Every man needs a hobby
My colleagues Kirsty and Jo recently did some research that looked at, amongst other things, how social isolation affects people’s health and wellbeing. A lot of interesting things came out of the research, details here, but I want to focus on the findings specifically regarding men.
The research found that many activities which are meant to help isolated people simply don’t attract many men. Another piece of work we did with lunch clubs across Hampshire found the same thing; the vast majority of members are women. Why is this? Here are a few suggestions:
- Many men aren’t comfortable with talk-based activities like coffee mornings and lunch clubs. They like to ‘do’, not chat.
- If a group is currently comprised mainly of women then it can be difficult to get more men along. They might worry about not fitting in, or about appearing to be ‘looking for a woman’. Maybe the idea that they could go along might not even occur to them.
- A combination of more personal factors: a sense of pride in not asking for help, a tendency to be passive and not take the initiative, or even just not consciously noticing the social isolation and realising that it can be addressed.
Mind you, maybe lots of men are content to lead fairly solitary lives. Maybe as a gender we men have less need than women for social contact in order to be happy (speaking in general terms, of course!). But still, ‘less need’ isn’t the same as ‘no need’.
What to do then? There’s a clear thread through my colleagues’ research, about men being more engaged by activities built around their particular interests. I play chess and at my club we had a lovely recent example of this, with an elderly man who found out about the club purely by chance. He sadly passed away around Easter but we heard from a warden at his flat that our Tuesday evening sessions had become the highlight of his week. For myself, I joined a new church a couple of years ago and to start with felt like I wasn’t really getting to know many people. But I’ve recently got more involved in the music and children’s activities, and through this I’m connecting with people much better.
It seems hobbies are great for helping men to develop friendships and avoid becoming isolated. Chess, music, fishing, football, amateur dramatics, gardening, coin collecting… there are so many things that can be done casually with friends or through an organised group. You might have heard about the Men’s Sheds movement, which is a brilliant new initiative to get men (and women – it’s aimed at men, but not exclusive to men) together through ‘doing’, not chatting.
I think if I was isolated, I’d appreciate having activities happening near me that I could easily try out and get involved in. Perhaps like many men, I do find just talking – making conversation like you do at a coffee morning – a bit awkward. I much prefer having something to talk about, or something to do while I’m talking. For me, that might be a good long walk in the countryside or a board game. For you, whatever works and gets you interested!