Why do millions of men have no close friends?

Having no friends is sad and boring, to be sure. But it gets worse, with a lack of mates also more likely to result in an early grave.

It's a given that men are bad at asking each other "are you OK?", in the face of an epidemic of male mental illness and suicide.

But we're also ridiculously awful at maintaining friendships and, in our middle age, securing new ones.

That's almost as dangerous for us as diagnosed mental illness. Simply, you live longer when you have great friends. Myriad studies show that the more vibrant and deep your social connections, the lower your blood pressure, heart rate and even cholesterol.

In short, a mate a day keeps the doctor away.

Mates rates

A recent study released by the Movember Foundation in the UK and reported by the The Telegraph UK shows a crisis in men's ability to have friendships that reveals a tragic reality.

Our chances of being "friendless" – a far less visible trauma than, say, being homeless – trebles between our early 20s and middle age. Partnered men in particular are significantly less likely than their single counterparts to have friends outside the home.

This news will no doubt add clout to the argument that one absolutely needs to play golf on Saturday with one's mates instead of going to the supermarket, or hit the pub on Friday night instead of hitting the couch with the significant other for the weekly rented rom-com.

However, it seems these rare moments with our male friends are actually much more important to our health than even we have the ability to make up excuses to indulge.

Friendly fire 

It's happened to us all. Close friends from school and uni, from footy, or our first job, just gradually fade away over the years. Why?

Because no-one bothered to work to maintain the friendship as we got married, moved away, went to jail or became a barrister (or combinations of the above).

Women, of course, are smarter than us and live longer – one of the reasons being their uncanny ability to maintain great friendships. Not only do they actually plan to have drinks or dinner with their friends on a weeknight, they even put it in the diary and everything!

And they actually use the time well and communicate properly when they're together, instead of arguing about Jarryd Hayne or the Essendon supplements scandal.

Circle of truth

If you're being less than great as a partner right now, rest assured you've been talked about in a female circle of truth. In the reverse situation, a man who may have been verbally and emotionally lashed every single night could have the following conversation with a bloke he has known for 20 years.

"G'day mate, how you going?"

"Good mate, you?"

"Good! How's the missus?"

"Good mate!"

That's about as deep as it gets. If you can't talk to your parents because you're all grown up, and you can't talk to your partner at home, who do you talk to? Your mates. But to do that, you need to have some.

Solid as a rock

I noticed the drop-off years ago, so I now try to actively maintain my male friendships. Some of us are in an amateur rock band we inflict on family and friends from time to time.

The appeal, beyond the hearing-wrecking old-boy punk guitar music, is the banter at rehearsal; the warm, funny and filthy chat that has seen us through many a divorce and redundancy. That's really what's kept us together for 15 years.

(And I can guarantee at least one of them will message me and say "I'm not your friend, dickhead, I only like the other blokes …". That's how men say 'I love you' to other men.)

There's also been a lot of threatening to "get together for a beer before Christmas" with a few other mates, but it's late November already and, to be honest, I don't see it happening.

Handle with care

Then it will be next year and I won't have seen one particularly excellent man, one I count as a good mate, since he separated from his wife - well over 18 months. How the hell does that happen? Well, it's my fault and I've got to fix it. For me and him.

These fragile relationships are like romantic love. They need to be fed or they die. A relationship - whether between you and an amazing partner, or that funny-looking, borderline-alcoholic mate you've known for 20 years - is something you need to nurture with care. Abuse and starve it, and one day it won't be there.

So, since friendships save lives, maybe just do this. Pick up the phone to a mate you haven't seen for a while, one of the good guys. Say, "Mate, I've called to save both our lives. We need to go out for a beer and a chat tonight."

Do you find it harder to maintain friendships as you get older? Let us know in the comments section. 

With more than 25 years in Australian media, Phil Barker has edited NW and Woman's Day magazines, and published such titles as Vogue, GQ, Delicious, InsideOut and Donna Hay. He is owner of a creative events and activations agency and is a regular commentator on the life and style of Australian men.