Want to combat male loneliness? Start by helping boys connect with their emotions.

In a crowded coffee shop on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland, California, Ruth Whippman spots a group of men in their 60s and 70s at a nearby table. They’re sipping tea and chatting, and one of them gently pats the golden retriever at his feet. Another gives a hearty hug to a new man who walks in to join them. 

Ms. Whippman is struck by the serendipity. Here she is, talking about her forthcoming book, “BoyMom: Reimagining Boyhood in the Age of Impossible Masculinity,” a meditation on the loneliness, conflict, and isolation that so many boys and men face. This group of guys nearby is enacting what Ms. Whippman argues is one essential solution to male loneliness: participation in intimate, authentic relationships.

The statistics are startling: Boys are falling behind in school, dropping out, and struggling to get into college and stay there. Even those who do face increasing mental health challenges. Boys today are more violent, more addicted to screen time, more lonely, and more likely to die by suicide than girls are. Even as the public conversation continues to bust out of the binary and talk more about the spectrum of gender, it seems that many boys are flailing.     

Why We Wrote This

A story focused on

Boys are expected to be tough and independent. But society’s emphasis on these qualities can leave them feeling adrift and alone. Parents and educators are finding ways to help boys cultivate emotional connections.

Ms. Whippman is so invested in the topic because she’s the mother of three boys. She remembers being pregnant with her third child in 2017, tossing and turning in bed, worrying about the typical litany of things one worries about when on the precipice of giving birth: Would she be safe? Would she have enough time and energy? Would she ever sleep again? 

Riley Robinson/Staff

Ruth Whippman and her son, Abe Levine, watch TV at their Berkeley, California, home. Ms. Whippman’s book “BoyMom” comes out in June.

But she was also kept awake by a different set of fears, intensified by the daily deluge of bad male behavior just as #MeToo was going viral. As Ms. Whippman describes it in “BoyMom,” she had “a ticker tape of bad outcomes” for her unborn boy, including “interrupter, mansplainer … birthday forgetter, frat boy, dude-bro, homophobe, self-important stoner, emotional-labor abstainer, nonwiper of kitchen counters.”  

That was seven years ago. And from the looks of things, many experts say, the crisis of masculinity has only gotten worse. 

What are we to make of the increasingly perilous place of boys in American society? Without taking anything away from the gains made by girls, can we find a way to provide better support for boys? 

Previous ArticleNext Article