When Simon realised two years ago he didn't have any close male friends in his life, it hit him like a hammer blow.
"I was in my office at home one Friday night and out of the blue it struck me that I'd really love to have a beer with a mate, just a chat and a beer," Simon, a 52-year-old freelance designer, tells the September issue of The Australian Women's Weekly.
"I'd been having a pretty tough time of it financially, and the work wasn't coming in like it had been. That's stressful when you're a solo operator.
"Then, it dawned on me that I didn't have a mate I could call. I was stunned, horrified. How did this happen? How did I end up in this sad, lonely little office with no men I could call my friends?"
Yet the truth is that Simon (not his real name) isn't by nature a loner. In fact, he'd been a popular, gregarious student back in his boisterous university days.
Even into his 20s, he'd enjoyed a strong, vibrant social life, but somewhere in the intervening years, amid the ever-deepening commitments and responsibilities of marriage, children and career, and a course-altering move from Perth to Sydney 13 years ago, he'd lost touch with his former male friends and hadn't made lasting new ones.
"I love my wife — in fact, she's my best friend — and my kids," says Simon. "But I needed to hang out with men. When I thought about it, I hadn't had that in my life for a long time; but it was something that I desperately missed."
Simon's experience may seem strikingly familiar to many Australian men and also the women they love.
While there is little formal research into the subject, men often report that as they approach middle age, their close male friendships diminish in both quantity and quality, while their relationships with wives, partners and families remain strong.
Dr Elizabeth Celi, a Melbourne psychologist specialising in men's mental health, has seen many clients with friendship problems, and says their wives are often to blame.
"Women are often all for the idea of letting a man catch up with his mates, but the reality is that they set all kinds of limitations," she says.
"And then there is the barrage of questions: Who will you be with? How long will you be? How much will it cost? Why do you have to go out again? He gets the third degree about it. Or he comes home and she's upset, but he doesn't know why.
"Over time, it's just easier not to go. He loves her; he wants to be with her, but being with her and keeping up with his mates just becomes too hard."
Fortunately, there is a solution, but many women won't like it.
"I'll put this bluntly," says Dr Celi. "Girls, get off your man's back. And guys, learn to put some healthy boundaries on her control issues.
"Masculine company is vital for a man's own masculine development and women need simply to let it happen — it's not all about her! Men have to fight for their male time while women don't have to fight for their female time and that's unfair."
Read more of this story in the September issue of The Australian Women's Weekly.
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