10 Ways Guys Can Meet Real Friends & Stave Off The Loneliness Epidemic

Connecting with other men for friendship doesn't make guys weak. In fact, guys with close friends tend to fare better.

two men in running clothes sharing a high five RealStock / shutterstock 

If you read or internalize one thing I have written, it is this: you are not alone.

I love you unconditionally. But that is not enough. We, as men, are in crisis.

Men between 18-24 are suffering the most. Suicide among young men is increasing faster than any other demographic, as are overdose (OD) deaths. 90% of school shooters are young white men. The average young man is apathetic and woefully behind academically. Introduce disadvantages by race and socioeconomic class, and it gets even worse.


But it’s not just young men. I talk to the titans of the industry every day who are lost. A few months ago, the father of private equity, billionaire Tommy Lee, went to the office and shot himself dead. Men of every age, race, and class are struggling. We are 4x more likely to commit suicide and we comprise 70% of OD deaths. We are in deep trouble.

RELATED: 5 Critical Ways Men Can Help Each Other Through The Loneliness Epidemic

There is a crisis in manhood, and it starts with isolation 

All scientific research points to a single culprit for the crisis in manhood above all others: isolation.

As men, we are socialized, never to let down our guard or to get vulnerable. And it is killing us.


When the surgeon general talks about this issue, he relies heavily on the 85-year-longitudinal study at Harvard/MGH. In that study, they defined secure social attachment as the number of friends you could call in the middle of the night, no questions asked, if you had an emergency or were simply upset.

The data shows decreased social connection, particularly among men, starting in the 1950s with the advent of TV. The slope of that decline was gentle for decades until you reached the last 15 years when it dropped off a cliff, accelerated by technology and COVID, among many other factors. It’s not like us guys were ever socialized to be ‘touchy-feely’, but at this point, we cannot ignore what is happening.

The number of men (even those who are married) who have no one they can rely on has quadrupled. All categories of social connection have evaporated.

The medical research is clear. The lack of social connection is the cause of the crisis in manhood. It may be correlated with a bunch of other societal factors, but it is the one clear point of attack for us as individuals and as a collective group.


Perhaps the most surprising finding is that male isolation doesn’t just lead to premature death and great suffering via addiction and mental health diseases. It is also the leading cause of cancer and every other major killer.

RELATED: The Honest Reason Why Guys Need More Male Friends

The history of male loneliness:

We were built to live and hunt in groups in order to protect each other from danger. As cavemen or private equity titans, when we find ourselves alone, our bodies go on high alert. We are programmed to look for our people. If we don’t see them for an extended period of time, that high-alert state begins to have profoundly negative consequences for our health. Our bodies break down and we kill ourselves or die of disease.

Isolation also impacts women, as the surgeon general points out. I am not minimizing that in any way. But men die six years earlier than women. Our isolation is more profound, and our propensity to seek help is half as frequent. The strong silent typology is deadly.


It’s time for men to take social inventory

How many real friends do you have? Do not make the mistake of imagining that transactional work friends count. Medical research indicates that to be healthy you need five REAL friends you can truly count on.

Here are some five ways of testing to see if a friend meets the ‘real friend’ criterion:

1. You can share your secrets with them

Imagine you had testicular cancer that threatened your ability to have sex in the future. Who could you talk to about it with no shame?


2. You can talk to them about sensitive subjects

If your child became suicidal, who could you talk to about it?

3. They know how to keep confidence

If a woman in your family was sexually abused, who could you get support from?

4. They are non-judgmental and do their best to help

If you had a gambling problem, who could figure it out and force you to get help?

5. You feel comfortable disclosing traumatic experiences

Who would you feel comfortable talking to if you were abused as a kid?

To be on your list of five, your friends must pass the above test. These are not guys looking to help you finance your next deal or discuss sports.

What do you do if you have none of these types of friends?

This part requires courage and there is no one-size-fits-all answer. You will have to find your way based on your personality and situation, but below are some general suggestions. Feel free to try them out or ignore them if you are not comfortable with the advice.


RELATED: An Open Letter to Young Men Who Are Suffering

Ten ways to for men to meet ‘real’ friends and form meaningful connections:

1. Access your existing connections

Go through your contacts and find three men you admire, not because of their success but because of their character. Think of men you might have been close to but have lost touch with. They can be people from high school or college, a job, or a team. Email or call three guys and set up lunch if they are local or Zoom if they are not.

