Former First Lady Michelle Obama revealed something interesting about her husband Barack last week. During a speech at the Obama Foundation summit, she called her female friends “my sanity,” People reported. The former first lady said that all the stress, security, and craziness that came with living at the White House for eight years made her need her girlfriends even more. Barack Obama, on the other hand, spent a lot less time venting to friends.
And it’s not just Obama who spends too much time alone. Here’s why men — yes, even the leaders of the free world — need friends. We’ll also take a closer look at why Obama doesn’t have many friends (No. 5).
1. Women have more friends than men, studies show
“[Sometimes with] Barack, it’s like, ‘Who are you talking to?’ And it can’t just be Marty,” said Obama. Marty Nesbitt, Barack Obama’s best — and maybe only — friend, serves as the chair of their foundation. “Y’all need to go talk to each other about your stuff.” Obama’s tendency to focus on work, his family, and keep his own counsel is indicative of how many men interact with their peers.
Maintaining adult friendships helps more than just their wives’ sanity. A Boston Globe article looked into it. Dr. Richard S. Schwartz, a Cambridge psychiatrist, and his wife, Dr. Jacqueline Olds, wrote The Lonely American: Drifting Apart in the Twenty-First Century. Schwartz explained men especially neglect their friends as they get older. “And the public health dangers of that are incredibly clear,” he said.
Next: Loneliness might be as bad as smoking.
2. Loneliness can kill you, just like smoking
An increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke and the progression of Alzheimer’s can result from spending too much time alone. One study found that loneliness carries the same long-term risk as smoking. The research gets even less rosy from there. In 2015, a study out of Brigham Young University found that those who fall into the categories of loneliness, isolation, or even living on their own see their risk of premature death rise 26-32%.
Researchers found that for many people, loneliness carries a stigma that can prevent them from getting care.
Next: Admitting that you’re lonely is like admitting you’re a loser.
3. People don’t like to admit they’re lonely
“Since my wife and I have written about loneliness and social isolation, we see a fair number of people for whom this is a big problem,” Schwartz said. While mental health care has grown by leaps and bounds over the past decade, loneliness is not universally recognized as a treatable problem.
“Admitting you’re lonely feels very much like admitting you’re a loser. Psychiatry has worked hard to de-stigmatize things like depression, and to a large part it has been successful. People are comfortable saying they’re depressed. But they’re not comfortable saying they’re lonely, because you’re the kid sitting alone in the cafeteria.”
Next: Family time doesn’t have the same impact.
4. Family time doesn’t have the same impact
Among various studies linking friendships to well-being, the 2005 Australian Longitudinal Study of Aging found that family relationships had little if any impact on longevity, but friendships increased life expectancy by as much as 22%.
That’s because people relate to their friends differently than their family. Kids and spouses come with responsibilities — especially for caretakers like parents and spouses. Friends have no strings attached, so people can relax completely with their buds. That makes a big difference, especially for men.
Next: Why doesn’t Obama have many friends?
5. Why doesn’t Obama have many friends?
What doesn’t Obama have many friends? Surprisingly, schmoozing was never his strong suit, so he had few friends left in Congress from his Senate tenure by the end of his presidency, according to The Atlantic. Furthermore, his “dealings with Congress over the last seven years have bred few affectionate memories.” And let’s not forget being the president means making tough decisions that will not make you so popular among colleagues.
However, Obama appears to be enjoying life outside of the White House, and even went viral after showing his kitesurfing skills to Richard Branson.
Next: Men are at a higher risk of loneliness.
6. Men tend to isolate themselves
According to The New York Times, after Marla Paul wrote The Friendship Crisis: Finding, Making, and Keeping Friends When You’re Not a Kid Anymore, she received tons of messages about giving equal treatment to male friendships.
“A lot of men were upset because I didn’t include them,” Paul said. “They felt that making and keeping friends was a lot harder for men, that close friendships were not part of their culture.” According to Paul, women have clubs and activities that create opportunities for a social life. In our society, men just don’t have those same outlets.
Next: Men weigh in on social media.
7. On social media, men weighed in on the problem
After an NPR segment aired on the topic, a number of men chimed in online. One tweeted, “58 yr old male, ALWAYS had difficulty with friendships No kids, and my wife is frequently from home. Loneliness = constant.” Others cited socioeconomic challenges, single fatherhood, and the decline of church communities as reasons they did not get together with the guys as often. Many of the responders fell into the middle-aged demographic, but Brigham Young researchers found higher risk factors for young people who live in loneliness.
Next: Flying solo can have devastating consequences.
8. Flying solo can lead to depression, or worse
The association between loneliness and risk of mortality among young populations is actually greater than among older populations, one study found. Although older people spend more time alone and face a higher mortality risk, loneliness and social isolation better predict premature death among those younger than 65 years.
“Not only are we at the highest recorded rate of living alone across the entire century, but we’re at the highest recorded rates ever on the planet,” said Tim Smith, co-author of the study. “With loneliness on the rise, we are predicting a possible loneliness epidemic in the future.”
The former president serves as a great role model in many ways, but follow his loner model at your own risk.
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