Men risk their lives serving in combat, fighting fires, and performing dangerous stunts, but we’re not fearless. Here are three non-life-threatening things that men find truly terrifying.
“There are only two emotions: love and fear. All positive emotions come from love, all negative emotions from fear. From love flows happiness, contentment, peace, and joy. From fear comes anger, hate, anxiety, and guilt. It’s true that there are only two primary emotions, love and fear. But it’s more accurate to say that there is only love or fear, for we cannot feel these two emotions together, at exactly the same time. They’re opposites. If we’re in fear, we are not in a place of love. When we’re in a place of love, we cannot be in a place of fear.”
—Elizabeth Kubler Ross
There’s a cartoon I’ve always remembered from childhood. In the middle of a storm, a little girl runs into her big brother’s bedroom, afraid of the thunder. She says something like, “I’m scared, Billy. Please keep me safe.” There’s another clap, and both children run into their parents’ bedroom. “Mommy, we’re scared. Please keep us safe.” Thunder strikes yet again, and the whole family turns to the father. “We’re all scared, daddy. Please keep us safe.” The father looks skyward and says, “Um, who’s going to keep me safe?”
While men deal readily with dangerous threats, other fears rattle us to the core in our intimate relationships.
The stereotypical role of men as fearless protectors and daredevils is solidly established and in no way suggests that women lack courage. Many women perform acts of great bravery. But while men deal readily with dangerous threats, other fears rattle us to the core in our intimate relationships. The fears that keep us up at night. The fears that can paralyze us when confronting tough choices. These fears are: rejection, irrelevance, and disappointment, and together they add up to the fear of failure—of failing to be … a man. The explanations of these fears that follow are not presented as a plea for sympathy. They’re an attempt to help women who want lasting relationships with men better understand what makes men tick.
You’d think since we do most of the asking we’d have a thick skin when it comes to rejection, but it’s just the opposite.
1. Rejection. Fear of rejection is not specific to men, of course, but let’s face it, men are more frequently the initiators when it comes to dating, marriage proposals, and sex, and we therefore face rejection more often when women refuse our advances. You’d think since we do most of the asking we’d have a thick skin when it comes to rejection, but it’s just the opposite. No matter how much courage we’ve summoned, how firmly we’ve convinced ourselves we don’t care about the outcome, and how much healthy self-esteem we possess, hearing no hurts deeply on the inside. A graceful no hurts a great deal less, while cruel, dismissive, ungrateful rejection drives a knife through the male psyche.
“I’d never date a guy like you.”
“Come on, who are you kidding?”
“Come back when you’re all grown up.”
No words. Just laughter.
Even the dreaded, “I love you as a friend,” is preferable to words like those above that cause us to question our suitability, attractiveness, or worst of all, our masculinity.
Many men are left with the feeling, “I’m a lucky schmuck who doesn’t really deserve to be with this goddess.”
Fear of rejection is one reason men get so turned on by women who ask or initiate (it takes the sting out of getting to yes), and it’s also—in my opinion—why many men settle for unfulfilling relationships and don’t fully assert ourselves, fearing we won’t find anyone else or that if we anger our partners, we risk their dumping us. Many men are left with the feeling, “I’m a lucky schmuck who doesn’t really deserve to be with this goddess, I’m tolerated only by her good graces, and at any moment I could screw up and end up alone in the cold.” This dynamic of unworthiness makes for weak men, not strong ones.
Handling rejection with compassion is about more than softening the blow to an interested suitor. It’s also about improving the way men treat women.
So how might women process male fear of rejection? It doesn’t mean you have to accept anything or anyone you don’t want. But it does mean we need you to be civil and kind when refusing a genuine offer of companionship and affection. Handling rejection with compassion is about more than softening the blow to an interested but uninteresting suitor. It’s also about improving the way men treat women. A callous dismissal that makes a man feel inferior can twist his respect for women towards bitterness and hatred. This doesn’t make women responsible in any way for a man’s hateful actions. But it does mean you can make a difference by helping us remain intact and feel whole when you’re saying no.
2. Irrelevance. Men thrive on relevance, whether it’s through doing meaningful work, providing for a family, or simply feeling wanted and needed in a relationship. Make us feel irrelevant, treat us like a piece of furniture, the handyman, or a walking paycheck, and a wound forms in the center of our being that grows with every slight. Unhealed wounds make for unhappy partners, and unhappy partners make for destructive relationships.
Let’s shatter the myth that women are givers and men are takers. Women are givers but men are givers, too, and just as much as women, we need to be recognized and reminded that we matter to you.
