When his editor at the Boston Globe Magazine assigned him to write an article about middle-aged men with no friends, Billy Baker was less than enthusiastic. Wasn’t this like announcing you were a big loser?
Baker is an outgoing person who had never had any issues making friends in any situation. But by age 40, married with two kids and a busy job, he had found that many of his friendships had fallen by the wayside. “The first wake-up call was realizing how low it was on my priority list,” says Baker. “It happened while I think I was doing everything right; I was a good husband and father. My dad was an A-plus dad, but most of his friends were parents from sports. When they stopped seeing each other on the sidelines, they stopped seeing each other.”
Chronic loneliness is a condition that the Surgeon General has identified as one of the country’s “greatest pathologies.” An estimated 50 million Americans suffer from it, and loneliness ranks even higher than smoking, obesity or heart disease as a risk factor for premature death.
While everyone is at risk, men were especially high on the list.
The article Baker wrote went viral, with an outpouring of response from readers. He had struck a chord.
His book “We Need to Hang Out: A Memoir of Making Friends” (Avid Reader Press) should be read by anyone who’s wondered what happened to their social circle — and how to make friends in middle age. His research took him everywhere from Vienna, where he reconnected with an old friend who’d moved there, to planned high-school reunions, impromptu get-togethers, weekly Wednesday gatherings, CrossFit socializing, and more.
What he found was that male friendships really revolved around an activity — but the activity itself didn’t matter much. It simply provided the framework for meeting up. Proposing something specific was also important. “The other day I said to a friend, ‘Do you have a chainsaw? My neighbor’s tree fell into my yard and I need to get rid of it.’ He was overjoyed and came right over. The surprising thing was how receptive everyone was when I reached out.”