Why Do Men Subtly Feel Isolated? History Explains.

It’s no secret that men are feeling isolated. I’m not talking about a dramatic, cast away man feeling isolated. I mean a more subtle, lingering isolation that seems to permeate every aspect of the modern-day man’s life. We hear about it all the time in MensGroup.

When life is so good today – with modern comforts and luxuries – why are so many good men – successful men – struggling to keep an even keel emotionally at times. It’s largely because men are feeling isolated.

There is much historical precedent that explains why men are feeling in isolation and are joining men’s groups

This is by no means an exhaustive, detailed research-driven summary. This is an anecdotal tale from the varieties of factors that have influenced the isolation of men that I’ve seen from my own lineage and personal experiences and explains why so many men are searching for men’s groups or learning how to start a men’s group. 

Sean Galla

Written by

Sean Galla

An experienced facilitator, community builder and Peer Support Specialist, Sean has been running men's groups for 10+ years. Read Sean's Full Author Bio.

Men And Tribal Living

Believe it or not, this need for men’s support groups started in tribal times. For most of our evolution – hundreds of thousands of years – we humans lived in small tribes of 30-50 people.

During the day, the men would go out and hunt while the women gathered and took care of the home village.

Of a tribe of 30 half would be men. Of the 15 men, only 10 would be of the age where they could efficiently hunt. The rest were too young or too old. So men would often spend all day in groups of 5-10 men.

We’d set out into the wild for days at a time. For 16+ hours a day, we’d be alone with men with a shared goal.

Over time we’d feel very close to these men, sharing adversities and successes on the hunt itself. No men’s group topic was off-limits. 

Even more important, in small groups of men, we’d have the opportunity to speak about our lives; our partners, our children, and our feelings. Essentially it was like a men’s support group around an activity: hunting.

Older wise men passed down wisdom around the fire to help young men navigate common men’s issues.

As far as evolution is concerned, your body takes tens of thousands of years to evolve. We are hardwired for a tribal way of living.

Men & The Agricultural Revolution

Then in the 1800s – after hundreds of thousands of years of tribal closeness – the agricultural revolution came around.

In a matter of a century, we went from spending 8-12 hours per day in small groups of men to spending 8-12 hours per day alone, tending to our fields and livestock.

This is where the dogmatic, damaging attitude began to emerge for men of “you should just be able to do it alone” and “Your feelings don’t matter. You just had to get the job done.”

Men And The Industrial Revolution

After the agricultural revolution came the industrial revolution in the later 1800s, forcing men from small community living – where there was still closeness within your town and community – to big city life.

All of the “opportunity” was in the city in the new industrial factories. So men as young as 13, would move to big cities and slave away 8-12 hours a day in horrible conditions.

These men couldn’t talk about their lives at work. Socializing was discouraged. Workers were focused on trying not to get fired or die in hazardous conditions.

Furthermore, single-family homes were introduced around this time. Meaning men weren’t able to talk about their lives at work and then they’d go back to their homes, men were isolated from other families.

Young men were forced to work at young ages. This robbed young men of their youth, innocence and emotional warmth.

 

Men And The Post War Generation

Getting closer to today in the early 1900s, most men had parents who were part of the Great War or post-war generations. During this time, much of the world was at war which devastated cities and tore apart families.

Many men saw the horrors of war and with the lack of understanding of mental and emotional health, a lot of these men had no one to talk to about their experiences.

And those that survived all of that craziness came back home to find it difficult to provide for their families.

Despite the advance of technology and modern comforts like the automobile and telephone, jobs were sparse and a lot of people had trouble putting food on the table.

As a result, talking about a man’s feelings was not a luxury that he could afford. Men were expected to work hard, keep their heads down and not share their feelings.

The Introduction Of “Gay” & The Death Of Male Intimacy

Believe it or not, in the 19th century, male friendships involved a lot more affection and intimacy. These friendships were deep bonds and included endearing language, no shortage of compliments and a lot of non-sexual physical affection.

I first learned this from the incredible article that the Art Of Manliness wrote on the subject.

There are many examples of authors, politicians, and athletes from that time who would write letters to their man-friends, showering them in love and ending the letter with sentimental sayings like “my lovely boy”.

