By Maria Mostyka
Guys, where are you? You — the vulnerable, the insecure and the emotional? I know you are out there, struggling alone with your insecurities and problems. Why is it so difficult for you to open up, admit you have not figured it all out, admit you don’t have the answers you should have by now? Having asked these questions, I realize my answers are biased, and I might be wrong because they are from a woman’s perspective. But still, I will try to find the missing pieces of this “communication-gender-feelings” puzzle.
Why guys do not reach out and tell their stories? Well, they’re not expected to. Research by James Mahalik, a professor of psychology at Boston University, showed that in order for men to conform to the male norms in America, they must always show emotional control, put their work first, pursue status and engage in violence. The men’s greatest fear is the fear of being perceived weak. OK, the obvious reason for the lack of communication of emotions is social expectations. Society has become a go-to scapegoat of any kind of problem, yet blaming it does not solve these problems. Even though gender norms are shaped by our society, society is not an abstract entity that is somehow distinct from us and which we can easily designate as a culprit all the while forgetting that it is we — both men and women — who make up this society.
Research by Brene Brown, a renowned expert on shame and vulnerability, provides a striking insight on the unwillingness of men to open up. One of the men she interviewed said it is not the guys who are hard on him. It is the women in his life — his wife and daughters — who are harder on him than anyone else. They would rather see him die on top of a white horse than see him falling. The interviewee succinctly concluded, “When we reach out and are vulnerable, we get the shit beat out of us.”
Yes, women too contribute to this problem as much as society. Women set up intimidating goals and don’t help men to reach them. First, women want a man who is vulnerable and strong — who can admit he is scared, but who can hold it together in difficult times and who can show insecurities and dashingly overcome them. It’s not impossible to simultaneously embody these qualities, but unfortunately, both men and women believe that to open up is to be weak. Secondly, men’s idea of sharing can veer to the extreme. To open up does not mean to engage in “emotional vomiting” — it’s not about pouring out everything pent up since you where in fifth grade. And here’s the third problem: when the emotional gates do open, women are not prepared for what comes out. We are not. Our unpreparedness to deal with it shuts men down, resulting in miscommunication, frustration and distance.
In calling for guys, I am also calling for women to be ready to meet insecure, vulnerable and fearful men. The missing pieces of the puzzle fall into places when both men and women treat openness not as a sign of weakness, but as a sign of courage. The word “courage” itself is derived from the old French corage — “heart, innermost feelings.” Sharing struggles and overcoming insecurities is a process that takes patience, time and the two of you. Men, tell your girlfriends what really worries you. Women, be comfortable with not knowing what to say. Successful communication is not only about listening, but also about tactful silence. In the end, it is up to us to redefine social norms, so what we can expect from each other is what we really want to do.