Real intimacy, unlike sex or hanging out, requires a vulnerability the man code prohibits.
The other night while at dinner with some friends (all married or with someone) something occurred that is so common I barely took notice of it. One of the women popped up and went to the restroom and four other women jumped up and went with her. We’ve seen this a million times. They go off to the restroom, fix their hair, adjust something and talk about EVERYTHING. If men meet up in the restroom, if they speak at all, it would be a very neutral topic like golf or baseball. I think to myself that if a man got up and went to the restroom NO ONE would go with him. This is of course a generalization but in this small vignette it tells the story of the difference between men and women. So why do men have such a difficult time with intimacy?
The answer is that most men are taught from an early age to be competitive, that feelings are a sign of weakness and to avoid vulnerability and dependency at all costs. The ideal for men is fierce independence and strength. Herb Goldberg writes in The Hazards of Being Male that 85% of the men in this country have no friends. We see beer ads that proffer an image of the American male as having tons of friends but nothing could be further from the truth. According to Goldberg men have “buddies” like golf or bowling buddies but not real friends because they don’t open up. Intimacy is based on being able to show ourselves to another person, warts and all. Men are very reluctant to do this because they fear that they might be judged or put down.
“Never let them see you sweat.” This could be our national anthem.
Dr. Kal Heller, is licensed psychologist specializing in child and family services writes that “Intimacy is very risky because it requires making such a serious commitment to the relationship that each person will experience a sense of dependency on the other. To admit to needing someone else is to risk loss and deep hurt.” This is difficult for all of us. Dependency is a negative concept in our society. Men, especially, are taught to strive for independence. Like that ad says, “Never let them see you sweat.” This could be our national anthem.
Some of the messages men get early on are:
“Big boys don’t cry”
“No pain no gain. Tough it out.”
“Only sissies get hurt feelings.”
“It’s a sign of weakness to let people know you’re hurting.”
Men are cautioned to not discuss their feelings, to avoid feelings altogether and to not discuss love, sorrow or pain. Men will often make a joke out of a difficult situation rather than face it directly. Men are taught to be checked out toward the emotions of others, and keep their true feelings inside. Women frequently complain that their partner wants to have sex even though they don’t feel connected emotionally. Men want to have sex to feel connected and women want to feel connected to feel comfortable having sex. Because some men want to skip over feelings and go straight to sex, porn and prostitution has taken off since the advent of the internet. Men who find themselves avoiding confrontations and intimacy will find anonymous intimacy in internet chat rooms, porn or prostitutes.
80% of divorce is based on men not accepting the influence of the woman.
Susan Johnson, the author of Hold Me Tight, once said that “In conflict women swim and men sink.” Men do not do as well as women in the clinches. Men have a harder time with stress reduction, and anxiety around conflict. Women have gears inside built for childbirth where they can tolerate pain. This internal mechanism to withstand anxiety and pain allows women to deal with emotional stress way better than men. Men usually avoid conflict and make every effort to make peace. For this reason they do not tend to resolve conflicts well which creates distance in their relationships. This avoidance of confrontation, pain and anxiety can build up over time and cause the eventual breakup of a marriage. John Gottman, who wrote The 7 Principles of A Happy Marriage, writes that 80% of divorce is based on men not accepting the influence of the woman. What this means is that men avoid contact and don’t tend to listen because they don’t want to be seen as tied to the woman’s proverbial apron strings or be “hen pecked.” Because men must be fearless and strong they dread appearing weak or inadequate.
Because men are taught to be competitive, strong, never cry and not show emotion they may either buy into this wholeheartedly or consider all intimacy creating activities as weak and stupid or they may feel like a fraud for having feelings and sensitivity at all. Men will carry feelings of inadequacy to the grave rather than admit how they really feel. Because men are so competitive they may also try to win arguments rather than work them out. To lose in a spat would legitimize their feelings of weakness and inadequacy. So they will fight to the death to triumph not realizing that even if they succeed in winning these battles they will end up losing their partner. They may develop a macho persona while secretly feeling helpless and bad or like they don’t measure up. I frequently hear men complain that they are “damned if they do and damned if they don’t.” Men feel like they have to fix things and don’t like it when they are made to feel helpless. Men aren’t supposed to feel helpless.
