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Retired Men’s Greatest Health Risk? We Bet You Can’t Guess It

Category: Health and Wellness Issues

August 26, 2017 — As men hit middle age and then go into retirement there is one persistent health risk that doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Isolation, new studies show, can cause all kinds of serious health and psychological problems. The harm caused by isolation is happening to men in ever greater numbers, and usually gets worse after they retire. Women suffer from isolation too, but not in nearly with the same frequency, and then usually just in the later stages of life. A story at the Boston Globe (see link at bottom) sparked this article and a whole lot of comments. We are happy to see that ur version on the topic is getting a lot useful discussion too.

An exercise
If you are a man reading this article, here’s an exercise that might be painful as well as instructive. Write down the names of how many close friends you have. Once you’ve done that, write down how many times you have had a close interaction with any of those friends in the last month and the last 3 months, and what was the nature of that contact. Are they strictly your friends, or did you acquire them because they are the husband of one of your wife’s buddies? Let’s see how you do (and we are really looking forward to the Comments section to read about everyone’s observations!)

Bob Isleib at his 80th birthday party. One guy who never had trouble making friends, because he was interested in other people.

Speaking for himself, your (male) editor didn’t do too badly on this exercise, but mostly only because of my sports and bridge contacts. Frequent golf and tennis games put me in touch with people, as does a twice monthly bridge game. I have four other friends with whom I talk about biking or swimming outings. But so far in this rapidly fading summer we haven’t had one outing among them! I am confident we will get a couple of them in, however, as they are a rare opportunity for me to connect with these friends.

Take away sports contacts and volunteer activities, and my personal social calendar would be pretty thin. I have had very few lunches, movies, coffees, or a trip to a bar, a game, or a concert with a friend in a long time. Thank heavens my spouse maintains many close friendships. As is so often the case with men, all of our social engagements are set up by her, even though sometimes her friends are the wives of my sporting friends.

Advantages of having friends
The advantages of maintaining close friendships are abundant, as are the hazards of not having them. On the plus side, having a friend can make you happier, create opportunities for fun, and make your life richer. Having some one to talk to about what is going on in your life can lead to better decisions and a chance to clear the air in your own head. I know in my life that if I had talked to a friend in critical times I would have been happier.

Spending too much time alone can lead to depression and alcoholism. Serious health problems like cardiovascular disease can also be linked to isolation. Vivek Murthy, the Surgeon General of the United States, has warned many times that isolation is the biggest health problem in the U.S., ahead of heart disease and cancer. It often leads to premature death, even suicide. For men the dangers of isolation are even worse.

Men have problems!
Middle age men have problems creating and maintaining close friendships. Those that we do have tend be activity-based – we don’t just call each other up to talk as frequently as do women. We generally have long term friends from high school, college, or the military. But as time goes on the interactions with those friends grow less frequent and eventually drop off; finally even a Christmas card might be all that is left. Family responsibilities are important, but too many of us men see life as a quest to balance family and work, with friendships being an afterthought. We have colleagues at work, but all too often these outside relationships disappear as people change jobs. Once we retire, even that source of friends dries up, leaving the newly retired male with very few chances to make friends. Unless of course, he does something about it.

Why men don’t have friendships like women do?
There are lots of reasons for men’s social backwardness. Perhaps some of it is rooted in our genetic makeup, and undoubtedly more in our socialization process. Brought up to be tougher and less emotional, we don’t find it easy to put ourselves out there to ask a friend to go to a “guy” movie, listen to a band, or have a cup of coffee. Guys generally don’t have female friends that are more than acquaintances; those seem awkward for a lot of reasons.

So what can men (and women) do about creating meaningful friendships?
These are some thoughts from your editor, both personal and from researching suggestions. We hope you can add more.

Get involved in lots of things. If you like sports, join a club or organization where you can meet folks who are interested in the same things you are. Whether it is golf, a senior softball league, or a hiking club – you will meet people!

