An Open Letter To Young Men Who Are Suffering

Photo: fizkes / Shutterstock
sad man with hand on head going through problems

I recently ran across this comment on a TikTok about young men and loneliness: “I am 25, and I can’t recall a time when I truly felt loved or affection. Not in high school, not college. Now I am alone. My mother would sooner beat me than any form of affection.”

It broke my heart, not just for this young man but because I know many of you are just like him. That feels unloved. That has never known affection. That is utterly alone in a world where the stakes could never be higher, where social media amplifies everything, and where the images of masculinity and reality are so out of whack.

This sucks. It truly does. My heart goes out to you because I was also one of those young men.

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The first (and biggest) challenge — love yourself

I was beaten in junior high school. I suffered from sexual trauma. I grew up in a household that was so chaotic, so poor, and so unlike any of my peers that I felt shame whenever a kid found out where I lived.

I just disappeared in high school. I ghosted the whole thing. I did okay in school but didn’t talk to anyone. I didn’t go to prom (I didn’t even know it was happening), didn’t go to graduation. Just ran. Took off. Got out of dodge at 17 as last as I could. I wanted to get as far away from the pain as I could. I had no friends. I figured no one would give a damn anyway.

What I want you to know is that I love you, even if no one has ever loved you in your life. I know what it is like to be where you are, and you do not deserve to suffer the way you are. No one deserves that. Every single one of us is worthy of love and affection. It is your birthright. I don’t care what you have done or not done until now. I still love you.

And I am here to tell you that there is hope. I am 58 years old and have never been happier in my life. I am surrounded by men who love me unconditionally. A wife who loves me unconditionally. Three kids who love me unconditionally. A golden retriever named Cooper who won’t leave me alone because he loves me so damn much. And for the first time in my life, I love myself.

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A full heart and emotional growth

My heart is full in a way that no one and nothing can touch. I always make mistakes and deal with life challenges and hard things. But that is all out there. It does not impact how I feel about myself. I am a child of god (in the most universal way possible), and so are you. 

I have dealt with addiction (26 years sober), mental health (hospitalized twice), and challenging stuff. But here I am telling you that you can walk through whatever you have to walk through to get to a better place.

The most important piece of advice I can give you is that you might feel alone, but you are not. The most challenging thing I ever did was ask another man for help. To lay my cards on the table and get honest. But as soon as I did, men rushed in to prop me up, to wrap their arms around me, to tell me that they felt so damn alone and were just waiting for someone else to admit it.

Do not believe any of that macho garbage. Strong men are not tough; they are courageous enough to get honest with another person. Hiding in my head that whole time did nothing but send me down a rat hole of pain and suffering, bad behavior, and dire consequences. I was weak. That dark silent type no one understood. People were scared of me because I was afraid of myself.

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Five things I am going to ask you to do if you're a young man who is suffering

1. Think of three men in your life whom you admired, felt safe with, seem to you like they are good people

Please get ahold of these three men and make an appointment to have coffee in person with each of them. When you meet up, tell them how you feel. Don’t try to show off or cover up. Get real. I know that will be hard. But I believe you can do it.

2. Find one organization (preferably only for men) that meets in person around your interest

This could be art, sports, service work, cooking, basket weaving or anything else.

Sign up for that club or team or free class. Go to the first meeting. Make yourself. Remember, I love you and asked you to do this because I believe it will help.

3. Figure out if you have an issue or identity that causes you to feel the most isolated

This could be drugs, booze, mental health, sexual identity, sexual preference, race, creed, nationality, physical abuse, or something else.

Now find out where your people are. This can be done online if necessary but better if in person. You need to be with your people. When I went to my first AA meeting when I was 32 I finally, finally felt like I was home. You need to find your home too

4. Think through all your relatives, immediate, distant, local, and not local

It could be your third cousin living in Brazil. Doesn't matter. But find a relative whom you like and feel comfortable with. See them in person if possible. Otherwise, video chat with them. Tell them how things are going with you. I want you to see them or video chat them once a week for ten weeks. There is nothing like having some even distant connection to family to make you feel loved. 

5. Figure out a way to help someone else

This last one might be the most important. It may sound crazy to you. But it works for me when absolutely nothing else does. This could be volunteering at a homeless shelter. It could be simply listening to a friend who is in trouble. It could be coaching, tutoring, or reading books at a nursing home. The point is that when you think about someone else, you don't think about yourself. And by giving love, you get love back 10 times.

I love you so much. And am so sorry you are suffering. I want to do anything humanly possible to help you feel better, worthy of love, be loved, and receive affection.

You are not alone. Because I am right there with you. Now do the five things I suggested, and I promise you, you will feel a lot better. I know each one is tough. But you are strong. You have gotten this far walking through hell. I believe in you.

You are courageous enough to take control of your life and work towards a brighter future where you can share the joy that I feel in my heart. Big love. Namaste.

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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. 

This article was originally published at Substack. Reprinted with permission from the author.