Earnest Hemmingway, Reality TV & Partying

I had a dream a few nights ago and in that dream I was contemplating the Earnest Hemmingway Novels I’ve read. In my twenties, I went through a Hemmingway phase where I read a good portion of his works. I’ve also recently come to the conclusion, that I’m not now, nor ever was, a fan of his writing. I was trying to remember what it was that got me into reading him and I think it stems from him being popular with my friend group. For context, we were also watching a lot of Woody Allen movies. But the conclusion I’ve come to about Earnest is, that he was perpetuating and embodying the tenants of toxic masculinity.

Toxic Masculinity as a Lifestyle

The more I think about it, the clearer it becomes. Hemmingway was travelling around with his buddies, drinking too much and getting into fights. He wrote about war, fishing, bull-fighting, death, extreme independence and romantic encounters, topics saturated with masculinity. All of these topics and themes resonated with the type of man I thought I needed to be, at that junction in my life. But what I hadn’t taken into account was, how these personifications of masculinity were causing me to ignore the person I actually was.

I had been strong-arming my personality into a box that just didn’t fit me. Mostly because this was how I was taught to be a man. But maybe more importantly, because I wanted to be loved and accepted by those around me. What makes this so sad is, that there was always a low hum of anxiety, just beneath the façade of my masculine veneer. I was scared of the anger I was harboring, but also I was scared of myself.

The macho attitude I was displaying, along with my unforgiving personality, turned me into, the types of people who’ve abused me in the past. In short, I turned into my abusers. This was where my anxiety was coming from. One wrong move and I was likely to be cut off from everyone and thing I knew and loved.

Reality TV & Partying

The insights I gleaned from my dream was, that the ways that Hemmingway was living, with the drinking, the partying and all the drama that’s attached, was a lot like what reality TV has become. The only difference is, they had slightly different social norms in his time.

For example, I imagine that displaying your masculinity was what was popular at the time. So for Hemmingway, running with the bulls was probably a way for him to show off how manly he was. If you filmed it and formatted the trip into a half hour or hour show, throw in a little drama and you’d have a pretty good reality TV show.

And for the most part, minus the extravagant trips, this was what was playing out in my family. Something I’ll go into more detail later on this post. The men were putting on the façade of being ultra masculine, and shutting off our emotions in the process. While the women were looking to feel connection or taken care of and seen. But they were too scared to open up emotionally to the angry and abusive men, who had already severed emotional ties with the women. This was because this is what we thought the women wanted.

Why I was Living this Way

The more I think about it, the more miserable I was. Sure, I had some good times. But I was usually drunk, or having fun at the expense of somebody else. The rest of the time I was mostly worried about being around other people. Unable to relax or feel a part of what was going on around me. Worried I wasn’t who I should be. It was isolating and strange. So why was I living this way?

From what I can tell now, looking back in hind-sight, I was trying to be a-part of the culture I was steeped in. Being a product of the 80’s, I was definitely taught that men were tough, violent and in charge. These were their most prized attributes. These qualities however, were not how I wanted to act or be in the world. They were used in my past to raise me and I remember all too well the fear and isolation they created. The last thing I wanted to do was to perpetuate what had happened to me. But it seemed to be what was expected of me as a man. So I acted that way in an attempt to feel a part of the culture and people surrounding me. And it worked for a while.

Being My Own Person

But as I said above, it was fear and anxiety producing. Being and acting the ways my abusers had, went against the vision of how I wanted to live my life. I did not want or need the extreme independence and lack of connection with others that had been modeled for me. I wanted to love and be loved by those closest to me. But this was impossible while I was living the toxically masculine life.

So in order to be the person I felt I was and the one who was being stifled, I had to give up the image of what I was taught a man should be. And this was no easy task.

Getting in Touch with My “Feminine” Side

I found myself criticizing myself for being too “feminine”. Or not looking the stoic, powerfully in charge personality I was taught a man should be. The unyielding, unforgiving, authority figure who was prone to violent outbursts, was something that was modeled for me time and again. But the forgiving and accepting person I was trying to embody, I was taught were the traits of women.

Though it was never specifically taught to me that genders had inherent traits, culturally it was something that was reinforced. In my family, the women, just like the men, were petty and mean most of the time. But we still subscribed to the beliefs that women were soft, vulnerable and caretakers of the men. While men were hard, in charge and were not allowed to show vulnerability.

I’m not totally sure where this mentality came from. In my parents generation, the man was still supposed to be head of the household. The bread winner and the person calling the shots. And the women were supposed to take care of the family and the men.

Old Ways of Navigating Relationships Leads to Stifled Ways of Being

From this dynamic, I observed a lot of unhealthy forms of self expression. The men in my family were angry most of the time. Often around how the household was being run. While the women were expressing themselves through what they could buy.

What was and is so frustrating about watching this dynamic play out is, we are so much more than the one or two roles we play in our closest relationships. When we’re reduced to a stereotype, we lose dimensions of our personality. This can lead to resentment. Also, taking out our pent up anger, due to limiting our personalities, on others in our relationships. This was the root of a lot of discord in my family.

This was due to dynamics in play such as, men weren’t allowed to be vulnerable. And women weren’t allowed to take charge or question the man’s authority. For me as a man in my family, this meant taking on too much responsibility for others and feeling overwhelmed, without knowing when to take a break and care for myself. From what I saw with the women in my family was, that they were frustrated with feeling powerless. So they acted in petty and spiteful ways to take out their frustrations on those they felt powerless to.