Join a church, fraternal organization, or group of volunteers. The kinds of folks that join these organizations usually like being around other people. Whether it is a Habitat for Humanity build, a church fair, or being a volunteer at your local library, you will be out and about, making contact with your fellow human beings.

Accept casual friendship invitations. Your editor’s has turned down far too many casual invitations for a drink, a coffee, or lunch in his lifetime. Being too “busy” to accept hasn’t done anything to improve my life.

Don’t be afraid to be the instigator. If you find yourself discussing favorite movies with the guys, invite them to a new movie that you know they’ll like (and your wife probably won’t!) If you have old high school friends, put together a road trip to see one of your favorite sports teams or bands play. Or get out your bucket lists and check off one item you have in common. A couple of the best trips your editor had were golf outings that either he or someone else was the promoter for. Somebody has to take the lead – so why not you!

Get professional help. If you suspect you are depressed or have trouble making human connections, talking with a qualified therapist can help you see your way out of a rut. What do you have to lose? If you think you drink too much, go to some AA meetings. You will meet people with common problems and that can help.

Move to an active adult community or CCRC. Living in a community surrounded by people in a similar situation to yours and where there are plenty of activities is a better way to meet people.

So what are your ideas for having more and richer friendships? We know it is hard to change a lifetime of behaviors. So please share your suggestions and thoughts on this subject in the Comments section below, so we can all learn from each other.

?For further reading:
Your Bucket Lists Are Amazing
Boston Globe – Billy Baker

Posted by Admin on August 26th, 2017


  1. I have always had a “man cave”. And in retirement I will have a man cave! I like to build, and have always invited the guys to stop in. It is a great place to be away from the women folk, watch TV, and hang out with my buddies from work. Once I retire I will have to gather new buddies who appreciate the same things in life. May even turn it into a second income building tables, chairs. shelves… I certainly will have the time.

    by William DeyErmand — August 27, 2017

  2. You finally have hit on the big problem. All the men, and I do mean all the men I have met, do not know how to be friendly. I moved after I retired and thought I would have chances to talk and visit. Everyone stays to themselves or is at best a One Way talker. Me just being the listener. It is not just finding someone to ‘hang with’, but finding someone who has some of the same thoughts about life, the same back ground. The guys I have met do not want to spend time with a other guy unless that other guy has two, three interests that match up with theirs. Everyone runs every day and does not have the time nor the need to make friends. Other men are set in their ways, (their way of thoughts) and do not care to listen to a different thought. If a guy like me just wants to talk, they are not interested, guys are doers. They want to go boating, hunting, look for gold. If you live in a desert it is way too hot for such things. I know about ‘ you need to join something’ but again that is not as easy as that sounds. I go to the event and find everyone has not changed, they are still the same people, you have to follow them in what they want to do or forget it. No one is nice and thinks about how it would be for the other guy. Start out with just a long talk, find something you both would like, not a ‘ I do this, do you want to come?’.

    by Orin Sumner — August 27, 2017

  3. I have found that can be helpful in getting you into groups of interest to you where you may be able to find people you can develop good friendships with. It does take a bit of courage to sign up for an interest group and then go to it, but part of making new friends is being a little assertive in trying to find them.

    by Clyde — August 27, 2017

  4. Orin hits a great point. If you want to have friends you have to be a good listener. Although us guys don’t have a monopoly on being bad listeners, we do seem to have a controlling interest. It is interesting to monitor myself in a conversation – did I ever ask the other person questions about their world, or was the whole conversation strictly about me, me, me? Other people want a chance to tell their stories and feel looked after too. Thanks to Orin, Clyde, and William D for your great comments/suggestions.

