Men have external and internal man caves. The external man cave is generally a place where a man can go into his own space, away from the family and what one site described as ‘female sensibilities’.
The ‘man cave’ has been the subject of much conjecture and even ridicule. There are various definitions to be found on the internet and I particularly liked this one from The Official Man Cave Site (yes, there is one!) at www.mancavesite.org:
man cave [man-keyv] noun: A dedicated area of a house, such as a basement, workshop, or garage, where a man can be alone or socialise with his friends.
Actually, men have external and internal man caves. The external man cave is generally a place where a man can go into his own space, away from the family and what one site described as ‘female sensibilities’. By this they mean a place where the rules are not set by the women of the house, but by the man cave owner himself, a place to be quiet, read, potter, attend to a hobby, watch films or just about anything else a man might do. The site mentioned above even has competitions for the Man Cave of the Year with photos and hints on how to DIY!
If decorated, it is always decorated by the man himself since any female influence such as furnishings defeats the very purpose of the man cave, which is intended to be a female-influence-free habitat. It can be a place for solitude or mateship, depending on the man’s requirements. I’m not sure what women think of such places, which are probably more tolerated than understood. However they fulfil a basic need for men to get some time away from their normal routines and pressures of daily life.
The internal man cave is a place where a man might go, inside of himself. Any woman reading this who has spent any length of time with a man in a relationship will know when the, ‘Do not disturb’ sign is up, and any man will know exactly what this place is for them. It is often represented by a ‘mood’ that clearly states, “I don’t wish to talk, explore my feelings or get into any deep and meaningful (D&M) conversation. I simply wish to be left to internally process whatever it is that’s going on inside of me.”
At a men’s gathering I attended in 2012 the topic of the internal man cave came up and, after various comments and points of view, we men concluded that there are actually two inner man caves. The first is the entrance cave that has a metaphorical door, usually left open, where the man might go for some internal solitude. Outwardly the man may seem distant, not present, distracted, as he chews his cud and mulls over whatever it is that’s troubling him. Sometimes he may retreat to his physical man cave to distract himself, since we men aren’t usually good at sitting with uncomfortable feelings, unless we’ve done it many times before.
The message here is, “I’m troubled, I’m thinking about stuff and trying to work out what to do next; so just leave me be for a while, let me know you care (an occasional cup of tea?), try to keep the kids under control, and it most probably isn’t about something you’ve done.”
The advice to women here is to, in the immortal words of The Beatles, ‘Let it be!’ and show you’re there if needed. Do your best to not engage or pry by asking probing questions!
The second internal man cave is the one at the back of the open-door ante-cave, with a big steel door and painted with skull and crossbones. The message here is much blunter: “Leave me alone because I’m really upset or hurting, and I’ve retreated so I don’t do any harm to you or myself. You’ll know when I’m ready to talk because, if or when I can find the words, I’ll probably tell you.”
Even if this expression is viewed by those observing as lacking in emotional intelligence, it’ll be an inkling into that inner chamber of the man cave. While the first ante-cave might have the metaphorical lounge, remote control, good book, fridge or movie, this inner cave is bare and set up for pacing since we do our best thinking on our metaphorical feet!
An aware man who has explored his emotional quadrant and developed the skills to navigate this place might even go for an actual walk, to put some distance between himself and the situation, and to get some ‘air’ that will allow perhaps just a hint of perspective. Be prepared, though, that when the man returns, he might have something to say… but don’t have any expectations.
Women can help enormously here by identifying first that the man has retreated, either emotionally or physically, and the nature of that retreat as indicated by the pervading mood. If I can provide any salient advice it is to let the man do what he knows how to do and that is process. Women tend to think that, just because a man isn’t talking about something, he’s moved on in the hope it’ll go away. Yes, that does happen. However, most men simply need the opportunity afforded by silence and isolation to get themselves back on an even keel, and this takes time. Remember that men in general have not been raised to identify feelings, let alone talk about them. Women generally have such a social structure about them for most of their lives. So women process externally with words, while men process internally with thoughts.
Perhaps some men who withdraw from very painful experiences by entering deeper into their man cave, lose their way, since really, the only way out is the way we came in, baggage and all. However, we cannot exit in the same condition we entered. There is no point leaving the cave if nothing has changed. We’re well aware of the pain that we’re carrying, and dealing with the outside world on top of this can often feel unbearable.
When this is coupled with a lack of emotional mobility, or convincing ourselves that we don’t need help, or we are unable to see a solution or a way out of the situation, we can easily get ‘stuck’. It may even be that an aspect of male depression and the feelings of aloneness and isolation find their seeds in the deep, dark recesses of this cave.
One thing I know for certain is that such deep introspection can provide extraordinary insights. However I’m convinced that some men get lost in this place and unwittingly decide to throw away the key and never emerge. When this occurs, what potential are we losing in the men who are unable to find their way back out?
If a man chooses to develop his inner sense of who he really is, where he stands and what he stands for in this world, what his foibles and strengths are, and how best to navigate his way through life, he can move mountains! I’ve experienced many a man, including myself, dig to the deepest, darkest recesses of our beingness and create remarkable transformations in so many aspects of our own lives.
It simply takes the time it takes, and we do need to do it our way. We can of course be supported by those around us who love us, understand how we deal with difficult situations and respect our need for man cave privacy.
One woman I know who has had almost two decades helping men find their way is Diane McCann, a co-facilitator of workshops for both men and women. Diane has seen many men bare their souls and emerge from their inner man cave, sometimes after years of pain and isolation. So I asked Diane to share her own and insightful experience of men. This is her observation:
“Men are divine wonderful beings. They want the same things women want except they have never been shown or told a) what we need or b) how to best give it to us. Men are in a more difficult place than women because of women’s natural inclination toward intimacy with their friends, and many men have no one close they can confide in. So men need our respect, our love and our hands reaching out to bridge the gap so that we all might find equality and stop the war that has been going on for way too long. Here’s to peace between the sexes, understanding between us that allows the divinity in each of us to shine through.” – Diane McCann (Facilitator of ‘The Goddess Within’ & ‘Man’s Inner Journey’)
Next time a man in your life is evidently in his man cave, I hope you’ll remember this article and be able to navigate somewhat easier!
The above article is an extract from Man Unplugged – Exploring The Inner Man, published March 2014 by Man Unplugged
John Broadbent (Man … Unplugged) has been on his own ‘man’ sinner journey’ since 1991. His explorations have concluded that our views of Western modern men are confused and tainted, which have isolated many good men from social contribution. John’s calling is to challenge current views of masculinity and be an advocate for the standing of men to their rightful place as protectors of all forms of life.
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