There is a quote by Richard Bach, “We teach best what we most need to learn”. I suspect it may be equally true that we write about issues most important in our lives. I grew up as an only child in a single-parent family. My father was gone by the time I was five years old. My mother had to go out and work and I was left alone a lot of the time. My main friends and companions were the imaginary friends that I turned to for comfort, love, and understanding.
I began writing stories at an early age and as an adult, writing has become my passion. It’s the way I have made sense of my world and addressed the issues that are most important to me. The additional benefit of writing is that I get immediate feedback from people. When I open myself up and share my deepest truths and experience, it feels wonderful to hear from people who share their own stories.
So I guess it only makes sense that the lessons I have learned through my marriage are the ones I most often share. Growing in marriage with my wife, I have learned a lot about myself and how I want to be loved. These seven things are a few of my favorite things that my wife does.
1. I love it when you see, hear, and feel me.
Both Carlin and I have been married twice before and we both realize that it’s difficult for one person to walk in the shoes of another. Men and women may not come from two separate planets, but our brains are different, our hormones are different, and the very cells in our bodies are different. Of course, there are many things we share, but it’s the differences that often end up making us feel alone. Feeling that your partner “gets you” is one of the greatest gifts we can ever receive. I feel seen, heard, and emotionally connected to Carlin. She’s worked hard to understand me and my world, and it feels wonderful to have a woman who really wants to know me fully.
2. I love it when you accept me as I am and don’t try and change me.
There is a lot about me that is difficult to live with. I’ve had my share of childhood wounds: My father was away because he had tried to kill himself, and I suffered the loss of his presence and the feared that I would follow in his footsteps. As an adult, I have had to deal with depression and bipolar disorder. When I would get manic, I would become irritable, angry, and hard to live with. When I would get depressed, I would become sullen, clingy, and difficult to live with. Carlin has her own wounds and emotional challenges. But I’ve never felt that Carlin wanted me to be different than I am. She isn’t perfect in her support of me, no one is, but she gives me constant validation that who I am is okay with her, even when I’m a bear to live with.
3. I love it when you take care of yourself and believe that I can take care of myself.
It would often drive me crazy when Carlin would take care of herself instead of doing something I wanted. “I can’t go with you today,” she would tell me. “I need time to myself.” When I felt down and needy, I hungered for her to drop everything and respond to my needs. But Carlin knew herself well enough to know that she needed to first take care of herself. She could be more supportive of me if she was good to herself. I learned to love that quality because it also allowed me to take care of my own needs. Rather than creating two people who were so independent we lived in our own separate worlds, it has created two whole human beings who care for themselves and then have a lot to give to their partner.
4. I love it when you hold me when I need nurturing, without making me feel unmanly.
One of the greatest gifts I get from Carlin is that she allows me to be vulnerable and unsure as well as strong and decisive. For most of my life, I’ve felt I had to be “manly and strong”, which meant that I couldn’t show weakness or vulnerability. But there are times when I felt like the world was just too much for me. I wanted to be able to curl up in my wife’s arms and let her hold me. In past relationships, the women were as afraid of my showing weakness as I was. But Carlin was different. She let me be weak and nurtured me without making me feel like a wimp. I’ve never felt more alive than when I could allow myself to “fall apart” and know my wife was not freaked out and was there for me.
5. I love it when you encourage my vulnerability without shaming me.
I can’t tell you how many times I have had women tell me, “I feel like I have three children in the house and only two of them are underage. I want a man, and he acts like a little boy.” I’ve felt the shame of statements like those many times in previous relationships. In fact, one of the strongest memories I have growing up was hearing my mother and a group of her women friends talking about their husbands. A number of the men, including my father, were out of work, and the women talked about them as though they were not “real men”.
“Henry is out all day, but he never brings anything home. He says he’s looking for work, but he’s got nothing to show for it,” one of the women said. Another shook her head and told the group, “It’s even worse with my husband. He’s at home all the time and it’s like having another child constantly underfoot.”
I remember hearing these words as a four-year-old and making a vow that I would never let a woman talk about me like that. “I’ll die first. If it kills me, I’ll never be out of work.” Well, I’ve been working since I was nine years old. When I lost my job a number of years ago, I fell into a deep depression that almost did kill me. Carlin understands that being a man is about both strength and weakness and she supports both in me. She never shames me for being weak, confused, or uncertain. She respects and loves me for being me. Thank you, thank you, thank you, my love.
6. I love it when you help me to challenge the rules of manhood I grew with.
What it means to be a man is changing. In the past being a man meant living by certain rules. In my book, “Inside Out: Becoming My Own Man“, I called them the 10 Commandments of Manhood. Many of us grew up believing them and still do:
- Thou shalt not be weak, nor have weak gods before thee.
- Thou shalt not fail thyself, nor fail as thy father did before thee.
- Thou shalt not keep holy any day that denies thy work.
- Thou shalt not express strong emotions, neither high nor low.
- Thou shalt not cry, complain, or ask for help.
- Thou shalt not be hostile or angry, especially towards loved ones, unless they provoke you and you are then duty-bound to defend your honor.
- Thou shalt not be uncertain or ambivalent.
- Thou shalt not be dependent.
- Thou shalt not acknowledge thy death or thy limitations.
- Thou shalt do unto other men before they do unto you.
7. I love it when you want me to be your lover, not your hero.
I grew up, like most boys, with visions of being someone’s hero. I wanted to slay dragons, rescue damsels in distress. Why? Well, first I thought that’s what you needed to do to be a man. Second, I believed that in order to be loved by the woman of my dreams I had to become a hero. That meant that I had to take great risks, put myself in danger, and show her that I fight anyone who threatened her or disrespected her.
Over the years, there never really was a time where her life was truly in danger and I was asked to step forward and be the hero to rescue her. There where a whole lot of times where I did dumb things to demonstrate I was manly. That often involved confronting other men who I thought were paying too much attention to her. Rather than being loved more for stepping in to defend her honor, she resented both my intrusion and the implied belief that she couldn’t take care of herself.
But there was a day, following a heroic gesture, when she turned to me, gave a kiss and told me, “You don’t have to be my hero, just be my lover.” Something melted in me. It was the old “act like a man” box where I felt I had to do manly things in order to be accepted. With her words, it melted away.
Being a lover is so much healthier, more honorable, and manlier than our movie image of the hero. Usually, the hero is a “badass” who is aggressive and violent. Lovers can be soft and gentle, but they can also bring tough love, can stand up for what is right, and defend those who are vulnerable. The world needs more courageous lovers and fewer insecure heroes.
I appreciate your comments. Please leave them here or visit me at www.MenAlive.com and check out my interview with Dr. Iyanla Vanzant to learn how men and women can find real, lasting love. When you get the video, you’ll also be added to my mailing list to receive more articles like these.
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