    by Admin — August 27, 2017

  5. Some of us retired career women have the same problems as mentioned by the men who commented on this article! I go on some hiking, bird-watching and kayaking outings with several local meetups but find that most of the folks on them have brought someone else along to keep them company on the outing and are not interested in sharing with a newcomer. Yes, I’m an introvert as well. I guess I’ll have to spend more time at the one senior center for active retirees in our large area, although it’s quite a round-trip drive from where I live in Jacksonville, FL. Then there’s a Southside Newcomers Club meeting on the first Monday of the month that I’m looking forward to trying in September after moving here over a year ago. It takes time…

    by Sara — August 30, 2017

  6. Not sure I understand the problem. Being alone all the time would be difficult, but if you enjoy your spouse then I see no problem. Throughout my life I have always heard how important it is to have friends, but I am happiest when I have no commitments, the complete freedom to do as I please, and a general interest in learning. I like to fly fish, alone. I like to walk, alone. I enjoy birdwatching, alone. I surf the net, alone. Of course when my wife is available I enjoy walking, talking and doing with her. I retired a couple of years ago, and my wife is still working. I spend about 50% of my time by myself, and I am quite comfortable with that. I have never had real close friends, but I do enjoy going to dinner with our neighbors once in awhile. I e-mail my brother every month or so, and I keep in touch with my friend from the old workplace, but otherwise I have no other friends. As a kid, and as an adult, I never understood the psychology of telling people they needed friends. I often wondered who was behind the advice being given, lonely psychiatrists, I suppose. I am happy as a clam! Without my wife I probably would be lonely, but I meet people and chat when I am outside walking, at the store, in the neighborhood, etc. If I find myself too alone one day I suppose I will just talk to my family and neighbors a bit more often. Have a nice day!

    by Mark — August 30, 2017

  7. I agree Sara. This problem is shared by both genders. I am still working. But I have been part of a once a month Bunco night for 12 years. After all that time I still feel like many of these women have never developed the listening skill. They constantly talk over and interupt others. I enjoy the get together but often feel like an observer as I hate fighting to be heard so I just end up listening rather than speaking.
    I plan on retiring to a “retirement community” and volunteering and joining some clubs in hopes of finding even one good friend!

    by Bonnie — August 30, 2017

  8. My quick suggestion is, if you can afford it, to relocate to a planned development with activities in which you are interested. I write about golf communities, but most communities of some size (a few hundred homes or more) will offer plenty of other social activities where you can’t help but meet people. Many of these communities are likely to be near where you live now, but if you find yourself interested in relocating to another state — say in the Southeast — be assured that people will be friendly because they recall what it felt like when they were the new kids on the block. If you have to stay in your current home, then volunteer for a local social welfare or other organization. You’ll do good for the community…and for yourself. There really is no excuse for anyone who wants human contact not to have it.

    by Larry — August 30, 2017

  9. Has this always been a problem that people talk at you not with you or am I just noticing it now? For years I thought it was a woman thing bragging about their children but I notice men do it now too. I don’t know that this is just a male problem anymore. Between being busy working and raising a family I didn’t really have too much time or energy to devote to making lots of friends. The ones I had relocated. I am joining a book club and a woman’s club. Now that I have time I plan to get involved doing work at the church too.

    by Kate — August 30, 2017

  10. I have collected quotes and one I got from a friend years ago (he just turned 80) I like: “Friendships need to be exercised frequently”. We just celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the San Francisco Ski Club I joined in 1969. Friends from those early days have hiked, backpacked, skied, traveled the world together and enjoyed each others hospitality at annual July 4th, post-Christmas and other gatherings.

    by Richard Forster — August 30, 2017

  11. My problem with the area where I live is level of education of neighbors. I was transferred by the company I worked for to this dismal area. I am a divorced man with custody of my young daughter. I worked a lot and never had time for meeting, or getting to know my neighbors. When I retired, I decided to get to know those in my community. I did get a real shock. Most drink, or use drugs most of the time. Most if not all are blue collar, former truck drivers, or factory workers. I have several 4 year, college degrees. In short, the only thing I have in common is fishing. If you can’t talk fishing, the conversation ends. I really need to move.