When you get together, push the boundaries of what you are willing to share about what is going on in your life. Most importantly, listen, and stay away from ‘chest-beating’. If they ask why you set up the meeting, tell them that you want mentorship and support. Your vulnerability will immediately deepen the relationship.

Don’t stop there. schedule another meeting. Think of it as going to the gym for your social health. It’s not soft at all. It’s about getting stronger.


RELATED: It Takes A Damn Strong Man To Cry

2. Join a men’s organization

You can find your local F3 (F3 Nation – Fitness, Fellowship & Faith) chapter. This is the largest men’s organization in the country. Seventy-five thousand men meet three times a week for fitness, fellowship, and non-denominational faith. They celebrate positive masculinity, and everything is about fellowship.

I met one of my closest life advisors through F3. Our bond was almost immediate. They are loving and real men who agree with everything I have written above. The non-profit grassroots organization exists to break male isolation.

3. Reach out to a long-lost relative

Think of that one distant family member you’ve always liked (or even in-law) but never really talked to. Call him up and tell him what’s going on in your life. Plan a trip together. I am going on a three-day hiking trip with my favorite cousin-in-law in September. I love that guy and can’t wait to spend time with him.


RELATED: 8 Big Mistakes Parents Of Boys Should Never, Ever Make

4. Join a religious group

Join a church, temple, or other religious group. For many men, vulnerability is closely tied to some sort of spirituality. Whether meditating or praying together, they find men they can trust and open up to.

5. Be of service

One way to break your isolation is to get out of your house and help someone in need. It’s the most selfish act because you will feel so much joy doing it, and you may meet men there that you can build a relationship with.

RELATED: What Toxic Masculinity Actually Means & Its Subtle But Damaging Effects On Society

6. Pursue your passions

Think about your passions outside of work. It could be chess, hiking, scuba diving, or maybe it’s books. Get with other guys who share that passion. I happen to love swimming in stupidly cold water. A group of us (coed but primarily guys) started a gathering every Thursday morning at sunrise.


We run two miles and swim in Boston Harbor, even in the winter when the water temp dips below 40 degrees. Afterward, we go to a local diner to hang out and I love doing it so much.

7. Take a trip

Go on a group adventure. I like being active, so I have gone on several backroads trips. It could be a journey to London to visit a theater, play golf, or do some fishing. You can bring a friend who you want to get to know better or you could conjure up the courage to befriend whoever you find there.

RELATED: The Secret Thing Men Want More Than Love (And How To Give It To Them)


8. Enroll in a class

This could be continuing education at a local arts center, museum, or even a driving sports car. Think strategically about what kind of class would attract the kind of guys you would want to hang with.

9. Learn about others

Next time you are at a social gathering, don't talk about yourself. Ask the guys you are hanging around with questions to show that you are curious about their lives. Have conversation about the real stuff. Stay away from bravado and locker room banter and set aside the typical discussions of money or “success.”

That is all a trap, and it is poison to real friendship. If a guy wants to tell you how rich or successful he is, ignore him and ask about his kids, his wife, or how he has been feeling lately. If you take your mask off, he will too.

RELATED: The Top 12 Issues Men Face Today


10. Deal with your vices

If you have any addiction, go to a recovery meeting. My social network is 75% of men I have met through recovery. In her book, Dopamine Nation, Anna Lemke, MD makes the medical argument that we are all addicts of some form (she is an MD/Ph.D., professor, and clinician at Stanford). Richard Rohr, in his book “Breathing Underwater” makes the spiritual argument that we are all addicts, and in fact, the bible talks explicitly about recovery.

There are recovery groups for pretty much everything these days. Just try it out. You can go to a Zoom meeting, hang in the back with your camera off, and listen. Eventually, you will want to go in person to meet men who have the same issues as you do.

Remember that the kind of friendships we are talking about do not develop overnight.

They take time, effort, and courage on your part but are so worth it. So many men are needlessly suffering and dying. Let’s not let that happen anymore. If you are alone, ask for help and figure out how to gradually build your team of five.


I love you.

RELATED: 5 Little Ways Men Wish They Could Be Loved — Every Single Day

Tom Matlack is on a mission to help men. His weekly speakers series and writing on Substack help men connect with one another and their own emotional well-being. He adores his wife of 20 years and his three children.