While Niobe Way was working toward her PhD in counseling at Harvard University in the late 1980s, she was struck by the fact that boys frequently told her during therapy sessions that they wished they had better friendships.
Decades later, Way, now a professor of developmental psychology at New York University and the author of Deep Secrets: Boys’ Friendships and the Crisis of Connection, has interviewed more than a thousand boys and has found that little has changed. “The culture of hypermasculinity makes it harder for boys to form relationships, and that leads to a crisis of connection,” said Way, who has discovered that while boys desire connections with peers, they tend to distance themselves as they age, due to social stigmas.
“I feel pretty lonely and sometimes depressed… because I don’t have no one to go out with, no one to speak on the phone, no one to tell my secrets,” confided one high school boy in Way’s book, expressing a typical sentiment. “I tried to look for a person, you know, but it’s not that easy.”
While the teenage years have always been a time for critical development and heightened emotions, America’s teens now seem to be struggling more than ever—especially boys. One study found that the rates of depression increased by 52 percent in teens between 2005 and 2017, and in 2019, 70 percent of teens reported anxiety and depression as major problems. For boys in particular, there has been an alarming rise in suicides among older teens (15 and older) since 2000, and they die by suicide at three to four times the rate of girls.
This is not new, when I was about 13 or 14 dad asked me why I looked so said, I said “I don’t have any friends,” he said “That’s alright I don’t have any friends either.”
Stoicism is a survival mechanism. Grin and bear it, stiff upper lip, carry on. My experience, I have never met a single person who is actually interested in the “real me,” the “inner me,” what I think and feel, not mom, not dad, not anybody, in the last 68 years . . .lots of people very interested in what I can do for them . . .
Over the years I’ve gone to six therapists . . . my instinctive intuitive perception of all of them was that (a) they were nice people with good conscious intentions, and (b) they weren’t actually interested in anything about me except gritting their teeth to listen to me for an hour a week so they could make $150 an hour,
I have heard and read that there are therapists who are actually interested in their clients, their patients, but so far I haven’t met one,
This is the conundrum of therapy, Would you be paying any attention to me if I weren’t paying you to pay some attention to me, or pretend to pay attention to me? The answer is usually “no,” therapy is a by nature a totally mercenary profession,
On the other hand, once someone walks through the therapist’s door it’s usually because there is nobody else in the world who they feel they can trust and confide in, nobody else is actually interested in them either, so the therapist I providing a useful service, even it it’s a mercenary service,
“I’ll pretend to take an interest in anyone who’ll pay me to pretend to take an interest in them.”
On the other hand, a friend for hire is better than no friend at all!
Ray — A therapist is not a friend, though it can be an important human contact. Sometimes a good local therapist can help connect you with various volunteer groups, where you might find like-minded folks. When my dad was 65 and retired from his job, he volunteered at a local food pantry, quickly became the director, and made a huge number of friends. He only retired from this second career last year, at 85, but the other guys at the pantry call him regularly to chat.
I hope you find connections out there in your community. Good luck and thanks for your note. Laura