My romantic life has been one of scarcity or abundance.
Today, I am part of the polyamorous community. I have an amazing partner, and also a large group of friends, some of whom I may or may not date in the future.
But it wasn’t always like that. I went nearly my entire teenage life without having a girlfriend. And even after that, I would have long periods between partners.
It’s only recently that I’ve fully realised why this was.
. . .
When I took my first steps into the dating world, I had a tremendous amount of success. I had multiple girlfriends, none of whom I felt any problem talking to.
Oh, to have the confidence of a 6-year-old.
Eventually, romance and dating took a side seat. If we skip forward 5 years, I’m 11 and having a girlfriend is the farthest thing from my mind. But wait another 5 years, and things are different. I’m 16, and now I very much care about having a girlfriend. But it seems that no one feels that way about me. I have crushes on people throughout my entire teens, of course. It’s just anyone I like either shows no interest in me or simply prefers one of my friends.
It wasn’t until I was 19 that I got my first girlfriend. And why was that? I can promise you that I spent a lot of that time trying to work out why I was single for so long. Apparently, I was simply undesirable to women. I just couldn’t work out what it was about me that made me so.
It’s only recently that I’ve worked out the answer. And, surprise, surprise, it was nothing to do with the girls I was interested in.
Ultimately, there is just one reason no girl ever went out with me.
I never asked any of them.
As the saying goes, you miss all the shots you never take. But why didn’t I take those shots? What was holding me back?
. . .
When I was younger, I had no idea what toxic masculinity was. The term has been around since the 1980s, but it didn’t really become mainstream before the 2010s. At least, I certainly hadn’t heard of it. And even when I did, I thought it was simply something that held back women. As a man, surely I had nothing to worry from it.
But, as we all know, the devil’s greatest trick was convincing us he didn’t exist.
But now I know better. I’ve learned how much toxic masculinity affects everyone, how much it has pervaded society, and how much it has impacted me for my entire life.
Why didn’t I ask any girls out? Because society had conditioned me to believe that I simply wasn’t desirable.
I wasn’t sporty, confident, or charismatic. I wasn’t “cool”. I wasn’t exactly obese, but I was big enough to be labelled the “fat kid”. People on TV or in movies who looked like me didn’t get the girl. They were the butt of the jokes. They were sidekicks.
Popular guys, cool guys, were sporty, confident, charismatic. And, most importantly, they weren’t fat, and they didn’t have acne.
But it’s not like this was hammered into me. Yes, I got picked on in school, but no more than anyone else. No, all this toxicity was being fed to me over time. Drop by drop, piece by piece, it was slowly filtering into my developing brain, stewing away inside me to create my own personal insecurities and neuroses. Without even realising, I internalised all the negative aspects of the culture “ideal” and continually compared them to myself.
And the basic fact is, I never had a girlfriend because I never asked anyone out. And I never asked anyone out because toxic masculinity had taught me that no girl would ever actually like me.
Even when I finally did start dating, whoever I was interested in had to make it explicitly clear that they were interested. And I mean, they couldn’t afford to leave even a trace of doubt. Anything less than literally dry humping me, I simply couldn’t be sure they weren’t just being friendly.
But should that have held girls from asking me out? So, logically, as no girl ever did make it clear they were interested in me, it means none of them did. Right?
Unless, of course, the same toxic ideas that had been poisoning me during my childhood had been teaching them that girls don’t make the first move…
. . .
Toxic masculinity hurts everyone. Even when it can seem like men benefit from it over people of other genders, it’s still poisoning us.
When I was six, I had no problems telling girls I liked them because I hadn’t been alive long enough for masculine ideals to truly seep into my mind.
But a decade later, all the toxicity had built up in my mind. I’d internalised all the reasons I failed to meet the required standards.
And even now that I’ve educated myself on the nature of toxic masculinity, it doesn’t mean I’m free of it. The neuroses that toxicity created run deep. I still find it next to impossible to ask someone out. Unless someone makes it abundantly clear that they are interested in me, a part of me refuses to believe they could want to be anything other than a friend.
And I don’t think this insecurity will ever entirely go away. It’s part of me now, instilled in me during my most formative years. All I can do is do my best to work past these issues. That, and help combat toxic masculinity for the next generation.
Perhaps, if enough of us shine a light on this insidious part of our world, we can break the cycle for future generations.
This post was previously published on Hello, Love.
From The Good Men Project on Medium
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