Are We Afraid Of Men In Love?

Despite what the media shows us, Andrew Smiler insists that very few guys are in relationships just for the sex.

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I think American culture has become fearful of men’s ability to love, especially the depth of men’s love.  While I readily admit that mainstream media isn’t the best place to look for “depth” or “meaning,” I’ve recently been struck by just how off-base the common media representations are.

Men just want sex is one of the common messages.  This was particularly striking during the Super Bowl; Teleflora’s ad featured an attractive woman wearing a black teddy, she puts on stocking with garters, red lipstick, then looks directly at the camera and says “guys, it’s simple.  Give, and you shall receive.” For Teleflora, love means sex and little else.

Then again, during the Christmas and Valentine’s shopping seasons, male love seems to be limited to buying expensive gifts, like cars and jewelry.  I don’t know anyone who can afford to give a new car as a gift, but in the commercials, it’s almost always a guy.  Kay Jewelers has spent years telling me that I’ll get sex – or at least a kiss – if I buy jewelry for my sweetie, hitting both the sex and gift-giving themeIt’s not really any better on scripted shows, especially comedies.  Here, I see all these young men who can’t figure out what they’re feeling (except lust) and can only express their love through grand, dramatic gestures.  Even though TV husbands routinely say they love their wives, we’re much more likely to see and hear the couple bickering than really being together as a couple or acting like they genuinely care about each other.

I’ve also learned that passion, and especially sex, go away after marriage.  Analyses of television’s content tell us that married couples are rarely shown kissing passionately, holding hands, or having sex.  Newly forming couples, unmarried couples, hookups, and affairs all get this kind of screen and script time, but not married people.  There’s no passion or desire there.

I study men’s relationships, and the reality is that men’s love is much more complicated than all that.  When men talk about love – and they will, if 1) you ask them, 2) you are genuinely interested in listening to what they say, 3) you are not trying to convince them they’re wrong, and 4) you are not in the early stage (and possibly, any stage) of a romantic relationship with them – they’ll tell you that love is amazing.  They’ll tell you it makes it hard to concentrate on almost anything else, that they can’t stop thinking about their sweetie, and that just thinking about their sweetie makes them happy.  They’ll tell you it’s the best feeling in the world, possibly even better than being the guy who makes the play that wins the big game.

They’ll also tell you it’s not about the sex, it really is about how good the relationship makes them feel.  Not that they’re generally interested in being celibate, but very few guys get into relationships just for the sex.

When men talk about their experiences of being in love, they do it with an intensity that we don’t expect from men, as several folks have discussed in the last few days and weeks on this site like Mark Radcliffe’s Don’t Fall In Love, Fly In Love, or Mark D. White’s Love With Abandon.  My favorite might be Jim Mitchem’s short description: “And then she appeared on my first day at a new job. And my heart jumped out of my chest. I knew. I don’t know how I knew, but I did. She was the one”.

We don’t expect to hear that kind of intensity from men when they talk about their feelings.  If a guy had that kind of intensity when talking about his favorite team, his car, and maybe even his job, it wouldn’t surprise us in the least.

That kind of intensity can make men “crazy in love” and lead to all those grand gestures the media shows us.  It can also lead to violence; it’s easy to imagine two guys getting into a fight over a girl, and that’s the premise of the new movie—and Valentine’s day release(!)—“This Means War.”  We also hear about this kind of violence in the news every few weeks when a man kills his ex, himself, and possibly their kids or her new partner.

That power and depth isn’t limited to romantic relationships. It’s also present in a guy’s close friendships with other men.  It’s why the bonds forged in combat are so close and why those men are willing to lay down their lives for each other.  And it’s why guys who get betrayed by a friend take it so personally, and why it can take them so long to become close friends with someone else.

Today when we talk about men’s friendships, it’s “bromance” and “man-dates.”  I’m not sure why these terms have become so popular, but conflating friendship and homosexuality is certainly a good way to make American men self-conscious about becoming friends with another guy.  Instead of wondering if a guy is willing to hang out with him or help him when he’s in a jam, we now want that guy to wonder if he’s going to be hit on?  In effect, we’re discouraging men from having other male friends.

That depth of feeling is also present in men’s connections to their children.  It helps explain why generations of men have sacrificed their health to work jobs in horrible places that killed them – slowly or quickly – in order to support their family.  Yet the idea of men as competent fathers is the exception; male caregiving is a common joke in the media, especially for working class dads.

We used to rely on men’s love and passion; it helped us build and protect America.  But it doesn’t seem to have a place in 21st Century America. Now, men’s love for their partners is just about sex and giving gifts, men’s friendships are subtly discouraged by applying sexual terms, and men’s ability to care for their children is an ongoing joke.

I think men’s love scares us. I think we need to face our fears, and I think we need to take men’s love seriously.

Andrew Smiler, PhD, (http://andrewsmiler.wordpress.com/) is a visiting Assistant Professor of Psychology at Wake Forest University (http://wfu.edu)  in Winston-Salem, NC.  His sexuality research focuses on normative aspects of sexual development, such as age and perception of first kiss, first “serious” relationship, and first intercourse among 15-25 year olds.  He is the author of the forthcoming “Challenging Casanova” (2012).