How We Handled Stifling Our Emotions

But in order for the men in my family to bury their vulnerabilities and for women to cover over their frustrations, we drank. This was the easiest way to not have to feel what we were so afraid to express. Of course, nothing about what we were experiencing was easy. But we’d rather drown our problems than take a hard look at what was causing them.

How I Retain My Masculinity While Showing My Vulnerabilities

This was a difficult lesson, with a steep leaning curve. It had been taught and reinforced, so many times in my family, the lesson that men were not ever vulnerable, that the wall I had built around my emotions was almost impenetrable. Luckily for me, with the aid of a friend I awoke into my emotions. But the path was most definitely a rough one.

When I began letting my emotions in again, I had the emotional intelligence of an eight year-old. This was around the time my abuse started. So my emotions had been frozen for little over two decades. I remember clearly that when I started to feel my emotions again, they would all come flooding in at once. And they were all intense. I didn’t know what emotion I was feeling at any given time, because I was never shown how to give names to my emotions and let them be without trying to stifle them.

But the longer I stayed with my emotions, the less intense they became. When I first started feeling them, it was as though they were all bundled together, like a knot of live wires. And every time I tried to untangle them, I would get a shock. But the more I untangle them, the clearer it became which emotion was which. Even though I was vulnerable to the shock of feeling the once overwhelming emotion. I’m now able to feel emotions that were much too powerful for me to experience before. And I believe what has helped me the most has been, support from friends and family and meditation.

Support from Family, Friends & the Greater Community

The support I received from family and friends was pivotal. Knowing that I could just be me, without the toxic masculinity and still feel accepted, was what allowed me to discover who I was. And not only allowed, but accepted and loved for who I was becoming. This was what gave me the courage to drop the masculinity armoring and allow me to let the emotions in.

But it’s been a slow process. And one I’m still learning how to adjust to. I had a life’s time worth of lessons on toxic masculinity to unlearn. And I had none of the resources with which to unlearn them. I went searching for them in earnest and many of the resources I’ve picked up along the way are listed here in this blog.

Sites such as The Good Trade have done so much good in helping me to get in touch with the more sensitive aspects of my personality. They have a wealth of articles that give advice on how to navigate emotions and emotionally charged situation.

Tara Brach was another great teacher that I found along the way. Her talks helped me to understand that I wasn’t alone in what I was going through. Hearing others’ stories have helped to give me a sense of hope. Hearing that someone else has been through what I’m going through and hearing how they managed the experience, has been a huge source of relief and sense of community for me.

Meditation

And finally, meditation has helped me to stay in my body while my emotions are coming over me. This may seem like something insignificant, but every time an emotion came on that was over whelming, I ran from it by dissociating. I ran so often, that when I finally sat down to sort through them all, they had become the mass of tangled, live wires I described above.

Sitting and learning to handle a single emotion and separate them from the unsorted emotions has been invaluable to understanding my emotions. Also how to handle them with care. And the longer I stay, the easier it becomes.

Final Thoughts on Masculinity

If you’re in the same boat that I was in, and I imagine that it’s not all too uncommon, don’t worry. It’s difficult to feel the pressures from our families and friends, and not to mention from society and culturally as well. A place where masculinity is given a much higher value than it can be worth. So if you’re feeling a little uneasy about how you’re seen by others, maybe it’s worth your time to investigate where these feelings are coming from and what you’re doing that makes you uncomfortable.

Are you doing something that you don’t really like doing because it’s what’s expected of you? Maybe there’s a trend you’re apart of, that you got involved with to feel some belonging. If you examine these places and you find that you aren’t enjoying them as much as you feel you would like to, it may be worth asking yourself if doing them is a true expression of your personality. Here is where you can find where your true passions lay. And being masculine isn’t a bad thing. But when it gets in the way of who we truly are, then we may need to explore why we’re holding on to it so tight. Peace & thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Charging Bull, Wall Street” by carlossg is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Relaxing: As a Man This Isn’t So Easy

Recently, I’ve been making relaxing a priority in my life. Though this has proven to be much more difficult than I thought it would be. Just sitting still was difficult. I felt as though I was supposed to be productive in some way. This led me to feel guilty about just being as I was. All of this seemed strange to me, seeing as how I used to have no problem relaxing. But when I thought back to those times I was relaxed, I realized I was usually in front of a screen, drinking a beer or mixed drink. Something I’ve gotten out of the habit of doing. So I thought about what most people consider to be a relaxing endeavor and I settled on taking a bath.

How Fixing My Bathtub Led to Me Relaxing

But before I could take a bath, I needed to fix the overflow drain on my bath tub first. I had tried taking baths in the past, only my attempt was thwarted when I realized a large amount of water had pooled under the bathtub drain. Then I watched a few videos that suggested looking at the gasket on the overflow drain to see if it was cracked. I checked the gasket and it seemed to be fine, except when I went to unscrew the plate, that held the overflow drain to the pipe, it was barely screwed in.

So I assumed this was the issue. I tightened the plate and went to my local hardware store to get a drain stopper for the tub and to get a second opinion. They said that should probably do it, but to give a call back if I’m still having trouble. So I paid for my stopper, left the store and hopped on the bus, eager to try my newly fixed bathtub. But something didn’t feel quite right.

What Taking a Bath Says About Being a Man

When I got home, I was excited to see if I had taken care of the issue. So I set myself to cleaning the bathroom (something that was long overdue) and try out my new way of relaxing. I cleaned the bathroom, and after finishing up with the tub, I popped the new drain stopper in and turned on the water. Hopefully the tub would fill, the overflow drain would do its job and I would be on my way to relaxing that evening. Fingers crossed, I filled the tub.

