While every man is different and it would be wrong to speak for all men, there are some common myths around men that could do with clarifying. Here are four myths about men in relationships.
At the end of many romantic movie ‘chick flicks’ or women’s magazine articles, there has been a familiar lament: “Where are all the good men?”
In the past few years there has been a mass of writing about the apparent ‘man drought’, with statistics claiming there are more women in certain age demographics than men, therefore women are having a tough time finding decent men. Another common theme has been that men have ‘too much baggage’, are afraid of commitment or don’t know how to share their emotions.
But when was the last time anybody read an article on relationships written by a man, what they find attractive in women and that what they look for in relationships has been changing?
While every man is different and it would be wrong to speak for all men, there are some common myths around men that could do with clarifying. Here are four myths, and more will follow next issue.
All men think the same
Men are as diverse in their opinions of women and relating as there are many different levels of consciousness and awareness. As with women, our outlook on relationships and our values often change as we grow and mature. What matters to a young man can be completely outdated to an older man. Many men at a certain level of consciousness are still concerned with looks, but there are a growing number of much more aware men for whom finding someone with relating skills, consciousness and spiritual maturity is far more important.
Some men and women have done relating work on their issues and others have not. Identifying honestly what level of spirituality we are at is a good starting point for what we will attract. Some people have an impossible checklist of the perfect partner when they have not worked at ticking the same boxes themselves.
It is fair to say there are gender traits that can be common to both men and women – some of them endearing or annoying, but making mass generalisations that ‘men do this’ or ‘women do that’ can be one of the biggest blocks to gender relating. Projections can create assumptions and expectations that someone will behave a certain way simply because of their gender.
A good spiritual approach to creating authentic connections is to deliberately practise seeing each person as a unique individual and discover who they are and what belief systems they hold.
One recent women’s magazine ‘expert advice’ article said women were taking control of the dating game and suggested playing games such as ‘not answering his phone calls’ in order to snare Mr Right.
There are a lot of genuine men who are not interested in games of power or control and articles like this tend to make them mistrusting of women and the ‘dating game’. So many advice columns teach people strategies of how not to treat each other like human beings and end up creating more separation than encouraging conscious connection.
Chivalry is dead
This quality may have been repressed by our changing cultural values, but many men still have it deeply ingrained in their psyche that it is men’s instinctive nature to want to protect women. In July when a gunman opened fire in a crowded theatre in Colorado killing many, the aftermath showed several young men who had died protecting their girlfriends by shielding them with their bodies.
A social psychologist claimed in the media a few years ago that feminism had killed chivalry and that men who opened doors for women were now more likely to be scorned for disempowering women.
It rings true for many men. The generation of teens I grew up with were taught to stand when a woman entered the room, offer their seat up, open the door for her and ‘be a gentleman and treat her like a lady’. It was the mothers and women who taught this etiquette and the farming community I grew up in had a strong but genteel value of respect and appreciation between the genders.
It is interesting observing now that opening the door for women, young or old, so many will barge through without uttering a word or sparing a glance, almost as if it is an entitlement and the men don’t exist. My observation is that about one in ten women will smile and show some appreciation for courtesy.
For many men who have done men’s work, a response doesn’t matter. It is more about practising respect and consideration for people than it is about scoring points or performing a duty. Yet often that one in ten acknowledgement of gratitude is enough to keep the magic spark of appreciation between the genders alive. And those women we love and take notice of.
Men are only interested in sex
There is a line in the Sex In the City movie where one of the women laments she wants the freedom to have sex “like a man – without any feeling”. It has become one of the biggest generalised myths about men, and our culture is only just starting to realise the amount of conditioning, shaming and guilt that has been piled on the male sex drive.
Our modern culture is obsessed with sex. Provocative and seductive marketing is everywhere we look. While the vigour and hormones of youth can make it a high priority for young men and women, a lot of men have realised the superficial trap meaningless sex can create and are seeing through the old marketing charade that ‘sex sells’.
Learning to treat sex with sacredness is a high topic in much of the common men’s spiritual growth work. And while there are still plenty of men running around after their hormones, there are also a vast number now who realise it is an empty exercise unless there is intimacy involved and some form of genuine connection based on honouring and respect. Many are quite happy to go without unless there is a committed relationship.
One of the few studies done on younger men in recent years found they were increasingly looking to create longer-term, committed relationships that had lasting value. Conversely, young women were found to be more interested in the freedom of experimenting with short-term physical connections.
Men don’t express their emotions
Another block to relating is when men are expected to emote the way many women do.
There are common claims that modern men are confused about their identity, yet there are so many mixed messages of expectation that men should be in touch with their emotions, but at the same time strong and grounded to hold space for women.
Every woman wants something different, as does every man. The male brain often has difficulty handling a mass of emotions that has no structure. One process that can help men and women hear and understand each other is to create a sacred meeting space where each can be heard.
Practising the art of active listening without needing to respond immediately creates space for solutions to emerge. Having the discipline to take turns in expressing feelings of both legitimate concerns and share appreciation for what is good can clear the space between people for affinity to grow and also create a structure men can work with.
Any relationship will bring up issues to grow through. Success often depends on how good a system of problem-solving and emotional intelligence people have developed.
Some confusion lies in lack of understanding of the difference between feeling and emotion. Feeling is like a driving force that is a response to life. Emotions are often a reaction, highs and lows.
Most men have the capacity to feel very deeply. Our culture does little to acknowledge the positive ways a lot of men do process feelings and what others can learn from it. I have seen women berating men in frustration urging them to express what they are feeling. Yet while sometimes we have to sit with a feeling and allow it time to take form, it can often reveal deep insight and solutions and a way forward.
Forcing someone to try and describe a feeling too quickly can send them into their head and keep them caught in emotions.
As a young man I saw my grandfather, a strong but reserved man, overwhelmed with grief on Anzac Day one year as memories of the war, butchered mates and defending his country came flooding back. At his feet was a newspaper editorial by a feminist academic decrying men as ‘warmongers’.
He went into his ‘cave’ for a day and allowed the waves of emotion to wash freely through him until they gradually subsided. He sat for some time then, breathing and feeling into what he was feeling until calmness returned. I sat with him in silence, understanding what he was doing and just appreciating him. There was no need for talk. Simply having someone holding space was enough to support his process.
After a long while he shook his head and chuckled resignedly at the absurdity of life. Then he was ready to share observations of what happened back then. “You have to let the emotions and demons through and then bring it back to a feeling, a lesson and a conclusion”, he said.
Paul Mischefski is a spiritual counsellor, a member of Men’s Wellbeing Inc and an elder of the men’s movement in Queensland.
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