With the holiday season upon us, I thought, perhaps it might be a useful time to assess and evaluate our social lives. I continue to hear MANY people express their frustration and unhappiness at the state of their friendships (or lack thereof). All too often this comes in the form of questioning “What’s wrong with me that I don’t have friends, enough friends, or the quality of my friendships I desire and expected?” While it may be accurate to reflect on the significant impact friends can have on our lives (or, again, more often the lack of them), I would suggest we are missing an important and often more accurate perspective.

Perhaps, the most important counseling tool I learned in my social work training, and have repeatedly seen its effectiveness during my 30+ years of working with people, is the concept of ‘a person, in a place, with a process’. This potentially takes the focus from ‘what’s wrong with me’ (a ‘deficit’, ‘mental illness’ or ‘disorder’ as our current ‘managed health care industry’ uses) and instead looks at the ‘dynamic interplay’ of people, their history and where they’re currently at, and how it all comes together to work to varying degrees of success and satisfaction. Now, is it also ‘healthy’ is another question for longer term consideration (e.g. neighborhood drinking establishments/bars might be one example of ‘comfort’ and ‘relief’, but the long-term effects… – humor). We’ve been socially conditioned to start by questioning our ‘selves’ as being the problem, but I’d suggest it can often be more constructive to begin looking at ‘the place’ and what’s going on there – ‘the processes’.

A similar process can work on a larger societal level as well. Women’s role(s) in various cultures have gone on for centuries without much reflection or questioning of their ‘glass ceilings’, until recently.

Additionally, having just had a highly unusual election (to put it mildly – humor), not quite one-half of those who voted chose someone without any political experience, who did not divulge their financial history/taxes (including potential conflicts between past/current national and international business relationships), and gave little detail as to how they were going to conduct their term in office (other than to say he would return America to its former ‘great’ self). This was all done in various glowing terms of himself, which he stated only he knew how to help and get those unspecified great outcome(s)… again, a person in a place with a process (my bias and sarcastic humor intended). Many people cited his statement of a need for change (‘drain the political swamp’ was one of the terms he used) as their reason for supporting/voting for him. History will tell how effective he will be at keeping his ‘promises’ (which appear to change daily, now that he’s elected) and how much cooperation he’ll get as a ‘leader’ of our society and in the world. I’d suggest, perhaps, those who voted for him might feel similarly about their personal lives needing a change, too (as do many of us from various political perspectives)??? Again, I hear repeatedly about the lack of quality socializing in people’s lives and the significance it plays.

Where to begin in our personal socializing dilemma? The model I often suggest is to start with a person’s ‘gut feelings’, and see IF there are any/many facts to support them. Too often, our feelings were ‘tuned’ by an early unpleasant comment, judgement or experience we took ‘personally’, and have then used this single gauge/comment throughout perhaps the remainder of our lives for, again, “What’s wrong with me?”. Whether it was true or even relevant (perhaps never), or perhaps at one time but we’ve ‘grown’, ‘matured’, and possibly learned new alternative viewpoints… where counseling can possibly make a difference (professional promotional statement – polite grin). These judgements may have come from some significant ‘authority figure’ in a person’s life, a parent, sibling, teacher, religious leader or other ‘empowered’ individual that we blindly believed was above reproach. The ‘inner child’ simply took them at their word (whether true, caring or supported by any facts) and then lived by that other person’s ‘script’ of what they thought we ‘should’ be.

For example, there have been a variety of ‘successful women’ throughout society’s history, but they have largely remained the exception and often are overlooked in our histories altogether, again, until recently. I regularly use the ‘women’s movement’ as an example of personal empowerment, self-acceptance and motivation towards one’s own passions. Advocating on behalf of men, I believe they/we desperately need to do such similar self-examinations and challenges of society’s assumptions – for everyone’s sake. Such basic progress was I believe, again, being challenged in our recent political ‘race’/war (a ‘hidden opportunity’ or perhaps a ‘teachable moment’). I strongly suspect history will come to show this to possibly be a major pivotal point in a variety of significant social issues and their perspectives. I try to express cautious optimism… ‘hope’ (although this is the most difficult time period of ‘change’ I can recall in moderns times – period! and ouch!).

