Redefining Masculinity

I recently bought a shirt from Rogue Fitness that has a portion of Theodore Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” speech written on the back. The quote is, “at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls.” The quote is also the reason for the name of the book, Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. She uses the quote to help redefine the cultural conception of courage to include the everyday courage that men need to be vulnerable in relationships. 

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In a Netflix original in which Brene Brown speaks on this idea, she recounts speaking to a room of active duty military personnel. She asked them to describe a time in which they were required to have courage, but were not vulnerable. After some silence, one soldier stood up with multiple combat tours under his belt and told her, “Ma'am, there is no courage without vulnerability.” Physically, courage is not required unless there is risk of injury. 

Courage within a relationship is the same. It takes courage to open up about a part of yourself, knowing that you may face rejection and emotional injury. Yet, being emotionally vulnerable has not been viewed in our culture as courageous. The “strong silent type” has been praised in our culture through movies and TV as the ideal form of masculinity. To be masculine means you are dependable, not “weak.” For a long time, I thought that meant there was no space for me to need support from my wife. I was the one to help her when she was struggling, I was not the one who was supposed to need the help. 

This view of masculinity seems prevalent both in men and women. Men do not feel the permission to be emotionally vulnerable. Although some women may say they want a man who is “sensitive,” sometimes that means they want a man who empathizes but does not require much emotionally himself. If a man is too “sensitive,” a woman may complain to her girlfriends that he is “whiny.” The fact that we have a category for a “sensitive” man should tell us something of our modern view of masculinity. 

There are strengths that men and women gravitate towards which should be praised, but not to the exclusion of being a well rounded human being. Men are emotional beings. Strength and courage are found in facing the emotional scars a man has and doing the hard work of processing through those scars. Deeper emotional connection and joy can be found in relationships when men find the courage to be vulnerable. 

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Many men have not had the experience of being emotionally vulnerable or had it modeled for them. Therefore, it can be awkward and difficult when starting, like a toddler learning how to walk. It takes courage to take those first awkward steps. I encourage you to read Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly. Have a conversation with your partner that you want to start and explore simple ways to be more emotionally expressive. Speaking from experience, it is easier to find negative emotions, so I encourage you to balance that with positive emotions and work hard to express those as well. 

Do not let your view of masculinity be limited by our culture. Get in the arena and find the courage to be vulnerable. 

-Tim

Emotions Do Not Ask For Permission

Ashley had done some hard work through counseling and processed through a lot of baggage in her life. It was now 2016, and I had graduated law school and now it was my turn. Ashley had a tough conversation with me and told me that she did not want to continue our relationship in the way it was going. She told me I needed to see a counselor and work through some stuff. There was no coercion or threats, but I knew she was right.  It is impossible to distill the 11, or so, years of marriage that led to that point in a single post. But, we both knew that for us to have a thriving relationship for the next 50+ years of our marriage, I needed to do some work on myself.

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Out of wanting to not disappoint or hurt Ashley, I tended not to speak up or let my opinion be known. I thought, “better for her to be able to do the things that she wants then for me to ask her not to,” or “better to stifle my emotions, then to express them and hurt her.” I associated emotions with weakness. So in her expressing emotions and me being calm, I was being the strong one, the person that she could depend on to be steady. I also tend to shy away from personal conflict, so I was quick to try to make peace and move on when there was conflict, instead of dealing with the real issues.

I enjoy the logical side of being human. For me, rationality seems easy, clean, simple. Emotions are difficult and messy. I was even keeled, my highs were not very high, and my lows were not low. I was okay in the gray zone of emotions. I may not have been experiencing strong positive emotions, but at least I did not feel strong negative emotions. I came to ask myself, “What if I am not experiencing life how it was intended to be?” Humans are rational creatures, but they are also emotional creatures. For my entire life, I let my rational side overpower my emotional. What was I missing by stifling the emotional side of me?

Emotions do not ask for permission. They happen regardless of whether you want them or not. Unlike rational thoughts, your body does not ask you, “Hey Tim, this happened, how would you like to respond?” Nope, something happens, and before you know it, BAM! Emotions show up and you ask yourself, “What happened? I was just sitting here.” So, you have two options: You can stifle them, or you learn how to approach them in a healthy way.

For my adult life, thus far, I chose to stifle them. Going through counseling was messy. I actually asked for a chart with the names of the different emotions on them so when I felt something I could work on identifying the emotion. Shocking, I know.

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Counseling stirred up a lot of topics for Ashley and I to talk about, which was not easy. I had to start learning a balance between sharing, but not over-sharing. Somethings are actually best left unsaid. Sometimes, expressing emotions is overly selfish because the motivation is completely self centered.
I am still learning, and will continue to learn. Fortunately, Ashley has stuck by me through the process and we have learned a lot. Emotions do not ask for permission, but you have a choice for how to approach them.

-TIM