As stereotypical gender roles dissolve, what does it mean to be a mature man these days?
Being a bloke isn’t as simple as it used to be.
Right now it seems as though the collective idea of ‘the masculine’ is getting pulled to pieces. Many aspects of this benefit everyone. In 2018, more humans are free than ever before from the need to conform to rigid stereotypes of who they ‘should’ be. Sort of.
Despite that, many of the men I speak to are unsure where this leaves them. If the identity of ‘provider and protector’ is dissolving, “what are we supposed to do?” seems to be the question.
The male ideal
Paradoxically, the pressure for men to perform seems to actually be increasing. I thumbed through one of those men’s health and well-being type magazines the other day. Perfectly sculpted dudes with 8-pack abdominals graced every other page. There’s nothing wrong with that though. We all want to stay in shape, right? Interwoven with the ab workouts and the ‘train like an MMA fighter’ articles was a lot of advertising. Supplements of course, but also high-end watches, prestige cars and designer fashion.
OK. So I need to maintain about 10% body fat whilst earning around $250,000 a year if I’m to live up to this ideal. I suppose that’s achievable, right? If I knuckle down and apply myself. I keep going and read article titles like ‘5 ways to please her every time’ and ‘How to impress her parents.’ All you need to do is show up in a new suit, with a $100 bottle of wine to go with those perfect abs and masterful sex skills. No pressure.
I’ve run men’s circles for the last six years and have a wide variety of male friends. There’s something interesting that seems to show up for a lot of guys in their early thirties.
The ‘perfect’ relationship falls apart. The career or business isn’t where it ‘should’ be.
Or men realise their health and fitness is slipping away. That’s the common thread that seems to appear with guys in this age bracket: the belief that we should have ‘made it’ by now, and have all the boxes ticked. Got the girl, the job, the status, and the body. And be a decent guy who’s caring but strong. Who feels his feelings – but not too much.
Now I want be clear here. I do think we can sort of have it all. At least, we can have a fulfilling life and we can achieve what we want. But living up to other people’s standards won’t get us there. And there’s something else I’m noticing about the men I know that are really ‘together’ in all areas of life. They’re in their forties and beyond.
Every single one.
Direction and purpose
I’ve heard some people romanticise that Spartan warriors were ‘men at 16’, as though that’s a desirable goal. I talk to mums with 20-year-old sons who are worried about the fact that their boys seem to have no direction. Sometimes I tell them about Viking teenagers.
There was an acceptance among the Vikings of a stage that the males would go through where they had no sense of purpose. The slept on the floor, in the ashes of the long houses, and made no contribution to the village. Sometimes this lasted a year, sometimes more. Then one day, they woke up and snapped out of it. The point is, there was an allowance in the culture for a period where a man did not know what he was doing.
The classic men’s books talk about masculine archetypes a lot. The most well known one is probably ‘the king’. It symbolises masculine maturity, order, balance, wealth, fulfilment, and sovereignty. In the men I meet there is an expectation of stepping into full mature masculinity by the age of 30. I’ve not once seen this happen, especially if we’re talking about emotional maturity.
The path to real maturity
There’s an additional humility that comes from having your butt kicked a few times.
It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s in life, love, career, or business. Facing and overcoming adversity is what makes us mature.
If we never face our core wounds, if we don’t have our illusions shatter, we never actually wake up. When I see all this pressure to ‘have it all together’ and ‘know my purpose’, it explains to me why so many men are unhappy. We don’t have formal initiation in our society these days, so we have to pay attention and let life initiate us.
I also believe that if we revised our definition of an ‘adult’ – particularly when we look at the development of men – it would take a lot of pressure off and create a more realistic expectation of what’s to come.
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