As an aside, what might we say about our current governmental ‘leadership’s’ tendency to generalize and negatively stereotype anyone (and everyone, except White males)??? I recall a time when I was growing up, where our elected leaders were considered ‘pillars of the community’ (and any minor personal ‘shortcomings’ were quietly kept behind closed doors). This election may have taken our gradual shifting of our collective perspective of ‘open expression/questioning’ to a new level (perhaps, a very low new level – humor, again). Perhaps, this is a new ‘variation’ of our First Amendment rights – ‘freedom of speech’?!? But, again, is it a ‘healthy‘ change that enhances our lives and our dialogues? I’ve stopped using our political discourse as an example of how people can ‘agree to disagree’ and still manage to civilly get along. ‘Bipartisanship’ has become a rare event, where it was once considered the ‘norm’ to return to after elections (which have also shifted to a 24/7 continual cycle of campaigning, too)??? Again, is this ‘progress’ and is it ‘healthy’ for our society, only time (and historian’s perspectives) will tell. I do have my own ‘gut feelings’ – humor and great sadness…

We also need to examine the source(s) of any personal comments (definitely negative ones, but sometimes positive ones), to see IF they are possibly biased, part of a larger self-serving ‘game’ (e.g. ‘Drama Queen’ or ‘gamer’) or have specific dysfunctional relationship skills involved, like co-dependency. Getting some history on an individual and their actions can help here, IF the sources are dependable and not part of the ‘game’ of a person or social group being considered. Families, for example, are often either in denial or in collusion towards a pre-determined goal or expected outcome (usually set by the ‘leader’ and/or possibly an oppressor???).

President-elect Trump’s recent desire to have various lobbyists serve in his Cabinet and committee appointments, is a good example of someone who says one thing (i.e. ‘drain the political swamp’), then goes off and does the opposite. This could be a HUGE alarm that there might be something else intended and being attempted – ‘hidden agenda’ or a great lack of knowledge/history of the ‘place’s’ dynamics – ‘clueless’? This is where ‘gut feelings’ can sometimes help (again, with this recent election, only time will tell). Fortunately, from my viewpoint, his lobbyists proposed political strategy only lasted a day or two. Unfortunately, I see a LOT of innocent people in my counseling practice who don’t get such preventative assistance (both perpetrators and victims), and I spend considerable time teaching the basics of human interaction/social skills. Personal values/ethics are an important element here, too! I saw little time and discussion of these important ‘values’ during this election, as well as how certain ‘promises’ would/could be implemented!?! Remember when there was a time that a ‘man’s word’ or handshake was considered ‘as good as his bond’?!? This election it was presented as a prideful action to use the letter of the law for personal gain/taxes, and Congress was blamed for allowing it to happen…

As I’ve pointed out in previous writings, while hurtful and possibly abusive events were occurring in dysfunctional families, this prevented the opportunity for ‘healthy normal’ behaviors to be observed, learned and practiced. So family members are indeed often ‘clueless’!?! I hear this a LOT, especially regarding men/women relating, whether in their relationships, their home (both family of origin, as well as current homes where there is still an estimated one in three still having some degree of ‘domestic violence’ or the new term ‘intimate partner violence’), or at work. Isolation is also a common ‘tactic’ in manipulative relationships (to prevent individuals from learning what others consider ‘normal’ and ‘healthy’). Lack of open discussion allows changing the ‘facts’ to fit the needs of the abuser/perpetrator. Women have been ‘doing their homework’ for several decades now on their ‘women’s issues’, and I continually discuss how men need to do a LOT of catching up!!! Decades worth!!! I would suggest our recent election brought a LOT of this to the surface, and while ‘hoping for the best’ (as SO much possibly gets sorted out), I’m also suggesting this is a ‘hidden opportunity’ for everyone to look at the state of their personal and our national relationship skills, as well. Simply saying we’re going back to some distinct period of our past doesn’t make it a reality… and that period wasn’t necessarily ‘great’ for all of America, either (LOL or cry or left feeling depressed and unhappy for many unspecified ‘reasons’ which don’t appear to be open for discussion in this oppressive atmosphere)!?! The majority may be able to elect leaders, but that doesn’t necessary give them the ‘right’ to decide what is ‘good’ for everyone!?! What’s happened to the concepts of ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’??? Is ‘happiness’ even in our national discussions any longer? Perhaps, again, by not discussing it people are left with believing ‘survival’ is the new ‘norm’???

I would suggest this ‘lack of quality’ in friendships and socializing leads many people to accept whatever the ‘social elite’ are willing to offer… I”m waiting for the historic phrase, “Let them eat cake!” to surface shortly (again, sarcastic humor and fear). The idea of ‘Alpha males’ ruling appears to be making a comeback, tragically from my perspective!?!