—Photo OntologicalDoubt/Flickr

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About Andrew Smiler

Andrew Smiler, PhD is a therapist, evaluator, author, and speaker residing in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (USA). He is the author of “Challenging Casanova: Beyond the stereotype of promiscuous young male sexuality” and co-author, with Chris Kilmartin, of “The Masculine Self (5th edition)”. He is a past president of the Society for the Psychological Study of Men and Masculinity and has taught at Wake Forest University and SUNY Oswego. Dr. Smiler's research focuses on definitions of masculinity. He also studies normative aspects of sexual development, such as age and perception of first kiss, first “serious” relationship, and first intercourse among 15-25 year olds. Follow him @AndrewSmiler.

Comments

  1. Richard Aubrey says:

    I generally give the entertainment folks, and the ad folks, credit for understanding the market. That’s not to say they understand everybody. The market for beer, for example, usually doesn’t include older women, teenage girls, or oeniphiles. Or academics who, if they like beer, only admit to liking the obscure, expensive stuff.
    Women married to wimps, or only able to attract wimps, might like the stud elk as hero in the romance novels. That said, it’s not the entire US demographic. Nothing is.
    Thus, the idea that “we” are afraid of something, like something, don’t understand something, based on the media, strikes me as weak. That “we”, or “men”, or “us” are, do, don’t do, should do anything at all is weak.
    Some do, some don’t.
    The idea that men love, love being in love, are knocked silly by “the one” is universal, common knowledge, and needs no searching essays. It is.
    Next question.

  2. Damn Andrew! I generally try not to curse but this piece was so absolutely amazing it made me cry a bit.

    I always hated the wink-wink-nudge-nudge attitude about “isn’t it cute how men just want sex.” There is a way to reinforce how important sex is for men in a healthy way without making it the total sum of who men are or even the most important sum of who men are. Pop media does a huge disservice by always plying the public with such messages and making eclipse anything else men can feel or experience. Especially in love. I had been talking to another man about the popular Teleflora commercial featuring a very beautiful Adrianna Lima and the man had found it funny that in a commercial designed to inspire gift giving for a men’s wives and girlfriends, they seemed more intent on selling Adrianna Lima to men then flowers.

    To be honest, I didn’t think much about the commercials that showed a man buying an expensive car or jewelry for their partner as also a negative message but it really is, trading money for affection. I have gotten a little caught up in the romance if myself seeing the corny Kay ads. Which tells me how innocently we get caught up in feeling something like that draws in us without realizing the full intent of the message that’s really being sold. I really liked how you pointed that out.

    I have thought about the popularity of terms like “bro-mance” and was always turned off by what seemed to me to be making a joke out of relationships men can have.

    Lastly, my own dad was one of those guys that slowly sacrificed his health for working and supporting the family. He was the hardest working man I knew. It was the only way he really knew how to show how much he cared. It defined him and his ability to work and provide to him equaled his worth to the family. But it ate away at him after years. And when he finally retired, he wanted to do travel and take trips with my family because he regretted not doing it more when my brother and I where younger. But after he retired, his health took a turn for the worse and he never got to do that.

    I love the discussion your article opens up about how we look at men and love and sex. Please write more!

  3. Thanks for writing this, Andrew. One of my co-workers and I constantly have conversations, particularly around major gift-giving holidays, about the way advertisements subtly imply that a man is not a man if he can’t buy this crap for his woman. As a woman, I take particular issue with the fact those same ads imply that women only want stuff and money. They are denigrating to both sexes by turning them into caricatures of generally accepted stereotypes on men and women. If women want equality, we’ve got to get out of the 50s with our expectations, but advertising seems to be working extra hard to keep both sexes there. It’s like they haven’t figured out how to market for men who are more comfortable expressing their emotions and women who have their own incomes and can buy our own crap.

  4. “They’ll also tell you it’s not about the sex, it really is about how good the relationship makes them feel.”

    I liked this article but… The implication that sex isn’t expressing love is something that needs to die.

    I’ve noticed men have a tendency to express their feelings by _doing_. IMHO, men are expressing their love when they have sex with someone they love. (Yes, sex can be indifferent, impersonal and posturing, but it also can be non-consensual.)

    We’ve privileged verbal declarations of love in our society and marginalized physical declarations as bestial and degrading.

    I can only imagine a society in which every time a woman said ‘I love you’ to her partner, he treated it like it was a chore to hear or a baser and less refined way of expressing love. And that he expected her to give him gifts before he would allow her to say it.

  5. It looks like Andrew Smiler PhD didn’t have any plans to include a homosexual viewpoint here, beyond implying men might fear it if a friendship is called a bromance; however, as a bisexual man and dad, I’d like to point out that gay and bi men can have deep love too that isn’t “just about sex”. We can also sacrifice and work hard for the greater good of our kids and parent them just as lovingly as any heterosexual dad. We are also capable of non sexual friendships with both gay and straight male buddies. In other words, we aren’t that different, even if we are often overlooked in articles of this nature.

