It’s certainly true that men and women handle negative emotional states differently. When things aren’t going well in a woman’s life, she tends to become depressed, while a man typically gets grumpy.
But men and women have loneliness in common. Do they handle it differently? Who’s more prone to it? Who’s better at overcoming it? How do you handle loneliness yourself?
According to research, women across all ages and stages of life report higher levels of loneliness than men do. Except, that is, for one particular group: single people. While married women outweigh married men for the lonelier group, men vastly outweigh single women as the lonelier bunch.
Yes, single men are lonelier than single women.
While the reason for this is undetermined, there’s a straightforward speculation for why this might be true: Women tend to be more socially minded and may therefore maintain more close friendships outside of a primary romantic relationship than men do.
Of course, there’s a flip side to the socially conscious side of women. Because they focus on relationships more than men do, if those relationships become unsatisfying, they may indeed be more apt to become lonely.
Many studies indicate that women are lonelier than men in general (barring the exception of single men discussed above).
But one study conducted by Shelley Borys at the University of Waterloo found that women may not necessarily feel lonelier — they may just be more comfortable admitting they’re lonely.
As Borys puts it, “…women are more apt to acknowledge their loneliness than men because the negative consequences of admitting loneliness are less for women.”
This conclusion is supported by another study that aimed not to understand loneliness, but masculinity. In it, researchers found that men indeed were more reluctant to admit feelings of loneliness. And interestingly, the more “masculine” a man perceived himself to be, the more reluctant he was to acknowledge any social deficit of any kind.
While it’s not clear which gender has better coping mechanisms when it comes to loneliness, it is clear that each gender has a distinctive coping style.
Men tend to focus on attaining a group of acquaintances to combat loneliness, while women tend to focus on one-on-one relationships.
One study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology showed that men generally felt less lonely when their friend groups were more “dense,” whereas women showed little correlation between loneliness levels and friend group density.
As the authors put it, “It is suggested that men may use more group-oriented criteria in evaluating loneliness, whereas women focus more on the qualities of [one-on-one] relationships.”
Given these accumulated facts, we can speculate a possible model for how men and women experience loneliness differently:
Women tend to value close one-on-one relationships. But because these types of relationships take more time and energy to maintain than acquaintances, women have fewer relationships that stave off loneliness.
If and when these close relationships end, women may be primed to feel great loneliness. For social and cultural reasons, they are also relatively likely to admit that they’re lonely.
On the other hand, men tend to thrive with lots of acquaintances. Men feel least lonely when they have a dense network of friends, family, and romantic connections.
But if this network thins out, men — especially single men — become very prone to loneliness. This loneliness often goes unacknowledged. And the “manlier” the man, the less likely he is to address his loneliness.