To my surprise, it worked! I had a working tub and it only cost me the price of a rubber stopper. Bathroom clean and tub working properly, I set out to a local store to buy a bath bomb to enhance my bath taking experience. But still, something didn’t feel right. I wasn’t quite sure what it was. But I left the house again in search of a bath bomb.

And I can’t remember if I Googled ways that men destress while I was on my way to the store or at home, but when I did, it was eye opening. The first page was filled with, not things men do to relax, but how a woman can relax her stressed out man. This was crazy to me! Somehow, men had outsourced the job of relaxing to their partners?

Taking Responsibility for Our Relaxing & Emotions as Men

I still couldn’t believe some of the advice I was reading, or rather, the audience it was directed to. “Give your man a massage” and “actively listen to your man” were some of the items suggested to calm down your stressed out man. Now don’t get me wrong, I feel that these are good things in general practice, but not as the only source of stress release for men.

As it was, self-care is something that is relegated to the domain of the feminine. Now de-stressing and relaxing are also the responsibility of women as well. This seemed strange to me. Upon further inspection, when I found a Men’s Health article about how men are relaxing, they suggested activities such as playing golf or hitting the heavy bag. This was also unhelpful.

One suggestion said to “Hit the sauna after you workout”. And later in the slide mentioned that men felt more relaxed after a therapy session if they sat in a sauna. The title and the content weren’t even correlated, leading to more confusion. No wonder men have a difficult time relaxing. With advice like this, it’s easy to see the disconnect.

It’s Okay to Like What You Like

So I went out for the night on a date with a woman I had recently met, with plans to take a bath in my newly fixed tub when I got home. We went to a local restaurant, then for a walk on a near by beach. The night went well and we parted promising to make plans to meet again.

After the date, I was on my way to try out my newly fixed bath tub. I got home, readied the tub, brought a few candles in the bathroom and settle in for the night. Ready to enjoy the feeling of weightlessness. I hopped in the tub after putting in the bath bomb and relaxed for a long while. It was better than I expected.

The scents and the feeling of lightness and the dimly lighted room all helped to set the the tone for a relaxing post date evening. While I was in the bath, I was thinking about how so much of what we like is determined by what others perceive is likable, depending on our gender or other measures that have nothing to do with how we feel doing them. For example and from my experience, it’s okay to like being in a hot tube as a man, but a bath is too feminine. This doesn’t make sense to me. You like what you like. And that shouldn’t be an indicator of anything other than, liking what you like.

Relaxing Shouldn’t Be Relegate to a Specific Gender

More to the point, relaxing and what we do to relax also shouldn’t be judged to be the task of a specific gender. It seems our culture has made the act of relaxing, the job of women. I’m not sure how this happened socially, but for my family, I think it has something to do with feeling taken care of.

In my family, the men were hard and the women were soft. It was the man’s job to take care of the family. And all the toxically masculine ideals that went along with the job. And the men had to always be seen as “strong”, physically and mentally, never “weak”. But what we perceived as “weak” was actually being sensitive, kind or caring. All of these traits, we collectively off loaded onto woman. Deeming them as “weak”, because we were too afraid to feel these traits. Most likely because they had been abused in us. All too often by those we made carry them for us. Creating an unhealthy power dynamic.

And these were the relationship dynamics I grew up under. As men we never spoke about emotions because that wasn’t our job. But unfortunately those we were carrying were stressful ones. For example, needing control, anger and unforgiving were a few of the default ways of being as a man. So, we were usually stressed and frustrated with those around us. This left us unable to relax.

When Relaxing is Provided By Something or Someone & Not Found In Yourself

As a man, I learned that relaxing was something I needed to acquire outside of myself. For me, this meant drinking lots of alcohol at night and sitting in front of a screen. Or eating something unhealthy and lots of it. This was also something I had modeled for me in my youth. There weren’t many trips to a local hiking trail, or time spent around a board game. We seldom spoke about feelings. And when we did, we usually told each other how they were feeling. This added another layer of confusion to knowing whether or not what we were feeling was actually true.

So I never learned how to just be, without help from something else. This lead me to adopt unhealthy behaviors. Habits such as smoking, drinking too much coffee/alcohol, over eating, using pornography. The list goes on. Whatever I could do to distract myself from sitting and just being, I would. But this changed for me when I fell in love with a woman.

Learning That Relaxing Happens From the Inside Out

Something switched in me one day when I was working with someone I truly felt seen and heard by. This combination made me feel as though I could finally be accepted and loved. I was in love with the idea of being loved as I was. That’s when I started meditating, stopped drinking and started other healthy habits.

Habits such as running and yoga. I was cooking more often and more healthy meals as well. I was cultivating a healthier lifestyle around the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. Only I hadn’t realized our foundation wasn’t as solid as I had thought it was. She left me and I was left on my own. But fortunately for me, I had a host of healthy habits I had cultivated that would serve me well.

I continued to meditate and learned I could relax, on my own as I was. It wasn’t easy. And I still get caught in what Tara Brach calls, “the trance” of cravings. But now I’m able to know that they are fleeting. The old adage of, “this too shall pass”, fits well this description.

Another way to look at it is from a post I read on New Buddhist, “It’s odd. Instead of feeling like I have to do something about it – if I just relax, recognize it for what it is – I find that it’s not such a driving force as I was thinking it was.” – Michael.

