This isn’t an advert for gay steambaths like Rec Room in Johannesburg but I am a fan for several reasons, which I’ll unpack a bit later on.
This is a piece about why you need friends and how much of a difference they can make to your life and well-being. Friends are good for you. Noting having friends can be lethal. No, I’m not being overly dramatic, for once.
I’m not talking about those casual “benefits” you have with another person to hook up and get your rocks off together when the urge hits. I mean, the very real health benefits from having a buddy or three in your corner when the loneliness begins to linger in your life.
No Friends is No Good
Loneliness and feelings of isolation happen to us all at certain times in our lives, but if this becomes a chronic situation there can be serious consequences.
The CDC says loneliness increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and depression and anxiety amongst other mental health challenges. It can also impair the quality of your work (executive function) and may even accelerate cognitive decline according to the American Psychological Association. That’s heavy.
It’s a Gay Thing – Apparently
If you do a Google search on the plight of loneliness amongst gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM), you’ll see a dishearteningly long list of articles and studies that have documented and reported on how massive an issue loneliness has become in the LGBTQ community.
It Ain’t Easy Gurl!
As a fortysomething geigh male, I can attest to the fact that making friends doesn’t seem to be getting any easier with age. Quite the opposite. This is weird because my totem or spirit animal should probably be ‘overly friendly Labrador’ and I’m a reasonably outgoing person.
But I’m also fiercely private about a lot of things and although I am “friends” with many people, I would only count a small handful of people as my ‘ride-or-die’ maatjies. People I feel safe and intimate with who really know me and who I know I can confide in and turn to in a pinch.
Years ago, I found myself in the wake of a breakup in a new city and nobody that I felt close enough to commiserate with. My usual nearest and dearest had all moved to Cape Town or overseas and I was feeling like a real Nora No-frenz.
I knew I had to do something because I was struggling to keep my chin up. The world felt like a large and empty void and I felt very small and insignificant.
A Homo Makes a Plan
After admitting to myself that I was lonely (a surprisingly tricky step), I took action and eventually managed to secure a gaggle of friends that I can now honestly say are worth their weight in gold. Here’s what I did… I found a bunch of LGBTQ groups and societies online and joined them.
I attended a few events like a gay hike and even a gay-friendly church service and joined a bunch of other fun and free events and groups that created an opportunity to meet and get to know people (it’s the getting-to-know part that is crucial).
One of the things I did was join an LGBTQ touch rugby squad and that’s where I happened to meet most of my current besties.
Let’s Be ‘Controversial’
I have another suggestion too, but I’m going to have to ask all the Judge Judy’s to calm their weaves for a minute. Thanks.
“Steambaths or bathhouses” as institutions enjoy an illustrious and longstanding tradition within the MSM community locally and around the world. They can be seedy dens of iniquity for some and much-needed sanctuaries for others where they feel like they can be themselves. The latter would apply to me but that wasn’t always the case.
For years I was judgemental and even a little scared of venues like Hot House in Cape Town, which sadly no longer exists, and Rec Room here in Jo’burg. I changed my mind.
There aren’t that many gay bars anymore. Well, not nearly as many as there were when I was a tadpole. There are still clubs, but the loud music and frenetic vibe haven’t made them suitable for me to make friends and restaurants don’t really work for me in that way either.
I’ve made some friends at the gym over the years, but mostly in the steam room or sauna (the unisex ones in particular), because chatting and socialising on the floor at the gym can actually be annoying when you just want to work out.
I started going to my nearest “steam bath/bathhouse”, Rec Room in Randburg about two or more years ago, quite regularly. I’d heard it was under new management and that there weren’t so many people taking drugs in attendance anymore. A friend described it to me as being “almost wholesome”, which is hilarious.
It was fun and I spent most of the time at the bar chatting to and meeting people.
I realised the other night that it has become a fantastic way to chat with and become friends with other gay guys. This may not work for you but here is why it works for me:
- I feel safe there. I can go there on my own and sit at the bar and chat with whoever is there or socialise or meet up with friends or cruise, depending on how I feel, and I can hear what everyone says to me without straining over the music.
- I’m not meeting a stranger in a random place that might put me in serious danger of being kidnapped or assaulted.
- My car is safe.
- I’ve made some friends in this environment that I’m not sure that I would’ve had an opportunity to engage with anywhere else. Guys I’ve seen at the gym or in the mall for years that I’ve never had the courage to speak to otherwise.
- I’ve had several deep and meaningful conversations with people that I met there.
- I’ve made wonderful friends and I’ve had fun.
My point is, if you’re lonely and suffering in silence, you might want to try something new to connect with other people. You may be pleasantly surprised to discover where you might make friends.
Seek out a community or a society that appeals to you, bite the awkward bullet and get to know some strangers. You never know, you might make a friend that will make all the difference in your life. Find your clan or crew and take good care of precious you with a little help from your friends.
Bruce J. Little is a journalist, copywriter and playwright from Johannesburg.