The Last Thing I Need is Another Set of Rules on “How to be a Man.” ~ Matthew Alexander Sloane

Via elephant journal
on Jun 9, 2012
get elephant's newsletter
photo: Matthew Alexander Sloane

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.


  1. 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.
  2. 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).

photo: Matthew Alexander Sloane

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.

photo: Matthew Alexander Sloane

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.

photo: Matthew Alexander Sloane

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).

photo: Matthew Alexander Sloane

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 Tulies 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

Like elephant journal on Facebook.


About elephant journal

elephant journal is dedicated to "bringing together those working (and playing) to create enlightened society." We're about anything that helps us to live a good life that's also good for others, and our planet. >>> Founded as a print magazine in 2002, we went national in 2005 and then (because mainstream magazine distribution is wildly inefficient from an eco-responsible point of view) transitioned online in 2009. >>> elephant's been named to 30 top new media lists, and was voted #1 in the US on twitter's Shorty Awards for #green content...two years running. >>> Get involved: > Subscribe to our free Best of the Week e-newsletter. > Follow us on Twitter. Fan us on Facebook. > Write: send article or query. > Advertise. > Pay for what you read, help indie journalism survive and thrive—and get your name/business/fave non-profit on every page of Questions? Send to [email protected]


25 Responses to “The Last Thing I Need is Another Set of Rules on “How to be a Man.” ~ Matthew Alexander Sloane”

  1. Mamaste says:

    Just intro'd on FB to: Enlightened, Love & I'm Not Spiritual.

  2. faye says:

    'I want to take this conversation deeper.' and you did it well. thank you.

  3. Isabelle says:

    This is an amazing piece, thank you!

  4. Jonathan says:

    I love the irony – not entirely sure how serious you are. Any offering on ways to be in the world are only that, offerings. Invitations, if you like, to try something different to the rules that were applied without invitation. Any sense of shame at not adhering to them must be self inflicted. If you are happy with who you are, doing what you do, what's the problem? Is this article not guilty of the very thing he complains about – suggesting there is something wrong with people who might think there is room for improvement (as he insists we accept his 'rule' "There is nothing wrong with you")?

  5. I love this. I think we need to stop making lists of rules and expectations and just be fully present with each other more. Thanks Matthew!

  6. faye says:

    yes, Kate. plain and simple.

  7. ashley says:

    I really liked this article and all the frog drawings

  8. Hey Jonathan,

    I agree that invitations that don't feel good are mainly the issue for the listener, not for the inviter. In this case, me.

    I also believe some people are not aware of the expectations they are putting on others to be a certain way or change. In essence, hoping that once someone else behaves a certain way, the inviter will finally be able to be who they want to be.

    I have/do experience this in romantic relationships. The belief that if only the partner would change, the other believes they can finally get what they want.

    This in itself is not a problem. However, if the inviter is 'waiting' for the other before they begin to take matters (i.e. their happiness) into their own hands… (which I have done) this feels like a recipe for unconscious manipulation.

    My hope is to point out what may be happening with invitations/rules so readers can see for themselves.

    To be able to wonder, "am I responding out of fear or a need to be liked, or am I responding because I genuinely want to explore what has been offered?"

  9. @CindyAshton says:

    I love this so much Matthew. Thank you. When I was a speaker in the self help world, I would be SO frustrated with all the 'rules' that were put on me… it was just another dogma I had to follow rather than being a living, breathing experience where I could learn to go within and TRUST myself about my path. You rock. Totally.

  10. Beautiful as usual Matt – Love you man – just as you are. I will share with our MKP brothers.

  11. Thanks Matthew and LOVE your artwork too.

  12. Nancy says:

    Interesting perspective, Matthew. A call to live in the moment, trusting our own self to make a good choice. You named the discomfort I felt as I read through the rules for being a woman. And here's the thing – there must be 50 ways to demonstrate confidence or be romantic – but the person watching you to see if you follow the rules may not see your way of doing it….

  13. Matthew A. Sloane says:

    "the person watching you… may not see your way of doing it" ~ nicely said, Nancy. That does seem to be what's missing ~ support for our own unique ways.

  14. trueayurveda says:

    Matthew, so well put. Thank you for being a man that is not stuck but on the edge, constantly. The amazing thing you are is authentic. Really hard to find these days. It takes all those things that woman and men culturally are trying but failing, you on the other hand have figured out, there is no way to be what you are not, there is only being what you are at the moment. Being in relationship with yourself. The only way to be true, grow and be self reliant. The rules are just another externalized path. Thank you for sharing this with everyone.

  15. Bea says:

    Delish. You took the conversation deeper, indeed.

  16. JMason says:


  17. Monique says:

    Thanks for the beautiful piece Matthew and for your vulnerability. Having worked with you, I know that you are unlike most men, and for me it's refreshing, inspiring and gives me hope that there might be more men out there willing to look inside themselves deeper and re-write the rules according to what feels authentic and real for them. Each of us, both men and women, are unique expressions in the world – how can we expect to play by any rules other than our own?

  18. Matthew A. Sloane says:

    That's the crux of it, "what feels authentic and real for them." Thanks Monique.

  19. jennifer says:

    great work, matt! thank you for reminding us we can welcome the crumbling of structures (in this case, rules) and live, instead, fearlessly present.

  20. […] there’s been some discussion on elephant journal about what it takes to be men or women in […]

  21. […] had been some discussion on elephant journal about what it takes to be men or women in […]

  22. […] let’s be a little more careful about how we talk about each other, and especially when we start telling each other what to do. You are the only one that can do your work, but we still need each other to be open, intelligent, […]