Find What Helps You Most

And finally, we all have different experiences and different circumstances in our lives. Finding the situations that trigger your stress is the first step to handling your stress as a man. In healthy and caring ways. There’s no need to muscle through your stress. Or to taking it out on others. Find what brings you peace in a way that’s in line with your needs. For me, it was taking a bath being surrounded by the scents I love.

For you, maybe it’s a walk in the woods. Or finding a cozy place to curl up and read a book. I like to listen to music in a ambient lighting, listening to a few of my playlists tailored to my moods. Finding what brings you peace will serve you well over time and lead to a healthier way of relaxing. Peace : ) & thanks for reading.

If you have ways you enjoy relaxing as a man, I’d love to here about them in the comments section below! Thanks : )

Image Credits: “bath caddy with book wine in glass and scrub brush with foam bubble bath tub towel” by PersonalCreations.com is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Women’s Rights: What They Mean For a Man Raised With Less Than Accepting Values

I’ve written a lot about toxic masculinity on this blog, but I haven’t spoken about women’s rights very much. This is mostly due to me feeling as a man, that it isn’t really my place to speak my opinion on the subject. But with the recent ruling of Roe vs. Wade being overturned, I feel that it’s important for me to show that there are men who support women’s reproductive rights. Especially in this polarized culture we’ve been entrenched in. So on that note, I hope to move the cause forward if only to show support for those in need of some. Let’s take a look at where some of the values I was raised under were forged.

Women’s Lib, Stuck in the 50’s

This was where most of the lessons I learned as a child took root. About three decades before I was born. In my family and in the popular culture at large, women were mostly viewed as sex objects. Everything from TV shows to work place culture. It was most definitely a man’s world and women were objects to be won or used according to what the man’s need was.

My family held to these values with fervor. My grandmother was a model in the fifties and took to the culture with a sense of pride. It also seemed to be what she developed her identity around as well as raising her four daughters in the same vein. Women’s rights weren’t even on their radar when making choices about themselves and their families’ future.

The women in my family, instead, spent a lot of time shopping. Mostly for clothes, but I feel it was more of a way to bond. Over a shared experience. I’m not saying that they were shallow or trying to speak negatively about their characters. Shopping can be fun, but it was something that we took to the extreme. It came to define us as who we were. Consumers. And that’s how we avoided the ways we were ignoring the unbalanced power dynamics that were playing out in our family’s culture and the culture at large.

Why This Type of Neglect is Dangerous

And it was a shame that they chose shopping as one of their main outlets of self expression. Because the women in my family were and are smart and talented people. My mother is a talented artist, though never pursued her interest in the subject. In a way, it felt as though, from my perspective that, they were holding back an important aspect of their self expression by buying into the norms of forfeiting their women’s rights. All in the name of feeling comfortable or safe.

I was raised and surrounded by mostly women in my childhood. This, I feel, gives me a unique perspective on what the culture was, in my family anyway, around how women viewed and interacted with their worlds. I also feel as though I received a fair amount of traumatic abuse at the hands of the men in my family. Another area where I’m able to relate with women maybe a little bit better than most men.

I received two very polarizing views of the world through my family. There was the toxically masculine side where drinking scotch and beer to hide your emotions, while objectifying women as sex objects was the norm. And on the other side, there was Friedan’s model of the Feminine Mystique. Where women had sharp tongues to gain what little control they could wrestle away from the men, while drinking equally as much to cover over the pain of not feeling heard.

And that’s the reason why this type of neglect is so dangerous. It takes away the voice that the women in my family, could use to speak up for their rights. When you place your power in someone else’s hands, you then become concerned with how to get it back. Not realizing that you have had it all along. So now that we’ve found ourselves in this position of skewed power, how do we bring some balance back to the social equation?

Bringing Balance to Women’s Rights

From my perspective, a few different issues need to be addressed in order to create a more fair situation for women. Firstly, men need to be more comfortable with women as independent individuals, and second, woman need to collectively work towards breaking the stereotypes and shed more light on the ideas that certain roles aren’t only a woman’s duty. I.e., child rearing, taking care of the household needs and being less career focused. These are already outdated views, but how do we take what’s already happening and make it more the norm?

Men and Their Views Matter

This is a difficult aspect of this problem, because men have been traditionally in the position of power. And if most men were treated as I was by my family, were women were forced to use manipulations to gain a sense of power, than the men raised in these environments would have a less than ideal view of the women in their lives. This was what I experienced growing up and the lens I used to view the relationship in my life for a long time.

I’ve said many times before, that women were viewed as an object to be had in the culture I was raised in. Personhood and women’s rights weren’t even taken into consideration. I know that for me, I had to first come to see women as people all their own. With personalities, hopes and dreams. And this was difficult, because I had experienced a fair amount of abuse from the women in my family.

But what I needed to realize was, that the pettiness and manipulations weren’t traits of women exclusively. But that of people in a position of being oppressed. If somebody feels as though they have no say in their life, than they will naturally do what they’re able to, in order to gain some control of their situation. And this was a strange place for me to be as a white male. Because I felt as though I had no power or control over my own life.

Feeling Powerless to Change What Is

This seems counter intuitive, but being raised by women who felt they needed to manipulate in order to gain a sense of power back for themselves, left me feeling powerless. What made this so confusing was, that being a white male, I was told time and time again that I was in charge. Though never feeling I actually was.