    by Bollivar — August 30, 2017

  12. This subject is right on and one thing that is not mentioned is the internet. It can create friendships but avoid meeting. Typing instead of talking takes the fright out of face to face, but it is obviously not the same. I have always had a few very good friends, but with age comes death, and my best friends are gone. Starting over is ok but it takes a lot of effort, and with the political divisions we have now, often new friendships last as long as Trump’s tweets!

    by Chuck — August 30, 2017

  13. I see the problem. I’ve never been a particularly outgoing person, have worked hard and like gardening and reading which are pretty solitary activities. Hubby and I travel a lot in our retirement and mostly keep each other company. But now, we have a very nice and active group of friends who like to play tennis and pickleball when we’re in town and we have made it a point to have the group over as often as we can. It’s against our solitary natures and sometimes we grump about being the only ones who do the inviting. We make it easy on ourselves by having heavy appetizer potluck events on our outdoor patio to which everyone brings what they want to drink and we provide a BBQ, some cups and plates and plastic ware and a trash bag. Everyone loves the get togethers and usually other neighbors stop by and chat and munch as well. I guess what I’m saying is that if you want a friend, be a friend and go out on a limb a little to become the hub of your own life.
    Good luck everyone and be more than yourself.

    by Laura C — August 30, 2017

  14. I was in the same situation. I’m a single woman and still working, but moved to a new state, where I had no family or friends for a job. I realized that being isolated was detrimental and used meetup groups to get to know people. I made a friend within a few months, but it did take a couple of years and two or three meetup groups to make a circle of friends. Eventually I also made very good friends at work as well. And I must say that it was worth the effort because now I have a circle of very wonderful friends. I also am an introvert. When I was married my husband was an extrovert so we had a wonderful social life because of him. I realized that without him I really had to make the effort myself to meet people and make friends. I’ve talked to several other women in the meetup groups and it does seem that frequently people are friendly within the group, but it never carries over to a personal friendship outside of the group.
    I have been dating a man for two years whom I also met in a meetup group and I have noticed that, like the subject of the article, he does not have a circle of personal friends. He has acquaintances in the meetup and other groups to which he belongs, but no friends. I’ve told him that I think he needs to make a circle of male friends (yes, I would find it awkward if he had close female friends) and believe he would benefit greatly from it. He is retired, and though he stays busy, I can see he would benefit from male companionship.

    by Maureen — August 30, 2017

  15. The problem is not at all unique to men. It is a problem for all older single people. I think it goes with the age. This is a mobile society now and there are so many of us who divorced late in life or were widowed that having life long friendships has become rare. I divorced late in life and then moved to a new state and though I made friends after awhile, they have all since moved to different retirement spots or to be near their children. Even though I now live in an over 55 gated community, it is primarily couples and the married or coupled women are not very welcoming of a single woman and they sure don’t want their men to be friendly to a woman! So, I find myself fairly alone and will move out of this community into a more multigenerational setting, possibly an apartment in a city. Loneliness is part of aging when you are living alone.

    by Maimi — August 31, 2017

  16. I’m with Mark on this one. I had a fulfilling, enjoyable professional career that involved constant interaction with people of all types. Retired now and I am shocked by how little I miss it and how happy I am to read and putter around and have the alone time. Yup, married, work precluded socializing for us. Closet introverts anyway, can’t wait to have my husband join me in retirement.
    Have family, one very dear friend who suffered (uncomplaing) through years of rescheduling lunches and outings due to work. Also in a weekly dinner /Bible study group with neighbors that I’ve floated in and out of for 15 years, depending on work. We will be moving but I have no concerns about meeting people. I know how to if I need to but generally am not concerned about it.

