I met a friend recently for coffee.
A boy I had known many years ago in grade school who is now, like me, a grown man with years of experience behind him.
A man, like me, who is light years ahead of where he was just a few years ago.
And still traveling.
We talked about relationships—as we resumed ours in person after reconnecting through Facebook and email.
We examined what we bring to partners by virtue of our childhoods, behaviors that unconsciously direct and, if we are not careful, threaten to define us, to box us in to unhealthy destructive patterns, and limit us to an ultimately unfulfilling life.
We shared where we are in the struggle to find the happy balance, the dynamic in which expression of our individuality and devotion to another person harmonize instead of playing out as conflicting strains.
Much of it hinges on the other person, but much of it also hinges on ourselves and the critical work of achieving self-awareness.
I floated a feeling that surfaces in me: that at the end of the day, after all I take care of for others—the work, the providing, the procuring, the parenting, and all I do for myself, including honoring my call of courageous self-expression—the feeling that I would like someone to take care of me. And the deeper feeling, the sense of walking steadily and carefully along the tightrope, wondering who will catch me if I fall, and knowing I can’t fall…because I can’t answer that question.
My friend was taken aback, taken to a place inside himself he has reluctantly but purposefully determined to explore.
He told me he never thought he deserved someone to catch him, that having someone in his life who would do that had, essentially, never occurred to him.
As men we are generally raised to be self-reliant, frequently modeled the false mastery of emotion, and often trained not to tame the lioness but to gracefully accept her mauling as part of the bargain and lick our wounds alone. We’re also taught that accommodation and compromise are not manly, and so we tend to split around the conundrum—hating ourselves for being nice and caving, resenting our partners for even legitimate demands, and living a teeth-gritting, forced-smile pretense of a life in which everything is made to appear OK.
But it was more than this with my friend, who has evolved well beyond the stereotype I’ve described.
It went to the core of his own opinion of himself, his measure of his self-worth, his sense of what, as a good man, a mensch, he is entitled to and deserves.
And so I feel compelled to say this, to offer this reminder:
The value is there, even when we are not valued.
The worth is there, even when we feel unworthy.
The problem is not a lack of something inside ourselves. It is how we see what is already there.
The defect is one of vision, not character.
Look more closely, and you’ll see that you, too, deserve the safety net of love.
Editor’s Note: The meeting described took place several years ago, but the message for men is timeless.
Originally published on Tom Aplomb