All the bravado and over-the-top machismo attitude I put on were all for show. It felt as though I had no control over the elements of my life and that the important decisions were being made for me. I had no idea what I wanted to do for a living because I had no guidance to help me to find my path. So I went to college way to early, racking up a ton of debt for a degree I am barely using. I was married to a woman who I sought out to tell me how to live my life. As my mother had before her. And all the misguided steps along the way were learned from family that were in a constant power struggle, looking for their own sense of agency.

And I’ve seen close to the same situation play out with other men as well. We were looking for someone to live our lives for us. Instead of finding a partner to share our lives with. And with everybody feeling so powerless, nobody was feeling as though they could live a more fulfilling life. It always hinged on the other person.

Perspective Change

For me, I needed to realize that I was my own person first. The one in charge of making my own life decisions was me and my partner was not a replacement for my mother. I didn’t need a strong female voice to tell me who to be. I was already me. Regardless of what I was told to believe. But I needed to spend some time on my own in order to know this as truth for myself. I needed to get some practice in making decisions that made a difference in my life, to help me to move forward and realize my agency. This helped me to realize I was the other half of the equation in the relationships I had previously been in.

And this was how I broke from the ways I had been viewing women and their roles. By breaking the cycle of unhealthy relationships that had been modeled for me and that I was reliving. This helped me to see women as more whole, independent beings. But this wasn’t easy. And if more men are going to wake from the idea that women’s rights aren’t important, we are going to need more positive male role models to guide us. As well as healthy female role models who’ve come to know their own power in a healthy way.

Women And Their Power

And for women looking for women’s rights to be more equitable, they may want to find the same conflict of gender specific roles they’ve been tethered to and come to know them as human roles, not defined by gender. For the women in my family, this meant knowing that they are more than what they can provide for their family. That they are more than how attractive they are and their personalities are worth being explored and developed.

Finding Support and Breaking Old Ties

This means finding out and addressing the issues that the individual woman is wrestling with. The fashion and beauty industries are two big entities that have been telling women their value hinges on how attractive they look. This is just an example of old messaging that maybe still effecting some women’s actions on a daily basis.

They as well may want to feel and know that they are in charge of their own lives and have a say in what happens to them. This comes, I believe, with finding like minded people. Men and women to support and collaborate on making the world we live in a more fair and just one. Finding male partners who are an equal part of the child rearing process is one example. Also knowing that a woman’s career is just as important as a man’s. Finding work that matters to you and that you can make a change for the better, is a motivating aspect in life as well.

And knowing that all things domestic, do not fall under the category of a woman’s duty. This means finding a partner whose view of domestic duties goes beyond the scope of what they were in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s.

Women’s Rights Matters

And it’s from here that we can really understand that women have so much more to offer than what we’ve been telling them they are capable of. All the women I know have something unique and beneficial to offer the world around them. But it starts with us. I know this may be a bit difficult to hear coming from a white male’s perspective. After all, I’m part of the group that have been repressing women for a very long time. But I truly believe that women not only should have a say in what happens to them, but must in order to be happy and fulfilled.

With that in mind, I’m mostly speaking to the men who are reading. All I ask is that you take a look at the views you’ve had cultivated for you. Specifically on gender roles and gender stereotypes. Are they hurting women? Do they make you feel as though you lack something? That you’re less of a man if you don’t live up to them? If so, these are the areas we need to work on to be more fair and just. I hope this has been of some help. It’s not easy looking at ourselves and seeing the work that needs to be done. But it’s possible and know that you are not alone. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “women’s rights #blackprotest #czarnyprotest” by gregor.zukowski is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

Isolation and Being a Man Shouldn’t Go Hand In Hand

The Man Standard

I spoke about this some in last weeks post, about what it means to be a man, though not specifically about isolation. My experience, while growing up in the eighties, was a very polarizing one. Views and mindsets were on the verge of changing to be more inclusive, but there was still a stronghold of intolerance that shaded everything a stark black and white.

The lessons I gleaned from the opinions modeled for me were that, men acted one way and women acted another. There were no shared emotional experiences or characteristics. In my family, men were hard, in charge, responsible for everything and got what they wanted, when they wanted it and could resort to force to get it if the other did not comply.

Women on the other hand were objects to be won, raised the children, had no responsibilities, said and did cruel and cutting things with impunity as long as they did whatever the man wanted from them. Spoiler alert, this did not end well for anybody involved.

A Standard that Just Doesn’t Work

Why is that so? Because this way of being bred a lot of resentment. And if it’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that resentment is corrosive to relationships. I say corrosive because it seemed as though every action was being judged and criticized while every intention was called into question. And at the heart of this resentment was the limiting ideals of who could feel what or could be who they were, aka an imperfect human being with emotions. Anything outside of the polarized views of the expected roles of who men and women should be.

This, was, crazy making. I’ve talked about my abuse before on this blog. An experience that shaped my future interactions with people. Making me meek and timid around others. My timid nature was the subject of a lot of ridicule among my caregivers. I was called “sensitive”, which under the regime of my family, was a trait that men simply didn’t have.

It didn’t matter to them that I was traumatized at an early age and habitually abused and neglected. The reasoning being, if I were a real man, I should be able to handle it and do it on my own. This was/is an unreasonable expectation of anyone, especially from an eight year-old and lead to isolation. But I soldiered on under these expectations, not realizing the damage they were imparting.

