Jordan Gray has a bone to pick with his (non-related) colleague John Gray. Is the vulnerability shaming really necessary?
I will be eternally thankful for the relationship experts who have gone before me.
I have gotten tremendous value from elements of their work and knowing that they existed encouraged me further down my path as a relationship coach from a relatively young age.
But there is one key concept that a few relationship experts/coaches of yesteryear have gotten wrong that has always irked me: the idea that the man must keep his emotional vulnerability to himself at all costs in order for his relationship to truly thrive.
Yes, women want a strong-minded man with deep character and conviction.
Yes, women want someone who can support them through all of their various moods.
Yes, women want someone who can handle himself when life throws him curveballs.
But to suggest that women NEVER want to see a man show emotional vulnerability (because she will swiftly lose attraction to him) is so damaging and toxic that it makes my blood boil.
As if men’s emotionality isn’t shamed enough from a young age, I was recently watching a video interview of John Gray where he explicitly stated that if men have things that are worrying them or upsetting them in their lives, they should make a conscious effort to hide it from their female partner and to instead release their negative emotions to their male friends (if at all).
“If you want to talk about your feelings, your frustrations in life, your disappointments, what makes you sad, your concerns, your problems, talk to your guy friends. And if you say “My guy friends don’t want to hear it”, then you talk to yourself. But if your guys friends won’t even want to hear it, definitely she’s not going to want to hear it. However, she’s not going to tell you that. She’d feel guilty telling you that. She’s going to listen, and she’s going to ask more questions and you’ll be tricked into talking more about your feelings, about your emotions (…) Contain your emotions. (…) And the unfortunate thing for men today is our whole society is telling everybody “If you feel it, speak it out!”… She’ll lose respect for you even though she says “I want to hear what you’re feeling.” – John Gray
Are you kidding me? I can’t imagine a faster path to divorce than keeping your fears, insecurities, and life concerns entirely hidden from your partner.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting some alone time to process your thoughts. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to work through your feelings on your own. But to say that you should keep all of your negative emotional thoughts away from your intimate partner is ridiculous.
By all means, if you’re looking for a surface level relationship that barely borders on intimacy and you want to look (from an outsider’s perspective) like a happy, healthy couple, then don’t let me stand in the way of your facade.
Every strong, confident woman I’ve ever dated has not only ‘tolerated’ me being open and honest with her, but she has encouraged it and been the main impetus for my emotional healing within the relationship.
On an anecdotal level, if emotionality and vulnerability are so horrifically unattractive to women, how is it that I have sustained 15 years of serial monogamy with amazing women while being one of the most sensitive and emotionally open men in my extended social network? By John Gray’s reasoning, wouldn’t it be the stoic and unemotional men that women flock to, and not the one who can spend time sharing their feelings? My experience has been the precise opposite. The more open I am with my partners, the greater and deeper the sexual/emotional connection goes.
Why The Concept Is So Appealing To Men
So, you may be thinking, if the concept is so damaging, why has it been spreading for decades and has yet to be challenged?
Because it’s sexy.
It’s a sexy, easy concept that men, on some level, love to hide behind.
Telling men “You’re right… you DON’T have to feel big scary emotions in your intimate relationship” is like telling a clinically obese person “You’re right… exercise doesn’t help… you don’t have to do it at all!”
It lets men off the hook. It lets them stay small in their love life. It lets them continue to deny the cracks in their armour.
It’s been said that intimacy can be reframed as “into-me-see”. Intimacy is quite literally letting someone see you, warts and all, and still having them love you. That kind of loving empathy is what melts toxic emotions like shame. And it’s the concept of “never let ‘em see you sweat” that is the antithesis of that emotional growth.
Why The Concept Does Damage To Our Ideas About Modern Masculinity
The idea that men shouldn’t let their partners see them having any kind of struggle or emotional turmoil in their lives (for fear of losing them) is a concept as outdated as telling a woman to not express her sexual preferences for fear of scaring away a man who doesn’t want her to lead.
Guys, if your vulnerability and courageous sharing scares away your intimate partner, then she might not have emotionally matured to the point where she can receive that from you yet. And women, if your male partner is scared away by the fact that you just told him that you want to have sex/want to try a new position/want him to touch you in a different way, then that says more about where he is at in his journey than it does about you.
It is the repression and denial of these ‘negative’ emotions that boils up and turn into even bigger issues down the line. I’ve said it before and I’m saying it again… when you ignore a negative emotion, it goes down to the basement to lift weights. It gets increasingly stronger until it refuses to be ignored.
To just pretend that you aren’t struggling/suffering/having a tough time in some area of your life and keeping it away from your partner is to let something small fester and multiply in your relationship. It is the conscious choice of letting a tiny sliver of separation expand into a major divide.
I realize that by writing this article I will be giving the concept more attention than it had before (a portion of this article’s readers may very well have never heard of John Gray), but I believe that there is a net positive effect in talking about this subject because male emotionality is so heavily shamed that it needs to be addressed in a public discourse.
Women’s sexuality and men’s emotionality is already so heavily shamed into a corner that any sliver of light I can shine on it the better.
Your woman wants you to let her in. She wants you to feel comfortable enough with her that you will involve her in your struggles when you need to. And to think anything else is just an easy excuse to continue to hide behind your shield of self-induced suffering.
Emotionality is hot. Vulnerability is the birthplace of true intimacy and connection, and it takes the ultimate kind of courage. So let her see you.
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If you are pro-vulnerability, you can see more of Jordan’s writing at JordanGrayConsulting.com
Photo courtesy of AlphaMaleClub.com