Recently, there’s been some discussion about what it takes to be men or women in relationships.
Like this one, and this retort. Both are a set of rules from one sex to the other. It’s like watching a game of tag, and it has reminded of times in my relationships where I would barter with, “Well, I could be that way, but first you have to be this way.”
I want to take this conversation deeper.
For anyone considering a better set of rules, please stop trying to teach me how to behave like a man. I am learning to trust myself in the moment and the rules aren’t helping.
I’m familiar with the practice of seeking answers from people in positions of authority. I was taught how to do this in public school.
When it comes to seeking answers on “how to be a man” in today’s world, I have often been left feeling frustrated and confused.
- I’ve typically been seeking the answers from a place of fear—needing to fit in, for fear of being rejected by my family and my community.
- I’ve typically been looking outside myself for answers, because I’ve believed that’s the only way to be sure I’ll fit in—according to the standards set by those who will judge me.
At this point, I’ve gathered plenty of rules in my head about how to be a man.
They range from the rules I don’t like hearing because they don’t come naturally to me, such as:
- >>Be confident.
- >>Keep your feelings to yourself.
- >>Make yourself more attractive than other men.
To the rules I have more skill with, like:
- >>Be accommodating.
- >>Share your feelings.
- >>Be funny.
At times, I am genuinely some of the things on both lists, but other times, I’m acting to be them as an attempt fit in, or be liked.
Since inheriting these rules on how to behave like a man, I’ve been judging myself and other men on how we meet or exceed those standards—or fail to meet them. I tell myself, when we meet the standards, we deserve respect (i.e., reward) and when we don’t, we deserve disrespect (i.e., punishment).
As a more new-age type man who has been traveling the personal development path for over eight years, the new rules are starting to turn in my favor. Except, the last thing I want is for any man to feel the way I’ve felt, which is that men today don’t meet the latest standards and therefore:
- >>They’d better act fast before they get left behind (fear).
- >>There’s something wrong with them (shame).
I realize, I made the choice to relate to “the rules” this way, probably because confidence has been one of my core issues. For some men, I imagine it’s no big deal. “Oh cool, I’ll try that out,” they might say.
Good for them.
I’m speaking now for the men who, like me, have gotten stuck in that shame spiral and felt pressure from others with regard to making behavioral changes.
If you have not been one of those men, know that I might not be able to hear your advice on how to be a man. If you can share from your personal experience (done more or less in this article), rather than listing a step-by-step approach to finally becoming a man according to the latest standards, I’m more likely to hear what you have to share.
Rules on “how to be a man” (or how to be a woman for that matter) are not a set of absolute truths. Cultures decide what the rules are—and culture is invented.
I trust that as I trust myself, I’ll make decisions based on what my true self wants (the self that existed before the rules were ingrained) rather than what I am told or expected to want or do. From that place, I trust that I’ll be just fine.
And I trust you would be as well.
Call it male intuition, listening to my gut instincts, letting a higher power take over, whatever.
I’m a life-long learner, so I understand the benefit of having training wheels when trying something new. The issue here is not getting the right kind of training wheels so that I know how to behave properly as a man going forward.
The real issue here is that seeking rules for behavior is often a protective measure against a deep fear of the unknown.
I admit I personally have, at a variety of times, felt a tremendous amount of fear towards the unknown:
- >>What if I run out of money doing something I love?
- >>What if my girlfriend leaves me for a more attractive man?
- >>What if I get on a stage to share my message and I crumble into a spineless mess?
Now, I could go about, gathering support in the form of rules to guard myself against any of these fears coming true.
But what’s driving these fears? Let’s take another look at the statements above through the lens of rules…
As a man, I should…
- >>Be a money-making machine while being connected to my passion, providing for myself and others.
- >>Be so attractive that my partner would never consider leaving me to be an option.
- >>Have a strong and confident posture.
Because otherwise, as “the rules” would suggest, there’s something wrong with me.
I’ve been so preoccupied with living up to behavioral standards, often set by someone else that doesn’t even know me. From that place how am I to connect with my own initiative, my own creativity, my own desire in the reality of the moment?
If I buy into the latest rules and ignore my own internal guidance system, I’ll constantly be seeking answers from someone else. In effect, fearing the unknown and asking, “Somebody, please tell me what to do.”
Is that the kind of world we want? Where men (or women) are dependent on others for answers? Is that the world we have now? If so, might the solutions be perpetrating the problem?
In other words, if you spoon-feed me on how to behave, I’m likely to expect (and depend on) that spoon to be there when I need it.
So rather than learning a set of rules about “how to be a man,” as good as they may sound, I believe I need to learn how to trust myself and make choices.
I need to trust that:
- >>I can recognize rules when they show up, and make a choice.
- >>I can hear my thoughts, and make a choice.
- >>I can feel my feelings, and make a choice.
- >>I can experience my body, and make a choice.
- >>Whatever choices I make will provide me with another moment in which I can make the next choice.
I want to say one more thing. It’s about the shame of feeling not good enough as I am.
When I don’t meet the current standards of how to be a man, it’s as if I should be in a different place. As if I should have my sh*t together. As if I should be more of a man, which means… (insert most recent set of rules here).
Seeking rules for behavior is a way I’ve sought to be seen in a favorable light to others. But this is a passive-aggressive form of manipulation. Thinking, “If I am this way, then you will be that way,” and then I can be proud of myself for seemingly being in control and getting the reward I was looking for.
Seeking rules for behavior is a way I’ve resisted the unknown. Holding onto rules, I’m effectively teaching myself that I can’t trust myself to decide in the moment.
I want to say something to men (and women).
There is nothing wrong with you.
You may not have heard that the first time. Let me say it again…
There is nothing wrong with you.
I admit, a part of me is afraid of not having a set of rules to lean on, but not all of me. In the meantime, I’m working on loosening the grip of the rules I’ve already acquired.
Really, the last thing I need is a brand new set.
Matthew Alexander Sloane is the creator of Tulie’s Garden, a book he wrote and illustrated about authenticity, vulnerability, and the dark side of being a man. He is also the co-founder of Soulful Brand, helping life and business coaches stand out with a unique message in their market, while staying true to themselves. He lives in Los Angeles with a woman he adores and two cats that keep him company while he writes.
Editors: April Dawn Ricchuito and Lori Lothian
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