“SNL” Confronts the Biggest Mental Health Issue Facing Men

This weekend's best sketch lampooned and lamented the lack of middle-aged male friendships

snl bumper photo jonathan majors
Jonathan Majors hosted this weekend's episode of "Saturday Night Live."

It’s been a surprisingly strong season for SNL this fall. The show has stepped back from its habit of casting movie stars for recurring political roles, offered up less Trump and COVID content (much to the appreciation of weary audiences), showcased a comedy trio with a cult online following and returned to embracing offbeat concepts, which is always where its cast members sing.

Consider: one of the show’s best sketches from the 2010s was a tortured Ryan Gosling trying to figure out how the Avatar franchise got away with using Microsoft Word’s “Papyrus” font.

Weird works, and when SNL leans into it, the show is still more than capable of creating some hilarious bits. One of the best from this weekend was a sketch called “Man Park,” a riff on your local dog park, where friendless, middle-aged men can convene to talk Vin Diesel and Michael Jordan, toss a football around and pour themselves IPAs from a public tap.

Some of the men don’t get along too well, others are “a bit shy.” But the point is to give their beleaguered wives a well-earned reprieve from having to offer emotional support. As Heidi Gardner’s character says at the beginning of the sketch: “When I walk in the door my husband sort of rockets information at me for 25 minutes straight … all the words come out fast and in the wrong order, because he hasn’t spoken to anyone else that day.”

The bit played well with the live audience (especially a part where the men gather in a group to scream the refrain of “Mr. Brightside”), but it’s worth noting that as wacky as the concept may seem, this sketch is rooted in a very real phenomenon: men of a certain age are currently facing a “friendship crisis.”

As InsideHook’s Logan Mahan reported in a piece earlier this year, 15% of American men report having no close friends. And while we often associated loneliness with middle-aged and elderly men, it actually starts pretty early. One study found that men start losing their friends right around 25. About 28% of men under the age of 30 report having no social connections.

These are scary stats. A quote from Dr. James O’Keefe, a prominent cardiologist, comes to mind: “Social connections are probably the single-most important feature of living a long, healthy, happy life.” Friendships are essentially non-negotiable for life satisfaction and longevity. If you want to stick around for a while on this planet, you can’t just vent to your wife or live vicariously through your children. You need another outlet.

Take note: this trend most acutely intersects with cisgender, heterosexual men. This demographic of men tends to have very few friends; they lose many as they get older and start families; they have trouble making new friends; and they often rely on “couple friends” — the significant others of their significant other’s best friends — in order to maintain a social network as they age. Along the way, men often claim to be content catching up with old faces every few years or so (“It’s like nothing’s changed!”). But studies have proven that men crave close, consistent emotional bonds as much as women do.

Obviously, a fictional “man park” isn’t the solution here. But kudos to SNL for advancing the discussion (however goofily) on what is an extremely important issue. Men need to make the extra effort to preserve and create social connections in their lives. Part of this effort involves understanding what truly counts and what doesn’t. For instance, there’s nothing wrong with grabbing a couple drinks with coworkers. But if the conversation revolves mostly around closing deals, and there’s no room for vulnerability or trust, you need to look elsewhere.

In a post-pandemic world, try reaching out to those you haven’t seen in a while. Get catchups on the calendar. Join a league, if only to inject a little more consistency into your weeks. Remain active in your all-male group chats. Plan a vacation with old friends; it doesn’t have to be some sloshy, expensive booze-fest. You can go on hikes and watch movies. That’s totally allowed.

As these friendships develop, notice how it’ll give other relationships in your life a chance to breathe. Good husbands and dads rightfully worry about seeming “absentee” at points in their lives — but there’s a balance. You’re still a human being, and it’s crucial that you make time for people who know you simply as a friend. With what we know about male loneliness, they could really use some time with you, too.

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