June is proving to be the month for human connections for me.
Or, more specifically, men-to-men connections. Especially if you go by what happened in the past week when I had not one, not two, but five separate and deep conversations with eight men!
Had you told me this would happen a month ago, I would have laughed in your face.
After all, I’m the one who finished a year-long social experiment of my own two years ago that suggested I only had five firm friends.
And they were all female!
My “social connections experiment” on friendship
So a quick flashback here to the year 2020.
I had somehow decided then that at the ripe old age of 50, I would find out once and for all who my friends were. And do so via my very own “homemade social experiment” (you can read the full account here).
Actually, my social connections “experiment” started even before 2020, when I gradually stopped initiating calls or texts to friends towards the end of 2019. It was akin to severing all my connections.
By the start of 2020, I had completely stopped all contact. Over the course of the next 12 months, I realised that the only people who noticed my prolonged silence and absence, and “came after” me persistently to find out why, were five (I best qualify, purely platonic) female friends.
Now I must admit my experiment would likely be viewed by many as too harsh, even ruthless. I took a chance and most probably have offended some people along the way. To those who took offence, all I can say is I’m sorry (though I do wonder if you know why you felt offended, instead of say, concerned?).
Still, I was at that stage of my life (a bonafide half-Centurian by then) where the fear of offending no longer deterred me from taking risks as much as before. After all, if I didn’t “pull the plug” on friendship so decisively, how else would I know who’s truly “invested” being friends with me?
Surely those who truly know me, and genuinely cared about our friendship, won’t give up on me or be deterred easily by my silence or “snubbing”.
As for the rest? Well “Que Sera Sera” as Doris Day once sang! (this cultural reference is more proof I’m past “old”! Haha…)
Different categories of friends
Of course, I’m also sensible enough (I hope) to know there are different categories of connections and friends.
There are those who will come to your rescue in the middle of the night if you call for help. And those who will engage you at the office water cooler for an inconsequential five minutes of inane tete-a-tete, then move on to the next available warm body.
The word “friend” itself is also one broadly interpreted these days. Why some would even call another “a friend” after just one meeting!
Such a far cry from its original meaning, which is the old English word ‘freond’ meaning “to love or to favour”. Unless this is some love-at-first-sight, head-over-heels romance novel, surely no one can be a ‘freond’, I mean friend, after just one meeting, right?
Loneliness, or the lack of connections, is dangerous!
We all know by now of course that you can feel lonely when alone or in a crowd, depending on any number of reasons. Personality. Bad day. Body odour.
But did we know the consequences of loneliness can be devastating to one’s health? According to Baker’s research (which everyone’s trusted freond Google can easily corroborate), the dangerous health effects of loneliness can be anything from diabetes to obesity to Alzheimer’s to heart disease.
Even cancer! One study found that the level of damage loneliness can wreak on one’s health is the same as smoking 15 cigarettes a day!
Well, you may say that sounds too incredible to be believed. Maybe Baker (and Google) are just trying to grab eyeballs using the shock factor? But what if it’s backed up by someone like the current Surgeon General of the United States?
In his groundbreaking book “Together — The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World” (2020), Vice Admiral Dr Vivek Murthy lists all the above-mentioned startling health facts and more!
And, according to him, men are the most vulnerable. Mainly because few men would ever see themselves as being lonely, let alone admit to it. Which then prevents them from getting the appropriate help they need when their health takes a beating.
So believe what you will, I’m just glad that despite my social experiment from 2020, I actually still have freonds I can forge connections with today as a sometimes lonely stay-home dad.
Conversations I cherish
The five meetings I had last week were pretty varied but they did have one thing in common.
Haha…Nah I’m kidding.
What they really had in common with me was the presence of other men at their own crossroads of life. Men willing to be vulnerable, and having the singular desire to foster connections with others like them.
They were quite a mixed bag I must say.
I met guys I barely knew as well as guys I’ve known for some time. They varied in age from past 35 to past 60; single to married. They included stay-home dads, entrepreneurs (budding and veteran), a civil servant, a counsellor and a couple of retirees.
Each conversation was helpful in “filling up my emotional tank” and my deep need for human connections.
We traded stories of past glories, present-day challenges, and future hopes and dreams. We laughed and cried (more me than them!), and basically talked about the kind of society we wished we lived in. And we encouraged and cheered each other on as we shared honestly our struggles with life as men in this broken world.
But most of all, we really sat down with each other and listened without prejudice or quick-fix solutions. For me, such are the conversations and connections I cherish most.
“Let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.”
So a big shout-out to those eight gentlemen — thanks you guys!
Let’s have another cuppa and conversation soon alright?!