I Tried an
Online Men’s Group

I Tried an Online Men’s Group

Finding support, strength and a new kind of friendship in self-isolation

Zoom men's support group chat

Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect. I haven't done any therapy before. Nor have I been thrown together with a bunch of strangers outside of a work event—and those tend be a lot of bullshitting or inconsequential small talk. But that's not why I was signing into Zoom.

I wasn't connecting to a virtual happy hour. I was coming to this Zoom room for a men's group—a digital gathering of likeminded guys in creative fields that meet weekly discuss their feelings, fears and anxieties. I'd been invited by my friend Sean Hotchkiss, a Los Angeles-based writer and life coach. He and fellow writer (and daily meditator) Elliot Aronow started the online group for men who are stuck at home and not exactly sure how to process all the COVID-19 crap that's swirling around us at any given moment.

Always curious about new experiences and people's stories, I happily accepted. But in the minutes before I fired up my MacBook's camera, I suddenly felt my face go hot with nerves. "What am I gonna say," I wondered. "Can I really be honest or open on a video conference with a bunch of random dudes?" It's not like we can go anywhere mid-pandemic, but I started thinking that this kind of New Age activity would be better suited for a remote location. Somewhere cooler than the bedroom that's become my office during self-isolation. Around a fire in Joshua Tree, perhaps, with a joint or at least some tequila.

But then the strangest thing happened. Moments after logging in and saying hello to about 20 guys all sequestered in various parts of the country, Elliot led us through a light meditation to engage our bodies and work out the stress and tension that had built up throughout the day (and past week). And just like that ... I felt more at ease and open.

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Then the guys began sharing. Elliot asked us to describe how we were feeling using a weather analogy. This gave us the vocabulary to adequately express our state of mind and how the week had gone. It also opened an emotional gate to be more honest.

Online chat illustration
Online chat illustration

As the men spoke, it seemed as though each one was more truthful and forthcoming than the next. And often, as someone was speaking, you could register the light of recognition on the others faces. While we might feel alone at this time, this was proving that many of us are going through the same thing and facing the same fears and frustrations—universally uncomfortable with the uncertainty of the situation.

One guy talked about the anger he felt and it echoed some of the envious feelings I'd been experiencing—jealous of other people's free time in quarantine or wishing I could be more oblivious to the current state of the world. Someone else talked about the fear of losing his job; about how painful that process is and all the ways that brings you down. Another went into his experience contracting the coronavirus along with the rest of his family, the road to recovery and losing a loved one to COVID-19.

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Online chat illustration
Online chat illustration

I was wrong. We didn't need to be gathered in a sweat lodge for this. In fact, the video conferencing made it even easier to be completely vulnerable. The technology made it simple to let someone talk while everyone else listened. I found myself connecting with what so many guys were sharing. As it helped me make sense of my own thoughts, I caught myself nodding more and more in affirmation. I was like an oversized bobblehead tucked into the corner of the screen.

Many of the guys acknowledged how much they needed this group time—that it's incredibly rare to be able to get together and really get into serious issues. There was some much-needed humor along with solid shows of support. Some, who had attended in the weeks before, said they were emboldened by the experience to be even more open this time. It seems like once you get the hang of it, it's easy to be yourself. Honestly, I was surprised. I had never experienced a male intimacy like this, so keenly focused on masculine repair-work and emotional vulnerability.

In my experience, when a group of guys get together, things can get a bit rough or juvenile at times. Even if it's all in good fun, all-male gatherings have a tendency to bring out the He-Man misogyny or homophobia. ("Fellas, is it gay to focus on your mental health?") But this group, and I'm sure many like it, have formed a space where men of all ages and stages in their careers can let their guard down and tap into those deep down places we don't access in our day-to-day lives.

It's a judgement-free space where you can say the stuff you're afraid to say to your friends or partner. Where you can hear and share in the experiences of others to help you sort out your own thoughts and ideas. And while this definitely comes in handy during an unprecedented global health crisis, Sean and Eliott say that the group will continue on indefinitely. "We want to create a community that goes way beyond Corona," say Sean. "Just in four weeks, I've already made what I feel will be lifelong friends in that Zoom room ... and I know other guys have had the same experience." I'm happy to hear it, because I'll definitely be there next week.

Interested in Joining?

Sean and Elliot host the weekly men's meetings on Zoom at 8 pm EDT. For an invite to join, message Elliot via Instagram.

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