As age-old institutions like churches and social clubs become less prominent for Americans, friendships often fill in the gaps. But when friends aren’t around, life can become quite hard — sometimes intolerably painful.
While many struggle with social isolation, boys and men in particular have difficulty retaining friends. And some studies suggest that social isolation may help drive violence.
One academic explores why this phenomenon particular hurts boys as they have misaligned personal desires for intimate connection and cultural expectations of being “manly” and insensitive to others.
“If we raise our children to go against their nature — and their nature is to have a hard and soft side — we should not be surprised that they grow up and some of them struggle and have a hard time, and even commit violence.” — Niobe Way, professor
Listen: Why boys and men should be encouraged to lean into their softer aspects of self.
Niobe Way is a professor of developmental psychology and the founder of the Project for the Advancement of Our Common Humanity at New York University. She’s also the author of several books, and writes a lot about male friendships, including in “Deep Secrets: Boys’ Friendships and the Crisis of Connection.”
Way says people have both hard and soft parts to themselves, but if we teach people to only lean into their hard aspects of self, we’re doing them a disservice and creating instances where violence is more likely.
“If we raise our children to go against their nature — and their nature is to have a hard and soft side — we should not be surprised that they grow up and some of them struggle and have a hard time, and even commit violence,” says Way.