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.
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.
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.