While we’re at it, let’s shatter the myth that women are givers and men are takers. Women are givers but men are givers, too, and just as much as women, we need to be recognized and reminded that we matter to you. Make us feel irrelevant in the relationship, and we’ll seek relevance elsewhere, by working late hours, spending more time with male friends, or ultimately finding a companion who makes us feel important and valued. It’s not that women don’t also need to feel relevant. But women on the whole tend to have larger friend groups and social circles, often spend more time fulfilling children’s needs, and typically receive tokens of affection such as flowers, jewelry, or other gifts more regularly than they give them. This expectation of recognition from men is embedded in dating and long-term relationships. If you’re a woman reading this, ask yourself when is the last time you gave your man flowers, a trinket, sexy underwear, or a just because gift?
“I’m better off without you.”
“You never do anything around here.”
“All you do is go to work and come home.”
“What do I need you for, anyway?”
As women, can you see how, if you tie sex to receiving an expensive meal or gift, you feed men’s expectations that you will put out after receiving those things and in turn fuel our anger when you don’t?
And when you only agree to have sex with us if we treat you like a princess, you’re setting up an unhealthy dynamic of exchange rather than sharing and cheapening intimacy by expecting us to pay for it. As women, can you see how, if you tie sex to receiving an expensive meal or gift, you feed men’s expectations that you will put out after receiving those things and in turn fuel our anger when you don’t?
It’s not obligatory to say yes after your man does something special. But it’s highly advisable to show appreciation, to recognize your man as a full half of the whole, and to avoid setting up double standards that require things from him that you don’t provide. Most of all, we want you to understand our need to be acknowledged.
We fear disappointing you because disappointment opens the path to irrelevance and ultimately rejection.
3. Disappointment. The truth is, we’re terrified of letting women down. Of making a mistake or oversight that will anger you, of forgetting to do something you asked us to do, of not giving you sufficient pleasure in the bedroom, of not being enough. We fear disappointing you because disappointment opens the path to irrelevance and ultimately rejection. Men may have an imbalance of privilege and power in the world, but women frequently hold the cards at home—through the giving and withholding of both sex and affirmation.
“You’re a poor excuse for a husband (or boyfriend).”
“You’re never around when I need you.”
“You never understand my needs.”
“I’d rather be alone than let down all the time.”
If he forgets to pick up the milk on his way home, is he “the worst husband ever” or just a guy who forgot to stop at the store?
If a man is truly letting you down all the time, by all means get rid of him. But I encourage women to ask yourselves, how realistic are your expectations? Is he being a lout or just fallible and human? If he forgets to pick up the milk on his way home, is he “the worst husband ever” or just a guy who forgot to stop at the store? And ask yourselves, too, if there’s a double standard in place when it comes to your own behavior. Do your man’s expectations and needs matter to you, or do you treat them—and by extension him—as irrelevant and make him jump through hoops of fire to avoid sexual rejection?
Try “It sucks that you did that,” instead of, “You suck.”
The key here is not to stuff down your displeasure when a man disappoints you. It’s important to speak your mind. But it’s crucial you make it clear that you’re disappointed in our actions or omissions and not in us as a person or partner. Try “It sucks that you did that,” instead of, “You suck.” Chances are, we have disappointments concerning your behavior that we’re terrified of expressing, either because you might get angry and withhold or turn the discussion into a tit for tat bitch session. Unless your man is clueless and lacks all self-awareness, he already knows about the ways he’s failed you and wishes he could apologize in an atmosphere of acceptance.
When we engage fear, love disappears, and then we wonder where it went. I hope these words help restore love, trust, and intimacy in your relationships.
What’s your take on what you just read? Comment below or write a response and submit to us your own point of view through our submissions portal.
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I would say it’s deeper than fear and love. It’s chaos and order. It’s that which is truth and the unknown.
There’s a lot of good stuff here, Thomas, but not sure about the idea that sex is something women ‘put out’ for us like a treat if we behave ourselves – with its connotations of manipulation and control. Better when it’s something that both partners want equally, and both have to ‘put in’ to make it work.
