Why do men struggle to make new friends?

Using experiences from my personal life and working with men in therapy, the purpose of this article is to briefly explore why, in a general sense, women seem to be able to form new friendships easily, while men can sometimes struggle.


Many of the men I have spoken to within therapy will talk about feeling lonely and how they find it difficult to make new friends, or that the friendships they do have don't meet their emotional needs. This can often lead to romantic partners bearing the responsibility for a man’s mental well-being.

This is not to say things aren't improving. I have seen various groups created by men for men, and I applaud their courage to reach out for connection. But despite this improving landscape, which will hopefully help to bring down the high suicide rate, I wonder, what parts of society's masculinity aid us as men, and what parts are holding us back from getting in touch with our emotional selves.


William Pollack, author of 'Real Boys', researched a group of boys in the US from kindergarten to adulthood, noting both the positive and negative aspects. Pollack described a set of "rules" that boys - and men - feel they have to live by in order to be "a real man". He called this the ‘Boy Code’.  

He noticed that in a positive sense, justice and fair play were important to boys as well as being brave, and perseverance, among others. That's not to say that other people cannot exhibit these traits, but for the purpose of the article, the lens I will be looking through is the experience of men.

Pollack, at the kindergarten level, noticed that on the first day, boys would be separated from their parents before they were ready, while girls were allowed to leave their parent's side. He argued that, at an early stage, boys were given the message that they must learn to exist in the world on their own without help. I wonder if this idea means that men feel more uncomfortable with inviting other men to engage in past times they enjoy or seeking plutonic connections with other men they did not go to school with.

We may start to seek an answer to this question by considering Pollack’s boy code and men not being allowed to express emotion because "that’s what women do". This idea suggests that men must fear anything that is deemed ‘feminine’ and seek to shut it out, rather than seeing it as a bolt-on to their masculinity. In this discussion, I argue that it is not about feminising men, but about men finding a way of connecting with their emotions. The ability to be vulnerable with another person helps to form a strong emotional bond, though I feel as men, we are still learning the skill of knowing who we can open up to and those we may be wary of.

The ability to be vulnerable with another person helps to form a strong emotional bond.


Sociolinguist Deborah Tannen may offer some insights into how men and women communicate within their same-sex friendship groups. Taking into account that as people, we do not all behave the same way, Tannen discovered that generally, the intent of our communication can differ. It seems that the main driver for women is connection and, therefore, conversations tend to be emotion-based, with the goal of maintaining friendships. Tannen explains that female-only groups tend to be difficult to penetrate, but if accepted by the group, they are protected and loved. In male-only groups, Tannen noticed that the bonds were less strong and conversations were often status-driven and less about the well-being of other male members.

Today, I feel men are becoming more comfortable with having more emotionally-laden conversations, and this could help men to form new, stronger friendships. There have been men taking the lead and setting up groups and communities, such as walking groups, 'men sheds', and men's talk groups, which are giving men the permission to reach out and connect. It is this permission that I feel will help men connect with their emotional side and communicate empathy in their own way.

It is okay for men to say that they feel alone and that searching out male companionship should be welcomed.

I want to summarise emphasising that it is okay for men to say that they feel alone and that searching out male companionship should be welcomed. After all, if we move away from the friendship groups that no longer serve us, we may have to learn the skills to make new and deeper connections.

As well as having the courage to seek out new connections, it might be helpful for men to be open to the invitation to new friendships. In an article in the Guardian about how men over 40 struggled to make friends, it was suggested that men best connected through activities. This may suggest that context is important for men, so if you are seeking new connections, perhaps consider what activities or groups are happening in your area that may offer an opportunity to meet new people.

As men, it may be helpful to move away from the idea that every man is an island. We all need connection, but leaving that to our partners can be overwhelming and unhelpful for both parties. Having a group, or groups of people that you connect with can not only deeper connections but improve personal growth and overall well-being.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Bedwas, Caerphilly, CF83 8EH
Written by Anthony Purnell, BSc (Hons), MBACP (Accred) MNCS (Prof Accred)
Bedwas, Caerphilly, CF83 8EH

I am an accredited counsellor with the BACP and NCS, I am Systemically trained and work with clients in a relational way and I am also a qualified supervisor. I work in private practice which I began in 2019 and work with adults over the age of 18 either as individuals or as couples.

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