    And yes, sex can also be an expression of love; let’s stop sermonizing and demonizing it as if it is something bad while buying your love a car is “good”.

    • WRR – I’m glad you made this point. Society brushes aside the fact that love, as expressed and communicated between two men, is the same love that is expressed between a man and a woman. The feeling is the same, the gender is different. That’s all. Another problem is, by and large, homosexual couples are not able to fully express their love, in public, as is widely accepted between heterosexual couples (you see PDA all the time), so society, writ-large isn’t exposed to the love that can, and does, exist between homosexual couples. As a gay man, frankly, in most places, if I were to express that kind of love, it could lead to our death, so I don’t. So, let Dr. Smiler take note of this, and hopefully, he will explore the kind of love that exists between gay couples in another piece.

  6. Afraid of male love? I don’t think so. Ignorant about male love? Willfully self-deceptive about Men’s capacity to love, and the value men place on love? Heavily influenced by oft-repeated images, ideas, and models of men as lustful horndogs who will break through a brick wall if there’s a promise of sex on the other side? That might be closer to the bulls-eye on this topic.

    I have been consciously trying to reverse my previous beliefs that sex is the #1 Motivator for men to do pretty much anything. I know it’s not true, but it’s easy to believe, and not just because of pop media and advertising – even the behavior of men I know personally and intimately in my own life tends to reinforce this notion more than challenge it. It’s a lot HARDER to believe that Love is equally, if not more, important to most men, if only for the lack of examples of men acting this out. (And I agree with the poster above that Sex can be and often is an expression of Love, but that’s not the side of sex I see many men expressing on a day to day basis.)

    Maybe I, and perhaps other women, just don’t see the forest for the trees. The trees are all the men we see or know whose thoughts and actions are rooted in sex, the forest being the idea that there’s more to it and sex is just part of the picture.

    • I think what a lot of men are seeking in casual sex is that perfect unconditional one-sided love of a parent to a child. They want to be approved of in a way that they don’t often get from society.

      Seeking out sex for sex’s sake is a result of the psychic damage done to men in our society (if you’re some sort of slutty zen master who has only love for every being on the planet and expresses that love through casual sex, this doesn’t necessarily apply). Men feel alienated from the human race, and they feel compelled to ease this alienation through sexual connection.

      I think it would help if relationships, for men, didn’t look so much like material extortion (ie. sex in exchange for objects.) Also, if women want to control men through sex(he’s sleeping on the couch tonight!), they shouldn’t really be that upset when men are controlled by sex.

      • I agree with your last points, that gift-giving should not come with the expectation of reciprocity of some kind, sexual or otherwise. Holding a gift over your lover’s head as evidence of how much you love them – and implying that unless they return the favor somehow, they don’t love you quite as much – is just…ugh. Like, what’s the point of the initial gift-giving then, just to get something back? It stinks of manipulation and I don’t think it’s healthy for a relationship.

        That said… I’ve found it’s SO much easier for me to get my husband to do something (not something he’d be doing *for me* – I mean things like the chores he has been putting off or some big project he’s avoiding) if I promise some frisky time later. Is it manipulative of me to do that? Probably. Does it work? Most of the time. Does he seem to mind? Not in the least – his reaction is typically enthusiastic. This is what I mean about not having many examples handy of Love being equally motivating as Sex. He wouldn’t be so quick to go catch up on his to-do list if all I promised was a hug, or some cuddle time, or an “I love you.” (For the record, I try not to do the flip side of this and withhold sex until he does what I want, I’ve seen the destruction that that kind of behavior can render.)

        Soooooo yeah. I don’t really know how to tie that kind of observation into my theories and beliefs about men. It does seem to go counter to what I *want* to believe, that Sex does not outweigh Love. But Andrew said below that he might be seeing a selection bias in that he has been talking to 15-25-year-olds about this topic, and my husband and I are both 24. so maybe it’s a maturity thing?

        • Well, here’s a question.

          Does he want sex or does he want sex with you?

          Because if we think about sex as being on a continuum with other forms of intimacy, maybe it’s the intimate connection he’s after as a relief from whatever is stressing him about what he doesn’t want to do?

          • Another layer to this is that as boys grow up we get punished for expressing our softer emotions and vulnerabilities. I remember the bullying that ensued when one boy in my class had “soft and gentle” deodorant ?!?

            Then when we try to relate to women, the only appropriate gender approved emotion is lust.

            When I realised this and started admitting to myself that I had other emotions, and sometimes I really did just want a cuddle, and that was ok, my love life improved dramatically.

            So for a lot of men all soft emotions get channelled into sex drive, as that is the only gender approved “loving” emotion.

        • Sex, orgasms release a variety of neurotransmitters/”chemicals” that basically are a reward. He will do those chores because he gets a very rewarding experience after. Problem is, why doesn’t he get that sex simply for loving you? Why is it promised to him in EXCHANGE for a service? I find that to be a very bad thing that women are apparently doing. Intimacy, sex, should not require a chore to be done! It reduces it to glorified acts of prositution, exchanging sex for service and probably makes him feel less LOVED because he has to work for it yet if you desire sex he’ll probably oblige without needing something else (A guess on the last part to illustrate the point).

