One of the posts just a few days ago brought me back to a topic I had been thinking about writing on. That post was from Morgan2205 titled, “Is there anything you can do for me?” I found it very disheartening to hear the lack of being able to get some assistance in a time of need. I do hear MANY people that have walked away from the church say that they do miss the community aspect of church. I certainly think that being able to get (and give) help is a big part of what we lump into “community” within the church. I had already started thinking about the state of men and their relationships when Steve Evans wrote “Male Friendships” over at By Common Consent. I can recall my wife meeting someone at church and were immediately best friends and have been so for many decades now. I just have never had that happen. It always seems to me that such relationships take intentionality and time. It just seems to me that many women can make a connection quicker than those of us with more testosterone.
But back a few years I was already thinking about this and noticing that myself and other men around me didn’t seem have all that many close relationships. I was in charge of teaching in our High Priest group. I really resonated with a blog I saw titled, “WHY IS WEEKLY PRIESTHOOD MEETING THE WORST HOUR OF YOUR WEEK?” I got a bit upset and decided to bring this actual blog into the meeting and say that I felt this way – and I was one of the main instructors. I was ready to stir the pot a bit. We had a rather open and honest discussion on the topic. One of the improvements we agreed to try was to cut the lesson a bit short occasionally and have each member take a few minutes and really introduce themselves. It was really interesting to have these introductions and we all learned quite a bit about each other. I think it did help bond us together a bit better. It was a bit funny that almost everyone started out by saying, “I don’t think I can talk about myself for 10 minutes” and they almost without exception took the entire meeting time and we dispensed with the lesson. It was really interesting to find out so much about many of these guys that I had hung around for hundreds of hours, but never knew that much about them.
Just a few months ago I had listened to one of my go-to favorite podcasts, “The Hidden Brain”, and kept the episode titled, “Lonely American Man” as I was agreeing with much of what they said about men having a hard time connecting with others. When I listened to it again, I was really struck with one part. They discussed what is one of the longest surveys ever conducted. It was started as a survey called, “The Grant Study” of Harvard men by George Vallant. It has been ongoing now for approaching 8 decades.
Vaillant’s (the surveys conductor) main conclusion is that “warmth of relationships throughout life has the greatest positive impact on ‘life satisfaction'”. Put differently, Vaillant says the study shows: “Happiness is love. Full stop.”
In the podcast at about the 7 minute mark they said one of the ways they determined if someone had a good close friend was to ask the question, “Who would you call in the middle of the night if you were sick or afraid?” I had to stop the podcast when I heard that and I thought immediately of Morgan2205’s situation. I felt bad for him. Then I thought about myself. Outside my wife I only have a very small number of people I feel I could call to drive me to the hospital in the middle of the night. Actually very small.
The podcast went on to mention a few other studies that emphasize the need for close relationships. The first was one that showed those that are happiest in retirement are those that replace work colleagues with friends. Then it goes on to mention a study of commuters and how they enjoyed their commute more when they reached out and interacted with other commuters.
I have to admit that I have gone for decades not really seeing or admitting to myself how important male relationships are. But as I study it, I am seeing it all around and I feel it is really true. I am really enjoying the podcast series from Richard Oslter called “Listen, Learn, & Love.” A few weeks ago there was an episode where the parents of a son that died from suicide were on and talked about what they had learned. The entire episode is worth a listen (as are most every single episode), but the mother started talking at about the 57 minute mark on relationships and the need for connection as it relates to suicide prevention.
I read a lot of Brene Brown during that time. She had just written her first book and stated reading more and more of what she said. A lot of what she said made a lot of sense to me because she talked about how important connection is. This is not about something that some people need more than others. This is something that as human beings we are hardwired for connection and how important that is.
I since read a book that I think is outstanding. It talks about the same thing. It is called, “Why people die by Suicide” published by Harvard and written by one of the top experts in the nation. He talks about the same thing. The two biggest things that bring people to suicide ideation and wanting to die by suicide are not feeling valued or feeling they are a burden and not feeling like they belong. So this is super important. […] The Centers for Disease Control came to Utah recently to try and figure out why we have had this huge rise in youth suicides and connection was also one of the biggest things they also said.
Brene Brown said: “Connection is why we’re here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. Belonging is in our DNA. It is an irreducible need just like love. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love and be loved and to belong. When those needs are not meet, those needs are not meet we don’t function as we were meant to. We break, we fall apart, we numb, we ache, we hurt others, we get sick. We are profoundly social creatures. At the root of our desire is to belong, to be accepted, to connect with others, to be loved. A sense of social connection is one of the fundamental human needs.
My kids are all out of the house, but I know when I look at them I feel they spend a bit too much time with their face in their phones even when they are in face to face group settings. I have started seeing that it is making news such as here and here. I worry that this is an additional factor that might be a wedge that lessens the depth of connection they have with individuals. I have especially started nagging my sons to invest in some time/energy/money into a few male friendships and letting my daughters know they need to encourage the same with my son-in-laws. I am making sure they know as they get older they will find it harder to find those close relationships, so they need to take advantage of the ones they already have.
I see in some very significant ways that the church helps men get into a level of connection. There are many of times to rub shoulders on service projects and serving together in callings with other men. When I think of who I would feel OK calling for help I can only think of a few men that I have worked in callings for a while. At the same time, I have certainly felt that once I fulfilled my calling(s), done my home teaching, my missionary splits, did a bit of family history to reduce the guilt, attended the temple, signed up for the welfare farm, and spent a bit of time with my family along with some dates here and there – it was selfish of me to want to have some time to just spend with friends doing something like going to a movie or a sporting event with a friend. I look at the church in this area of men’s relationship a bit like the quote I gave from Richard Rohr back a few weeks ago of, “Mormon’s do first-half of life spirituality better than anybody else. And you have almost no second half of life [that is taught]”. In my experience it feels like the church has really helped some initial connections with other men, but then actually hindered me from moving forward in other ways. Only now that I am an empty-nester and no longer always says, “Yes” to every calling am I finally taking some time to really work on getting deeper friendships. The only disappointment I have found is most every connection I makes seems to move away within a year or so. I am either a bit unlucky or irritating enough that people will move thousands of miles away to get away from me.
What are other’s experiences in this area?
What are some ways the church helps men in this area?
Are there areas for improvement in this area?