Sunday, October 17, 2021

Why middle-aged men are destined to be lonely

As an extrovert, I participate in several chat groups that are mainly populated by Gen X men like myself - uncles. I have about three main uncle chat groups - one primarily PMET, one middle income and one full of investor hot-shots. 

These days I don't participate much, I prefer to observe and I realise that these days the uncles are getting more and more disagreeable. This article my attempt to understand why and predict the outcome of these male relationships over the next few decades. 

I will begin with this idea from Jordan Peterson's writings - that when men come together they start forming hierarchies, which brings up important questions. How do middle-aged men decide who is at the top and bottom of the totem pole when they come together?

Maybe some anthropologist can chip in, but I suspect that men rank themselves the same way I teach my students to rank stocks. We basically pick a few factors, normalise them to estimate how many standard deviations they deviate from the mean, called a Z-Score, then we sum up the Z-scores. Just like the way we rank PSLE students under the old scheme. For stocks, the factors are easily found by backtesting. For human beings it is much harder. 

What factors do middle-aged men use to rank each other ?

Sociologists like Mike Savage who talk about social classes in the 21st century provide a hint on how scoring is done. 

We use three main sources of capital to rank each other. Financial capital or wealth probably takes the biggest score or weightage, that is uncontroversial. Social capital comes from how prestigious the careers are and may even cover things like family and personal relationships. Cultural capital is a function of taste and divides various clique from each other.   

The implicit score uncles rate themselves, T, therefore can be governed by the following mathematical relationship :

T = A ( Z-score Financial Capital  ) + B ( Z-Score Social Capital ) + C (Z-Score Cultural Capital )

The dynamics of each group will vary the weightage of the scores. A middle-class group will have a high-A. A group of poets or writers will have a high C. Investors who are all 7-digit level will actually weigh A less and focus on B where a lot more problem solving can be done. 

Ok, so we now have a working model on middle-aged men rank against each other, let's apply this to what we see on the ground :

a) Highest and lowest scores are always in danger of leaving the group

Every group has a norm and acceptable a score range. If you are the smartest guy in the room, you may leave because you might not derive the maximum benefit from being there other than getting your ego stroked. You may join a different network where you can get a sense of belonging and you have some way to learn from others. 

Similarly if you score really low in a group, there is serious pressure to leave because you feel inadequate. 

I think insight on this explains why people drop out from a group over time and why some classmates will never show up for a class gathering.

b) The higher your score, the louder you can be without disrupting norms but if your score is not high, STFU.

I call this Jack Ma effect. 

In every group, the top scorer gets to be Jack Ma. He gets to dispense worldly wisdom and generally the other guys will refrain from correcting him. The opposite happens, if due to middle age, Jack Ma does not have particularly strong career outcomes, them he becomes the Jack Ma after being chastised by the Communist Party. Sometimes I try to eavesdrop on uncles in a kopitiam to find out what their version of Jack Ma is saying - it's often rather humorous, very anti-PAP, and completely unbacked by the real world.   

If my model describes male interaction well, it does not bode well for all of us uncles. It means that we will not be able to stay in some groups that we have cultivated over the years. At older age, a lot of older men can only interact with their families. 

There are one or two ways around this problem. 

The first is that our self-esteem can be divorced from our groups if we simply join diverse groups. I do hang around in investment circles, although the discussion can get very trite and boring sometimes, but the most value add to my life is when meeting writers and content creators who operate by a different scoring system. This also means I will get back to the RPG community one day.

Another solution is to hang out with much younger people where ranking is impossible because of the generation gap. To do that, you need to be open to new experiences and withhold judgment when you see younger people make life changes. If anything, forces of progression and change will likely render your judgment wrong anyway. Of course, you need to pull your own weight, try to keep conversation engaging and always entertain your younger friends.

Of course, at the end of the day, I prefer my model to be wrong than right. 

But you can be the judge of that.


  1. The totem pic looks like the one from Stanley Park in Vancouver!

  2. No leh...i never had to rank myself nor felt like i was ranking myself...gen X here. im not alpha male also and middle class only