Doing It On Our Own in Isolation

I’m not sure where this standard, of being in isolation and doing everything on your own originated, but it’s one that’s been alive and well for a long time. From my experience, asking for help was akin to showing vulnerability. And vulnerability was seen as a weakness and preyed upon. In my family anyway, if you showed that you weren’t able to handle something on your own or asked for help in anyway, the other person would show a deep sense of resentment. This lead to our collected isolation from each other.

Mostly because we all already felt like we were stretching ourselves to thin. So the burden of one more request was sharply felt in the form of resentment. But also because we never thanked anybody, or showed gratitude for anything anybody ever did. We definitely had a martyr complex and did not hesitate to proudly display this to others.

So instead of normalizing relying on and asking for help from others, I was taught that this was an act of aggression. One of disrespecting the other’s time and resources. In reality, I was just too scared to ask for help and to feel the scorn of any would be aid. This is what lead to my isolation. But since fear was another emotion that men weren’t supposed to feel, I pretended that I was better than asking for help. This was how I tricked myself into believing that asking for help was for the weak.

Weakness Ain’t So Weak

But this wasn’t something that was unique to my family. This was a cultural phenomenon. For example, most all of the Rambo movies were about just this. One man, in isolation, fighting against all odds to make right the situation. Also, Arnold Schwarzenegger from “The Predator” movies was another male role-model in isolation. Doing it all on their own without any help, and leaving a wake of destruction wherever they went.

When I was young and felt like I could take on the world, these were definitely two dangerous role-models for me to have. Learning that having to rely on others is a form of weakness, is no way to navigate challenges that come up in the day to day. But this was the playbook I was given. And one I jumped at the chance to emulate. Everybody I looked up to was doing it, why couldn’t, shouldn’t I?

Being a Tough Man, or Fear of Failure

What I hadn’t realized at the time was, that most of the male role-models in my life were scared to death of their own version of coming up short. Whether it was due to social pressures, pressures from their loved ones, societal expectations… The list goes on. But instead of owning these fears as unreasonable expectations, the men in my life chose to fake it till they made it. Only, there wasn’t anywhere to go. This however translated to a lot of drinking, belittling others, isolation and machismo bravado. All of which designed to show how independent and manly we were. Not realizing we were seeking somebody else’s approval. This did not work in our favor.

Most of the relationships in my family failed in one way or another. Family gatherings became strained events. We would all inevitably drink too much and talk about those closest to us in demeaning ways. There was a lot of hurt feelings and bruised egos as well. And everybody was too scared of one another to share how they actually felt and what was on their mind. It was a suffocating environment to grow up in.

Making The Change: From Man-Up to Cool-Down

When I was in high-school, as I said above, I was meek. I was quiet and timid but also outspoken in other ways. I did not go to classes, and made a few enemies along the way. One of them was a bully, but no ordinary one. Once, when I was confronted and cornered by this bully in the hallway during a class we were both skipping, she punched me in the eye while here two oafish friends held me in place. I had a black eye for a few weeks and on top of that, I had to tell everybody that a girl beat me up.

This was tough for my 15 year-old ego at the time. Especially growing up in the culture I had. If it was one thing that men didn’t do, it was get beat up by a woman. One of my caregivers even came to my defense and said, “what were you supposed to do, you’re not supposed to hit a woman.” There’s a lot of thing that aren’t right about this statement. Among them being, nobody asking why I was getting beat up in school instead of going to classes. But they were too ashamed of my “sensitive” nature to ask the important questions and try to set things right.

So asides from being taught that it wasn’t okay to be “sensitive”, how did I find a way to take better care of myself even with the years of harmful lessons I was taught? It started with embracing my sensitive nature and calling it for what it was, me being a man having emotions. But I had to rely on others and come out from my isolation to do this.

Emotional Experiences, From Traumatic Fear to Being Afraid in a Good Way

The road I took wasn’t a straight path. There were a lot of twist and turns and quite a few ignored emotions that needed to be felt. When I started “driving my own life bus” as my boss likes to say, I had to swallow my pride and admit that I had made a mess of the life I was living. Not asking for help from anybody left me in isolation and with few options as far as how to find the help I needed to move myself forward.

I moved back in with family and had to learn how to be a part of a family again. Only this time in a healthy way. And this was difficult. The more I was around my family, the more the old, painful emotions were coming up that I had been running from in my isolation. This was when I began dissociating. I would feel an intense emotion come on and my mind and body just wouldn’t be able to handle it. So I checked out. People have described it as there being nothing behind my eyes, empty. That was the traumatic fear I was unable to fully feel, of reconnecting with those who abandoned and neglected me.

But the longer I stayed with the feelings, meeting my edge and softening, the more I could embody them without dissociating. This took a lot of work in the way of self-care, learning to be able to trust others, accepting support from others and trusting myself that I wasn’t going to carry on the legacy of lessons that were taught to me.

Practice Makes Perfect: Wait, Maybe That’s an Unreasonable Standard

And what made this work possible was a whole lot of practice. My default settings were to rely on the harmful lessons of my caregivers past. I had to consciously work to recognize when a situation would arise where I was operating under old, unhealthy ways of being and willfully work to change the course of my old teachings.

Objectifying Women is Not the Mark of a Man

A great example of this is the ways I used to view women. As I said above, I was taught that women were objects to be won. This also meant that they were only to be seen as objects and their purpose was to fulfill desire. This meant sexual desire in my family. So my default teaching, while I was in isolation was, when I saw a woman, I immediately put her in one of two categories: attractive or unattractive. In my family, this was the extent of a woman’s value.

