I used to think women were only afraid of aggression in men, in all its forms: anger, rage, physical violence, verbal abuse, sexual aggression, rape.
I grew up with all kinds of conflicting social messages about the wrongs (and subtle rights) of violence against women. With three sisters and two mothers (married to my two fathers), I learned early there was something inherently special about women, that they were different from men not just in body parts, but in essence.
I knew they should be protected and respected.
In addition to the daily masculine aggression towards women I encountered outside my home, I also watched my alcoholic step-father terrorize my mother, me and two sisters with an explosive rage (he’s 21 years sober now, and a good man). Seeing these beautiful, brilliant women in my life routinely recoil in the face of a horrifying masculine aggression only reinforced my ideas about a woman’s singular fear.
I learned to loathe the thought of making a woman feel unsafe in my presence. I wanted to make women feel good, to like me, and I had seen how aggression made them not feel good, how it made them hate a man.
So I did my best to never express aggression with a woman. Even sexually. I shut down sexually towards women for fear that my desire would be interpreted by them as aggression. Throughout my dating life and well into relationships, until I was 100 percent certain a woman welcomed a next step with me, I would not proceed with a next step.
A woman had to practically stick her tongue down my throat before I understood that kissing her was welcome.
I castrated myself in countless ways to protect women from any hint of masculine aggression in me.
I often practiced what I believed was the most certain way to make a woman feel safe: I made myself invisible to her.
Whether that meant backing down, staying out of her way, leaving the room, or simply pretending I didn’t want to ravish her when I so desperately did, I made myself as non-threatening in a woman’s presence as I could position myself to be.
I taught myself how to disappear. To save her from what I thought was her primal fear of my aggression.
I was completely missing what was really happening.
In the last few years I’ve discovered something women fear even more in men than mere aggression. It’s something far more common in our everyday world. Something us men even fear in ourselves, though most aren’t even conscious we’re doing it.
A feminine woman is most afraid of her masculine man disappearing. She’s afraid of him failing to show up for her. Not stepping up. Walking out. Not staying strong and present, particularly when things get a little crazy and confusing.
A woman’s deepest desire is to be cherished. When a man leaves, even just emotionally if not physically, she is left completely un-cherished. Aggression is simply the extreme expression of a man not cherishing a woman. I checked out for years when my women got too emotional for me, especially when they were angry. I thought if they just saw things differently—if they saw things like I see them—everything would be fine. So I tried like mad to convince their minds to shift.
Which rarely worked. They weren’t waiting to have their intellects adjusted. So I would constantly give up and run, even when I stayed in the room.
If she fought me long enough, eventually I fought back. I thought that a feminine woman can’t out-masculine me. I would win that battle. And I did. Every time.
But I really only ever lost. So did she. Heartbreaking how blind I was to what was actually going on.
I realize now she was simply screaming out her fear, desperate for me to step up strong and claim her heart, to let her know without a doubt that I’m here, not going anywhere, that she’s safe in my love, to simply reassure her deeply that I got her and won’t let anything bad happen to her… like only a healthy masculine man could reassure her.
Women weren’t just afraid of my aggression. They were afraid of my leaving, which ironically I was doing in countless ways often to avoid my own innate aggression which scared me, too.
Had I known this deeper truth, I likely would have married my last girlfriend. Instead, I labeled her immature and mean, and I ran in every direction. I couldn’t stand in the illusory fire of her pain—a pain largely caused by masculine abandonment in her past. I was so triggered by her pain, so caught up in my own, that I couldn’t reassure her that I loved her and would hold her safe as she learned to trust again. I lost the woman I loved most in my life because I couldn’t see what was really happening; what she was really asking of me.
She was asking me to step up and fight for her heart.
Fight what? Fight myself. Fight my desire to run. To check out. To disappear.
She was begging me to be aggressive with my own inner demons, and perhaps hers, too, in the battle for her sacred feminine heart. I lost that battle. She’s married to another man now.
Oh what fine messes of hearts I helped create over the years. I didn’t know. I’m so sorry. Please forgive me. I see now. I’m growing up. I’m a Man. Eager to share what I’ve learned through so much pain, with other men who don’t yet see, but who are ready to.
And I’m finally ready to step up and fight for a woman’s heart.
Bonus: How to deal with Negativity, Buddhist-style:
Joan Halifax on sexism and ethics:
Author: Bryan Reeves
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: Bjorn Bechstein at Flickr