Boys to Men - Towards an Integrated Understanding of Men
Updated: Nov 11, 2018
A few decades ago the world witnessed an interesting phenomenon in the form of the women’s liberation movement. As is the case with many movements, this was driven by a determination to make a difference. In this particular case the goal was to create a sense of equity between women and men and by so doing liberate women who felt otherwise disadvantaged. This inequity was experienced by women all over the world in various ways including the home, where they felt subservient to their husbands, at work, where they weren’t afforded the same opportunities or remuneration as men and generally in society where they weren’t able to ‘get away with’ as much as men. One of the areas where this was apparent was in the area of sexuality. Women were slandered for having more than one sexual partner and in some cases the consequences for such perceived promiscuity was fatal. Their male counterparts were, on the contrary, admired and referred to with flattering terms such as ‘casanova’ or ‘ladies’ man’. Leading Hollywood actors such as James Bond who were portrayed as the quintessential man, were often depicted sleeping with multiple women. The ‘slut’ versus the ‘stud’.
Contemporary society has seen a major shift as a result of feminism and women are now in many cases experiencing a greater sense of equality. From a sexual perspective, it is generally more socially acceptable for women to have multiple partners over the course of their life and even concurrently. Additionally, the James Bond idea of what it means to be a man has lost its general appeal and instead men who display casanova-like characteristics are now labeled ‘players’ and ‘fuck boys’, both terms bursting with denigration. I have personally been labeled a player on many occasions and I hope that this entry will serve as intel into what I believe is something a lot more complex than we usually appreciate. I also hope that this will encourage more of us to seek to understand what is going on under the hood instead of rushing to make judgment calls regarding the external expressions of deeper issues.
I grew up in a world where our fathers went to work to provide materially for their families. In my case dad was away for long hours leaving mum to do much of the raising of us kids. Being the firstborn child, I assumed the role of surrogate dad to my siblings and inadvertently surrogate husband to mum. When I was 16 I had my first experience of love. All the fiery excitement of my teenage romance was very quickly snuffed out when one night I rocked up to a party late, and found my girlfriend kissing one of my mates by the lake. To say I was heartbroken would be an understatement and in hindsight I believe I made a covenant with my heart that I would never allow it to experience that level of hurt again. Despite the agreement I had with my heart, I grew up an avid reader and the lure of the ‘happily ever after’ endings was too enticing and so alas I found myself betraying my heart. The next two relationships followed a similar pattern… an intense beginning followed by the familiar heartbreak, both at the hands of so-called friends. I realise now that in each of those cases I found myself in a strange predicament as a result of earlier life choices I had made. I couldn’t turn to anyone because I had set myself up as the one that everyone else turned too. I couldn’t really grieve outwardly as this was not the representation of manhood that I had seen modelled. And so, I suffered in silence and in typical male fashion tried to ‘get over it’.
Fast forward the story to my early 20’s and now I find myself in relationships where I am struggling to strike the balance between not ever wanting to experience that kind of pain again but at the same time not wanting to inflict pain or hurt either. I also realised that ‘happily ever after’ was never really described in any detail and so I formed a picture of what that looked like. Invariably, whenever reality diverged from my utopian view of relationships, I labeled it as ‘not meant to be’ and that attitude would eventually lead to its demise. Finally, I got to a stage after my last relationship where I decided enough was enough and I was sick and tired of ‘failed relationships’ and so I vowed to not get into another exclusive relationship unless there was some sort of guarantee that it would last. A major event soon followed which threw me for six and I found myself going through a period of depression. In my shame I turned to alcohol and partying to numb the pain and along with that a familiar place of comfort, women. Having been raised primarily by mum, in the female gender I had experienced comfort in times of sickness and pain. It was no coincidence then that I was drawn back to that soft place in my time of desperation. Unfortunately, this was also accompanied by my resolve to not get into another relationship prematurely. Additionally, I was reluctant to be a one-night stand guy and so what eventuated was a number of short flings.
So, is the player label I have at times been branded with warranted? My concern is not so much with the label but rather using it to vilify without understanding. I was always brutally honest about my position and never led anyone to believe that what was happening was anything more. Unfortunately, I believe that what may have transpired was a situation where my actions (due to a commitment to not wanting to hurt) told a different story. And in some cases, the flings were drawn out a lot longer than was healthy for either party and I ended up doing the very thing I was trying to avoid.
I now wonder how many other ‘players’ out there are actually grown up hurt young boys with love-shaped holes in their hearts. I wonder whether what is needed in place of the stigmatisation and the public humiliation ever so prevalent with the advent of social media, is a commitment to understanding men. A commitment to journeying with us to heal the wounds of the little boys inside us so that in turn we may love better and perhaps raise a new generation of young men less wounded than ourselves.