I hadn’t realized how demeaning this was because I wasn’t really driving my own life bus. I was acting on auto pilot. Mostly for fear of being rejected by the people who where teaching me these unhealthy lessons in the first place.

So I first had to recognize that these views I held were unhealthy. This came with getting to know the women I was already relying on in my day to day relationships as first; people with emotional worlds all their own, and second as smart, funny, caring and loving individuals. To my surprise, they were fun and loving people with loads of personality and lots to contribute to just about every area of life. It makes me sad to think that this came as a surprise, but those were the lessons I was taught.

Learning To Value the Person, not the Trait

But treating them as equals was something that went against my initial teachings. Also something I had to actively recognize, when I was judging them solely on their appearance. Because how can you really see someone as equal or with value if you decide their worth boils down to how hot they look in an outfit or naked?

So I was relying on the aid of these women to teach me how unhealthy my views and the lessons I learned were. By them showing me how amazing and strong they are. I was also recognizing the judgements I was making that were popping up in my mind as they were happening, while also challenging them in the moment.

This was tough, I’m not gonna lie. And I can see how some would choose to bury their heads in the sand and pretend it doesn’t need their attention. But the quality of my relationships has grown exponentially with these women. And I’ve learned so much just by being around them. For example, my boss is an amazing woman who started her own business after leaving a successful career in finance, where she traveled around the world while raising a family. She’s like an unstoppable machine and I’m pretty sure who Merion-Webster had in mind when they defined the word, “capable”.

Gratitude

I could go on, but I want to take this opportunity to thank all the women, especially those who go unrecognized, for putting up with people who I used to resemble, for as long as you have without killing us. You are much stronger than we’ve ever given you credit for being : ) Thanks.

So the new lessons I’m choosing to live by are, men don’t have to go it alone in isolation. There are loads of people that are more than willing to lend a hand, women being among some of the the most capable. And asking for help is not equivalent to weakness. If you’ve found yourself in a situation similar to mine, know that you are not alone. It takes some work to break free, but it is most definitely worth it. I’ll leave you with a song that’s given me strength on my journey. Peace & thanks for reading : )

Strength, Courage and Wisdom. India Arie

Image Credits: “Lonely Man” by Nickeeth Lopez is marked with CC BY-NC 2.0.

Updated: 1/15/23

Being a Man: Or How to Know When You Need to Flex on Some Turkeys : )

Being a man was of the utmost importance in my family. It was also the source of a lot of shame. In this post I want to talk about what being a man meant, and what it’s come to mean. Hopefully helping some others feel more comfortable with who they are. Now let’s talk about some turkeys : )

I was walking to a local shop not to long ago, to pick up my phone from being repaired after it stopped holding a charge. While I was on my why to the train station, I noticed a flock of wild turkeys bobbing around, looking for grubs to snack on. I thought that it was nice that I’ve been seeing more wildlife in the area, turkeys and rabbits being among them. So, with that in mind, I continued on my path towards the train station.

About a minute after passing the turkeys, I turned around for some reason only to notice that two of the turkeys had begun following me. I figured it was mating season, and I must have infringed on their territory. So I continued walking thinking they’d soon get bored and quit the chase. This however did not happen.

The turkeys got more aggressive, getting closer to me while pecking in the air in my direction. I turned around to face them, walking backwards while swinging my backpack at them in an attempt to shoo them, only to find that this was not helpful. While this was happening, a passerby drove up behind them and started honking the horn at them. This did not deter the turkeys. They raged on in my direction with an arrogant indignation of my presence.

The girl in the front seat of the car couldn’t have been more than 13 years-old, and was laughing hysterically. And trust me when I say, the humor was not lost on me : )

It was in this moment of levity, that my savior came. It was a little Yorkie Terrier guided by a man in his thirties. The man was explaining how waiving my bag was only making the turkeys more bold, while a dog one fourth the size of one of the birds, chased them into the nearby woods. It was a site to see, for sure and if I had my phone I would have definitely taken a video for documentation.

Is That What a Man’s Supposed to be Like?

Being chased by turkeys got me thinking, “how should I have handled this situation” and “does being chased by turkeys make me less of a man?” The conclusions I’ve come to are, no. And let me tell you why.

My Role Models Growing Up

In the time and place I grew up, being a man was usually paired with gratuitous violence and a black and white way to choose and practice your morals and values. Characters like Rambo and Arnold Schwarzenegger from “The Predator” embodied these behaviors, that men were supposed to emulate in order to be a man. That was the unwavering standard of what makes a man, a man.

And needless to say, these were unreasonable. But to an eight year-old, they make perfect sense. Through the eyes of a child, there is most definitely evil in the world and it needs to be smote by a muscle bound savior. Most likely fighting against all odds to save the day for the masses. Or to save a woman. The dangerous part of this message is that, we were all led to believe that deep down, we (real men) are the good guys and we could use whatever means necessary to achieve the end goal. Of fighting for the greater good.

This is, from my understanding, the way we rationalize using violence to achieve our goals. But as I see it, this use of violence is a form of letting our emotions take the wheel and control our actions. I could have charged the turkeys and released my anger and frustrations on them for trying to chase me and do them harm in the process. And I have a few people in my life that would have told me that a “real man” would have drop kicked those turkeys into the next zip-code. But would I be more of a man for doing that? No. Losing control of our emotional states is more a trait of immaturity. More child like.

