Hargis: The Friendship Recession Puts Men in Jeopardy


Photo by Jonathan Borba-https://www.pexels.com/photo/man-using-cellphone-in-dark-train-16022632/

By Harper Hargis, Opinion Writer


For more than three years, people across the world have lived through the trials and tribulations of a mass viral outbreak. It’s changed nearly everything about our lifestyles — it’s changed the way we work, the way we learn and the way we socialize. As COVID-19 rages on, people have to find new ways to communicate and connect. While social isolation and loneliness were cause for concern before the pandemic, the issue has become a national talking point in the past three years. Following COVID protocol means spending time at home instead of in public, which means spending more time alone or on social media. 

People, specifically Gen Z, are spending less time in public or social spaces and more time online. More people are likely to admit to being lonely or not feeling satisfied with their number of friends. It’s a problem that’s affecting everyone in different ways — men and women, young and old.

But this newfound mass friendlessness — or the friendship recession — is hitting young men hard, and it’s leading them down dark digital paths.

What is the Friendship Recession?

Mental health professionals have been warning about a loneliness epidemic since 2017. While most Americans are aware of the importance of close friendships, we’re spending less time with friends and relying less on them emotionally than ever. Engaging in work and school from home during quarantine only exacerbated the problem, and now it seems that loneliness is a crisis.

The widespread loss of friendships affects both men and women equally quantity-wise. However, women are still much more successful at establishing intimate friendships in which they feel supported, empowered and taken care of by each other. Men are faring worse in the friend-making department. In 2021, only 15% of men reported having ten or more close friends compared to 40% in 1990. Single men especially are facing the brunt of isolation — one in five unmarried or single American men report not having a single close confidant.

Men’s mental health has also taken a sharp decline over the past few years — and friendlessness could be both a cause and a symptom. Men are less inclined to reach out to loved ones when they feel lost or isolated. These feelings can lead young and impressionable boys to look for guidance and validation wherever they can, which is often down strange internet rabbit holes. They get catapulted into the manosphere, the interconnected misogynistic communities that exist primarily online.

The Media Trap

What’s tricky about the manosphere is its encouragement of individuality and independence. Misogynistic influencers often push the narrative that fulfillment will come with mass financial success and luxury goods. Men already struggle to open up and allow themselves to seek emotional intimacy with others. So what happens when a young man is taught to seek materials over everything, even at the cost of his mental health?

A man’s success is often defined by his career, as well as his romantic partnerships and his success at starting a family. Knowing this, these influencers make no effort to appeal to the emotions and vulnerability of their audiences or to teach them how to better their mental well-being. Instead, they further draw young men into the cycle of loneliness.

One such influencer, Andrew Tate, claims that if a young man is lonely, it’s all the more reason to chase shamelessly after a career and after women to conquer. He rallies his audience with messages like, “The masculine perspective is you have to understand that life is war. It’s a war for the female you want. It’s a war for the car you want. It’s a war for the money you want. It’s a war for status. Masculine life is war.”

The true danger of influencers like Tate is they go after young boys with impressionable minds and hardly any real-life or relationship experience with this extreme dogma. He convinces these vulnerable boys that he feels their pain — that he knows what it’s like to feel unwanted, and that no one truly knows or cares about him. Young men and boys who fall down internet rabbit holes of misogynist extremism never get better, they only get lonelier. The trap of manosphere media lies in its cyclical nature — the more boys are taught to focus on materialism to escape from their shame and loneliness, the more irritable, unagreeable and isolated they become.

Divesting from the Manosphere

It’s crucial to understand that embracing individualism will not make anyone better. The friendship recession is a true national crisis — there’s no shame in admitting that you’re lonely. On the contrary, it would be greatly beneficial to reach out and seek community or practice emotional vulnerability with friends. Have the hard conversations about how you’re feeling — chances are, you’re probably not the only one who feels that way.

As for the younger kids getting caught up in harmful ideas, maintenance of these extreme influencers might be the thing that saves them. The internet is tricky for young kids with no ability to define the capitalist individualism they’re being fed — they have no prior beliefs to fall back on. But now that Tate, the ringleader of the online manosphere, has been arrested, there’s hope that boys will come offline and directly address their health.


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