It’s a tricky subject to address, the idea of male vulnerability; can I write about it in a fair and balanced way? Will I come across like a douche, no matter what I write? Who am I to write about this topic anyway, and why do I even want to?
I want to because some of my favorite people are dudes and I want them to know that they can feel safe to be themselves around me. I want them to feel safe to be themselves with other people as well. I want to because we need to make sure that we are constantly examining gender expectations to see how they fit into today’s quickly evolving society, because it can do everyone some good. And I want to because I feel it’s only fair that if I get to be a bumbling idiot sometimes, that men or those who male identify are granted the same freedoms.
Perhaps I’m too disconnected from “normal” society to be familiar with the current state of male vulnerability acceptance. The vast majority of men in my life exist there because they are already comfortable with their emotions and possess the thing that I am the most attracted to; confident vulnerability. I have trouble relating with humans who refuse to bring their walls down, though I am trying to understand at the very least, why these walls exist. Even those that I know that do have walls up, eventually bring them down around me because I make it somewhat mandatory, as part of knowing me intimately. You cannot get to know me if I can’t really get to know you. That’s not fair to either of us.
Men are and have always been expected to be strong. Strong is and has often been equated to rising above adversity and not only containing negative or sad emotions; but also not acknowledging their existence. Unless we are talking about anger, patriotism, or beer fueled sports celebrations, history hasn’t made a safe place for men to be emotional.
Things have changed over the past few years. Those of us born after the baby boomer generation are more likely to look inward and focus on self-fulfillment than our parents were. Some have dubbed us “Generation Me”, and those generations to follow us are even more aware of the need to “find themselves” than even we have been. Though I might argue that with everyone being on the internet nowadays, generational lines are somewhat blurry. I can easily find myself relating to an 18 year old on one day and a 45 year old the next. We’re all part of one big generational soup.
As a result of this generation’s focus on “being true to ourselves”, men are being encouraged to open up more and more, with their partners being encouraged to embrace their husbands and boyfriends with open arms when it’s their turn to cry. But where is the infrastructure to support this honesty when the man leaves the house? What happens when the safe space crashes down around him at the end of a relationship and suddenly he has to be alone in the world again, as the only person he could feel vulnerable with was his partner, who is now gone? While it’s all well and good that we encourage open communication and acceptance of emotions within the boundaries of intimate relationship units, what really happens when men step outside of that zone?
Society talks a good talk about accepting and encouraging male vulnerability but are we really there yet? Or have we simply acknowledged that it’s a place we need to get to, while we wait for our judgments and assumptions to catch up to us? Do women *really* respond well when their man breaks down, admitting a fear, insecurity, or sadness to them? Or do we instead feel conflicted by the fact that we WANT to be ok with this but often still crave that male stoicism; that “I can handle everything because I am the protector” persona. Research has shown that women feel happier when their partners are expressing emotion of any kind, but we have to allow men to do so without trying to shape that expression. I remember the first time that my husband actually yelled at me during an argument; I couldn’t help myself from smiling as I was just so happy to see him sharing his feelings on ANYthing, good or bad.
Whether we’re talking about men expressing themselves at home, or with the world, we have to ensure that we let them fumble and figure it out as they go, helping as they need and when they ask. Society for decades hasn’t made this easy territory for men and now suddenly there’s huge expectations for everyone to be comfortable with their “softer” side without any thought being given to what guidance they may need to do that. Just because we are working on addressing our conceptions of masculinity doesn’t mean that the macho guy who’s always had to let everything roll off his back, will know how or be ok with telling you he’s afraid of dying. Or feels under-appreciated at the office. Or feels you don’t compliment him enough. Or or or … the list goes on.
In both our individual relationships and our interactions with the world around us, we need to find more leniency for men to be what they need to be and let them figure it out as they go. Outside of abusing others, there are no right or wrong ways to express feelings, and we need to all be mindful that we aren’t trying to box someone in because we have not yet learned to speak their emotional language. Maybe they haven’t even learned it yet themselves. It is ridiculous and unfair to expect a large percentage of humans to simply absorb their feelings and censor them for the sake of our comfort. Showing emotions should no longer be perceived as being weak, when it requires true strength of character to let guards down and let people in.
Let me be clear about one thing. As a submissive woman, I love when a man is in control of things. When we, as lovers can temporarily embrace “traditional” gender roles for the sake of hot sex, I am all about it. However, if that same dominant man is not able to come to me in other moments and be honest about his feelings, his weaknesses and his needs, I struggle with staying interested. As I mentioned before seeing someone confidently own their vulnerability is possibly the sexiest and most honest thing a person can do. Having a person acknowledge their imperfections is to me the definition of perfect. If I have to push past my societal training to see someone for who they really are, to allow them a safe space to be not just a man, but a human, it’s worth it.
Further reading, courtesy of The Good Men Project: