The more I learn about the epidemic of male loneliness, the more convinced I am that America needs to send its men out to play: fishing, golfing, hiking, biking, archery — or, for the less athletic types, Ping-pong. , poker, chess, competitive grilling. You get the idea. The details are not that important. It’s important that guys start counting quality time together, preferably without wives or girlfriends together.

No gender has a lock on loneliness, but men in particular seem to be struggling with the basics of making friends these days. Surveys indicate that men have seen a lot sharper decline than women in their close friendships over the past 30 years; a higher percentage of men than women report having no close friends at all (15 percent vs. 10 percent); men get less emotional support from friends than women; and they are less likely than women confess creature lonelymaking it difficult to assess, much less address, their suffering.

That’s where playtime comes in. Taking up a hobby is widely recognized as a good way to meet people and establish connections. But the people who study this kind of thing say that it is especially useful for men for a fundamental reason difference in how the sexes bond. Boiled: Women speak; men do things.

While women can maintain connections through conversational engagements, the experts say, men are better served by side-by-side binding. That is, they participate activities together, during which community and camaraderie are established. Occasionally, between rounds of bocce or even circles at the sports bar, the men can bring up how much they hate their boss or the results of their latest stress test. Here! Male bonding in action.

I have long watched the magic of this approach with my father, now in his mid-70s. Over the decades, he made and maintained friendships with other men through a shared preference for fishing and hunting.

Especially in their younger years, dad and his friends got a kick out of seeing who had the best shot or who could land the biggest fish. The story of my father and his friend Larry stubbornly throwing bass during a hurricane is the stuff of family legend. At this point, they mostly enjoy the excuse to get together and shoot the bull. Most of the men have partners, grown children and grandchildren. However, they clearly play a vital role in supporting each other through illness, the death of loved ones and all the vagaries of aging.

College recently noted a similar dynamic with both of her brothers. Their social lives “revolve completely around their hobbies,” she said. “Dave builds beautiful and elaborate chopper motorcycles, and Dan is into skateboarding.”

My long-term home base is Washington, D.C., a reputed hotbed of political snakes and workaholics. As the old saying goes: If you want a friend here, get a dog. But even in the heart of the political quagmire, it’s not hard to find men who have carved out valuable playing time, establishing regular basketball games, golf outings, running clubs, jam sessions. One friend mentioned a group of guys who regularly get together to walk their dogs – which gives a sunnier twist to the aforementioned adage.

These connections can run deep. As a former colleague remarked of her husband, “I’m not sure he’d function without tennis buddies. Like, literally, not sure.”

Some men understand the importance of these meetings earlier than others. For three decades, my friend Jon has been part of a group that rents out local high school gymnasiums for semi-weekly basketball games. (During the pandemic, an outdoor version popped up at a neighborhood park.) At this point, Jon says, he’s not sure all that basketball is good for his middle-aged joints. But he says it definitely helps keep him sane.

Other men require more nudge to get with the program. Faced with a looming career change and an empty nest, my friend Cathy’s husband, Rick, formed a bourbon club. “At monthly meetings,” she said, “the neighborhood fathers sit around drinking bourbon and talking about how hard it is to get the bourbon and who stood in which line to get the latest, greatest bourbon and comparing notes on the bourbon — and sometimes. they talk about their own emptying nests and their evolving professional lives.”

The approach and gameplay are not without their challenges. Chief among them may be time. Many men already struggle to balance their work and personal lives without trying to fit a stand-up bowling night or a P90X date into the mix. And then there’s the significant other factor: Imagine some poor guy trying to find the right time to tell his stressed-out, overburdened wife — who, let’s face it, is most likely shouldering more of the maintenance burden than he is — that he needs to. Thursday evening off to go rock climbing. For men with young children, the calculation can be more difficult. “Really, dad duty and work is all I have!” my friend Paul told me in an email.

As with so many aspects of a relationship, reciprocity is the key to survival.

Taking time out with friends is difficult for everyone. But it is also critical, because the crisis of male loneliness does not only hurt men. It’s terrible for the women in their lives as well. In heterosexual relationships, many men lean overwhelmingly on their female partners for emotional support. It too often falls to the woman manage the couple’s social life. This may sound vaguely romantic: I couldn’t survive without her. She is my everything! But being someone’s everything can be a bit much, straining even the most loving relationships.

In general, it is healthier for both partners to have other people available to share the emotional burden, especially in times of trouble. “A male partner thinks it’s a betrayal to talk to another person,” Niobe Way, a professor of applied psychology at New York University, observed. to CNN. “But the female partner says ‘Please do it, please get other perspectives.'”

And, indeed, more than one of my female friends lamented that their husbands were not more independently social. “He’s pretty lonely,” one texted. “I make his play dates.”

So carry on, men. Grab that pickleball paddle and run wild. Consider it a prescription for a better, healthier America.

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