There are people in our society who nobody cares about, sees, or loves.
They are “Forgotten Men.”
If a guy falls through the cracks — if he fails to perform for long enough or slips into homelessness — that’s it. It’s over for him, especially if he’s a bit older.
I’ve seen them. I’ve talked to them.
They are scared, depressed, lonely, and sometimes bitter. They tell stories of good times when they had a job and a family. Then something went wrong. A messy divorce. A bad business partnership. An accident or an addiction.
Now, these men struggle to keep a roof over their heads. Worse still, they’re demoralized. The healthy egos they once had are battered to bloody pieces.
So, as I enter my forties — without a relationship — I wonder:
Is this my future?
Sure — I have some money. I have marketable skills. But am I one-health-problem-away from being out on the street, forgotten and unseen — forever?
It’s hard to know.
You might be saying —
“Then suck it up, dude! Get to work. Make money. Invest the money. Stop complaining!”
Believe me, I’m way ahead of you — the voice in my head is telling me the same things.
But not everything is under my control. Or yours.
After all, many of the guys who suffer late-life dismantling had money too. They were small business owners (like me), and they once had loving, committed relationships (like me).
Yet, after their downfall, people avoid these fallen men like they avoid turds on the sidewalk.
We assume fallen men are guilty of their failures.
We blame them for their suffering.
Egoic wounds and shame multiply their pain of failure by a factor of ten. It’s a moral indictment for a man to be struggling. We assume he is less.
And we avoid these men for three main reasons:
- Their suffering provokes our guilt
- Some suffer mental health problems
- They are not useful
(That third one is the kicker.)
Women in our society suffer too — maybe more — and homelessness is incredibly dangerous for women.
But, in these situations of extreme struggle, people continue to see women as individuals. They perceive them as victims and try to help. They ask about their lives and how they ended up where they are.
Men, however, stop being people.
Society lumps a struggling male into a conceptual problem. He becomes part of the “homeless epidemic.” He loses his individuality. People stop seeing him as a person — and he’s never loved again.
(This truth is anecdotal. I’ve seen these guys in men’s circles again and again. Here are statistics too.)
The trouble is, these men were never treated as people to begin with — even BEFORE they fell through the cracks.
As men, we ARE our outcomes.
And little else.
As men, we are sources of productivity. We are resource generators — not people.
We must conform to a narrow definition of masculine personhood characterized by aggression, suppression, and the need to perform, perform, perform.
Dismissal into homelessness is the final stage of toxic masculinity: discarding individuals when they are not useful.
The concept of “toxic masculinity” is not anti-man. It’s not something feminists talk about to suppress men. Angry men spin it that way, but women rarely apply this term in a way that condemns manhood.
Toxic masculinity does not mean all masculinity is toxic. And it’s not a description of men or an indictment.
Not all fruit is rotten. Rotten fruit is rotten.
Not all masculinity is not toxic. Toxic masculinity is toxic.
Toxic masculinity is a societal mechanism that dehumanizes men and creates a social structure by which aggressive men prosper at the expense of everyone.
And it needs to stop.
With the exceptions of anger and pride, our emotions are constricted like testicles in a mechanics vise.
The opportunity for healthy relationships gets cut like an Achilles tendon because, without emotion, a man becomes a hollow shell.
I see this in older men who rattled through life like scared children, detached from themselves and the people around them. They may feel sour about their success or discouraged for their lack thereof, but few identify the reasons for their misery.
They’re detached from themselves.
In the old world, the ability to get away with an injustice sanctified its validity.
“Might makes right,” as the saying goes.
But true might can make true right.
There’s a new place emerging for men who buck the old paradigm and reclaim their wholeness.
A man with integrated emotions and an upright spine is a powerful creature indeed. The hollow alpha-male type looks awkward in comparison. Like his breathing is shallow.
You can recognize the new version of masculinity by the ease of the man who embodies it. It’s his ability to speak clearly. His groundedness and depth.
He can overturn a destructive conversation and lead people where he wants them to go — because they instinctively trust his intentions.
I’m not saying I’m that guy, but I’ve had my finer moments. Healthy masculinity is powerful.
There’s a ton of advice out there on how to be a better man — most of which is lost on the men who need it most.
Do therapy. Get healthy. Care for yourself. Disbelief the gender role BS. Etc.
For me, the end result is this:
Feel good about yourself unconditionally.
Because… why not?
The worst effects of toxic masculinity come from comparison. The need to self-qualify based on our performance creates a vicious treadmill — along with a subclass of men.
The guys who can’t keep up — or who perceive they can’t keep up — feel worse and worse about themselves, sinking into a downtrodden identity that repels other people (including women).
We shouldn’t blame women for wanting to be around happy, healthy men. Instead, we should create the conditions for men to be happy and healthy — and discard the BS about performance outcomes.
The alternative to the downward spiral is an upward spiral. People and opportunities are attracted to confidence, self-love, and uninhibited well-being. When we feel good about ourselves — regardless of our performance — it opens up doors and expands our social circles.
With unconditional self-regard, we don’t need anything to bolster our identities. That’s sexy.
Even men who got fucked over can get relief by reclaiming human dignity and releasing the societal obsession with outcomes.
Yes, you need a mission and a sense of purpose in life.
Yes, you need a roof over your head and a full fridge.
Yes, we — as men — need close relationships and a social circle.
But we don’t need to balance our self-worth on the knife’s edge of getting results and making money. And if we find ourselves in the gutter, the best response is self-compassion rather than condemnation.
Shit happens, and there’s a chance life will kick us in the face.
Let’s not compound the problem with self-judgment.
Let’s sit and talk with that guy at the bus stop.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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