All this is not to say that men are incapable of intimacy, dependency or vulnerability. They are quite able but our culture does not support it. One of the main reasons for drug and alcohol use is for medicating pain and that would include emotional pain. Men, who feel bottled up, sad, angry and depressed will often become workaholics, drink or do drugs to avoid feelings. For men to understand how to be intimate they must first learn more about who they are, what they want and what is truly important to them. Feelings tell us what we want and what we need so without them we are like a ship without a rudder. So many men lead lives of quiet desperation, never letting anyone in or themselves out. For men to take a look at who they really are and allow their essence to be known are actually far stronger than the burly silent types who live their lives in utter isolation.
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This post is republished on Medium.
Photo credit: iStock
Thank you. This article rings true in relation to male intimacy. What I notice with the men I have engaged with is that they tend to avoid eye contact and tend to have very hit or miss exchanges with one another. Even handshakes are touch and it creates a hunger that doesn’t seem to be addressed with these casual encounters. I just want to say thank you for painting the portrait of the male experience with the brush and acrylic of your words.
I’d rather have no friends than open up to get hurt. Here I am. No friends.
Where was The Good Men Project 10 years ago?
You couldn’t have possibly said it better – men are not expected to be emotional as that is considered a sign of weakness and in Asian cultures it is almost alien for a man to cry but I think it’s important that men and women alike take time to express what they are feeling because it ultimately saves relationships, families and lives.
For what its worth, i think men are more selective about those guys with whom they choose to share their thoughts, including their fears and failures and thus have fewer “friends.” BTW, interesting photo choice to accompany the article: 4 young guys: either “buddies” what’s so deficient about that? or maybe friends who have bonded over the years and feel comfortable in each other’s presence. OMG, they’re actually touching each other! Just kidding. Maybe men in general are just different from women, in general.
Wait, what? Us dudes have feelings? When did that happen?
No, I reject this. Keep it like Eastwood, bros.
What?! “80% of divorce is based on men not accepting the influence of the woman”
Wow, just wow! What a horrible misrepresentation. This is marketing and propoganda at its absolute worst. How could you call this the “Good men” project. How could this ridiculous statistic be called out like that?
Perhaps 2012 truly is the end of the world (as we know it). Lies and facts are now indistinguishable from each other and to call this out is perceived as a negative.
I’m glad you have acknowledged that some of your statements are generalizations, because I’ve never actually known a man who would talk about golf in the men’ washroom. However, you’ve made some excellent points. Especially on the topic of how men cope with stress and conflict. My own experience is vastly different. I’ve never been in a relationship with a man who was frightened of intimacy. I’ve never run across the hoards of commitment-phobic men that are supposedly out there. Maybe I simply don’t attract those kind of men? I know one. And he’s a rather sad man. But I… Read more »
I don’t blame any man who is suspicious of expressing his feelings. One gets the image of the touchy fgeely guy who walks about proclaiming, I feel sad, I’m hurt by what you said, you know wearing your feelings on your sleeve. BUT having mature emotions and feelings of appreciation, generosity, fierceness, caring, love, brotherliness etc are good mature emotions to cultivate. Men also can express themselves through other forms such as writing, sportsmanship (healthy competition), appreciation of art and aesthetics. But, I run in the other direction from the guy who is in touch with his little boy version… Read more »
Had such a long response, I decided to offer a post on my own blog.
Why do so many people make absolute conclusions about the suggestion that women tend to prefer sexual relationships that involve emotional connection? This does not make the suggestion true in every instance for every partner of every woman on earth. Just because some women can have satisfying sex without emotional connections does not invalidate the feelings of many other women who do not find casual sex satisfying. Women tend to have greater sexual power over men because they typically bear the final word on consent. If a woman wants sex within the hour, she can walk outside, go to any… Read more »
Men don’t have trouble with intimacy, men show intimacy differently than women. The contention of this article is that women show intimacy the correct way. Men show intimacy the wrong way.
Nah, we have no problems with intimacy. It’s just most women are irrational, stupid, needy and immature. So we don’t want to deal with it.
Hmm, interesting avatar there…
Disgusting comment, meet more women.
