Why I Have a Hard Time Relating to Men
Feelings, masculinity, and the travesty of the American male.
I am a white, straight, cis male. I don’t really have any societal modifiers that mark me as an “other” aside from mental illness, and I’ve been faking my way through sanity well enough that very few people can tell.
By all accounts, I am male. I present in a masculine way, I wear masculine clothes, I have a beard — pretty much all the boxes are checked to identify me on sight as a man.
Unfortunately, I have a bit of a problem when it comes to relating to other men. Having grown up with mental illness and parents who supported me, I went to therapy a lot in my formative years. It helped me process my feelings, work through my anger, and grow as a person. I am far better for the experience.
Most men do not have this experience. They grow up in a world where feelings are feminine and stoicism is masculine. Men don’t cry, they get angry. They don’t talk about their feelings, they put on their game face and power through. Emotions are meant to be buried, not expressed. Nobody wants to see that.
The problem is that I do want to see that. I want my male friends to talk about their feelings with me. I want to know about them. I want to find out what makes them vulnerable and to feel a sense of empathy towards them. I don’t care if that’s not masculine. Unfortunately, most of them seem to.
My friend group consists of five couples: myself and my wife plus four others. Of the four, I relate to all of the women (and one non-binary) before any of the men. Only one of the four men is willing to talk candidly with me about their feelings. The rest keep it light and non-serious.
There are a variety of tropes among the three non-talkers. The one who had a rough childhood and doesn’t tell anyone about his past or much about himself in general. The one who is a massive asshole because he doesn’t seem to know how to express feelings other than “stoic” and “anger” and it comes out as “jerk.” The happy-go-lucky guy who always seems to be in a good mood but never tells you anything about himself.
None of them talk about much aside from video games, sports, work, and technology. Some have had issues with drinking to excess, or experimented with a variety of hard drugs, or been incredibly promiscuous, or done any number of other questionable or dangerous things.
I like all of them to some degree, and I consider all of them my friends. And yet, I have no solid connection with them, and I feel like I don’t really know any of them.
On the other hand, their partners are much more open. They talk about their hopes and dreams, they share how they’re feeling, they talk about when they’re down and when they are doing well, and they just generally communicate their feelings. I feel much more comfortable with all of them than with any of their partners.
This, I suspect, is a culture thing. American men, in general, are socialized to be unemotional. Being emotional is feminine, and being feminine is weak. Effeminate men are labeled as “pansies” or mocked with homophobic slurs. “Real men don’t cry” has likely done more damage to men in this country than any feminist movement would.
Strength is manly. Stoicism is manly. Drinking to excess is manly. Anger is manly. Fighting is manly. Rage is manly. War is manly. Trauma is manly. Murder is manly. You don’t have time to feel, you’ve got manly stuff to do. Don’t talk about your emotions, nobody wants to hear that crap. That’s girly stuff.
I understand none of this. Lots of these things, done right, are healthy and even encouraged. Anger and rage are legitimate emotions, and expressed properly can get a lot of stuff done. Strength is something we should aspire to, although not at the expense of all other things. In many cases, stoicism is necessary.
What’s often missing is moderation. These traits are admirable in certain areas, but not at all times or at the expense of other things. Being strong and stoic can be useful traits, but being strong and stoic all the time is damaging to a person.
I spent a lot of time working through an anger problem in high school. I worked hard and learned to express my anger in more constructive ways. I do my best to not blow up at people and yell, and I am almost always successful.
Unfortunately, the “man on the edge” trope plays out the opposite in modern media. It’s typically a guy who’s had everything taken and has nothing left to lose, or who has been pushed so hard that he snaps and hauls off on someone. This man vents his anger with violence and vengeance.
Women, on the other hand, get more supportive roles, playing sidekick, love interest, or cheerleader to the male hero. When a woman is seen as “strong,” it’s in a masculine way: short hair, muscles, big guns, violence, etc.
All of this belies the range of human emotions we all feel, and it’s frustrating to see my peers shut themselves off from an entire set of “feminine” emotions because that’s not what men do.
Men are allowed to feel things. We are allowed to be emotional and talk about our feelings. When we hurt, we are allowed to feel pain and anguish and not seek to beat up whatever caused it. I wish my male friends would realize that.
I worry about them. I worry that they are bottling up their feelings and emotions, shoving them down to make themselves feel stronger, and building up the pressure in their chests until they explode in a fit of emotions, shut down completely, or keel over from hypertension.
I want my guy friends to talk to me, to tell me how they feel, what their fears are, what they hope to accomplish, what their insecurities are. I’d love to hear about their pain, to commiserate when they hurt, to comfort them when they cry.
And they won’t. One of them needs to be screamingly drunk before he’ll open up about himself and his past, and the glimpses I have show a lot of pain and trauma he shoves down. So I worry about him and his wellbeing. I worry about my male friends.
And, while I worry about them, I express concern to their partners, and I talk to them about my hopes and dreams and fears and trauma. I hope that my male friends talk to their partners about themselves. I don’t know, and it’s not my business, but I wish I did know. I want my friends to be well, and I don’t know what they don’t tell me.
So I talk to their partners, learning what I can about their moods and feelings, whatever they can express to the people that they love. I care for my male friends. I want them to cope with their pain and trauma, and feel good, and be happy, and succeed, and have fulfilling lives.
I just relate more to their wives.