Our society has made truly amazing strides in developing advances on engineering of all aspects of our physical lives. I suggest, however, we have been slow to even begin examining our ‘social engineering skills’. We do have them in practice, even though we don’t usually think of them in this term. Think of the pressures brought about by various cultures on individuals, their families and their communities. Again, persons in a place with specific processes we often refer to as ‘traditions’… including our present holidays and ALL that is expected to go with them (humor intended and happiness hoped for here, too). There are also the entire organizational structures we call ‘politics’, or ‘retail therapy’, and so on, which is highly manipulated by waring political parties as well as Madison Avenue (engineered towards goals – but who’s goals and for what desired purpose(s)… too often purely economic these days as ‘the American way’. Again, my bias)???

We keep trying to export our American work values (get as much as one can for as little as possible, to keep Wall Street, management, etc. off people’s backs). Japan had to pass laws to keep its companies from working its employees to death (literally, called ‘Karōshi’). I recently saw a line of cars in the drive-thru lane of a famous national coffee chain, backed out into the street, where people had to leave room for the side street traffic to enter the main road… talk about a perceived lack of time!?! Is ‘doing lunch’ even a possibility in people’s lives when we can’t take the time to leisurely purchase and enjoy a cup of coffee???

On another humorous note, I recently read the high society Town & Country magazine’s Dec/Jan 2016/17 Holiday Issue, where they have their regular column: ‘Manner and Misdemeanors’. This month’s is titled, “Breaking Rules – The 7 Day Etiquette Rebellion… On occasion, manners must be abandoned in the name of sanity”. I recommend it as a fun reading retreat from the traditional holiday pressures and our current circumstances! Even the ‘1%’ the magazine targets have troubles with their socializing, too!?!

On another ‘front’, our recent Presidential election certainly ‘pushed the boundaries’ on what was considered polite political discourse. Some might suggest the youth’s phrases of ‘no boundaries’ and ‘no fear’ could apply here, too. I personally fear, as others are also expressing, that seeing our ‘political leaders’ SO openly conflict with each other might sanction this as now acceptable behavior between adults, young adults and perhaps even children?!? I am holding my breath as we watch to see where and how it might surface. According to an NBCNew.com article, President-elect Trump took 141 distinct stances on 23 major issues during his bid for the White House. Attacks on minority individuals have rapidly increased since the election! How will this be ‘assimilated’ into our daily lives and discourse, again, I can only hold my breath?!? I am old enough to recall how a late night TV talk show host was banned for a few days because he used the initials ‘w.c.’ to simply refer to a bathroom – scandal back in the ‘old days’ of the mid-20th century – humor, mixed with some regret… too little freedom of expression and now perhaps too much – T.M.I. (too much information)?!? Do anyone’s feelings matter any longer???

One quick example of this was the response to the thousands who took to the streets in many cities to protest the election results. The President-elect, Donald Trump, was quick to respond that he was impressed with the ‘passion’ that was being demonstrated by the ‘few people’ he said he heard about. I, and others, saw it more of an expression of ‘rage’, and a correct assessment of the feelings being expressed is certainly critically important, as well as the scale and numbers involved. Again, I find myself reflecting back with chills running down my spine to that historical refrain, “Let them eat cake!”

In working with women, I have read and often observed that they have been socially conditioned to express ‘anger’ through tears and crying, which men have been taught to believe is about their feeling ‘hurt’. Men then often try to ‘comfort the hurt being expressed’ by women who are expressing anger and possibly ‘rage’, and this further fuels the conflicts and feelings of a lack of emotional support by men who ‘don’t get it’. Again, many men are remaining ‘clueless’ and/or possibly they’ve learned to ‘filter’ out such expressions by their spouses altogether!?! Further communication is stifled and any perceived emotional distance is increased… probably contributing to a continuing average of a 50% divorce rate in America??? Another example of ‘a person, in a place, with a process’… with tragic results for all involved. I spend a LOT of time teaching basic listening skills…

I attended a workshop on ‘bad bosses’ this week, where a person sitting near me asked for my handout of my online book on men’s issues (see Amazon.com, titled: “Stopping The Madness”). She quietly whispered how she’s divorced and is in conflict as to how to explain to her young adult daughter that even though she’s personally ‘given up’ on men, she still feels her daughter deserves to find a caring man to marry… a very sad perspective (and I expressed my sympathies at her clearly anxious concerns). Again, I’m hearing this resignation quite often of late, and it greatly concerns me. One alternative to companionship is owning pets. Pets can be great members of a family, but I suggest they are not very effective at being the emotional equivalent of a Primary Partner or Spouse (as this woman shared she has settled for). In my own case, I was co-dependently raised from a young age to be my mother’s ‘surrogate spouse’ during my parents’ slowly dissolving marriage (they divorced while I was in high school). This was not healthy for anyone involved…

For those of us who do have ‘hope’, I encourage you to look at the places and the expected processes for meeting potential acquaintances, friends, Good Friends, Best Friends, and possibly an eventual Primary Partner/Spouse (as an example, we just celebrated our 39th anniversary of our meeting, in a bar, and we were not even looking for a relationship, let alone a Partner, and now are legal Spouses of two years, since the U.S. Supreme Court allowed us to marry).