Irrational = not human. If you’re human you are a rational being. So you are basically saying most women, female humans, are not actually humans but some other specie of animal. You are so illogical.
The stupidity, ignorance and immaturity are all yours.
And if female humans are not rational, we can only say that male humans are also not rational, as they are the same species.
Generalizations aside…It’d be good for men to open up more with each other whilst still being seen as manly, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be the same way that women open up. I’ve found amongst my male friends that they actually do open up but that’s because I have been through hell myself, I ask the questions and it leads them to feeling more comfy opening up. Having to battle the black dog myself I’ve learned a few things over the years and that helps with the intimacy and empathy quite a lot. Maybe some people are just good… Read more »
Husband and wife are in a car crash and they both go to heaven where there are two lines at the pearly gate. One line has a sign saying “hen pecked husbands” which had a line of men as far as the eye could see. The other line had a sign that said “Independent husbands – non hen pecked only” which had one lone guy standing. St Peter in his amazement went to the one man and asked him what his secret was because the other line was endless and here this guy stood alone. The lone man responded, “I… Read more »
Sure, there’s some truth here amidst the generalizations. The cynical part of me can’t stop thinking about the fact that the author is a psychologist trying to get men to open up more with their feelings. Perhaps we men need to talk to someone about how we’re feeling. Perhaps we men need to visit, oh, I don’t know, maybe someone who gets paid a lot of money to listen to people talk about their feelings? Like maybe a psychologist? Hey, here’s one with his own website and everything. My wife really likes what he has to say, so maybe I… Read more »
“I’ve actually read many books about how to communicate more effectively and more intimately in a committed relationship. I have yet to find one that can really answer the question about what a man should share and what he should not. Unbridled self-expression isn’t the answer, at least not for men, anyway. Clearly there are moments where a man should be selective in talking about his inner life. If I’m asked what I’m thinking about and I happen to be thinking about sex with someone else, then answer to the question is ___?____.” No kidding, it often seems the “What… Read more »
That’s a good point about putting all your eggs in one basket. Confiding everything instantaneously all the time in only one person, the person you’re having sex with, is not a healthy approach. I won’t make generalizations about all men and all women. I can only speak to my anecdotal experience and assume that I am not alone in my interpretations. In my experience with romantic relationships, women I’ve been in relationships with have desired convenient intimacy and but have felt affronted by inconvenient intimacy. It’s great to hear about my thoughts and feelings as long as she was not… Read more »
I think that’s true about convenience. I get the prying questions when she’s looking for reassurance/intimacy/connection. She’s looking because we don’t have it. We don’t have it because we’ve been fighting. Because we’ve been fighting, I’m angry and “What are you thinking about?” is the last thing that’s going be constructive. “Well honey, I’m just staring at the ceiling wondering if a different set of choices would have led me down a happier road and if I’m just wasting my life with you. I’m wondering if both of us will be able to stay till the kids are grown and… Read more »
The beginning of the article with the reference to the women following each other to the bathroom demonstrates that there is a sexual aspect toward men inability to feel comfortable with male on male intimacy. (doesn’t that sound gay?) Women both by stereotype and physiological presentation seem to have a more tender presentation to the world. Men on the other hand seem rough and unfriendly and that intuitive difference makes it harder for men to seek out intimate companionship from other men. (Even intimate companionship just sounds gay) It could be replied that women like “roughness” in men and they… Read more »
“…..when men are taught that a woman wont have sex with him because she isn’t connected then men learn that having sex affirms a pre-existing connection.” This is part of the problem. Besides being totally false, it is sheer brainwash. Women do and can have sex without emotional connections. There are many women who have “boy toys” or “go to guys” when they are horny. Often these are men that they (women) would not even consider dating. Also, these men are usually sexing several different women. The double standard and really nonsense enters the picture when a woman is in… Read more »
“Women do and can have sex without emotional connections. There are many women who have “boy toys” or “go to guys” when they are horny.” This is not a relationship behaviour; the author of the article referred to men and women in relationships, which do need emotional connection.