    by C — August 31, 2017

  17. Maimi,
    I agree the problem is greater for older single people but some happily married long-term couples also have the problem . We are married 47 years and are each other’s best friend. We were both driven in our careers and spent most weekends catching up on chores and just enjoying each other’s company . I remember once my sister said that “you two spend entirely too much time together” . Now that we are both retired I realize that we don’t have a “Circle of friends”. We are very good friends with one couple but just learned they are moving away. When we are in FL for 5-6 months I go to the book clubs, happy hour pool gatherings and we have a great time and meet people but as Miami said it never turns into a personal relationship outside the group. I have volunteered at the airport for 10 years and I have a lot of acquaintances from that but not friends to do things with. I notice when in FL that the people who do things together beyond the one off gatherings met and became friendly in a shared interest such as golf or boating. I realize we created this ourselves as we went thru our careers but it is very hard to solve once retired; nevertheless, working on it.

    by Carol — August 31, 2017

  18. Carol, a lot of what you said applies to me and my husband. We have been married for 44 years, had no children and we are best friends too! We had one very long relationship with another couple. They were in our wedding and we in theirs. They didn’t have children for about 10 years then had two in a row. That was the beginning of the end. We stayed friendly for about 4-5 more years but then they had new friends with children. Our lifestyles were no longer compatible. Now their children are all grown up and they are grandparents now. We run into each other once in a while and that is it. Since that relationship, we have not had any ‘friends’. All our friends were work friends and once we retired or in my case, given a severance package, the work friends are gone too. We are both a bit introverted and neither of us have hobbies or clubs we belong to. I would be interested in what meetup groups Maureen belongs to. I have looked at some in my area and so far have not found a group that appeals to me. Some are located pretty far away from me too.

    by louise — August 31, 2017

  19. If you think it’s tough for older married men to make new friends, try being an UNmarried older man. I am a youthful 75 year old man, and as men go, I’m pretty open to casual conversation. Thankfully, I do have one male friend, who I’ve known for a long time, who will call me just to chew the fat for an hour or so. His calls and our conversations are one of the few bright spots in an otherwise pretty isolated life. What I do want more than anything, is to find a compatible single woman to marry [again!] I love friends; but there is no substitute, for me, at least, for a loving lifelong companion. I’d give anything to find someone, and I’ve looked a long time, spending way too much time looking at dating sites. The loneliness that I do feel really drags me down….I sure hope someone turns up, for both of us, soon…before it’s too late!

    by Bob Simmons — August 31, 2017

  20. It’s true, and here is another reason not mentioned. Hearing loss. It a quiet place with one or two people within a couple of feet I do ok. In the typical social setting it’s not. Hearing aids amplifi everything so in those same social settings, like parties, restaurants, etc. the noise drowns out the voices of the people I’m with. In retirement I had planned on volunteering to do trail work in our parks, but spinal injuries came up that prevented that. I then realized that the hearing problem prevents volunteering in other things too as you do need to be able to hear the people. I have discovered that when you tell people you are hard of hearing and ask them to repeat what they said and speak louder they do repeat, but not any louder so I still don’t know what they said. I guess they’re embarrassed to speak loud lol! It seems my two most spoken words are “what?” and “hah?”. I’ve also discovered that most people don’t like to keep repeating themselves so I’ve learned to nod, say uh-huh now and then but really don’t know what the conversation is about. So I’m really glad I love to read, and I dread the holidays 😮

    by Bob — August 31, 2017

  21. I am with Mark on this one! After a successful military career retiring as an O6, and a successful civilian career in federal law enforcement—I am enjoying my 4th childhood — alone! And I still have my wife, kids and my dog. I am planning a solitary Appalachian Trail hike next year, and a solitary mountain bike ride of the Continental Divide Mountain Bike Trail the following year. I almost feel guilty how much I enjoy avoiding the phone and the incessant invites from prior colleagues! Food for thought though….solitary thought!

