“Wrapped up, tangled up, all tied up in… A male role belief system”

We have all heard the cliches about men when it comes to emotional communication. We have heard them so much that now it’s widely accepted that men just aren’t emotional. That notion is false, we are very emotional, expressing emotions that render us vulnerable or what some consider “feminine” is something that we just haven’t learned to be comfortable with. We are conditioned to be communicative with “manly” emotions or the “bromotions” like anger, feelings of Indifference, apathy and the like. How does a boy who’s been taught all his life to hide and suppress the softer emotions learn to open up about them and not feel uncomfortable?

At a very young age most boys are told to reject vulnerable feelings. Don’t cry, stop acting like a girl, be this way, this is what men do. We are rarely educated in emotional expression and instead educated in how to pretend to not feel, to be silent, otherwise if we do we are not men. So to become an adult and struggle with life, love, and ourselves when emotions are necessary shouldn’t surprise too many of us. Everyone of our emotions end up being communicated the same, hurt looks like anger, disappointment looks like indifference, and it all results in silent resentment. Saying “I’m hurt by what you said/did to me” is a big step for a man. Beginning a sentence with “I feel” instead of “you did/made me” is a task for men but those courageous enough to step outside of that mental conditioning are the ones who experience the true essence of manhood. 

In one of my earlier relationships I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to say I needed more of my partners affection. Every time I thought I’d built up enough courage to say “I need you to kiss me, hug me, hold my hand, tell me you love me” I failed and ended up saying something that hurt her instead out of frustration. I became more quiet, more distant and full of fear when she asked “what’s wrong” my only response was “nothing, I’m fine”. I found myself comparing what I felt to what I believed a man was supposed to feel like and what a man was supposed to act like which conflicted with my beliefs on what manhood was supposed to be. I couldn’t communicate how I wanted to be loved because it made me feel inadequate as a man. I knew I needed to get that message across but my only option wasn’t manly enough so I continued to struggle in emotional turmoil. 

It wasn’t until years later I discovered that communicating what you feel, why you feel it and not feeling as if that makes you weak is one of the most manly things a man can do. It helps with understanding yourself, growing yourself and maintaining healthy relationships. “I’m fine” is the go to for men in our society and it’s a statement of fear. We are afraid because we have this flawed definition of manhood and we hurt ourselves believing that we can’t talk about our emotions. Learning to talk about how I felt, especially now, has taught me how to trust another person. It has made me more confident in knowing that I don’t have to always be ok and that most issues can be resolved quicker and easier if I actually expressed how I was truly feeling. Now if I need a little more affection I express it and at times I could get it. Saying just how something made me feel would allow my partner an opportunity to connect with me. If I was hurting and I communicated that, I allowed the space for compassion and empathy. I provided myself with an opportunity to grow by challenging my own belief system of manhood and practicing a different method of communication. Whether I was successful in the delivery of my emotional expression or not, my results could change because I changed. 

Too often we suppress what we really feel and think because we have been taught that manhood doesn’t feel the same as the feelings we experience or “real men” don’t think the thoughts we seem to keep thinking. We are stuck playing the role of what we are taught men are instead of being the authentic men we want to be. To communicate that we need help with things or we don’t know how to do something makes many men feel inadequate because we are taught men are supposed to be the stereotypical providers and protectors. That pressure causes us to feel like we must to do things perfectly and we are fully expected to perform independent of anyone lest we fall short of manhood. 

The belief that “I’m not a man if I can’t provide things” is what forces men to fail to provide their emotions and emotional support to their partners. We have all seen movie depictions of the man who has it all, he gives his wife the material world while she starves for emotional connection and intimacy. We have seen these men lose their women because of that mental stronghold of provision to qualify themselves as men. There’s more to providing than buying things. We have to be able to provide the quality time, the emotional vulnerability, and the communication as well. There was a time when a job I had been working full time at cut my hours from 40 to 14 hours a week and I nearly lost it. I worried constantly because I couldn’t find another job or even a supplemental one, I began to feel insecure and I pushed my partner away out of feelings of inadequacy. I told myself the story “she was gonna leave me anyway because I don’t compare to my belief of what a man is supposed to be” and that lie caused me unnecessary emotional stress.
Men subscribe to interpersonal inequities under the guise of manhood all the time, for example: the notion that men are obligated to pay for the dates (first dates excluded) and if they don’t they are disqualified from candidacy. We aren’t allowed to expect women to even offer to pay for their half without being scoffed at or called broke. That happens and men often feel unequal, used and they feel their time is less valuable than their counterpart yet they say nothing in order to protect their manhood. 

Many men believe that to be a protector they must only be able to physically defend their loved ones and valuables. I agree that we all should be willing to stop those things from coming to harm however, I question, “is that it?”. “I am a protector”, what does that look like for a man outside of a sword and shield defender? Many men leave the “nurturing” to women because it’s “the woman’s job” when statistically fathers with active involvement in their children’s lives have shown that children have increased mental dexterity, they are more empathetic, they possess less stereotyped sex role beliefs and have greater self-control. I never understood how my parents used “I do it because I love you” as a justification for their disciplinary actions until I loved someone enough to tell them a truth that would hurt their feelings or take an action that I knew they’d dislike because it was truly good for them. I don’t have children of my own yet but I do have friends, family, people I love unconditionally who I take responsibility for protecting. When it comes to women, men who are providing vulnerability to their partners are protecting the connection that establishes intimacy in their relationship. It’s a necessary reassurance, a force that draws them both closer and a bonding agent that’s unbelievably strong. 

To eliminate the discomfort of male vulnerability we need to challenge that conditioned thinking and begin to ask ourselves if we are indeed being ourselves? Are we comfortable with how we behave, think, and communicate? If not, then challenge yourself to do something about it. Challenge your male role belief system and create something productive for your life and your relationships with others. As men, it’s a courageous act not a cowardly one to be able to say what’s going on inside of your head, to be open hearted, and to exercise the things necessary to actually live in the manhood you were created for. It may be difficult but it’s necessary for our lives to be easier and more fulfilling. 

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