Several times a day I receive an email from a site called Help A Reporter Out or HARO. It is a site journalists use to find sources for their stories. As a subject matter expert, it is a great way to find opportunities to share your expertise. I thought subscribing to the topic alert of “men” would enable me to understand what journalists were interested in writing about.
Instead, the majority of the articles I see being written are about fashion. Trends, gifts guides, style manuals, so many of the requests for sources are about the clothes men should be wearing. The next most common request involves articles around sex. “Real Men who have waxed their testicles” or “Men in their 30s willing to talk about their foot fetishes.” Cheating, erections, and male anatomy are in heavy rotation.
Here is the problem: The biggest issues facing men today have nothing to do with fashion or sexual performance. With all that is happening in the world right now, there has never been a better time to take a closer look at men. To celebrate the way they are evolving as fathers, partners, and friends. To dive deep into the hearts and minds of those struggling with myriad issues to help them change.
And yet not once since I have subscribed to HARO have I seen a journalist looking to talk to men who survived sexual abuse, battled depression, or lost a friend to suicide.
If men are committing suicide at four times the rate of women, shouldn’t we be talking about this all the time? It comes up occasionally in the news, frantically, and then disappears, replaced by more pressing (read: newer) news. A 24-hour news cycle burns through subjects and interest. We quickly shift our semi-focus.
I understand it is not easy talking about depression, mental health, and sexual abuse. But these subjects demand our attention because of their significant impact on all of us. Ignoring them only exacerbates the damage they do. And if nobody is giving voice to our concerns it is easy enough for us to do so. To write, podcast, and foster a dialogue on truly substantive issues.
Admittedly, these are not fun topics to talk about. But halfway through my 30s, I’m tired of everything needing to be fun and exciting. I want real experiences. Truths shared. Feelings discussed. To understand what it is to be a human being on a daily basis across age, gender, and circumstance.
Our collective consciousness makes it nearly impossible to go back to a place of blissful ignorance. Today many men feel alone. We accept that loneliness as standard and “deal” with it. We don’t ask for help we just isolate ourselves further. Isolation warps our perspective on the world. It pushes our minds to bizarre fringes, enabling us to embrace harmful thoughts we would have otherwise considered foolish.
I know. The times in my life when I was most lonely coincided with the times in my life when I was most physically alone, separated from friends, family or a romantic partner, lacking the kinds of connections I sought.
The burden of seeing ourselves as uniquely alone is suffocating. In those moments I assumed how I was feeling was permanent. Unchangeable. A new reality. It is why we stigmatize therapy. Why I originally feared it. But as I heard somebody once say; “We don’t get mad at ourselves for getting the physical flu, but somehow we are much harsher on ourselves when we have the emotional flu.” We treat it as something we need to solve ourselves. Avoiding those feelings has never made me feel better. Confronting and dealing with them, be it through writing, friendship or therapy has brightened my world and helped me through such lonely periods.
What is required in those moments is no different than what has always been required for growth; courage, vulnerability, and patience.
There is this narrative being perpetuated today saying it is a scary time to be a man. But I disagree. I think the scariest thing is believing everything was fine with men, to begin with. Admitting there are changes needed does not mean all men are villains. It simply means it is going to take a lot for us as men to speak up and step forward to make meaningful change.
And it is scary. A familiar discomfort can be more welcome than an unfamiliar resolution. As men have traditionally been in positions of power, it is easy to see the male experience as binary: powerful or not, in control or not, masculine or not. And a binary view of the world is becoming progressively less useful when it comes to social issues. Our world and our identities exist on a spectrum.
We are sold cures that work from the outside in; clothing, toys, tech. Add this to your exterior and it will make your interior feel better. But none of those elements address what is at the core: who we are, who we are trying to be, and how we feel in the moments between turning out the light and falling asleep.
A friend of mine recently started seeing a performance coach. When I asked him why he said he was just trying to “keep it pointed in the right direction.” And I loved that. Not some grand aspiration, but something very simple and clear. It reminds me of the statistic I once heard that “airplanes are off course 99 percent of the time.” While I haven’t been able to prove the validity of that statement, I understand the sentiment. There are millions of tiny little course corrections we need to make to get where we want to go, to keep it pointed in the right direction.
There is this tendency in men as we get older to say, “this is who I am, I am done learning, I have arrived.” This kind of outlook hardens us. Braces us against the world, prepares us to resist anything which might alter our perception of who we are. But who we are is never fixed.
We need not spend every moment of our life on self-improvement. We just need to spend less time pretending everything is fine. Because once we realize we can all do more, we can actually get to work.
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