    by Gary — August 31, 2017

  22. Got to say that I agree with Mark and Gary (Aug. 30 & 31 comments). My parents encouraged a sense of independence during my youth and, as a result, I embraced the difference in being “alone” vs. “lonely.” Therefore, I’ve always tried to balance socialization with solitude; although, I’ve got to admit to enjoying “solitude” just a wee bit more 😉

    by Mike — September 1, 2017

  23. For all the married people who think they share the problem of loneliness, I just want to say you really don’t understand the plight of single older people if you think the issues are at all comparable. They are not. I am willing to bet that not many of you married couples would think of spending a Saturday evening with a single woman or man. Couples associate with couples and most people are coupled. I learned that very quickly after I got divorced. Older singles must take care of everything alone, including taking care of yourself and your home when you are sick. Not an easy existence, and not at all comparable. I have now seen both worlds and there is just no comparison to the issues.

    by Maimi — September 2, 2017

  24. Maimi, I agree and will add one other problem of being an older single. If a couple does invite you it is usually the wife who does and it’s often because she is trying to set you up with someone lol! Yes this also goes on when you are young, but then you may be more open to what people call a relationship. It seems women who are part of a couple can’t imagine someone who prefers to be single and when they find out you do they think you are weird and now ignore you. At this point in life all I want is someone with whom I can occasionally have a good conversation. Not looking to be a couple.
    Other things. I’ve lived a life of outdoor adventures, hunting, fishing, living on boats, traveling. I lost the male friends I had when young due to them getting married and having children. I will have to admit I was the one that gave up, but it was because I got tired of wives calling me yelling that their husband was a family man now and has responsibilities. I think they saw me as a threat, reminding their husbands of the free life they lost. There have been books, magazine articles and studies on this. It gets labeled the baby trap. Many men take to it. Many don’t resulting in unhappy marriages, devorces and child support checks. Point here is that as a person who never had children I can’t relate to social get togethers where everyone is talking about their children and grandchildren.
    Can’t join a church, I’m agnostic. I’ve found the religious don’t like that.
    Being a doer instead of an armchair sportsman I never had an interest in watching football, etc. on tv. So most men don’t get me either.
    So just like it’s easier to be alone than with the wrong person, it’s easier to be alone than trying to fit into groups where you have nothing in common.
    I think the thing about old people like me is that we thought we would always be able to live the life we loved. It didn’t occur to us that we would get old LOL!!

    by Bob — September 3, 2017

  25. Bob, I would suggest you go to Google and put in Meet Ups and your area code. Then look for a group that might interest you. There are many outdoor groups such as fishing, hiking, kayaking and I am sure much, much more. I am not an outdoorsy person so that is not my thing. You might find some guys and gals that share your interests. One group in my area is an L. L. Bean Outdoor group. History Hikers, Outdoor Fitness Fun and some actually need moderators to lead the group and plan the activities. Check it out. If you just join a group like a hiker group just to lurk and learn what makes it work, you could join or moderate your own group.

    Maimi, Meet Ups might be something for you too. It isn’t all just outdoors stuff, there are crafts, music stuff, book clubs, yoga, wine trail, on and on…check it out!

    by louise — September 3, 2017

  26. Bob, this is for you and any other agnostics out there who don’t think they can join a church to find friends and community. I’m an agnostic, yet have been happily involved in a church for 35 years. The Unitarian Universalists (UU’s) welcome agnostics, as well as those who come from a Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, etc., background, as well as those who have no theistic beliefs at all. It is especially welcoming to single and divorced people of all ages. Its religious positions are moderate to liberal, and most members are along those lines politically. I’m not advertising for the UU’s because we are generally not a proselytizing organization. Just stating that some people who may feel a bit lonely and are looking for a spiritual community may want to check out a UU congregation. Locations and information can be found at

    by Clyde — September 3, 2017

  27. For Bob Simmons: I’m new to online dating sites and wondered if you would be so kind as to share your experience with them and advice on how most effectively to use them. Thanks!

    by Sara — September 6, 2017

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