Despite what society tries to tell you, you’re the only person who can decide if you’re man enough, Clay Andrews writes.
Being a man isn’t always something easy to do. With our society changing so much over the past several decades, it can leave a guy confused about what really makes a man or how you measure the quality of a man.
Growing up myself, raised by a single mother and being fed society’s messages on gender and manliness in the 80’s and 90’s from media and other cultural outlets, I was fairly confused. In fact, here are five lies about being a man that I believed for the longest time.
Lie #1. Your manliness is determined by allegiance to “Manly Things”
I used to feel like an outcast because I wasn’t addicted to watching football. I didn’t spend my free time fantasizing about sports cars. And I didn’t particularly know anything about guns. Sometimes it seems like a lot of men use these topics as a general filler conversation topic much like strangers default to discussing the weather.
And it’s not just men that assume that “manly things” make you a man. Women assume this too.
I once tried online dating back when I was single. I remember stumbling across a profile that seemed interesting. The woman was attractive, but as I was reading her profile, I remember seeing the words:
“About You—You must be a real man. I don’t date wimpy guys. You need to love watching sports and football because there’s nothing more manly than that.”
Hmm… I guess I wasn’t going to be asking her out for a trip to the art museum any time soon.
Now, I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with liking these things. But liking these things in and of themselves does not make you a man.
It is easy to become seduced by desires of wanting to be a part of the “in” group. We may want to be associated with iconic men or groups like Clint Eastwood, the Dallas Cowboys, the NRA, or any other personal hero or group we may look up to. But simply by liking the things that they like or trying to fit into a mold isn’t going to make us anything like them. Chances are, what you probably like about these people or groups are the character or the values that they represent rather than their style or other external qualities.
Lie #2. Your manliness is determined by your number of sexual conquests
Many guys (my past self included) use the number of women they’ve been with as a measure of how manly they are, either as proof that they are indeed “man enough” or as evidence that they are a failure. There are entire “schools” that teach men how to seduce women by giving them canned routines to whisper in women’s ears and persuasion skills to approach and seduce them.
Many treat seduction like a video game (their words, not mine) where the objective is to get the highest score as a form of validation, giving high fives and fist bumps to their fellow comrades for each victory.
This may be a bit extreme, but how many men haven’t felt a little envious when a friend is on a bit of a hot streak with the ladies? (Not to be completely heteronormative, sexual conquests are a part of same sex relationships too.) And who hasn’t mocked the socially awkward guy in school who never seemed to have a date (unless you were him!)?
The point though is that so many of us seem to use women as a mirror to define our own manliness. After all, women like men, and the more women that like you, the more manly you must be, right?
The problems with this way of thinking is that it is a huge waste of energy and you are living life in reaction to women rather than actively pursuing your own goals. This is a waste of energy because you spend so much time worrying if she’ll toss her drink in your face when you go up to ask her out at the bar. You worry she won’t answer when you call her. And you worry that she’ll dismiss you when you go in for that first kiss or ask her to come back to your place.
There is nothing wrong with putting your best foot forward or wanting to date a woman, but it shouldn’t come from a place of needing her approval or validation to define you as a worthy man.
This spills over into a feeling of competitiveness with other men. It’s easy to believe that one man is somehow “better” than another because he has been around the block a few more times.
Either way, you are essentially letting women define what it means to be a man. Although women are wonderful, and I am completely open to their opinions, I believe that there are better ways to define what makes a man.
Even if you do succeed and “get with” a bunch of women, does that make you a man? Does letting women validate you and define you as “worthy” really make it so? This isn’t the road to happiness. You’ll never find true happiness by seeking the approval of others.
Lie #3. Real men don’t need close male friends
Many guys also feel that the only emotional connection they need is with a woman. Unfortunately, this isn’t healthy since putting all your emotional eggs in your wife’s or girlfriend’s basket is a fast track to codependency, often causing men to go out of their way to seek the approval of the woman in their life.
Friendship is about intimacy, and oftentimes men simply haven’t been taught to do this very well, especially with other guys. There are still many men who only have shallow friendships with their guy buddies that involve superficial conversation (and the occasional chest bump).
I believe that many men (at least in North America) fear true connection with other guys out of a concern that they may be seen as homosexual (either by others or by the man they are trying to build a friendship with). This has made a lot of male friendships tenuous or hesitant, and a lot of guys prefer to skirt the big issues in favor or fluff talk about sports or which woman is hotter rather than actually getting to know another man and the risk of having his friendly intentions questioned. But building friendships with other men can create feelings of camaraderie, build trust between other men, and open you up to giving and receiving guidance from other men (all of which are lacking to many men, growing up raised primarily by women).
And the most important benefit of building friendships with other men is that it can help you feel as if you’re not handling all the problems of your life alone. In many ways the modern man may feel more isolated than previous generations due to the challenge of building connections with other men.
Lie #4. Real men don’t cry
Do you feel as if you must conform to the image of a man with a stoic, uncaring, and unmovable disposition? There is a common belief that “real” men don’t have feelings (or, at least, the only socially acceptable feelings they can have are happiness and anger).
After all, weakness isn’t manly. It’s better to give the appearance of strength no matter how much you may be hurting inside, right? Although many people will look to you for leadership and strength as a man (such as your family), it is not healthy to deny and refuse your full emotional spectrum. This doesn’t mean that you should confess every feeling you have to everyone you cross paths with. Tact is of course important. But by no means, should you feel that you need to wear a mask or put on a performance as someone you are not in order to be a man.
Being a man does not mean that you should deny who you are or take yourself out of alignment with what you believe in; it should only bring you more into alignment.
Being a man isn’t about conforming to a rigid set of “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts.” It is about embracing who you really are and holding true to your values.
Lie #5. It is not OK to be a man.
Maybe it’s a symptom of the high divorce rates, the portrayal in the media of men as predators, or the hatred spread by fringe groups who call out men at every turn, but a lot of men feel ashamed of the fact that they are men.
A belief like this usually originates very early in a man’s life. Growing up with absent father, or with your head filled with negative opinions of men from popular culture and media, it is easy for a small boy to believe that all men are bad. He may tip-toe through life afraid to be like other men, he may go out of his way to be overly “nice” by masking his emotions, always taking care of others’ needs at the expense of his own, or otherwise becoming what Dr. Robert Glover refers to as a “Nice Guy.”
Many men of this generation believe that there is something inherently wrong with being a man, or they may feel as obsolete and insignificant as a bicycle to a fish. They should hide their sexual desires, apologize for their gender, and constantly dim their own light so that others don’t accuse them of preventing them from shining.
It took me quite a while to get this, personally, but there is nothing inherently wrong with you. It is absolutely fine to be a man. In fact, you should be proud of it. No need to walk on eggshells. It may not always be easy to be a man. There are many who will always try to tell you what a “real man” is or isn’t. There are those who will try to fill you with anxiety, shame, or fear about your own worth.
Just remember that only you can ultimately decide whether or not you are “man enough.” It is only through your own values and the choices you make in your life that you can decide if you make the cut or not.