Women learn men will not respect them enough to date them, or even want to date them, if they have sex too early. Also, for better and deeper emotional connection, many women learn it is better if you wait a little for sex. Many say this really works, so yeah. “It is like a man giving a prostitute more respect and better treatment than his girlfriend or wife.” So having sex with someone is like giving more respect and better treatment for you. Good for you, but just so you know: not everyone think like that. Oh, and prostitutes SHOULD… Read more »
Why men have trouble with intimacy? Wow … how about men’s idea of intimacy isn’t what some think it should be. I respect the good doctor for his work in the field but the truth is he works with people who have issues in life and accordingly only sees the broken relationships. “The 7 Principles of A Happy Marriage, writes that 80% of divorce is based on men not accepting the influence of the woman. What this means is that men avoid contact and don’t tend to listen because they don’t want to be seen as tied to the woman’s… Read more »
Yeah, looks like another case of someone centering their perspective on women and calling men flawed because they are different…
Doc, I hope you are helping a lot of people out there. Your article came across to me as contradictory and unrelated to any reality I know of on the topic. Why would I be vulnerable to anyone? People love to take others down. I can’t afford to be less than my best even 1% of the time. I have too many people counting on me to allow for any falling down time. Failure is not an option, nor is it respected. That’s my reality.
Your mentality is precisely indicative of the problem; what doesn’t bend breaks. A day will come when you fail. Everyone fails at something sometimes. How will you handle your failure if you’ve already told yourself that failure is impossible, unacceptable, and antithetical to your self-image? How will you incorporate this failure into said self-image, learn from it, and carry on with your life if you are broken by the fact of the failure in the first place; if you won’t even ADMIT to having failed in the first place; if you cannot even acknowledge reality? If you can’t accept yourself… Read more »
He said, failure is not an option, not that it’s an impossibility. What he meant by it, who knows?
People who live by hard, fast, absolute statements usually don’t know what they themselves mean by those statements. They are not people given to self-interrogation.
Thanks for the example. Haha…again, what’s not to love here. You guys are all just slayers.
To paraphrase the immortal Tom Hanks, “Mr. Mark, that’s quite a list. And I think, if I really apply myself, I could be a totally changed person by the time we finish lunch!”
LOL…I love this website!
I had an interesting moment with my 8 year old son recently. We were reading “The Dangerous Book for Boys” (great book). In it there’s a story about Robert Falcon Scott, the guy who didn’t make it to the south pole. Long story short, they were all sick and hungry on on the verge of death. Oates, on of his men, felt like he was endangering the party by slowing them down but they refused to leave him. So he told them he had to pee, walked out into the snow, and was never seen again. As I was reading… Read more »
Absolutely great comment. Thank you.
Failure is what happens before success. It is not optional; it is part of a process.
While I appreciate the effort in the article as it is pointed out by Eric M. “generalization” and “some”. Yes there are issues in the raising of boys and young men and the comments and direction given by parents. I myself would love to discuss this with some men and get a general consensus of the article and de-construct and then try to reconstruct the the whole theory put forward. As “uncomplicated” and “simple” as we poor souls are apt to be, insert sarcasm here- we in general are complex, but not to each other oddly enough. The answers are… Read more »
Can you say “generalization?”
“So why do men have such a difficult time with intimacy?”
LOL! Because men don’t want to go pee together we have trouble with intimacy?
Hint: try using the word “some.”
Pretty much. Seems this is more about “why do men have such a difficult time with expressing intemacy like women do?”
I’m also not sure how being competitive relates to intimacy, except as a means of stigmatizing typically male attributes.