And of course, this reaction takes root in the male role models we had in our childhoods. Professional wrestling was a huge proponent of this type of machismo attitude also. All the posturing and flexing, mixed with the bravado worked to normalize the use of violence, to alleviate the discomfort of feeling unsafe. Because at the core of conflict is that somebody, something, or animals in my case, are threatening my safety. Perceived or physical.

So if I’m right, most aggression is really a way to avoid the difficult emotions of feeling unsafe. Or not in control of our safety and surroundings. So how do we make the shift from feeling unsafe and then acting from our fear based emotions, to a more stable emotional place? I think it starts with practice and a little help from some healthier role models. Let me tell you how I’ve been practicing this.

My Role Models Now

I have a few photos on my phone’s wallpaper that rotate at random. They are, Dana Schultz from Minimalist Baker, Adriene Mishler from Yoga With Adriene, 2 Pac, Tom Hanks, Damon Albarn from Blur, Tara Brach, Mark Twain, Rumi, D’ Angelo the R&B artist and Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold, the rock climbers. As well as a few photos of things I’d like to have or achieve.

Adriene, Dana and Damon are there to remind me to keep at it, whatever it is. They are so prolific as artists, writers and doers, that they give me inspiration to keep writing or stay on top of my yoga practice or do my best in my work. Whatever it is I’m doing, when I see their photos, I’m reminded to try a little harder.

Tom and Tara are on there to show me that I don’t have to be so hard all the time. The lessons I learned growing up, the ones that told me I had to be calloused and unfeeling as a man just aren’t true. Tom, especially his role in “Sleepless in Seattle”, illustrates the vulnerability we all have. And that it’s not only a female trait, but a humane one. Tara reminds me to be patient and also to nurture myself along the way. All ways of being that I was taught weren’t a “real man’s” job.

Mark, Rumi, Tommy and Alex are there because they are great at what they do/did. And what made them great was their persistence, resilience and dedication. When I see them, I know that if I work hard enough, I’ll accomplish my goals. Anything’s possible. “Courage is mastery of fear, resistance to fear, not absence of it” – Mark Twain.

D’ Angelo made the list to remind me that as a man, it’s okay to show emotions deeply. To feel deeply and to be seen deeply. I was taught that men didn’t have emotions other than anger. And even though we showed anger freely, we were shamed for showing it. Of course we were relating to it in reactionary ways. This was unhealthy. I now recognize the full spectrum of my emotions as they happen and wait before I respond. Giving myself a little more leeway.

And 2-Pac made the list because “everybody and their lady got a little bit o thug in em” – 2Pac. I sometimes need to be reminded that it’s okay to break the rules sometimes. We’re not perfect and that’s okay.

So with these new role models, I’m rebuilding a new version of myself. One that is strong and flexible. Loyal and dedicated. Feels deeply and is not ashamed of it. Not afraid to take some risks, but also knows how to be soft when I need to be. Especially with myself. I’m building a better man, from the new resources I’ve been collecting. And it’s not easy.

The Road Is Most Definitely Difficult

There are definitely times that I want to give in to the feelings of being overwhelmed, or fatigue. As an old co-worker of mine used to say, the days when you “just don’t wanna.” Thanks Chris. But it’s worth remembering that feelings are fleeting. They never last.

There are times like today, when I wake up at 6:30am to work in a bakery/restaurant and then go directly to my second job at a family shelter, where on top of my professional duties, I also plan my personal responsibilities for the upcoming week. After 16 hours of working straight, I am definitely ready to do absolutely nothing.

And it may be easier to take the road I once did. Where I would work minimal hours and spend the rest of my time playing videogames and drinking. Chasing pleasure rather than building the connections and experiences that would persist and bring me joy in a sustainable way. But the “easier” way of living brought with it a consistent sense of fear and anxiety. Not to mention I had almost no close friends to share my time with. I was alone and I had no idea that it was connected to the ways I was isolating from everyone.

Isolation is yet another lesson I learned on how to be a man by my caregivers and culture. Something I’ll be exploring some more in next weeks post. There’s something deceptively comforting in thinking you can do it all alone. Though impossible to actually accomplish, we still try. This is mostly due to, I believe, being told and shown we can by the culture. Being afraid to ask for help because it means you aren’t in control was another lesson on manhood I received in my childhood.

But avoiding connection was all connected to running from the fear of being hurt in relationships. We all get hurt by one another eventually. It’s only a matter of time really. But we need one another. Because being connected and sharing experiences are what makes life worth living. We can’t do that on our own.

So When Is It Okay To Flex On Some Turkeys?

This is by no means an exhaustive list on the many pitfalls we face when measuring ourselves up against the standards of what it means to be a man. These are only my perspectives of the lessons I’ve had impressed on me and what I’ve learned from them. But know that if you have some fears or questions on what it means to be a man, you are not alone.

It’s hard to come to the conclusion of what being a man means to us on an individual level. And what it means to you may not be what it means for me. But we’re all on the same journey together. And sometimes our paths do cross and we walk for a little while together. Hopefully my experiences have helped you in some way understand your experience a little better.

And I think the answer lies in something that Adriene from “Yoga With Adriene” says often, “find what feels good”. Only I’d add, in a sustainable way. Peace : ) and thanks for reading. Oh yeah, if you found that you’re being chased by turkeys, the common wisdom is to show dominance by waving your arms wildly while shouting and slowly walking towards them. Also having a dog on a leash helps as well. One more reason to own a dog : )

Image Credits: “I had to inch my way past this gang of local hooligans to get out of my driveway this morning. #lifeinthesuburbs #morningcommute” by Lorianne DiSabato is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Updated 1/13/23

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