          So if men have to work to get sex in a so called loving relationship, what exactly is in it for men? It sounds like women are using men. Are men allowed to show they are horny and get the sex or do they have to do a chore and be PROMISED sex later? I find it sad that this stuff happens, and people still wonder why men aren’t overly enthusiastic on love. Maybe, just maybe, love is seen as for the woman and a man has to provide service or gifts for that woman. Doesn’t sound like love at all really, hell I wouldn’t want that kind of relationship because it devalues sex to a commodity.

          And people still wonder why men don’t appear to be very enthusiastic over love? Doesn’t help that we’re taught to provide provide provide and we have to WORK just to receive intimacy. Ugh.

          • @archy: Well, the problem is that men don’t behave well in relationships if they dont work for the sex. After all, why would they? They are having sex and happy, no reason to work on the relationship.

            • Alice, that sounds completely pathetic to assume men just want sex and wouldn’t work on a relationship. It’s insulting, and I’m sorry if the men you know are like this but I guarantee that there are men who want more than JUST SEX. Making men work for sex is glorified prostitution, you’re exchanging 1 service for another instead of sharing intimacy in a loving and caring way. Should men make women work for intimacy, love, respect etc too? Make a woman have sex with them just to give them intimacy of any kind? Sounds like psychological abuse to me….

              Please someone tell me this isn’t the norm!

            • @Archy

              Make a woman have sex with them just to give them intimacy of any kind”
              That kind of sounds like the dating world…

              men who want more than JUST SEX
              Well, in my experience sex is a good bargaining tool. Lets be real-men are quite horny and will to get some. it’s not that they dont love their spouse. In my experience men DO think all is well if there is regular sex.

              Making men work for sex is glorified prostitution
              And?

          • @Archy: I have a very mixed view about the point you are making. Yes it is ‘childish’ to play on conditioning but at the same time, exchange is fundamental to any relationship. We exchange one’s time and energy for another. Anything that gives us enjoyment is usually used as a means to condition for both men and women. What we do need is to mature on our expectations – and that, like Andrew mentioned, probably depends on age. Until then if that exchange is needed to form a functioning relationship, then it is not surprising that people decide to choose that stability over leaving partners because they are not mature enough (based on their inability to provide service without rewards).

            My point: It is immature in some sense yes, but not a surprising or absurd idea considering the variety of environmental factors that affect people.

            • Placing a requirement on intimacy is something I find offensive and I believe it will have an effect, bargaining just seems so wrong to do in regards to intimacy. If you do x I’ll give you sex, etc. Just doesn’t seem right at all to me and I would resent someone for trying it with me. I can understand someone saying if you do this activity I’ll give you a massage or whatever afterwards but if they don’t do that activity, will they still get massages? It seems quite different to sharing intimacy and instead becomes something I feel is degrading.

            • Hi Archy
              I support your view here 100%.

      • @t_u
        Seeking out sex for sex’s sake

        It’s biology and the nature of the beast. A lot of men simply see sex as a hobby.

      • I think what a lot of men are seeking in casual sex is that perfect unconditional one-sided love of a parent to a child

        I’d say that’s true for relationships,too.

        • Alice, the problem is people seeing it as one-sided. Anyone seeking just sex, needs to inform their partner so that partner can choose to continue and thus make it equal, or back out. But if you really think all men are expecting 1 sided love from relationships then quite frankly you’re a bigot.

      • Zigy Kaluzny says:

        Typhon_uncensored: “I think what a lot of men are seeking in casual sex is that perfect unconditional one-sided love of a parent to a child. They want to be approved of in a way that they don’t often get from society.”

        That’s the first time i’ve heard that reasoning — and I am not in any way denigrating your conclusion — and will consider that in my own working with men. However, I believe another equally powerful driver is POWER: to be able to get a woman to do what he wants, especially when I see how many men resent the grovelling and begging they imagine they have to do to have access to the woman’s body.

        z

    • IA, it’s how men behave it’s not the media. Men act like the goal in life is to find the next lay. If men don’t like it, well, they should change their behavior.

  7. Richard Aubrey says:

    We all know or knew guys contemplating suicide because he didn’t get laid that night? No, we don’t or didn’t.
    We did know guys we tried to keep an eye on because they seemed to be just about ruined when their Special Someone told them they were no longer the light of her love.
    So now we have to pretend we never knew this? Is this how we show we’re hip, or whatever today’s word is?

    • Andrew Smiler says:

      I’m not entirely sure where you’re going with this. I agree with your comments about guy who didn’t get laid & guy who got dumped; they’re quite similar to what I wrote about the importance of love. I don’t follow the “pretend we didn’t know this?” comment. When I talk to women about men, a lot of them tell me they don’t know that guys can/do feel >that< strongly about their dating partners. Then again, many of the folks I talk to about men’s love are in the 15-25 age range, so maybe it’s about who I’m talking to.