I have to disagree with all this crap because it’s just that! Men want to a free pass in life. They don’t want rejected, get they put themselves in vulnerable positions by hitting on women who clearly have zero interest in them from the beginning! Stop fearing rejection and learn to play the game better! On feeling irrelevant…..if you don’t to feel that way, then make sure you are living life in a way that makes you stand out! Women aren’t obligated to notice anything about you. If want her to notice and appreciate you….then actually do something. This means… Read more »
oh my god – you sound hard like stone and hateful towards the male species or you have met some horrible men – did you know often that women who cry out for that two way street – often suffer from low self esteem?…It is worth thinking about as this may be your problem in attracting me who treat you disrespectfully which in turn will make you a bitter woman. Good luck with niceness and understanding….maybe an idea to read the article again once you have done some soul-therapy
Well to be honest, women DO have the right to hate men, look at all the hateful disgusting,disrespectful shit you guys have done to us through out HISTORY, suck it up you damn crybaby just like how you men use to tell us in the past. I can not tell you how many men really think just because they date me they are entitled to sex from me, no matter if they do right or wrong and that’s some stupid, fucked up shit. This woman is completely right, men really do just want a free pass even with women that… Read more »
Awesome post. Thanks, Ted
“Make us feel irrelevant, treat us like a piece of furniture, the handyman, or a walking paycheck, and a wound forms in the center of our being that grows with every slight.” The only way anybody would feel irrelevant is due to a lack of ‘sense of self’. Nobody can ‘make you feel’ anything. If your sense of self is secure, confident, capable and full of love, then what someone else thinks of you is whats irrelevant. Being treated like a piece of furniture has more to do with a mans lack of sense of self and self worth than… Read more »
now nobody’s blaming anyone, if she’s sitting on the chair playing candy crush and he tries to connect with her gets pushed aside, really? now she’s wondering why he’s hanging out with the guys late, so many things that cause drama in relationships are ridiculous!
The 3 Things a Man Fears Most ?? This is a great article but it is also a “two way street” don’t you think. ??
It is funny we live in a world where the majority of articles are from a female perspective for females and articles on men are always stereotypical and lacking spiritual depth…Please understand that this is an article by a man for men – appreciate it your subconscious mind it the street so choose how you want to manuoeuvre with the information rather than cry out for the two way street…this is one street and you are the other embrace it
This is great, and very insightful. But really, I’d say all of this completely transcends gender!
#3, just no.
Your confidence and self-worth come from within. If you are with someone who tears them down, like any of the partners you mentioned, you need to get rid of that toxic person ASAP.
You should be mindful and actively trying to meet the needs of your partner, but you should never be afraid of it or them. Unless you do something to intentionally harm them, or disappoint them, they have no reason to talk to you that way.
Crabb, in “Men, Women: Enjoying the Difference” comes at a number of issues from a religious and conservative perspective. His explanation of the dynamic of trust and appreciation by the wife for the husband is expansive. Others have touched on it, but his is substantial. Except by sneering he’s a fundy, it would be hard to dispute his points about the trust/appreciation issue.
Having two sons makes me think about this issue of rejection all the time… I grew up in a society where, in spite of all other drawbacks, men were not constantly ridiculed by the media. Sometimes, I fear my sons’ generation grows up believing they are worth very little.
Thanks for your article – good food for thought!
Kubler-Ross probably said many wise things, as do we all from time to time. But, please remember, she was totally whacko in her later years and a line must be drawn.
I hope your earnestness brings you many blessings.
Wow, this post nails it. Rejection is such a huge one, and it manifests itself in so many ways outside of the classic guy meets girl scenario.
I’m perhaps too young to fear irrelevance yet, but now that it’s on my radar, I’ll have to do some contemplation on that entire idea. Great piece Thomas.
Thank you, Kevin. I’m glad this spoke to you. And we’re always relevant, even if someone tries to make us feel we’re not 🙂
There is another fear: that you can lose your house, half your income and even children because a relationship ends. In many states, just living together is considered common law marriage. This is why more and more men are choosing to skip marriage and relationships altogether.
Yes, GTOW Wes Carr. But no, you are wrong, the lifestyle is too foreign and probably will never be known too much.
Just remember, MGTOW guys, to focus on the system and not on the woman-bashing while at that. If men had the same power, believe me, many would use it, maliciously, against women as well. Let’s change the system and get equal rights with our minds straight.
What did he say that was woman bashing? He’s obviously talking about the law…
He is bashing women all the time, Arrow Head. And he is a MGTOW slave.. if you have ever searched about it, you would know most of it’s members are woman-bashers at best, misogynists at worst.
Thanks, Tom, for a thought provoking article. I agree that women who are puzzled by men in relationship should understand our fears and limiting beliefs. It’s the only way we can respond compassionately to each other and help each other grow. My focus is helping men understand that rejection, irrelevance, and disappointment are ALL limiting beliefs. They stand in the way of our ability to lead, listen, inspire, give, love, live by our values and enforce our boundaries. Every woman I work with who is in the process of leaving her marriage points to those things as missing elements in… Read more »
Steve, You’ve pegged it. We can’t depend on others for our happiness or approval.
