Over the weekend, my husband and I spent the day, together. I was looking forward to having fun, but instead, we bickered. You know that feeling when you’re driving along an icy road and you realize that the way you’re turning the wheel isn’t taking the car in the right direction? We fought the skid, but it only worsened. Finally, we gave up trying to have the day we’d hoped for, cut our losses, and accepted the disappointing day we ended up with.
That night, once our son was in bed, we talked about what had gone wrong. What he shared surprised me. “We’ve been disconnected, lately,” he said. “And I think I’m angry about it. Being disconnected from you for more than a few days hurts. I get lonely.”
As a couple, even when you live together, it’s easy to get caught up in busyness, commitments to other people, and routines. It takes a particular kind of dedication to connect emotionally to one another. Most of us don’t automatically pause in the midst of holiday stress or work pressures and get willingly vulnerable with our partner or spouse.
I also tend to forget what I’ve learned about men in general, and about my husband in particular. I default to the false, culturally-reinforced assumption that my husband–and many men–don’t particularly want to connect emotionally and are happier checking game scores and political developments on their gadgets. In fact, as my husband has explained to me on more than one occasion, the repetitive emotional injury of others judgement and misattunement has taught men to bypass their loneliness and go straight to irritability. But the desire for intimacy and emotional connection remains.
In Raising Cain, Kindlon and Thompson write about The Tyranny of Toughness. “Whatever else it means to be a boy in our culture, it means that your actions are more likely to be misinterpreted as threatening or disobedient, that you are more likely than the girl next door to be punished or treated harshly.” The mirror we hold up to boys is distorted, and often, men grow up to match the cultures’ perception of them: they don’t need closeness and intimacy as much as women, they’re not emotional. Subjected to the Tyranny of Toughness, raised to keep their longing for deeper connection under wraps, men are often left exhibiting poor substitutes for their true needs: numbness, irritability, and anger.
Here’s to men telling those they trust, “I’m lonely.” Here’s to men unveiling their irritability and seeing it for what it is: a cover-up for something more human, honest and vulnerable.
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