Men and Women are DIFFERENT! Something the good doctor can’t seem to get a grip on. I have lifelong friends who have always been there for me., and even today, if I needed there help, it’s only a phone call away. (As I would be there for them). It’s something that’s never spoken about. It’s just there! Even though we don’t go pee togeather (unless we happen to have to go at the same time). Maybe the good Doctor was raised in a house full of Women and took courses in classes dominated by Females. Either way I’m sick and… Read more »
@bobbt … You’re right. I see a lot of “men need to be more like women” being promoted these days. Guys are not gals. We think differently. Accepting the fact that men are beginning to understand that they have a variety of emotions, similar to women, doesn’t mean that we have to exhibit them the same way as women much less as often or in the same situations as women. I have to wonder what’s going on with women today that? Are they being taught that men “should” be more emotional, more sensitive, more open? If so, they’re being sold… Read more »
I did not get the ‘men need to be like women’ message from this article! I have seen it around, but the same can be said for the supposedly feminist message that women need to be more like men. Men (like women!) really do need to express their emotions more often and should be allowed to. We all know that this is how you break through carries, come out of bad habits, lose negative energy, etc…its always the way forward. They do not need to ‘do it like women’. They can work out a way of doing it their way.… Read more »
I think the other side to this is that society is trained to expect emotionlessness from men. I’m actually better-connected with how I feel and able to express it, but the only people I tend to get any sympathy or acceptance from are my gay friends and my stoner friends. Even my closest female friends tend to dismiss any hurt or sadness, not because they don’t care, but because they don’t understand how to relate to a man with emotions. At least, I hope.
There ARE women who can (and would prefer to) relate to a man with emotions. I know because I’m one of them. In fact, my late fiance was unafraid to talk about his feelings (and even about our relationship), and it was one of the things I loved about him the most.
I hope you’re able to find such a woman yourself. Blessings to you.
I agree with Shawn even if there are exceptions and you are one of them. Women in general have a hard time seeing that men have feelings. I imagine part of that has to do with a one sided approach to emotional connection with men that many women have developed. It is so much easier to imagine that men just don’t have feelings. Men are also taught that they can not be vulnerable and cry around a woman or she will detest him and while they are exceptions it is not the rule. In a weird way men are taught… Read more »
It’s a rare man who will open up, and a rare woman who’s ready for it.
We tell ourselves differently to reassure ourselves that we’re better than our upbringings and our socializations. Most of us, most of the time, are not.
Spot on Shawn. Unfortunately I was raised to think that men shouldn’t express their emotions. When my brother got upset and cried over something I thought of it as weak, because my dad always told him not to cry unless someone was dying. I thought that made sense (despite my dad’s message not being directed at me) and tried to hold in my emotions as well. Needless to say, my family is more dysfunctional than ever. Neither me nor my brother can really express our feelings without rage. It sucks. In the end, men don’t necessarily need to cry, they… Read more »
Yes…so true! Every word of this! Thank you for writing this…. I have been agonizing over what is the right strategy in dealing with my karate master, who is going through a major crisis right now….I had to cut off all direct communication between us since he made an impossible request….but I know he needs help in some form….last night I contacted one of his karate buddies (someone he respects highly) through FB to try to get him to call him ….even just doing that took a lot for me because I feel like I am violating some kind of… Read more »
Strange. So, what is your stake in the Sensi’s life? Are you two an item? Why not just allow him to solve his own problems? He had a choice in where he is in life today. He elected to pursue his passion I suppose. So, if he is genuinely happy with his choice(s), his friends will respect him. Otherwise, maybe he is just another loser who never grew up and now has to deal with the consequences. I too agree with much of what was written. However, just because 85% of men do not have male friends does not mean… Read more »
@Julia Byrd: No, we are not “an item”. He’s married to a beautiful, sweet woman who is expecting their first born and I am married to my husband for over 20 years with a kid. I have been doing karate with him for over 3 years because he got me over panic attacks I was having when I was being stalked by an ex. I, in turn, have been his platonic friend and confidante. So that’s how I know he is stressed out because he tells me his troubles and he is asking me for assistance (although I cannot comply… Read more »
I am familiar with the fear of the unknown that comes with fatherhood. My wife had a terrible hemorrhage when our oldest was born. I was holding my brand-new baby girl with her wrinkly forehead, totally quiet but clearly confused, watching my wife bleed out and wondering if I would be raising this tiny person on my own. I had no time for fear, I was calm. I held my wife’s hand and told her how much I loved her and how proud I was, how beautiful our baby girl was, and the midwives stopped the bleeding. Everyone was fine.… Read more »
No kidding. To be honest, I don’t know any guys that don’t have guy friends, with two exception. My Uncle and one of my old friends who has withdrawn from his friends and family. Both men are ruled by their wives’ iron fists. Those are the kind of men who have no male friends, and those who are complete douchebags that nobody wants to associate with.
Yeah, but at least their accepting the influence of a woman. That = good!!!