Feelings, and Why Men Don’t Know What To Do With Them

It’s often extremely difficult for a male to express their feelings, which isn’t exactly a news flash by any stretch.  Much has been made over the last few decades about the reticence of men to discuss how they feel about anything or to express their emotions.  Women’s magazines lament about it; men’s magazines glorify it; TV and movies mock it while propping up the practice.  A lot of women will profess that they wish their man, or their prospective one, would be more open about their feelings.  Unfortunately, society conspires against men and prevents them from doing just that.

The stereotypical, venerated male: The Strong Silent Type.  Look at the vast swath of leading men in movies; there you will see the archetype typified in all its glory.  There aren’t a ton of role models for young males, so sports stars and movie characters help define what a boy thinks a man should be.  It is very rare to see an emotionally expressive yet masculine figure in our culture.  That’s not what the tradition of masculinity defines.  Masculinity is about strength, physical and emotional; providing, both materially and as a rock for those that depend on him; aggression, both in acquiring and then defending a family.  This is masculinity.

Nowhere does the expression of emotion come into play.  Much of the time, emotion is fleeting; while certainly love, devotion, and other attributes are long-lasting, they are not really emotions like sadness, joy, melancholy, embarrassment, and the like.  A man may feel sad for much of the day and not express it.  Why?  Because he may not feel that way tomorrow, or in an hour, or in 5 minutes.  Emotion is transitory and is often viewed as something to be dealt with in the simplest way possible: by ignoring it until it changes to something else.  A man can become searingly enraged on his commute home.  Within 5 minutes of being in the house, the rage is generally gone and forgotten.  No discussion necessary.

In most cases, there is nothing wrong with that approach.  Unfortunately, there are times where this masculine approach works against the man.  There are emotions that are not easily shrugged off: grief, heartache, longing, despair, resentment, inadequacy.  These also go away with time, but not quickly, and when the man ignores them they fester and build instead of simply passing.  The only way to avoid this is to express them, but that is something that the man has not been taught, encouraged, or forced to do his entire life.  Generally, the emotion gets channeled into something safer: anger.  It is easier to bark and snap at others than it is to face the harder emotions. 

Not only that, but the male child is taught at a young age that emotional expression signifies weakness, and weakness is pounced on among children as quickly as it is with a starving wolfpack.  A sad boy who cries and is witnessed by others will be taunted and called a crybaby by a group of children.  Sadly, this is because few things feel better when one is scared or emotional than ridiculing someone else and feeling superior in turn.  The adolescent desire to tear down only grows stronger as children age; in later years, the posturing for the available females makes it inevitable that those considered “weak” will be torn down by the “strong”.  “Why is it,” the bookish, polite, and kind teenager will inquire, “that when women profess to want a sensitive person who will treat them right, they still end up dating the jocks and assholes?”  Hard to answer, but it helps cement the lessons taught early; Emotion is for the Weak.

It is very much a problem when the child ages into a man.  A parent dies, and the man has no idea how to express grief without seeming weak.  Another has his heart broken by a girl he loves, and is unable to speak these feelings to anyone his own sex because, deep down, he is afraid of being considered less of a man.  It is hard for anyone to lower their defenses and expose themselves emotionally, because fear is powerful, and even moreso for men because they aren’t raised to allow it to happen.  “What if,” the man thinks, “I pour my heart out and the person that I love and respect laughs at me, ridicules me, diminishes me even further than I already feel?”  It is that fear, so often completely unfounded but yet still possible, that clamps the man’s lips shut and isolates him from the people who have the means to help him express it.

It’s hard to overcome, but it’s possible.  It takes work, and commitment, and the willingness to expose yourself fully to the outside world.  Some things that help?  Weightlifting, boxing, martial arts training.  Why?  Because it’s easier to express your feelings when you are reasonably sure that you can beat the shit out of someone who ridicules you for it.

About Alan Edwards

Former cancer caregiver. Husband of the most magical and amazing person who ever lived.

Posted on March 17, 2010, in Philosophizin' and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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