we're no longer even conscious of it. And we pass this training on, men and women alike, to generation after generation of bright eyed, loving little boys.

When I was in my early 30s, I ran into George again.

He was working for a local newspaper and living in an apartment in Houston, where I visited him. To my surprise, he happily split up his comic collection (I had sold mine when I was 16 or so) and gave me half of his huge collection. It was an act of profound generosity, and I’m sure I was effusive in my thanks.

I ran into George again in my 40s. He had married and moved to California. On a business trip, I spent the night at his house. We fell into our old pattern of reading comic books and drawing while his wife hovered, declaring over and over how great it was that I was visiting. The next day I packed up and went home to New York feeling vaguely disconnected but happy.

About two years later, his wife called me, screaming and weeping. George had died.

To this day, I remain shocked. "Why didn’t I connect more" was my first thought. My second was how effusive his wife had been about my visit. So supportive. So happy for "George’s friend" to be there. I was never able to follow up after his death. I don’t even know what killed him, just an illness.

How is this possible? How did I sleepwalk through the chance to reconnect this friendship? I should have cared. I should have given a damn. Why didn’t I? Because somewhere, somehow, I was convinced that close friendships with boys are too painful?

Don’t parents understand? Don’t they know that we love each other? That our children’s hearts can be broken so profoundly that we will never rise to a love like that again?

Photo by Juan Pablo Rodriguez/Unsplash.

The loss of my friendship with George set a pattern in my life that I am only now, decades later, finally conscious of.

I have walked past so many friendships. Sleepwalking past men as I went instead from woman to women, looking for everything I had lost. Looking instead in the realm of the romantic, the sexual. A false lead to a false solution. And in doing so, I have missed so many opportunities to live a fuller life.

Way’s work has given me the piece of the puzzle I was never conscious of. That the love I had felt for George and others — Troy, Jack, David, Bruce, and Kyle — was right and good and powerful and could move mountains. I didn’t realize what they were then. But I do now. That the slow withdrawing of those friendships from my life had not been a killing blow. Not quite. And that I’m back in the game of loving my friends. Fiercely.

So know it, guys: I love you all.

This piece was originally published by The Good Men Project and is reprinted here with permission.

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Some 75 years ago, in bombed-out Frankfurt, Germany, a little girl named Marlene Mahta received a sign of hope in the midst of squalor, homelessness and starvation. A CARE Package containing soap, milk powder, flour, blankets and other necessities provided a lifeline through the contributions of average American families. There were even luxuries like chocolate bars.

World War II may have ended, but its devastation lingered. Between 35 and 60 million people died. Whole cities had been destroyed, the countryside was charred and burned, and at least 60 million European civilians had been made homeless. Hunger remained an issue for many families for years to come. In the face of this devastation, 22 American organizations decided to come together and do something about it: creating CARE Packages for survivors.

"What affected me… was hearing that these were gifts from average American people," remembers Mahta, who, in those desperate days, found herself picking through garbage cans to find leftover field rations and MREs to eat. Inspired by the unexpected kindness, Mahta eventually learned English and emigrated to the U.S.

"I wanted to be like those wonderful, generous people," she says.

The postwar Marshall Plan era was a time of "great moral clarity," says Michelle Nunn, CEO of CARE, the global anti-poverty organization that emerged from those simple beginnings. "The CARE Package itself – in its simplicity and directness – continues to guide CARE's operational faith in the enduring power of local leadership – of simply giving people the opportunity to support their families and then their communities."

Each CARE Package contained rations that had once been reserved for soldiers, but were now being redirected to civilians who had suffered as a result of the conflict. The packages cost $10 to send, and they were guaranteed to arrive at their destination within four months.

Thousands of Americans, including President Harry S. Truman, got involved, and on May 11, 1946, the first 15,000 packages were sent to Le Havre in France, a port badly battered during the war.

Thousands of additional CARE Packages soon followed. At first packages were sent to specific recipients, but over time donations came in for anyone in need. When war rations ran out American companies began donating food. Later, carpentry tools, blankets, clothes, books, school supplies, and medicine were included.

Before long, the CARE Packages were going to other communities in need around the world, including Asia and Latin America. Ultimately, CARE delivered packages to 100 million families around the world.

The original CARE Packages were phased out in the late 1960s, though they were revived when specific needs arose, such as when former Soviet Union republics needed relief, or after the Bosnian War. Meanwhile, CARE transformed. Now, instead of physical boxes, it invests in programs for sustainable change, such as setting up nutrition centers, Village Savings and Loan Associations, educational programs, agroforestry initiatives, and much more.

