When my boyfriend shared his feelings, he wanted something more from his friends. Some recognition of his feelings. Acceptance.
Maybe even put his head on one of his friends’ shoulders and get a hug.
“I… I’m depressed,” he confided in them. He had called his friends and asked them to hike together. “If I don’t get a job soon, I’m going to lose my mind.” He continued. He was taking a chance, opening up like that. He didn’t know what to expect. But he needed… support. For his friends to tell him what he was going through was okay. Someone to allow him to let out all those bottled emotions.
His friends shattered his heart.
“Men don’t talk like that,” they said. My boyfriend felt something receding in his heart. The open part, the feeling part, the yearning part, closing down.
Two months have passed since he has been laid off from his work. The company he worked for 7 years is downsizing because of the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. He is one of the unlucky ones his boss called one unfortunate morning to let go without giving him any buffer to find his next job.
He has not been able to get another job.
“What don’t you call your buddies and hike together?” I was hoping he could talk to his friends like I do when I wanted to vent my frustrations with my female friends.
It turned out it is not safe to share feelings among men.
Worse, when they do, they are labeled as weak.
When he talked about his despair, he could see in the slant of his eyes that his words bothered them. There he was, telling his friends he felt depressed and like a loser. They didn’t know how to handle this naked emotion.
They told him he has lost his masculinity for sharing his feelings.
Some men carry emotional suppression like a badge of honor.
I’m working closely with a male colleague who’s carrying emotional suppression like a badge of honor right now.
Both of us worked hard to get a promotion since COVID hit us and forced us to deliver online classes. I got the promotion. He didn’t. I expected many things. I expected him to be sad for a couple of weeks or days at the very least. I expected maybe he would be furious at me.
I did not expect his avoidance of his feelings.
“Tell me what you feel,” I asked. He said, “I don’t like to talk about my feelings.” He talked about getting a promotion for the entirety of 2020. And now, he refuses to even acknowledge his disappointment for losing a promotion.
He is not the only man I know who suppresses his feelings.
I never heard my dad talk about his feelings. Not to mention tell me he loves me. He sucked all his emotions in, where they bubbled like trapped, molten lava, until they erupted in spectacular bursts of rage. Conversations about our feelings and emotional experiences terrify him. According to him, showing any emotion is a weakness.
He carries emotional suppression like a badge of honor.
Once, my brother gave him a handwritten note and a gift, a token of his love and appreciation. My father didn’t expect his son to show emotion. His face told us his disappointment in his only son for showing love.
My father taught me to march through life stoically, our hearts neatly sealed, safe from the joys and sorrows of life.
This is terrible for both men and women.
This is something I deliberately unlearn every day. I don’t want to remain in emotional solitary confinement for the rest of my life like my father is.
It sucks that men are not there for each other.
I have a female friend who lives far away. Her life is different from mine. I live in a city, work in a building, and get up early to write. My friend lives in the jungle, wakes up when the sun comes up, and goes running in the wilderness. When either of us feels despair — or has something important to say — we reach out. We talk. We share our feelings. Nobody understands as she understands. For the duration of that conversation, everything falls away. Everything.
The time we have not been in touch doesn’t matter. The clamor and bustle of the city she hears on my end of the line and the sounds of the jungle I hear on hers don’t matter. Our call creates an instant, clean, powerful bridge, and our entire, separate worlds don’t matter. We share what’s on our minds.
We’re friends and we’re there for each other.
Unlike my boyfriend who does not share his feelings with his friends — even with those, he knows since their college days.
He has trouble exploring, having, naming, and expressing his feelings to his male friends. He grew up in a household with a father who was emotionally distant. At school, he was made fun of because he was different and learned quickly how to communicate in a more socially acceptable, masculine way to avoid being bullied. Now he’s in his thirties, but he’s having trouble connecting with other men in a more intimate, meaningful way. He’s able to be open about some of his feelings after having a few drinks, but that’s it.
And now, after taking a chance on sharing his feelings with his friends, he may never open his heart to them again.
It sucks that men are labeled as weak when they choose to be vulnerable. It sucks that most men were probably raised to suck their emotions up. It sucks that they have to avoid showing their feelings. It sucks that they have to project an image so hard and steely to the outside world that nothing could penetrate their beating hearts.
But here is a truth…
Men are not unfeeling.
When you search online for the term “masculinity” synonyms like virility, machismo, muscularity, and ruggedness come up. These definitions tell men not to cry in front of other people. Because that would ruin their image of being stoic and threaten their masculinity.
Just because men are told to hide their feelings, doesn’t mean they don’t have them. Research shows men experience emotions at the same level that women do. But because it’s not socially acceptable for a man to cry when he’s sad, it can make it seem like men don’t experience sadness at all.
Like women, men feel, doubt, fear, and hurt.
It’s just that they are trapped in the confines of a society that tells them it’s unmanly to cry, to hurt, or to express the myriad of other emotions we all experience as a result of living fully as human beings.
In The Men We Never Knew, author Daphne Rose Kingma has a haunting paragraph on what society is doing to our men,
“We’ve dismissed men as the feelingless gender — we’ve given up on them. Because of the way boys are socialized, their ability to deal with emotions has been systematically undermined. Men are taught, point-by-point, not to feel, not to cry, and not to find words to express themselves.”
This is why my boyfriend’s friends could not let another man cry on their shoulders, and embrace him without the fear that they will lose their masculinity.
These emotional avoidances have consequences.
- Losing someone you love — as you cannot love someone without being vulnerable.
- Becoming the kind of man who withdraws love instead of expressing it.
- Remaining in emotional solitary confinement for the rest of your life.
- Feeling isolated — even when you are with others.
- Your unprocessed emotions stagnating and festering. After a while, they become corrosive.
Fortunately, there is a solution.
Men can learn to admit to the fear, sadness, and pain they feel.
Society dictates most of our actions. What we see, we emulate. What we hear, we share. What we understand, we spread. What we think is right, is the model we follow. Therefore, since society has deemed women as the holder of all feelings, we let them take that role. No questions asked.
I want to obliterate this culture.
Don’t you? Don’t you want your boyfriend or husband to open up and share his feelings without fearing someone will label him a weak man?
Four years ago, my boyfriend could not share his feelings with me. Through the years, he has learned to tell me his secrets. To apologize. To admit that he was a man who locked his heart with a deadbolt key and thrown the keys away. To follow through on learning how to do better.
He has cried in front of me.
He has said, “I love you” more times than I can remember.
The only thing he does not feel safe is sharing his feelings with his male friends.
I feel his fear. If you’re a man reading this, you probably feel the fear too. Deep down inside, you don’t want anyone to see you cry. Allowing others to see you cry is choosing to be vulnerable in a world that seems to tell you to toughen up, to be invulnerable. Allowing others to see you cry is letting go of control and self-image in a world you perceive as controlling and image-possessed.
Allowing others, especially men, to witness your vulnerability feels… unsafe.
But what’s the alternative?
Not being vulnerable is dangerous. It means sentencing yourself to a life of isolation, even when you are surrounded by people who love you.
You don’t have to tell your deepest, darkest secret. You can start with something small and go from there. Phone a male friend. Share something intimate and vulnerable about yourself. So often, men will feel a glimmer of sadness or grief and quickly shut it down. But they can learn to open up and share their feelings, to feel those terrifying emotions, to remain vulnerable — even if that means getting hurt. Men can be brave. They can admit to the fear, sadness, and pain they feel. They can be there for each other without judgment.
They can be a more loving human being thanks to that.