Sam Radford

January 14, 2022

Men, marriage, depression, and friendship

I’ve been reading Friends by Robin Dunbar this week. It’s an engrossing read, full of science-based insight on the role of friends in our lives. There’s a ton of things I could write about—and I may well write on this subject more in the future—but one thing that jumped out to me was a passage on the impact on men of a marriage breaking down.

Here’s what Dunbar writes:

One important issue that constantly emerges from the literature on marital breakdown is men's susceptibility to depression and suicide in the aftermath of separation and divorce. In part, this may be a consequence of the fact that men's friendships are more casual, and hence do not provide the emotional support that women's friendships with other women provide in these circumstances. However, it is made worse by the fact that women tend, by default as much as anything else, to take over responsibility for creating and managing the couple's combined social network. Because women are socially more proactive than men, men often end up with a social network dominated by their wives' friends simply because the wives arrange the social events and the husbands just go along with it. Wives often try to encourage their husbands to contact old male friends, only to be greeted by a frustrating shrug of the shoulders. Irrespective of the cause, men risk ending up with no social network other than their own family after a divorce or the death of a spouse.

I know it’s tempting to skip through long quotes in blog posts so, if you just did, go back and have another read. There’s lots to unpack.

In summary, two key points stand out:

  1. Men’s friendships are more casual than women’s (and thus provide less emotional support)
  2. Once married, women take over responsibility for the couple social lives (and men end up with fewer of their own friends—it’s more couple friends)

Honestly, this rings true for me on both counts. I’m far more passive than my wife when it comes to my social life. 

I hadn’t started reading Friends when I added ‘More quality time with friends’ to my More and Less list. But that now feels particularly apt. 

Though the context of Dunbar’s words is marriage breakdown, this isn’t primarily about building a stronger friendship safety net if that was to ever happen. It’s about having a richer, fuller life here and now. 

When I do spend quality time with friends, I love it. Life feels better. I’m happier. But, for some reason, that doesn’t lead me to be proactive in ensuring I keep spending quality with friends. That’s what I want to work on this year.

—Sam

Got some thoughts on this? I’d love to hear from you—do hit reply or drop me a note.

@samradford | samradford.com