I never used to be stressed; I used to be extremely patient as a kid but I think that was because I didn’t have anything particularly important to get stressed about. As a teen I felt stressed, and in my early twenties, I began to experience stress as a reaction to working in customer service, where dealing with complaints from the public would lead to a regular loss of control and a screaming fit, which surprised and alarmed me because that hadn’t been my style at all up until then. I got out of customer service after a couple of years or so and moved into education, which has a more reasonable stress level.
However, now that I am over 40, I have become aware of an increasing stress in not being able to share my feelings with anyone. This is due to some specific reasons regarding my current lifestyle.
I live in Vietnam and the language barrier has become significant in recent years. I have spent 17 years living here and generally, Vietnamese people of my age (44) tend to be limited to “Hello, what’s your name, how are you?” conversations of no great substance. Vietnamese men aged 44 tend to be focused on soccer, reading the newspaper, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes, none of which I have much interest in. Vietnamese women aged 44 talk about how to make beef noodle soup and the price of fish in the market, which, again, I have no particular interest in.
In my twenties, I was happy to have a range of relatively shallow acquaintances but now I am interested in fewer relationships that are deeper and more meaningful, with a heart-to-heart connection.
At the same time, I have an affinity for celebrity news, since it is the quickest and most useful method for “breaking the ice” and establishing a close connection to someone else. For example, usually, when two old friends meet, they talk about their families or other friends – who got married, who got engaged, who’s changed, who’s stayed the same, who’s got a new job, etc.. When meeting new people, I want to create the same vibe. However, if I talk about my family, the other person doesn’t know them; if the other person talks about his or her family members, I don’t know them; so by talking about Kim Kardashian’s family or Taylor Swift’s new boyfriend, we both now who’s whom and can quickly create the right atmosphere for connection.
I find this difficult with older people, who are not up to date on this stuff, so I tend to be more successful talking to teens and twenty-somethings who are more hip. I also have interests in bodybuilding, basketball, hip-hop, EDM, Reebok sneakers and sporting cool shades, nice jeans and rocking a black V-neck T-shirt under a suit jacket, the coolness of which tends to get lost on people over 30.
Once I’ve begun a conversation on celebrities, I can then go deeper and create an authentic connection. When this happens, I feel relaxed and feel my interests are taken seriously.
However, stuff has happened in recent years that has altered this dynamic. I now work with university students, not high school students, so although they are of similar age range, I must now develop a whole new set of friendships with them. My wife has lung cancer, so there is a tendency for life at home to be rather serious sometimes, with talk of life expectancy and pain and hospital visits and concerned visitors showing up. There is also the state of my marriage. Previously, I had no understanding of female sexuality and was too much of a “nice guy”, which resulted in not much in the way of sex, which has become more of a problem because of my wife’s illness. Now I need to fix that.
One of the major hassles of being a man is the lack of a suitable emotional outlet. I sometimes wish I was female, in that I would have loads of friends to share my feelings with and get things off my mind. As a guy, I have drastically limited options. Absolutely no way am I sharing my feelings with another guy and making myself vulnerable to attack and ridicule. He’s the competition, remember? Like Pepsi telling their secrets to Coca-Cola! If I tell him about my struggle to make my marriage a success, then I might as well hang a big sign around my neck saying, “PLEASE HAVE SEX WITH MY WIFE”. Stuff that!
So this leaves sex itself as an option. Like a lot of guys, I don’t really have a clear idea of what I am feeling at this present moment – it feels like a dark, unknowable blockage, usually situated between the bottom of my ribcage and my stomach. What is this thing? What’s it made of? When I was a virgin, I could only get rid of it one way – by writing. Indeed, writing this article is a de-stressing experience. However, I have since noticed that sex also fulfills this function – but only after it is over. Then the blockage seems to have gone away and I feel all squishy inside and I can use pillow talk to address emotional issues in the post-orgasmic bliss. A lack of sex because of my wife’s illness cuts me off from using this channel; hence the sudden increase in writing, as I return to my virginal habit.
Single guys also have this problem. Wandering the face of the earth, irritations and unmet desires build up into this dark knot of emotional stress. Not having the vocabulary to express it, get it out or deal with it, many men discover that a woman is a wonderful way-station for the weary. However, a man can’t just meet a woman and start talking about emotional stuff because she gets turned off and will think he is creepy, needy and wussy. So the process of seduction, whereby we act manly to attract her, tell stories to connect, relocate somewhere else, then keep repeating that and upping the ante until she “buys” what’s on offer and relieves the tension by taking him to bed, is a method by which a man can act out raw and masculine behaviours in the theatre of passion which is the bedroom and thus come at last to the underlying stuff which can now be accessed and dealt with by the pillow talk that accompanies the afterglow.
This process takes a good four or five hours, however, and often involves significant expenditure in terms of food, drink, money, clothes, travel, time and effort. So that’s today done – but what about tomorrow? Another seduction, maybe, or else just soldier on once again into the windswept wilderness that is the male emotional experience.
I admit that I don’t have a solution to this problem; but I need to find one and find one fast. I hope this contribution to the conversation will help me find the answer.
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