By Tanya Ruckstuhl LICSW
I’ve been thinking and talking with clients this week about connection and the importance of developing a tribe of people to get our needs met. For heterosexual men in particular, this is a huge challenge in our society and the lack of it impairs both their own quality of life and the lives of their partners. It’s a challenge because men are raised to compete with each other and to rank themselves hierarchically in regards to desirable and undesirable traits: intelligence, athleticism, attractiveness, charisma, awkwardness, clumsiness, etc…
When people are in competition mode the primary directive is to win and not be weak. This doesn’t lend itself to vulnerable disclosures of self doubt and the reassurance that everyone feels—and is—lacking in some important areas at some times.
Without certain knowledge that the pain of personal weakness is universal, that this very experience leads back to our humanity and (hopefully) the chance to be compassionate, men are cut off from connecting these dots, resulting in their being
just a wee bit socially retarded less conscious when compared to women.
Where does male vulnerability go? It is buried under shame, obscured by addiction, hidden behind unrealistic expectations to find a partner who makes them feel powerful and right all the time. It comes out as anger, blame, inability to apologize, conflict avoidance, contemptuous communication during conflict, and passive aggressive acts towards their partners.
It’s funny because where men are in terms of relationship naiveté is roughly equal to where women are in terms of employment naiveté: because we ladies are more recent arrivals in the world of careers, many women suffer from paralyzing and unrealistic expectation that they can and should find work that is important, well paid, emotionally rewarding, free-time respecting, and that anything less than luminous employment perfection represents a failure on their part to choose well.
I’m suggesting women should learn from men in terms of careers, and men should learn from women in terms of connections. Women have multiple friends and so can choose who to do what with. We don’t expect our intellectual friend to help us hang wall paper. We don’t expect our athlete friend to join us on a ten day Vipassana meditation retreat. And we don’t expect our men to fit our every facet of interest because that would be ridiculous. Meanwhile, men take jobs expecting to enjoy some aspects of their work and hate others, to get paid and go home and have hobbies in order to have fun.
You are a diamond—multifaceted and incalculably precious. Don’t expect any one person or job to shine light into the whole of you.