  8. Andrew Smiler says:

    @Richard (first comment): I agree that folks who work in media understand their market, and they’re certainly adept at creating a market. But it’s also clear that media serves other puproses beyond just marketing and whether or not those purposes are intended by the folks who create media content.
    Forty-some years of research on television makes it clear that people with little/no experience with the type of content shown on media learn that content and use that content to shape their beliefs and behaviors. It’s part of how non-Americans learn about America, and it’s part of how teens learn what makes a “real man” or what you’re “supposed to do” when on a date or in love. Let me reiterate that this is >partthat< strongly about their dating partners. Then again, many of the folks I talk to about men’s love are in the 15-25 age range, so maybe it’s about who I’m talking to.

    • Andrew Smiler says:

      REPOSTED
      @Richard (first comment): I agree that folks who work in media understand their market, and they’re certainly adept at creating a market. But it’s also clear that media serves other puproses beyond just marketing and whether or not those purposes are intended by the folks who create media content.

      Forty-some years of research on television makes it clear that people with little/no experience with the type of content shown on media learn that content and use that content to shape their beliefs and behaviors. It’s part of how non-Americans learn about America, and it’s part of how teens learn what makes a “real man” or what you’re “supposed to do” when on a date or in love. Let me reiterate that this is >part< of how folks learn stuff, not the be-all and end-all of what we learn or the only reason we act the way we do.

  9. Andrew Smiler says:

    @ Erin & Jo: Thanks.

  10. Andrew Smiler says:

    @ Typhon: Fair enough. I agree that men often express feelings through doing (or action), not words. In the line you quoted, I was going for the idea that guys get into or stay in relationships because of the connection to their partner, and not >just< for the sex.

    @WRR: You’re right; I did not intend to include a sexual minority perspective here. And you’re right, the actions I’ve described here apply to all, regardless of their partner’s sex/gender.

    @Typhon & WRR: You’re both right about men expressing love through sex when with a partner they love. I'm hoping – perhaps in vain – that the people who create media content might start (again) showing us men's love as something beyond sex, gift-giving, and big dramatic gestures.

    • @ Andrew

      Unfortunately the other ways we show love don’t really make for impactful drama. For example, my husband and I usually spend part of each morning massaging each other. Somehow I don’t think that would make for riveting tv-viewing.

      ‘let’s watch two people married for a decade and a half give each other back rubs for half an hour!’

      • Andrew Smiler says:

        fair enough. Although I’d be happy seeing some of TV’s married couples talk happily (vs. disparagingly or matter-of-factly) about being married, and it would be nice if we occasionally saw/heard them hold hands, kiss passionately, or having sex. The analyses by Dale Kunkel’s team put sexual activity between unmarried couples and married couples at something like a 40:1 or 50:1 ratio. These days, I think the only people showing (presumably) married couples getting it on are Viagra & Cialis.

        • I had a negative view of marriage. I am 25 and a lot in my generation share a very pessimistic view on marriage. We either think of marriage in the traditional restrictive nuclear way or the 24 hour lifespan celeb marriage. There seems to be no in between. My family is full of divorcees or unhappily married couples. We live in divorce culture, where you can even buy divorce insurance. I thought that once I got a ring on my finger the passion would die, the fights would start, the ball and chain would go on, we would be bored, hate life, etc. I almost felt as if this was unavoidable, as unavoidable as death, something that nature intended, something completely beyond human control. Then I had a huge yet simple realization. Your relationship is what you make it.

  11. Even _if_ men were primarily interested in sex, that doesn’t mean that sex really is the ultimate goal. It could be that for men sex is the primary WAY of getting what they want, which may be something else — excitement, validation, fun, the feeling of being alive, feeling loved and appreciated, etc. Even when it looks simple, it probably isn’t.

    I don’t think the biggest myth is how much men want sex. I think the biggest myth is that it’s a goal all by itself.

  12. This past Christmas was the first time I’ve EVER seen a car commercial in which a woman surprises a man with a new car with a bow on top. I think it was a Hyundai commercial. I wonder if this is the start of a trend. I sure hope so.

  13. Richard Aubrey says:

    Andrew,

    I suppose you’re right about the media. A prof at a CC in Detroit teaching ESL to immigrants reported that, seeing the local news and whatnot, his studenets figured blacks were the majority ethnic group in the USA.

    Let me put it this way. Nobody I ever heard talking about failing to get laid was other than exasperated. Other guys who’d lost what they considered a loving relationship were so depressed that we wondered about watching them.
    Big difference. My point is that nobody doesn’t know the difference.
    Everybody knows the difference.
    Everybody.
    Now, I think the media think they know their market. I think they may be right. That doesn’t mean they have the impact they think they do. Advertising is aspirational. IOW, you can unconsciously persuade yourself that, if you get the Budweiser, you’ll be playing co-ed volleyball with a bunch of insanely cheerful twenty-five year olds. Thing is, the Bud ad is something that seems only a little unlikely. It doesn’t put me in a Mercedes. That’s too far out to work.
    If it hadn’t been for a war and a few other things, I might have had that Budweiser picnic opportunity. Not that it isn’t possible. Just not likely. But associating it with Bud makes Bud subliminally more desirable. My point is that dumb ads, not like Bud ads, don’t have any impact, except to annoy people.
    It’s probably true that if three companies advertise their services and a fourth in the same field does not, the latter will not do as well. But he won’t have to worry about an ad budget.
    Anyway, I disagree with your premise. Men love, as can be seen when they are hurt in love, and that can be seen as early as a jr. hi. crush. Gets worse from there.
    Everybody knows. Everybody knows the difference.

