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A Reflection on Manhood: Rebuilding the Social Ties That Bind

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By: Hanqi Huang, LPC

I think it is a rather hard time to be a man today. Richard Reeves in his 2022 book, Of Boys and Men, argues the same. It is hard to generalize the experiences of an entire sex, but if Reeves is to be believed and my intuition is right, there are plenty of boys and men who are feeling lost, defeated, and angry. Some of that is showing up in the disproportionate number of men who die from so-called deaths of despair, that is, suicide, alcohol abuse, and opioid abuse, three times higher in men than women. My goal in this blog is to highlight some of the factors contributing to this problem, and also to provide some hope as to the practical steps we can take to respond to this phenomenon.

The article, “The Tenuous Attachments of Working-Class Men,” suggests that there has been a shift for what a man means in society today than a generation ago. Our fathers and grandfathers had work, family, and religion to help form a meaningful identity, that it was through these social institutions that they understood their role in society. Those institutions have changed and so have men’s relationships to them, but has our idea of what it means to be a man adjusted to these changes?

Feeling lost, defeated, and angry makes a lot of sense when so much has changed in such a short span of time. Comparing what masculinity meant in previous generations to what it means now, the trouble seems to be that there are less social inputs on what it means to be a man today. You might think that freedom to choose who you want to be would certainly be a good thing, and I agree that that is a desire everyone can relate to. What I believe these authors are suggesting is that many men have found themselves isolated in this process of growing into manhood, and that perhaps it is a social task after all.

There are several things affecting men that we individually cannot change. You and I cannot change that wages haven’t kept up with the cost of living. You and I cannot change that education favors organization skills that don’t come readily to boys. However, that is not to mean that men are helpless in this experience.

I worry that highlighting these societal shifts will only engender more anger or despair. I hope instead that in seeing how men are subject to such large external forces, we would be able to focus our energy toward what is within our control, namely our social ties.

Perhaps overly simplistic, but I think men suffer disproportionately from the loneliness epidemic. We have long known the benefits of strong, meaningful relationships to our health. And yet at the beginning of May, the Surgeon General declared loneliness as one of the top health challenges we now face.

I wish there was a catch-all process for making friends or being a friend; unfortunately there isn’t. It requires a kind of bravery men don’t often want to publicly exhibit: vulnerability. I am hoping that we can generalize that if we are feeling lonely, surely we know someone else who feels similarly that we could reach out to. It won’t be easy or comfortable, but perhaps if we persist, we can slowly rebuild the social ties that help shape what it means for you to be a man in society.


Reeves, R. V. (2022). Of boys and men: Why the modern male is struggling, why it matters, and what to do about it. Brookings Institution Press.

Edin, K., Nelson, T., Cherlin, A., & Francis, R. (2019). The Tenuous Attachments of Working-Class Men. The Journal of Economic Perspectives, 33(2), 211–228. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26621246

Beseran E, Pericàs JM, Cash-Gibson L, Ventura-Cots M, Porter KMP, Benach J. Deaths of Despair: A Scoping Review on the Social Determinants of Drug Overdose, Alcohol-Related Liver Disease and Suicide. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022 Sep 29;19(19):12395. doi: 10.3390/ijerph191912395. PMID: 36231697; PMCID: PMC9566538.

Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health (OASH). (2023, May 3). New Surgeon General Advisory raises alarm about the devastating impact of the epidemic of loneliness and isolation in the United States. HHS.gov. https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2023/05/03/new-surgeon-general-advisory-raises-alarm-about-devastating-impact-epidemic-loneliness-isolation-united-states.html 


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