But, with a pandemic ravaging populations around the world, CARE is bringing back its original CARE packages to support the critical basic needs of our global neighbors. And for the first time, they're also delivering CARE packages here at home in the United States to communities in need.

Community leaders like Janice Dixon are on the front lines of that effort. Dixon, president and CEO of Community Outreach in Action in Jonesboro, Ga., now sends up to 80 CARE packages each week to those in need due to COVID-19. Food pantries have been available, she notes, but they've been difficult to access for those without cars, and public transportation is spotty in suburban Atlanta.

"My phone has been ringing off the hook," says Dixon. For example, one of those calls was from a senior diabetic, she remembers, who faced an impossible choice, but was able to purchase medicine because food was being provided by CARE.

Today, CARE is sending new packages with financial support and messages of hope to frontline medical workers, caregivers, essential workers, and individuals in need in more than 60 countries, including the U.S. Anyone can now go to carepackage.org to send targeted help around the world. Packages focus on helping vaccines reach people more quickly, tackling food insecurity, educational disparities, global poverty, and domestic violence, as well as providing hygiene kits to those in need.

From the very beginning, CARE received the support of presidents, with Hollywood luminaries like Rita Hayworth and Ingrid Bergman also adding their voices. At An Evening With CARE, happening this Tuesday, May 11, notable names will turn out again as the organization celebrates the 75th Anniversary of the CARE Package and the exciting, meaningful work that lies ahead. The event will be hosted by Whoopi Goldberg and attended by former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter, as well as Angela Merkel, Iman, Jewel, Michelle Williams, Katherine McPhee-Foster, Betty Who and others. Please RSVP now for this can't-miss opportunity.

Motherhood is a journey unlike any other, and one that is nearly impossible to prepare for. No matter how many parenting books you read, how many people you talk to, how many articles you peruse before having kids, your children will emerge as completely unique creatures who impact your world in ways you could never have anticipated.

Those of us who have been parenting for a while have some wisdom to share from experience. Not that older moms know everything, of course, but hindsight can offer some perspective that's hard to find when you're in the thick of early motherhood.

Upworthy asked our readers who are moms what they wish they could tell their younger selves about motherhood, and the responses were both honest and wholesome. Here's what they said:

Lighten up. Don't sweat the small stuff.

One of the most common responses was to stop worrying about the little things so much, try to be present with your kids, and enjoy the time you have with them:

"Relax and enjoy them. If your house is a mess, so be it. Stay in the moment as they are temporary..more so than you think, sometimes. We lost our beautiful boy to cancer 15+yrs ago. I loved him more than life itself..💔 "- Janet

"Don't worry about the dishes, laundry and other chores. Read the kids another book. Go outside and make a mud pie. Throw the baseball around a little longer. Color another picture. Take more pictures and make sure you are in the pictures too! My babies are 19 and 17 and I would give anything to relive an ordinary Saturday from 15 years ago." - Emma H.

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Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash
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The global eradication of smallpox in 1980 is one of international public health's greatest successes. But in 1966, seven years after the World Health Organization announced a plan to rid the world of the disease, smallpox was still widespread. The culprits? A lack of funds, personnel and vaccine supply.

Meanwhile, outbreaks across South America, Africa, and Asia continued, as the highly contagious virus continued to kill three out of every 10 people who caught it, while leaving many survivors disfigured. It took a renewed commitment of resources from wealthy nations to fulfill the promise made in 1959.

Forty-one years later, although we face a different virus, the potential for vast destruction is just as great, and the challenges of funding, personnel and supply are still with us, along with last-mile distribution. Today, while 30% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, with numbers rising every day, there is an overwhelming gap between wealthy countries and the rest of the world. It's becoming evident that the impact on the countries getting left behind will eventually boomerang back to affect us all.

Photo by ismail mohamed - SoviLe on Unsplash

The international nonprofit CARE recently released a policy paper that lays out the case for U.S. investment in a worldwide vaccination campaign. Founded 75 years ago, CARE works in over 100 countries and reaches more than 90 million people around the world through multiple humanitarian aid programs. Of note is the organization's worldwide reputation for its unshakeable commitment to the dignity of people; they're known for working hand-in-hand with communities and hold themselves to a high standard of accountability.

"As we enter into our second year of living with COVID-19, it has become painfully clear that the safety of any person depends on the global community's ability to protect every person," says Michelle Nunn, CARE USA's president and CEO. "While wealthy nations have begun inoculating their populations, new devastatingly lethal variants of the virus continue to emerge in countries like India, South Africa and Brazil. If vaccinations don't effectively reach lower-income countries now, the long-term impact of COVID-19 will be catastrophic."

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