“Hey…can we talk?”
“Yeah, what’s up?”
“It seems like we’ve been busy lately and it would be nice if we could set some time aside to go out on a date.”
“Yeah, sure. Just let me know when you want to go and what you want to do.”
“Well…I have a few ideas but, what do you want to do?”
“It doesn’t matter to me. Just tell me what you want.”
Now, there are a few things to note about this conversation:
#1 Even though I didn’t tell you who the man is and who the woman is in this conversation, you instinctively knew.
#2 If you’re a man, you probably don’t see anything wrong with this conversation. If you’re a woman, this conversation might illicit a feeling of anxiety, flatness, frustration, or loneliness.
#3 One person is doing all the emotional work here.
Many couples have conversations like this on a regular basis.
Typically, when confronted with a lack of participation, the man becomes confused and frustrated because he doesn't know what he isn't doing. He may say something like, “Just tell me what you want.” At this point, many women tend to get frustrated and confused as well because they don’t know what they want.
This is where people get stuck.
If we go back to the conversation, I can see why both parties are stuck. First of all, the woman is the one who had to generate the energy and vulnerability to ask for something she wanted. She even voices her emotion and desire by saying that it would feel “nice” to go out together.
What she’s met with is his deferment back to her. He provides no emotional response, no vulnerability, and no ideas.
When met with this, she tries again. She acknowledges that she has some ideas, but she is also wanting more engagement from him.
At this point, he doubles down on his deferment and even adds that he doesn’t care.
Now, this may not mean that he doesn’t care about her or that he doesn’t care about the date but, this is where she is again burdened with doing all the work of remembering, deciding, planning, and holding the excitement of the conversation.
It would be completely normal for her to think:
“Does he even want to go?”
“Would he remember if I didn’t bring this up again?”
“How is he really feeling right now?”
All of this could be going on in the background, without her having much awareness of it. However, what she does know is that it doesn’t feel equal, engaging, fun, or exciting to be in dialogue like this.
This is the invisible work that creates a REAL struggle for both men AND women.
One day, during my sophomore year of high school, two kids that I hung out with got into a feud over something stupid. I was told that the bigger kid was going to fight the skinny kid so I we all met up outside the cafeteria. The skinny kid was obviously afraid, so he sat down on the stairs and refused to get up and fight. He was called every name in the book by the big kid and all the boys watching.
I froze in that moment, not knowing whether I should stand up for the skinny kid or jump in on the hazing. Within a few seconds, it was too late. The big kid walked up and sucker punched the skinny kid. He broke his nose in one punch. Blood and tears poured out over the kid’s face, shirt, and out onto the floor.
For a moment, time stood still and no one knew what to do. The skinny kid hid his face and quickly ambled towards the office. I mean, what else could he have done?
The big kid got suspended for a few days and the skinny kid got labeled a “rat” for the rest of the year. He showed up to school the next day, with two black eyes and a splint over his nose. I felt so bad for him, but I didn’t say anything. We still saw each other in shared friend groups and I witnessed how emotionless teenage boys can be, as they continued to prod him for his inability to defend himself.
I also knew what it was like to be them because I was one, too. I was always a little bit smaller than the rest of the boys, so I knew what I had to do. I fought my way out of getting bullied on many occasions and I even instigated some fights to proactively assert myself as a non-p$#%&!. I knew that, if I didn’t fight back at every turn, I was at risk of getting verbally or physically assaulted.
All of this was basically brushed over in my culture and upbringing with the phrase “Boys will be boys.” Looking back, there was always this sense that I had to be a certain way in order to earn respect from my peers and to impress the girls.
I’d like to say that we all grew up and learned to handle our emotions, but we didn’t. The markers we use have just changed forms. Instead of physically asserting ourselves, it’s now mostly done with money, possessions, and control.
Why do you think some men work countless hours and sleep with as many women as possible, while other men fall into disrepair, drinking, getting fat, and hating themselves? It’s two sides of the same coin.
And, of course there are the men in-between, who may not have polarized, but who are still unhappy. They work a job that pays the bills, they watch a lot of TV, and they try to pretend that they’re proud of their “dad bod”.
So, what’s it like to be a Man in the year 2019? Well, for those that buy into the system and continue their patterns without questioning, it’s anywhere from fine to numb to unbearable. Men may still hold much of the power over women, but we also kill ourselves and abuse substances at much high rates. There’s a reason for that.
I’m not comparing our experience to women’s experience because I don’t know what it’s like. This is just for the men.
If you don’t wake up, get some help, do some inner-work, and change your relationship with yourself, you’re going to suffer, bro!
Believe me! I know!
I suffered under this regime for most of my life and now I’m doing the work. I’m looking into my childhood, I’m crying, I’m talking about feelings with my partner, I’m taking care of myself, I’m voicing my needs, I’m facing my unhealthy behaviors, I’m asking for help, and I am past the point of no-return.
And now, I help men and women change the way that they relate to each other and themselves. And, I do that by changing the way that I relate to you and myself.
Men, we can do better and we must do better. All this war, fighting, controlling, faking, and aggression is not going to get us what we want.
If you’re a man like me, you may have been told, or felt, that you’re “emotionally unavailable” at times. Maybe, it sounded more like “I guess you don’t even care” or “What’s your deal?”.
This is a confusing situation for both parties involved. On the man’s side, it’s strange because, sometimes, we really are disconnected from what we’re feeling. Maybe, we are sitting down in front of a plate of food, fiddling with something, or watching TV and we literally aren’t aware of any undercurrent of emotion. And, for the women, it can be frustrating because they can’t get a read on what the heck is going on with their partner.
So, what can we do to bridge this gap, together?
First off, we have to acknowledge what is. If you’re man is emotionally unavailable, there’s a reason for that. He has probably dealt with things the same way for his entire life and he’s not going to change in one day. Don’t let his stoicism fool you. He needs some patience and gentleness, especially in his most stressful moments.
This doesn’t mean that you let him walk all over you. Taking care of yourself is just as important.
When you feel like you’re in a good spot yourself, be direct. We tend to respect straight forward questions and requests. However, most of all, we need to know why. Our logical brains usually need to be satisfied before our emotional brains will come online.
It may sound something like:
“Hey honey, I want our relationship to feel better so will you set some time aside to talk today?”
“I’ve noticed that you may be feeling stressed. I’d like to hear more so that I can help.”
“I hear you saying you want some space. For me, I need to know exactly what that looks like so, let’s sit down and make a plan.”
Odds are, you will probably get a lot farther using these exact scripts then saying what you’re used to saying.
And, if you don’t get a great answer, try giving a little space. It doesn’t mean that you have to do this forever.
Many men have a complicated relationship with intimacy. In some ways, we may try to show it through hard work, physical touch, or fierce protection. In other ways, such as sharing how we’re feeling, we may have little to no experience. It can feel very threatening to be asked what’s going on inside that thick skull of ours.
So, bottom line, try some new ways if the old ways are not working. If you’re used to shrinking and dancing around the subject, stand up tall and be direct. If you’re tired of chasing him around…stop. If you are in a constant state of blame, look at your part and own it.