We tend to speak the language of desires and emotions as if they did not directly affect every element of our lives. By ‘we,’ I’m sure the maxim applies to women too, but men are especially alienated from our emotions and feelings. We deny the deepest longings of our souls for the sake of surrender to the cultural flow of ‘lone wolf masculinity,’ which litters every square inch of our society.
Yesterday I listened to an episode of the podcast Hidden Brain titled The Lonely American Man, and my very first thought was Plagiarism!! (sarcastically, of course), because I recently wrote a post on the lack of connectedness and friendships experienced by most American men. Lo and behold, the podcast echoed my exact sentiments, but went further as it interviewed men and researchers who have been studying this trend for a while.
The thing that struck me the most, and dialed up sharp pangs of nostalgia as I listened, was when they interviewed teenage boys, some of whom were in middle school, others were seniors in high school. The younger boys talked about how much they valued their best friend and always got excited to have sleepovers and be with them, sharing their most intimate secrets…and feelings.
This is something that struck my ears as most unusual. Not because it’s bad in any way, but because it’s odd to hear a male of any age talk so openly about his feelings. These boys were young enough to have not been programmed to hide their feelings, shoving them down into a stale state of apathy and stoicism. One of them recounted how his best friend had helped him when someone in his family had died and he was able to go to his friend and pour out his grief and cry before him.
Sadly, by the time these boys had gone through high school, the shift had happened. There was a sharp retreat from feelings and emotions; these were replaced by toughness and confidence and the pseudo-ability to not reveal any feelings teeming beneath the surface.
At some point in their developmental years, these boys intuited the notion that feeling things is weak and unmanly. And it’s really no mystery where that stereotype came from: Look at our culture at large and tell me where you see a strong, emotional man with a healthy rein on his feelings. We have Thor-types, the man who is so macho and courageous that he is relatively oblivious to the weather happening within his own heart (if there is any… See also: Cowboys, James Bond and basically any Brad Pitt character). This toughness is also seen in music, as rappers and rockers alike are too tough to do anything but get money, conquer women and be more tough than anyone who would threaten his clique.
Alternatively, men are often portrayed as aloof and idiotic. Think Homer Simpson or literally any family sitcom where the father bumbles through life, unaware of his family, his kids and most of all, himself. Funny? Sure. But deep…? That’s an entirely different question.
The emotional man is almost always painted as an outlier: the emo teenage boy or the homosexual. Tom Hanks seems to cry a lot, but he is assuredly the exception and not the rule.
My point is, the male influences seen across the board in media is anything but emotional, and these influences have spilled over into the day-to-day life of boys and men. The problem with quenching our own feelings, though, is that they may be shoved down in one area, but arise in another like an internal version of Whack-a-Mole. You may shrug off your loneliness and act like you don’t need fellow human beings, only to have it arise late at night in yet another episode of pornography and masturbation. You may say that your parents’ divorce or the names the kids at school called you don’t affect you, only to have the roots of your adult alcoholism trace right back to those very events.
We have the option to either embrace our emotions or escape them, drowning them in a flood of numbing agents and superficiality.