Romantic love from a man's perspective - Part 2.
In my previous blog I began by setting the scene for contemporary romantic relationships by using my own experience as a narrative for understanding what it looks like for men in particular to be in relationships. I explained how I believe romantic relationships are the real litmus test as far as exposing who we really are. As a single person it is very easy for one to make claims of being patient, caring, considerate etc. but how patient or considerate one is truly reveals itself when ones partner pushes their most sensitive buttons.
Having just celebrated International Women’s Day, it occurred to me as I read various posts on social media that there is still a very tainted view of what a man is or should be. Our Westernised perception of masculinity is still grounded in an antiquated view which assumes that men are supposed to be ‘strong’, in control, in charge and essentially have all their shit together. It was also abundantly clear to me that this version of masculinity is responsible for a huge amount of damage inflicted on women and that this damage is still being felt by women across the globe. The gender debate is similar to the debate around racism in the sense that a lot of men respond by stating their innocence and being defensive. “Why am I paying for the sins of my father?” or “why are you upset about injustices committed against your predecessors?” “I don’t treat you like that!” It is no surprise that the gender divide continues as this response only seems to accelerate the hurt, pain, anger etc.
So, what does real masculinity look like? Unfortunately for us men the answer resides in a place that is extremely uncomfortable for most of us. Two words that come to mind are empathy and vulnerability. Sadly, most people confuse sympathy with empathy and consequently wonder why despite their considerate responses to their partners, very little is achieved in creating a sense of connection and closeness. Sympathy is defined as "feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else's misfortune". Many people assume what another is going through based on their own experiences, which elevates them to the centre of the conversation and inadvertently misses the other. Albeit well-intended, sympathy can often leave the recipient feeling unseen, dis-empowered and alone. It is often embedded in the common phrase “I know how you feel” or “I know what you’re going through”. It is also usually accompanied with an attempt to fix the situation. “When my partner left me, I signed up on Tinder and that worked for me and so I’m sure it will work for you too!” "You have to stay strong!"
Empathy on the other hand is about a commitment to understanding the world of the other. It is defined as "the ability to understand and share the feelings of another". To truly understand, we need to be invested in truly listening to the other. Listening not just to what people are saying but what they don’t say. Of similar significance is the concept of congruence which is a focus on how they are communicating. If one is describing experiencing loss with a smile on their face, that is critical information worth tuning into. Do their expressions match what they are saying? For someone who is still helplessly in love with their partner after a breakup, Tinder may not necessarily be the best option.
To be truly empathic requires vulnerability. To let go of the need to fix things and just be present. To let go of the need to be right and instead choose to be authentic. To replace judgment with a real appreciation for the individuality of others. To let others into the less acceptable parts of who we are. I believe that as men we exhibit real strength when we sacrificially pursue others in order to improve their well-being. As men our calling is not so much to hunt for prey as we have traditionally thought, but rather to put our lives on the line to ensure that our loved ones are filled. The goal of the hunt is not to kill as much prey as possible to enhance my status as the hunter but instead the focus is on feeding my loved ones. True success as a man is determined by how whole my partner feels. Our collective success as men is directly related to how much the women in our society feel seen, heard, understood and ultimately cared for. I would suggest that perhaps the requirement for women to be appreciated and loved well, exceeds that of equity which seems to be the focus of much of the gender discord.
I acknowledge that this is not an easy task for me personally and I imagine I am not alone in both my dislike for vulnerability and my constant need to work at empathy. However, I am also convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that unless I become that kind of man, any chance I have at a healthy relationship is doomed. Consequently, one of the things I am passionate about is that as men we get together often to have these conversations about how we go about creating that paradigm shift around what true masculinity looks like. That we begin to encourage the idea of real men as vulnerable and empathic. That we begin to show up differently in our relationships and that we show and tell our children different stories regarding masculinity. Real men stand up for injustice against women and children and cannot stay silent when they witness it, real men are concerned about the fulfilment of the collective and not themselves as individuals, real men seek help when they need it and finally real men allow themselves to be seen, to be truly seen as they are without having to pretend that everything is always fine.
If you live in Perth and are looking for a group of men who are passionate about being part of the movement that encourages this kind of masculinity, then please get in touch and let’s make this happen. If you’re a woman who sees the value in this narrative of masculinity, then please encourage the men in your lives to get in touch. I will be starting a men’s group next month which will run every month that will explore these themes in more detail. Subscribe on the website so you don’t miss this!