This isn't about the men who hurt on purpose, men who rape, or men who abandon their families. This is about the average Joe, the guy who loved his mama, tries his best and is still mystified by those of us called female.
I hear women question openly: What's wrong with men? Why can't they shoot straight? Why can't they communicate?
We complain that men are shut down in one breath, and complain they're too emotional in the next. The truth is, our men are striving for a balance in a world where the rules of masculinity keep changing.
I live in Boulder, Colorado, where a man is as likely to have a yoga mat in the back of his truck as his mountain bike. While yoga may open their hips and allow their minds to clear, there are still many guarded and wounded hearts in those classes. Both men and women have been wounded deeply. Men still struggle to make sense of women, while women experience men as closed off and shut down. The reality is, a man's heart is as vulnerable as a woman's, but the rules for men are laid out differently from the very beginning.
Here's a great example of the difference:
While walking my dog, I met a boy in his young teens on a skateboard. His eyes were clear as they met mine and we engaged in a friendly chat. He was open and unguarded until my dog approached, then he shared with me that he once had a dog who looked like mine and was forced to give her away. In that moment, his face clouded, his eyes dimmed and the pain he carried was noticeable. His body language changed and his friendliness ceased.
My mouth hung open as he walked away without saying goodbye, and I realized I had just witnessed a clue as to why many men seem shut down.
Like all of us, men are wounded early. The difference between men and women? Most men are often forced to “buck up” and stuff their emotions rather than express them. Think about it: peers usually ostracize a crying boy over the age of 7.
Often juggling his ever-changing role with mom, boys naturally start to bond with dad and outdated rules such as “buck up, boys don't cry and get over it” from prior generations are passed on once again. As years go by, a young boy's heart becomes more and more protected with each new wound, no real outlet for emotions available.
On the other hand, a great many women, regardless of their dysfunctional childhood, grow up and find comfort through female friendships—it's considered normal to cry and vent, express emotion, and fall apart if necessary.
Men aren't naturally encouraged to release their pain and express hurt, so to survive, they add armor to their hearts and stand guarded against further pain.
While we find comfort in our female friendships, many men say their only source of physical comfort is sex. I often wonder: Do men reach across the bed for sex when sometimes they're just seeking solace? Women tend to ask to be held, to be listened to, and to be comforted when they need it. Most men don't know how.
Many women agree that witnessing an empowered man opening his heart, despite his wounding, and putting it all out there in a vulnerable way– is sexy. Sexy, but not easy. Most men have been shamed in the past for asking for what they want. They've been shamed for wanting sex, shamed for feeling attraction and shamed for their vulnerability. It's an uneasy playing field out there, actually a mine field when you think about it.
Consider a woman previously wounded by an aggressive man and have her approached by a man openly asking for what he wants and she may run. Makes you realize that the next woman he approaches may experience him as a man who dances around what he really wants–now afraid to ask openly. What a conundrum eh? Women are wounded and afraid to trust. Men are wounded and afraid to open.
So what can we do?
- We as women, can be patient when men talk with us, give them time and space to express themselves and understand that they don't communicate like our female friends.
Bantering with girlfriends and talking over one another is common behavior when we gather together, but a man's sharing is a different process. Men don't jump from subject to subject. It's not that they don't want to share with us, it's that often when they try to, we jump in and interrupt the flow.
- We can count to 10 in our heads when they stop talking and give them a chance to speak again because 9 out of 10 times, they will.
Neuroscience has proven our brains operate differently. A woman can feel her emotions simultaneously while problem-solving and doing other brain functions. A man has different abilities, but cannot access feelings as quickly as women. Giving a man a few extra moments to formulate his thoughts during a conversation allows them the space to share– something many women complain they don't do.
- We can have patience and remind ourselves that if we truly have a good man who loves us, chances are their poor behavior of the moment does not negate the entire goodness of the man. (I'm not talking about lying, cheating or violence)
Everyone screws up from time to time. Keeping a broader perspective on the entire relationship versus the situation at hand prevents men from going into defensive mode. When a man feels a woman's wrath, it can be overwhelming. Taking a moment to realize okay, he screwed up and we're going to talk about this, versus throwing every hurt over the past 10 years into the ring, allows for healthy conversation and problem-solving.
- We can understand that a closed down reaction during a fight is most likely embarrassment and pain as our men realize they've disappointed us.
We can take a step back and not take their lack of immediate communication as anger and instead, take a time out.
- Most importantly we can remember that our man is not going to be like our female friends.
Changing men is not the goal. Even if we successfully changed them, chances are we wouldn't be attracted to them anymore.
By learning to decipher what appears to be emotionally shut down behavior as deep wounding, we can find the patience needed to speak a different language with the men we love. Treating our men as we do our female friends is like walking into a French pastry shop, ordering something in Cantonese, and getting angry when we're not understood. Men aren't so difficult, they just require a different language.