While many of us seemed to have no problem making mates inside the school gates, finding and keeping friends as an adult is proving somewhat tricker, particularly for men.
Recent research has revealed that men are much more likely than their female counterparts to be leading solitary lives, with an absence of people they consider friends.
The poll, by YouGov, found that one in five men admits to having no close friends and 32% claiming to have no one they counted as a best friend.
The figures were significantly higher than those for women, with only 12% of women saying they did not have close friends and 24% saying they lacked a best friend.
The online survey of 2,149 adults also found almost half (44%) of men said they were lonely sometimes, often or all of the time.
Further research earlier this year found that most men feel “emotionally closer” to their dogs than other human beings in their lives.
So what’s going on? Why are men struggling to make friends?
Though it sounds like a cliche part of the problem could be that men aren’t quite as good at communicating as their female counterparts, particularly online which is how many of our interactions are carried out today.
And research seems to confirm this. A recent study by the University of Oxford found that men bond better through face-to-face contact and activities, whereas women find it much easier to hold onto an emotional connection through phone conversations.
“Online communication has become very popular during this decade, and it’s easy to assume that it makes keeping in touch with friends easier than it has ever been,” explains Dr Diana Gall from Doctor-4-U.
“However, some research suggests that the heavy reliance on online socialising may actually be a problem for men and contributing to the rise in loneliness.”
A further study, published in the journal Plos One, found that male friendships are more likely to prosper in groups, whereas women favour interactions that are more on a one-to-one basis.
According to Lucy Beresford, psychotherapist, relationship expert and broadcaster it’s not so much that men find it hard to make friends, but that the nature of the friendship is very different to that enjoyed with women.
“Men are more likely to form friendships either at work – where peer approval is seen as vital – or through activities such as team sports, where no-one wants to be the different one struggling with issues,” she explains.
“For men, having a few mates to go for a drink with after work doesn't usually translate into a relationship where you can be your authentic self, sharing the highs and lows of life. Male friendships often have a thread of competitiveness running through them, so the idea of showing a vulnerability appalls them.”
READ MORE: How to combat male loneliness
There are societal and cultural factors contributing to this male loneliness epidemic too.
“With increasing pressures around work and fatherhood, men tend to find it more difficult to maintain friendships,” explains Dr Earim Chaudry, Medical Director at Men's wellness platform Manual.
“With mounting pressure put on men to carry everything and everyone on their shoulders, society hasn't really taught men to let their guards down and express themselves fully.
“As a result, we find that the quality of close relationships between men isn't as strong as those of women, which leads to increased feelings of solitude.”
Dr Chaudry believes men fear that by letting themselves be vulnerable with friends and family it would make them open to criticism from their peers.
“Culturally, we don't see any value placed on male intimacy,” he adds. “Often, the 'lone wolf' is celebrated and we see a lack of representation of male friendships and bonding.”
The problem is that isolation and loneliness can have some pretty major knock-on effects on health, both physical and mental.
“Without strong friendships, people may experience loneliness, and this could in some cases turn into depression,” explains Niels Eék, clinical psychologist and co-founder of mental well-being and self-development platform, Remente.
“According to a recent study, loneliness and social isolation are damaging to mental and physical health, and can be as bad as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.”
So what can men do about it?
For Dr Chaudry the first step is opening up the discussion about the topic.
“Talking about it will help destigmatise the situation,” he says. “By addressing the problem, we can allow a wider discussion to take place, and eventually help men identify actions they can do every day to defeat feelings of isolation.
“There is an incredible amount of pressure put on men to be 'a man', to be strong and ready to fight any challenge that comes their way, but that is simply not the reality.”
How can men feel less lonely?
Reassess your friendships/relationships
Dr Gall advises that any men feeling lonely should use it as a starting point for assessing any existing friendships and relationships.
“To tackle male loneliness, it is probably a good idea for men experiencing that feeling to reflect on how they feel about the current state of their friendships and relationships,” she says.
“It could be invaluable to take a moment to reflect on whether the relationships you currently have provide the ability to talk about what interests you and other things going on in your life.
“You may come to conclude that now would be a good time to reach out to friends you’ve felt distant from. Or perhaps you’ll realise that certain people you’ve been friends with can no longer provide the emotional support you could do with.”
Check in on others
Dr Chaudry suggests putting aside some time every week to call male friends and ask them real questions. “If you see a friend going through a rough patch, don't brush it off and assume he's strong enough to deal with it - the truth is he probably is, but that doesn't mean he wouldn't be doing better without your input,” he says.
“Men should also try and include their friends in their daily activities - if possible. Whether that's by going to the gym together or going to the cinema, these small steps all contribute to tackling the loneliness epidemic.”
Switch up your social activities
For men struggling to develop close friendships, Dr Chaudry says there are plenty of social activities you can involve yourself in to start planting the seed there.
“Focus on an activity that interests you and find like-minded men,” he says. “Try joining a club, attending an event, participating in a team sport or signing up to a club - all great steps in bringing yourself closer to others. Reach out to workmates or old friends and really make the effort to connect. People are always much more receptive than you think.”
Book in ‘friend’ time
Try to see your friends, both new and old, on a regular basis, says Eék. “If you have a busy schedule, try to book in as dedicated time slots to see friends, or set yourself a quota on how often you should see them,” he says. “If you don’t have time to meet up, a call or text can improve a relationship.
But Eék says you should make sure you do things that fit your personality. “For example, if you are a morning person, perhaps try to meet for breakfast instead of a boozy night out, and if you are both fitness enthusiasts, then commit to a class together,” he says.