  14. Andrew,

    I wouldn’t necessarily say that people are scared of men in love but of love itself. Love requires a surrender, not to ones’s partner nor a surrender to oneself but a surrender to love itself. When one surrender’s to love then the ego must also surrender. The quote in the picture sums it all up ‘love is a realization that someone other than oneself is real”. The ego is only preoccupied with oneself. If we truly love this self preoccupation must die. This is what we all struggle with regardless of gender. To compensate for our inability to truly love and surrender ourselves to love, we try to buy love, earn love, seek love, get love…everything other than surrender to love and give love. I hate how our society has tainted love and what love means. We loosely say I love this post, I love these clothes, love is a marketing strategy….it’s easier for us to say we love objects then to even say we love ourselves and people.

  15. Laurie Crosby says:

    Andrew,

    Thanks for writing this. You may have seen the excellent article Charles Blow wrote recently in The New York Times called “Real Men Wear Pink Suits”. In the comments section, one woman said something that I had never thought of before, but seems obvious: Machismo is essential to imperialism. You cannot overtake borders, in whatever sense, if you do not have a set of people willing to be aggressive to the point of causing death of others “for their country”. Patriarchy is absolutely required for an offensive militia, perhaps less so than for a defensive one. We need gung-ho fighters, men who are cold and shut off and willing to deny the humanity of others. As you said, it is this denying of humanity that is woven in to the dominant machismo narrative. Domination and uber-competition are hallmarks of the Real Man — they are also hallmarks of American foreign policy.

    Real Men not only deny the humanity of others, they deny it within themselves. They treat their bodies like machines: the harder you can push it, the more pain and suffering you can take, the more of a man you are. Real Men do not go to the doctor, because that’s for wimps. I say this as a daughter of a Real Man, one who died at 55 partly because of genetics, partly because of a macho lifestyle, and partly because of his resistance to go to the doctor. I get the feeling that machismo is the main factor in men having lower life expectancies than women, and it is why married men often live longer. And as you so eloquently described it, machismo also requires that men deny their own inner emotional lives.

    My dad was sealed tightly as a drum, emotionally, until he reached his fifties. After his death, my mom told me of a time that they took a drive together up into the mountains. They stopped near a field of wildflowers. My dad, surprised by the emotions this scene made him feel, said something to the effect of, “You know, I think I actually like wildflowers.” My mom replied that he had probably always liked them, it was just beaten out of him at a young age (literally). He was finally reaching a point in his life — both his parents had passed away — where he felt safe to start opening up a little and feeling things more deeply. This included a conversation with my mom, the day before he died, in which he told her that he wanted to build more of a relationship with me, his only daughter. It hurt to hear that, because it made me think about how much closer he and I could have been had he not felt so emotionally constrained his whole life (he and I had very similar personalities, but because I was female, these personality traits in me he labeled “weird”. I wish he could have seen that I was not weird…I was like him.).

    • Laurie, those are some really interesting insights.

      I can totally relate to your story about your Dad.

      Especially this: “It hurt to hear that, because it made me think about how much closer he and I could have been had he not felt so emotionally constrained his whole life”

      Which goes to show how important it is to redefine what is masculine. For the well being of men and those that love them.

    • Laurie – spot on!! I’ve experienced this machismo in my own life, with my own father, and most recent relationship.

    • What a great insight. Thanks so much for sharing.

  16. “That kind of intensity can make men “crazy in love” and lead to all those grand gestures the media shows us. It can also lead to violence; it’s easy to imagine two guys getting into a fight over a girl, and that’s the premise of the new movie—and Valentine’s day release(!)—“This Means War.” We also hear about this kind of violence in the news every few weeks when a man kills his ex, himself, and possibly their kids or her new partner.”
    That kind of violence is not to do with love, it is to do with possession and dominance, the kind of people that resort to violence to stop someone from wooing their boyfriend or girlfriend see their ‘significant other’ as something they own.

  17. Quite possibly the best article I have ever read on the subject of how men are portrayed today. And while the media’s horrible portrayal of women gets so much attention, the reverse is not true. We are either buffoons, a**holes or wimps. Thank you Andrew for this powerful piece!

  18. Shameless Survivors says:

    Great article but for the assumption men killing their wives and children has anything to do with being ‘in love’. The mention in this context discounts the actuality that few if any of those men are actually capable of feeling love. They are not crimes of passion, they are wholly crimes of self interest and that degree of self interest and love are certainly not compatible in a healthy relationship.

  19. Wow – piece of your work defines our lives in such a comprehensive way. Love is when her name brings a big smile on your face. You start to live in idealism and wonder if she feels the way. This series of “what-if”s never ends and there ain’t even a foggiest thought about sex. All you can imagine is a casual cuddling and anything beyond that makes you blush. Eventually all the music that you thought meaningless then makes a perfect sense to you.