In all-male environments, it was common for men to dance with each other and had nothing to do with sex. They were just having a great time. Laughing and enjoying the company of a men’s group.

Brothers. Co-workers. Neighbors. Sports teammates. Politicians. From all backgrounds and races. They all had no problem showing affection and engaging in sensitive conversations with other men.

Men hugged, sang, build human pyramids and even slept in contact with one another. By today’s standard, that feels strange. But for most of human evolution, this level of intimacy with other men was standard practice.

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Affectionate male friendships like this were commonplace because, in the 19th century, men and women were segregated in most of life up until they were married, meaning the boys spent a lot of time horsing around with the boys

Through most of human evolution, it was also documented that affection, in general, was largely platonic and separated in the mind from sex and sexual preferences.

The other influencing factor was the idea that having an affectionate, intimate (intimate as in closeness, not sexual) friendship with another man compromised a man’s heterosexuality is a relatively new concept.

It wasn’t until the late 19th century that homosexuality was studied by psychologists and defined. At this point, men started exchanging handshakes and awkward hugs instead of dancing and man-cuddles.

And of course, with the physical closeness went the conversational closeness. Men felt even less close with other men and as a result, had fewer and less close conversations about the sensitive things in life.

So out of fear of being labeled a “queer”, men further retreated away from sharing their life’s experiences and inner life with other men in a vulnerable way, especially in the context of a men’s support group.

My Personal Story Of Masculine Role Models And Emotions

I grew up in a great household with two loving, dedicated parents and a younger brother. My dad was fully committed to be an incredible parent. He gave up a lot to focus on us – hobbies, career advancements, his beloved boat – and gave us everything we could ever need.

Like most men of his generation, the one thing he couldn’t give us though was an understanding of our emotions. How could he when he was never taught how to control his emotions?

I have struggled with feelings of emotional isolation and subtle depression/anxiety my whole life.

History partly explains why…

My Dad’s father – my grandfather – grew up in Ireland. At the age of 11, he was working in the coal mines, a dangerous, grueling way to make a living. A brutal life.

At the age of 15, things were so bad in Ireland that my grandpa set out to make a new life in Canada BY HIMSELF. AT 15!

My Dad’s dad – my grandfather – had 14 children in total, of which my father was in the middle. A few of the children died.

There wasn’t much attention given to my dad and his siblings, as my dad’s parents were too busy trying to provide for their family and manage the household of so many children.

My dad never got an “I love you” or a hug from his father. He just got a handshake the day he moved out. Another one the day he got married. That’s it.

That is the man that was supposed to teach me about emotional health.

It’s not his fault that he didn’t. He couldn’t. Neither could his father. At both those times (the early and mid-1900s), life was hard.

My grandpa’s family ran out of food with the potato famine. His friends and colleagues died in world war 1 and 2. He took a long, solo journey across the Atlantic Ocean by steamship on which and people died along the way. He knew nobody in the foreign country he moved to. What an intense way to grow up.

And then my dad grows up during the Great Depression – when its hard to make a living – in a household where he was neglected due to his sheer number of siblings.

The good news that over the years my dad and I have both made tremendous progress with our relationship and our emotions. He has softened over the years and become more open and verbally supportive. I too have softened toward him.

That being said, the quiet, shameful emotional struggles that I and my father and so many men face in our private lives were passed down through the generations. In another note, if you grew up without a role model, Steve Harvey has interesting advice on becoming a man without a father.

And We Wonder Why Men Are Quietly Struggling With Their Emotions

These were the men that raised us. Men who weren’t allowed to feel. Men who were disconnected from other guys and even their own emotional experiences.

Evolutionarily speaking we’re still designed to be living in tribes, hunting with small groups of men in men’s circles

Yet for the last 300 years, humanity has been evolving in such a way that has been isolating men. It’s left men feeling disconnected from their tribe and ultimately themselves.

What Men Can Do About Feeling Isolated

Many men, successful men have recognized that isolation doesn’t lead to happiness or success, and they are seeking out tools to help continue their growth towards being better husbands, fathers, providers and – most important – feeling happier!

Men are now making efforts to reconnect by joining sports teams. Many men are making efforts to develop male friendships and are seeking out supportive tools like counseling and online men’s groups.

 

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