Too often the places we’re gathering to seek out such individuals have ulterior motives, most often MONEY. Consider the social gathering place of modern society: the bar. A colleague once noted that bars are set up to make people uncomfortable, then sell them drinks to calm that discomfort (playing on our need for socializing). Loud music, dim lighting, and usually little seating, force people to try and socialize under somewhat negative and uncomfortable circumstance. Yet, they remain a primary meeting place, ‘easy money’ for the owners, and also continuing serious societal problems (e.g. drinking and driving accidents, and the HUGE financial burdens attached, including court fines and consequences, like mandatory counseling and/or 12-Step Programs and possibly loss of driving rights). It’s as if there is a whole culture that benefits from people putting themselves in this ‘distorted reality’ simply to try and socialize and meet (new or existing friends)?!? We’ve even created positively sounding social coping mechanisms/skills for dealing with these places… ‘working a room’.

As I recall in the early days of our Gay/LGBT society (even though we didn’t think or discuss it in these terms, and the Internet didn’t exist), we learned there were invisible meeting places where people could meet – Gay/LGBT bars (usually in poor, unsafe neighborhoods and often poorly maintained). Desperate people will accept almost anything… including ways of dealing with loneliness. And, importantly, this can work for any ‘minority’ group or class of people, too. They even sub-divided themselves into various types of bars, catering to various segments of the Gay/LGBT society. People might stay at one place or type of bar, out of a sense of safety or comfort in knowing they ‘fit in’. Others might eventually check out other types of bars, learning that there are other ‘segments’ of their once invisible culture they find even more interesting/satisfying/EXCITING. This may become their new ‘norm’ and they spend considerable time/energy/MONEY partaking in that socializing. One of the oldest Gay male bars in Detroit had an owner who began ‘last call’ each night by saying over the microphone that ‘tonight’s the night’… for decades. That place still exists today…

I was surprised that eventually I found/believed I ‘fit in’ and actually felt quite comfortable in a bar or two of my choosing. These became my primary socializing places for a few decades, until eventually I met a few people who managed to ‘get a life’ beyond bars and found additional ways of socializing outside the bar. Bars certainly worked well for that part of my life (and I didn’t know of anything else, either). Then ‘mainstreaming’ began to occur and some bars/patrons started saying they didn’t need to go to only Gay/LGBT bars (or whatever minority status they perceived) for safety/comfort/satisfaction, and tried to get all bars to be open to everyone. I haven’t heard how ‘successful’ they were/are, but I don’t hear people talking about this ‘option’ much any longer… There are also a lot fewer bars in general (so where are the increasingly ‘out’ people going???). I’ve also gotten to the point, that while I’ve learned a level of social skills that I can now comfortably ‘work a room’ for an evening of socializing, I don’t find that ‘level of friendship and/or intimacy’ very satisfying any longer. Other than the few small groups of friendships which support each other with their various social events (which I refer to as ‘excuses for getting together’ in a positive experience sense), I continue to hear MANY people declaring how lonely they feel, too, but don’t know where else to go… Perhaps, society has let them down by not creating and making known effective and satisfying ‘alternatives’??? What alternatives are available in your area, and how well are they working? People’s busy lives have also contributed to fewer ‘community leaders’ who used to spend considerable work time planning for private social events (home parties)… Being ‘responsible’ workers/employees who show up for work has also contributed to a decline in ‘late night partying’, as well. So, where does ‘socializing’ fit into busy people’s lives (IF at all) these days? Some are even trying new ideas, like the HUGE variety of Internet options or ‘power dating’, with varying levels of success and satisfaction (I hear of the lack of satisfactions).

As individuals continue to ‘come out’ with a variety of minority interests (and possible lifestyles), and at widely varying ages and skill levels, I suggest, as concerned members of these groups, we need to actively work together to offer more and varied options. I developed a conference presentation for the Gay/Straight Leather/Kink Communities, which I titled: “Developing a ‘virtual’ Leather Nation – Are We The Keepers Of Our Leather Sisters And Brothers?”. It has been well received and some are excited to consider ways it could begin to be implemented… (the handout is posted on my Facebook ‘Stopping The Madness’ men’s issues page and I would be happy to share the Power Point slide presentation, too).