    I know this sounds crazy and it really is. I actually took a “break” to check what was wrong with me and I realized that ……
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    “We are just the victim of our own mind”

  20. I think this is a very good, yet still superficial examination of men, and the passion that they feel yet routinely suppress. I maintain that as children, especially boy children, but girls too, are told one thing about being a human, yet they simply look around and find a world of contradiction. I believe in that vein they learn to distrust not only their parents, but more importantly themselves. And media has an enormous influence on that. @alice, i’m really sorry that the men you know all seem to act out this cloud thinking. But they are not real men, but a caricature of what they think is a real man.

    I’m not averse to getting laid at anytime. Casually with a woman who also enjoys it casually is really fun too. But intimacy in love cannot be beaten or explained, and at least for this man I couldn’t dream of anything better, nor would I want to. But we simply have got to turn this tide of stereotypically male and female behavior around. It’s a falsehood that gets endlessly repeated. A way to get something through culture’s thick skull is a simple message endlessly repeated. If we were to do this for all human beings our world would change. But as of today, the simple message previously noted is men are this, women are always that and this is what becomes normative. Not saner, just normative. And think of all that loss and heartache it’s caused. I love seeing wildflowers.

  21. Zigy Kaluzny says:

    Andrew, a fine piece with a broad range of ideas and possibilities; the quality of the responses — neither snarky nor angry — tells me how much those readers at least resonate with your good thoughts.

    This quote intrigued me: “… intensity from men when they talk about their feelings. If a guy… when talking about his favorite team, his car, and maybe even his job…”

    Was there a reason you chose “men” for the feelings part, and “guys” for the second, mechanical, part? I ask because in my psychotherapy practice (with men) and my men’s group I encourage using the former rather than the latter; I think it’s more appropriate and is a good reminder that we are MEN, not just a bunch of “guys.” Something I learned from my work in The Mankind Project (www.mkp;org).

  22. I had the biggest crush on this one girl who had, like, 3 classes with me per semester. Granted, I never actually talked to her (too shy, for starters), but she WAS very talkative and had lots of friends, esp. in the classes themselves, so it was easy to see what kind of person she was, at least at school. Today, every now and then, I still wonder to myself, “What if…?” If only I hadn’t been such a coward and had AT LEAST uttered a few sentences to her…

    She was far from my ideal ‘size’ in a woman (at least slender and fairly tall, considering that I’m about 6′ or 6’1″, if not a little on the chubby or “thick” side), but she was gorgeous face-wise, and had the most amazing red hair. She seemed to have a very bubbly personality, too, and she basically ‘lit up’ whatever room she was in! I had so many visions of “what could be” if we were ever in an actual relationship. I almost couldn’t get her out of my mind the entirety of senior year (HS)!

    But… too late now

    Oh well…

    Plus, considering the fact that she seemed to be very extroverted, loved to talk and hung out with friends almost daily outside of school (and me being the opposite), I dunno if we would’ve worked out well anyway.

  23. not buying it says:

    Hmmm, me and other men have genuine feelings like love, compassion , caring about others including the other sex without actually being horny!!!!, who know???

    that explains the crying in private and the pain I felt in my chest years ago when my Ex left , So does that mean ( men are rapists and that’s all they are) is not true ??? thank you anyway , it must be the age of enlightenment and privilege for men due to the politically correct prevailing ideology , all is well with boys and men then.

  24. Andrew,

    In a reply to other commenter, you wrote:

    > You’re right; I did not intend to include a sexual minority perspective here.

    Please check your privilege. The Good Men Project intentionally includes a variety of authors and perspectives, including sexual minorities. It’s poisonous to write something “for men” and assume that queer guys aren’t part of your audience. We’re people, not conjured spirits: bidden or unbidden, we’re present. It’s disingenuous to assume that we’ll somehow absent ourselves unless you specifically invite us. If queer readership is a problem for your article, then I respectfully submit that the problem lies with your article and not with your readers.

    In your article you wrote:

    > …conflating friendship and homosexuality is certainly a good way to make
    > American men self-conscious about becoming friends with another guy.
    > Instead of wondering if a guy is willing to hang out with him or help him when
    > he’s in a jam, we now want that guy to wonder if he’s going to be hit on?
    > In effect, we’re discouraging men from having other male friends.

    What I think you’re getting at is that homophobia and misogyny are dumb, and they stand in the way of men’s ability to love genuinely and fully, especially between each other whether sex is involved or not. That’s good and true. Unfortunately, it looks like you’re giving homophobia a free pass and even legitimizing it. This ma be unintentional on your part, but it does deserve to be called out.

    There are at least two missing pieces to the above text:

    The idea that being perceived as gay is a bad thing.

    If you’re afraid of losing social status because people think you’re gay, then go fix how you think about being gay. Fix your own heart and mind: sit with that ugly feeling, name it, and work through it. Fix the world: hit the voting booth and give your resources to work for equality. Challenge anyone putting homophobia in the world, especially your friends and family. Whatever you do, don’t give homophobia a free pass or assume you’re powerless against it.