Well said Steve! My husband and I have been married 7 years and for some couples, depending on their socialization, it can take a long time to develop a truly respectful dynamic. My husband’s parents adhere to very traditional gender roles, but I am anything but traditional. In the beginning I think he had an extremely idealized view of my role, which led to unreasonable expectations. His mother is a sweet caring lady, but she never expresses any of her own needs and spends her days caring for everyone else. She doesn’t work, prepares three meals a day for the… Read more »
Great article, Thomas, especially with all the hysteria of the #yesallwomen comments floating about recently. Both genders have a lot of changes coming their way and we can assist each other in navigating toward a more balanced social structure. Yes, we are still polarized and yes, it will take some time (generations) before we develop new ways of communicating and cohabitating with each other. I loved the Kubler-Ross quote. It sets a fine tone for the discussion and a personal check as to where we are when discussing these changes.
Thank you, John. You’ve expressed an important thought—that men and women have to work together as partners in the effort of improving the way we relate and treat each other.
One of the first steps is not calling what a gender has to say as hysteria. That diminishes and is disrespectful to their experience. That is GREAT that people feel free to talk, and we can listen. Even when we might believe some things are exaggerated, let’snot believe we know better than the individual. Many things will still sound reasonable enough. In fact, most things. You know how easy it is for women to just laugh about the “fears” of men we read in this article and believe men are being to hysterical?
Let’s be kind.
Great article. Appreciation is all too often forgotten. On both sides. Good men, and good women, deserve to be appreciated in their relationships.
Paul, Absolutely. Appreciation is the answer to so many doubts, the healing for so many hurts, and the key to helping your partner be happy.
Nice work, and good to see something on GMP that wasn’t a diatribe on all that men are doing wrong in the world.
JD, Thanks. We do sometimes take men to task here, but we also very much try to celebrate what is good—and great—about men and also educate readers on men’s feelings and concerns.
Great perspective Thomas. I can relate to those fears very well. I am blessed with a great marriage and, by sharing this article, my hope is we can grow an even stronger relationship.
Thanks, Richard. You are fortunate and have clearly put in the work that maintains a happy and fulfilling partnership.
We don’t put out after an expensive meal or a gift (I actually found this insulting), but same as men we want appreciation also and meal and gift are signs of appreciation. Women already serve as emotional crutches to men, and it’s hard to be an emotional help to everyone, husband, people at work, kids, friends so on/forth. Unlike men, we can’t pull out the card of excuse that in childhood we were told to shut up instead of showing our feelings. WE ARE expected to show our feelings…by giving emotional affirmations, and that can be hard especially when no… Read more »
Exactly. You deserve to be appreciated too. Women do often serve as the only available emotional outlet to their man. Especially in this society, evolving out of patriarchy, men need women on their side–when a woman is there for a man, he should show his appreciation through emotional affirmation. It’s very much a two-way street, and like the Kubler-Ross quote indicates, appreciation (love) begets love, while lack of appreciation produces fear, fear that the love that you are relying on is one-sided, and therefore meaningless. I don’t think the author would argue that women are often unappreciated in their relationships… Read more »
Paul, I surely would come down on the side that women are frequently under-appreciated or unappreciated for what they give. Neither sex has a monopoly on these fears and their related needs.
Spot on, Thomas. Thanks for putting this out there. Great read. Insightful, honest and true.
Thank you, Patrick. I know it’s true for me and am glad to hear it works for others.
My menfolk and I went through a “how do you express/receive love” exercise a few years back that helped each us communicate a bit better to help us each feel more needed, wanted, and appreciated — women need all these things, too. We each keep this list where we can review it because much of what we need is not what we were each taught the “opposite” sex would need.
It has helped but it is an ongoing unlearning process.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts on men’s fears and offering advice on how to address them.
Tammy Jo, That sounds like a great exercise. What partners need is often not what we were taught or conditioned to believe they need, and safe communication is the key to correcting that.
Tammy, What was the exercise?
Great article! Thanks for sharing here.
Thanks, Donna. I’m glad you liked it.
Thomas this was a great article. I really enjoyed your accuracy in describing what men fear and how it affects them. I’m dating and I am going to try to remember these things and help foster avoiding initiating these fears in men. Instead lift up and foster self esteem and confidence. thank you.