The party was full on. Strobe lights flashing, Bruno Mars blasting in a friend’s basement.
A group of us were getting down, joyful and sweaty. During a break in songs, I headed upstairs.
As I climbed the last stair, out of nowhere, a woman’s club-like palm smashed my face.
“Fuck You! Who do you think you are…?” Her skewed vowels revealed drunkenness.
I fell backwards. By luck, I avoided falling down the stairs. By instinct, I moved into attack mode.
“What the fuck? You know I could crush you right now!” I clenched my fists, ready to strike.
Without a flinch, she came back at me and pushed me with all her weight.
Spinning my body, I caught myself from falling to the floor.
All I could think was Don’t hit her, don’t hit her, man. You’ll go to jail.
I stepped away.
Immediately, a few friends came up to me, inquiring, “What was that? What did you say to her?”
“No idea,” I said.
I tried to play it cool. A dude who could take a hit. Be a man. And yet inside, I felt a sliver of shame. Like I had deserved the attack or did something wrong in threatening to strike back.
I stepped outside the patio door to collect myself, the sting of her palm still on my face. Staring at the suburban stars in the night sky, I took a deep breath.
What the f#*k was that? I screamed, releasing what had been contained.
A sense of injustice clung to me. An irrational shame.
Yet I knew I had done nothing to warrant attack, having just met this woman.
I fell into the power of having held my energy, of not having struck back. I succeeded in not hitting a drunk woman.
Heat. Rage. Violence – physical, emotional, or verbal. These are the dynamics often at play in moments of conflict – with strangers, enemies, or partners. Mine was a hyperbolic moment.
In conflict with a woman, a man must ask himself — do you rely on your physical strength to assert yourself over her?
Do you use verbal outbreaks or emotional aggression to dominate her?
Or do you go to the other side and completely abdicate from any response?
Consider the “macho jerk” and the “new age wimp.” I use the terms — the “fighting man” and the “feeling man.”
Often men swing one way – to fight or feeling.
The “feeling man” fears conflict, mistaking it for aggression, and avoids action or healthy assertion. With this man, a woman often wonders – Where is the man in him?
The “fighting man” sees every conflict as a must-win. He fears that if he doesn’t put up, he will be put down. He is experienced by a woman as walled off and emotionally unavailable.
Somewhere in between “fight” and “feeling,” an exceptional man finds himself.
His fight emerges in his ability to assert himself calmly, without aggression.
“Let’s go, honey. You’ve had too much to drink.”
And his feeling comes through staying emotionally connected to her.
“What happened, love? What got you so upset?”
Men are not trained to the middle path between “fight” and “feeling.” They swing exclusively to “fight” or “feeling,” depending on the familial and cultural environment in which they were raised – urban or rural, blue state or red state.
Exceptional manhood develops with other men, free of clichés like “Be A Man! Suck it up! Deal!”
With guidance, an exceptional man faces his shadows, that which he rejects or denies within. Ripe with the gifts and wounds he received as a boy — from his father, his grandfather, and the boys and men of his youth.
The exceptional man is a fine-tuned aggregate of “fighting” and “feeling.” He finds his unique composition by never ceasing to look at himself.
And often it takes years, if not decades of self-examination.
I was a feeler, fearful of the fight, dominated by others as a child. Born a soft, sensitive boy, I vowed to never hurt as I had been hurt.
It took twenty years of martyrdom to learn that I could assert myself without being an aggressor.
Stunned the first time. Fooled the second. There was no way she would get a third strike in. And there was no way I would stick with the narrative of — I had done something wrong.
Wise warriors know which battles to fight. Balanced lovers feel battle’s cost.
Are you a “fighting man” or “feeling man”? Do you swing way or the other?
Or maybe you’re another man… a “fixing man?”
More on that next week… the Fixer… he’s everywhere… warding off fight and feeling.
Originally Published on StuartMotola.com