Recognize the signs of male menopause and understand the reasons behind the changes.
“I’ll never be your beast of burden
My back is broad but it’s a hurting
All I want is for you to make love to me
I’ll never be your beast of burden
I’ve walked for miles my feet are hurting
All I want is for you to make love to me.”
—“Beast of Burden,” The Rolling Stones
The Stones had it right. Men are asked to do a lot. When it comes to carrying the heavy load of life, we put it right on their backs. They rarely complain, since we condition them from the cradle onward to suck it up and soldier on. How can any man admit he’s being crushed by his burden, when he’s been taught since childhood that even when the going gets rough, he has to consistently present himself as strong, invulnerable, and unwavering? In short, he has to always appear to be everyone’s idea of a hero.
In the years we spent researching a book on the subject, we learned the truth. Men feel the pressure to get up every morning and prove, over and over, that they are “real men.” And because of the culture’s strictures, they are forced to hide feelings they’re not even sure how to express. This is never truer than at midlife when, as testosterone declines and competition from younger men creeps up, they feel a little less strong and a lot more vulnerable. But most men, in an attempt to maintain their preconceived ideal of manhood, will do just about anything to hide the fact that they can sense they’re changing, and it frightens them.
As the old saying goes, “You can run, but you can’t hide.” So at some point, men’s fears catch up with them and bubble out in unrecognizable, even negative, behaviors … irritability, moodiness and impatience, to name just a few. This can be confusing and frustrating, both for men and for the people who interact with them, especially the partners who love them. Only by developing a medical and psychological understanding of what he is experiencing and feeling, and by realizing the testosterone he is gradually losing has been a natural anti-depressant, can a man start to ease his discomfort.
For every man there’s a turning point that leads him to this revelation. In some cases it comes suddenly and clearly. Perhaps it’s the day when a male family member or close friend unexpectedly loses a parent or succumbs to cancer. For others, it’s sequential and a bit trickier. Maybe it’s getting just a little harder every day to get up and go to work. Or easier to decide there just isn’t time to get up and exercise. But however it happens, every man has a turning point … a time when it dawns on him that he is changing, both physically and psychologically, and he’s not quite sure why this is happening, or what he can do to go back to feeling like the champion he’s accustomed to being.
We see these turning points so often in the men around us.
Not long ago, our friend Bob over-reacted as his teen age daughter was leaving the house for a date with a boy she really liked. He not only reprimanded her for the way she was dressed, he actually yelled at her when she put up a fight about changing. It wasn’t until after she left, and he calmed down, that he realized what was really bothering him. She was beginning to care more about another man’s opinion than his own. He was no longer her hero, and it hurt. With time, and a little insight from his wife, he began to realize and accept that this is a natural transition. It enabled him to apologize to his daughter for being out of line, and to let her know that he wanted nothing more than for her to be happy and safe. Swallowing hard and making this difficult apology helped him to move his relationship with his daughter back onto a positive track.
Another example is a close male relative, who had been obsessing about work for years. He was micromanaging everything, working through weekends, and sacrificing much of his personal life to stay on top at the job. It wasn’t until his constant stress caused a painful breakout of shingles that he was able to take a look at his behavior and realize the driving force behind it was his fear of losing position and status as he was aging. At his turning point, he re-evaluated what was important to him and what he could do without. He decided that he would be far happier and more fulfilled working as an independent contractor in the tech industry, where he would have more control over his own business decisions and the environment around him.
Turning points come in all shapes and sizes. We want to clearly tell our men that seeing them stumble as they reach them, doesn’t make women respect them less; it makes women love them more. Nothing stimulates growth in a relationship more than a man’s honest expression of vulnerability. This can lead to an openness and depth the like of which you have never experienced before. And for men, shedding some of your burdens can make midlife the best part of your life.
This leads us to float a suggestion to the men who are reading this. We propose a different kind of turning point for men, one at which you can feel free to express your deepest and most authentic self. Suggest to your partner that you have regular “Talk About It” days … a time once a week, once a month, or maybe just once in a while, when you can open up about your feelings of perceived weakness, shortcomings and vulnerabilities without fear of these revelations being used against you in any way. Confide in those who deeply love you. Remember that facing life without your familiar armor of silence is your greatest show of true masculine strength.
Image credit: mikebaird/Flickr