Another potentially important element of effective socializing I’ve personally experienced, regardless of it’s location, is the concept that the higher the education level and/or people’s professional development levels, the easier (and more importantly from my viewpoint), the more engaging and satisfying the time together. I suspect it isn’t any particular mystery, but more an awareness of communication skills (which usually become refined during the educational or professional development process – practice). Again, this could be taught IF our social ‘leaders’ were aware and agreed to its importance.

“I do believe, separate and apart from any particular election or movement, we are going to have to guard against a rise in a crude sort of nationalism or ethnic identity or tribalism that is built around an ‘us’ or a ‘them,'” President Obama warned in a joint 2016 news conference with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

I’ve been watching the Anthony Bourdain cable TV series, “Parts Unknown” and highly recommend it. In just completing the series on India, i was stunned to learn how as Britain rapidly left that country (due to having just fought two world wars), and a judge ‘partitioned’ it into three parts (based upon the three religions present), and simply gave its citizens two months in which to relocate into their appropriate new country (based upon their religion). This resulted in 500,000 people losing their lives from the resulting conflicts, and their borders still go through daily routines of a formal expression of disgust for each other (with stadium seating for audiences to watch!?!). I found myself wondered if such chaos might happen here IF we don’t have effective leadership??? Again, only time will tell… I continue to remind myself, and those I discuss these important times with, that ‘hope’ is important to start with (so it doesn’t get lost or overlooked as fears and tempers possibly flare up). We’re already seeing an increase of over 700 hateful harassment incidents since the election. Also, NBCNews.com reported October, 2016 saw 2.3 million FBI background checks for gun sales, an all-time record, and the 18th month in a row to set a new high. November could be on pace to break that.

I suggest much of our current socializing is similar to America’s use of the fast food industry… While it may be convenient, rapid, in a relatively comfortable environment and reasonably priced (on the surface, without considering longer-term health care costs). This could also be applied to our varied ‘social media’ communications towards socializing, as well. Whether Facebook, or the many and varied short statement media sites (e.g. Tweeting, Tumbir, etc.), and the MANY specific relationship/dating sites. I would suggest these are all ‘fast food’ options for socializing, with similar long-term effects of dissatisfaction and possible social health issues…. Perhaps, a bit of use for convenience and possible entertainment (and perhaps getting ‘lucky’ once in awhile), but I don’t see any warnings like the alcohol ‘beverage industry’ has started adding to their multi-media advertising, “Drink responsibly” (what ever that might mean – humor???).

I would also suggest we need to actively negotiate what our socializing might include, as well as what we’d prefer it not include. I was brought up in a time where we were specifically told that if you do not have something nice to say, then it is better to say nothing. Well, several variously designated generations have since come along who do not follow such a civil idea (humor intended). With ‘no fear’ and ‘no boundaries’ being a current social battle cry, I strongly suggest we need to actively learn additional social skills that politely (but firmly) do propose limits and boundaries on what is to be expected/accepted, at least personally. I suggest the ‘good guys’ of the world are being mis-used and burned out at an alarming rate (another important topic I have previously written about). Too often I hear people disclaiming how they’d rather be alone than putting up with the poor quality social exchanges they see occurring. While this may keep us ‘safe’ and ‘sane’, it doesn’t do anything towards our need for socializing (and quality socializing is even better…).

I’ve read how the 2016 election exposed an America of deep divides over race, ethnicity and culture — a nation carved into two large coalitions, roughly equal in size but radically different in demographics and desires. And it has also been described as the most vulgar, racist, misogynistic presidential election in modern times.

How we choose to respond to and deal with this will not only help re-define our nation in our own eyes (and those of the entire world, too), but it will help set the stage of what ‘options’ we believe we have for leading quality lives – including quality socializing. Perhaps, America has had a LONG history of easily finding ‘solutions’ to its ‘perceived problems’, and we have been called a ‘spoiled nation’. Perhaps, another ‘hidden opportunity’ is for our ‘leaders’ to dig deeper into our social problems and offer some ‘progressive’ and quality solutions we can begin an in-depth discourse on? We can start with our own lives, and perhaps our smaller, immediate social networks to look at the levels of quality, and not simply settle for varying levels of ‘survival’??? Feedback to our ‘leaders’ and social organizers is critical! I have ‘hope’ we are up to this challenge, and that these VERY trying times may motivate us to seek new and greatly improved steps forward towards living lives filled with passionate adventures. Care to join me???

Contributed by

Dale Ross

Therapist, Counselor and Educator
As a professional counselor/therapist, public speaker and writer on men’s issues since the early ’80’s, Dale has lived through many of the situations and issues with which …

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