One of the most difficult challenges that men face in the modern world is the need to balance our deeply ingrained need for pursuing and fulfilling “a mission” with the maintenance of our relationships with family, friends, and loved ones. While our missions may look different today than they did 50 or 100 years ago, they are still every bit as important to the masculine journey. Passionate missions may involve our careers, community service, a cherished sports team, or even a hobby we deeply about—something we crave giving ourselves to completely. Sometimes these passions can conflict with important relationships.
For the traditional male, a life mission can often take precedence over relationships. We’ve seen it again and again in books, movies, and TV shows. The guy comes home and says to his wife or sweetheart, “I’ve got to save the world.” “The nuclear triggers are missing,” “The virus has been released,” “The villain has escaped from maximum security.” “I’m the right man for the job, so they’ve given me the call.”
At first his wife says, “Don’t do that! It’s very risky trying to save the world! You might get killed! Horrible things could happen!”
The guy never seriously replies, “Yeah, you’re right. I don’t want you to lose me. I don’t want our kids to lose their father. I’m not going to go save the world. I’m going to stay home.”
If he did refuse the call, she would be instantly relieved (as would he) but ultimately he would be diminished in both in both their eyes. A woman is usually uncomfortable with a man willing to compromise his mission, even for her, and a man is uncomfortable compromising his principles for anything or anyone. Whenever I’ve presented this to audiences, most women and men heartily agree—it has resonated with their sense of themselves and their relationships.
In today’s world, what it means to be a man has evolved and expanded to include many more dimensions than in our fathers or grandfather’s times. We’ve embraced more traditionally “feminine” aspects of sensitivity, emotional development, and dedication to collaboratively parenting our children from birth onward. As gender roles have loosened, we men have found ourselves taking more responsibility for the relationships in our lives. We’ve taken on the task of becoming more emotionally intelligent. This is all fabulous and important growth, but our Warrior spirits are still alive in us, and our needs for personally relevant missions are as important as they’ve always been from our first evolutionary awakenings millions of years ago.
This creates a series of paradoxes. On one hand, we crave the autonomy of standing firm in the face of adversity, completely self-responsible. On the other hand, we grow in interdependent relationships with others and the many different aspects of ourselves. We want freedom, but crave commitment to ideals, individuals, and groups that transcend our personal desires and fears. We crave strength, but must embrace our weaknesses. We want to feel strong and good, while needing to love and unify with our feminine self and our feminine partners.
Negotiating mission and relationships is an ongoing challenge for men, because they’re both centrally important. With each station on your masculine journey, and with every new level of intimacy, come new responsibilities. With new responsibilities come new challenges and ordeals in following through on those responsibilities.
When you fall in love, you have new responsibilities to be true to your partner and support her development. When you have a child, you have new responsibilities to nurture the baby and your partner. With each new level of intimacy, new challenges arise.
I believe that the best way to navigate this paradox is to cultivate and stand for principles, both in your mission and in your relationships. We need to stand for the beautiful, good, and true in our relationships and in our “greater purpose.” In 2016, it doesn’t work to always bias one over the other. The landscape of modern masculinity is just too complex for that. We need to hold both together as equally important, giving each the time and attention it needs to flower and grow.
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