    Some men fear that other men will hit on them the same way they hit on women.

    If that’s the problem, take a good hard look at how you hit on women. Then go fix it.

    > And you’re right, the actions I’ve described here apply to all, regardless of
    > their partner’s sex/gender.

    Respectfully, they don’t. Did you mean in this particular culture? I get the value in not being overly specific, but making sweeping generalizations doesn’t help, either.

    • Adam Blanch says:

      Dear Zsc,

      You and Andrew are both arguing for the right to construct your identity as a man free from demeaning cultural stereotypes. You are objecting to the idea that masculinity somehow excludes homosexuality, and I understand how frustrating that must be for you. He is objecting to the way in which those who wish to demonise men have tried to trivialise male love by sexualising friendship. You are natural allies who only need to understand each other a little better, and had you explained how Andrew’s oversight impacted you you might have built a bridge of empathy and understanding.

      Unfortunately you chose to go with righteous anger, built around the feminist victim/perpetrator theory of power and privilege, which once again demonises heterosexual men and vilifies them as the enemy. I invite you to consider the purpose of your post in the future. Do you wish to be heard and understood by people who may be ignorant of their unconscious prejudice, or do you wish to punish them for their ignorance.

      • Adam,
        Thanks for your reply. I was tempted to reply about how text obscures tone, because I didn’t think I was that angry when I commented. The truth is, if I did that, I’d be deflecting the truth. You’re right, I’m angry–angry at the perception that the original author considered my presence or readership as optional. Even though I’m not as angry as maybe you think I am, it’s easy to look at my words and reach the conclusion you reached. Thanks for naming the truth.
        You’re right about opportunities for hearing and understanding…and whether I’m angrier than a kicked hornet’s nest or calm as a sloth on muscle relaxants changes nothing. The responsibility to end unjust prejudice and privilege lies with those doing the harm. I know you’re not suggesting otherwise–just making sure it’s out there.
        I make no apology for feeling angry over being treated as an “optional” audience on a blog about men. Righteous anger is righteous, after all! And anger isn’t bad, only what we do with it. I could have chosen words that more effectively invited dialogue and change, and for naming that, I thank you.

        • Adam Blanch says:

          A beautifully thoughtful, erudite and honest response.

          Your anger is completely valid in my book, indeed anger is the emotional energy of change and growth. No one should tolerate being marginalised. However, I believe that the responsibility for change lies with whoever has the capacity to make it happen. Those who are committed to prejudice lack that capacity, but those who are it’s victim and allow themselves to be possessed by their anger (clearly not you) are equally incapable.

          Ghandi, King, Mandela, Su Chi all showed us that change comes through building bridges between hearts. Those who have power and privilege but are unaware of it are not perpetrators, they are simply ignorant, and if made aware of it in a temperate and compassionate way they become the armies of change. Every major social evolution has occurred as a collaboration between the victimised and the silent majority who’s innate longing for fairness and justice has been mobilised by a greater vision.

          That’s why I counsel away from the view that all those who hold power are perpetrators. Most do not even know they hold power and are often living lives of struggle and suffering themselves, and do not experience themselves as ‘privileged’. It is this common bond of striving for freedom and justice that can connect us and move mountains.

  25. Yes, Billy, men really do know about love. Don’t believe anything you see on TV about men. If you do you will believe that all married men are bimbos, just like the patriarchy used to try and sell us about women. That violence is the first choice of real men. That love for a woman is only expressed through sex or money. That callousness toward Nature or anything beautiful is “manly”; is better than truly appreciating and preserving Beauty. That Beauty is only for women or gay men. That love for other men can only be shown on the turf, field, court or rink. No Billy, men love women & other men & Beauty; ask your father, a man, if his father loved him and if he loves you. Let me know what he says Billy.

  26. wellokaythen says:

    To all the tired stereotypes you mentioned on TV and advertising, I’d one more that may be the worst one. You sort of mention this in passing, but I’d go a litle further:

    The man in love who’s basically obsessed, who turns into a stalker and/or psychopathic murderer. When a man does feel something besides lust, it’s basically a desire to control, dominate, possess, or kill. Or he’s completely insane and a threat to everyone everywhere. Virtually the only men on TV who are capable of long-term commitment are stalkers.

  27. Do you think that maybe men are falling in love more deeply because women are now, more than ever before, valued as human beings worth falling in love with? Not to mention that since women have been allowed to go to school and allowed to pursue a variety of new career choices, men have more exciting and intelligent options when it comes to partners…

Trackbacks

  1. […] a normative part of growing up male. He argues that teaching boys to suppress their feelings, both loving and self-loathing, stunts their emotional growth and has a long-term impact on their mental […]

  2. […] a normative part of growing up male. He argues that teaching boys to suppress their feelings, both loving and self-loathing, stunts their emotional growth and has a long-term impact on their mental […]

  3. […] think the real issue here is that men’s love scares us. It’s incredibly powerful and as a culture, we don’t know how to respond to that […]

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