I was talking to a mother the other day about the tragedy of the fatal car accident at her son's school. The classmate who died wasn't her son's best friend, but they knew each other as kids do when they share classes, familiar but not close.
The mother was badly shaken up and took many days to try and make sense of something senseless. When I asked her how her son was coping with the loss, she replied: "he's a boy, they don't feel the same as we do, he acts like nothing happened."
She was OK with that.
I was appalled.
This was a woman who had been in therapy. She had some self-awareness but never really dug deep enough to understand that everything in our lives revolves around our emotions…or, our reaction to someone else's.
All embryos start female; six weeks later, they shift either to becoming male ones or continue down the path to being female. Emotionally and spiritually, we are identical, but it's how our society's mores shape us and pass messages to us that either encourages our emotions to blossom or hide under denial.
Growing up male, I would think, is so much harder than being female. The core of who we all are, our authentic identity, is based upon how we feel, not how we think. It's only later that intellect and choice define our values, purpose in life, and behaviors.
The pressure on boys to become "men" is based on fear; fear that if they feel too much, and/or express their emotions, they will be weak and woman-like. That repression shows itself in aggressive behaviors, rage, and shame. Homophobia runs rampant in the male community.
Suppression of one's feelings has no value, in fact, it's harmful to one's health and sense of well-being and, ironically, it keeps us out of control, not in control.
So, growing up with any self-awareness usually gets assigned to women, not men.
How many times did I ask my former husband(s) how they felt about something, and get a foggy look in their eyes?
Maybe one in a hundred men have a clue about deep feelings; it's not that they lack them, it's more about identifying them and being able to discuss them without feeling diminished.
What I have found is that the men who can articulate how they feel usually had a good relationship with their parents and the father was actively involved in activities that engaged his son. It's the father's responsibility to usher his son into manhood.
Those men have good relationships with both their parents, their parents are not divorced, and all the kids in the family are connected to each other. Everyone treats one another with affection and respect. Or, they have been in therapy that really enabled them to shift and be more accessible.
These men have a strong sense of who they are and move through the world with a sense of competence and clarity.
Their choices reflect confidence coming from trusting their instincts, not fear or the need to have power over another person.
Understanding how men process feelings has helped me greatly understand my brother better, my Dad (who is 100), and the men I date.
It’s up to us as women to change how we talk with men. Giving them space and not expecting things from them that they struggle with. How we talk to them determines if they can trust us or not. That is the core issue for men; from early on, the women in their childhoods…teachers, mothers, older sisters, all have a profound effect on how they view women as they get older.
The biggest lesson I have learned about men: treat their feelings with respect, and always remember they also struggle with their own unique inner battles, it just doesn’t seem that way all the time. But if we provide a non-judgmental place for them, their softer side can come out of hiding in those moments that we will cherish.