My epiphany struck in the grocery store.
I was shopping with a friend and walking just slightly ahead of him. I found myself keeping tabs on whether he was coming with me or not. I started to feel a tinge of insecurity. Was I going to assert my independence, or was I going to have to follow him if I wanted us to stick together?
In that moment, I had an astounding realization:
This must be what some women feel like in their relationships with men!
Due to my past experiences of dating and in relationships, I had come to see women as somewhat, well, weak.
Take a strong, independent woman, put her in a new relationship with a man she really likes, and suddenly she becomes ricotta cheese—with no backbone in sight.
At least, that’s what I used to think.
But in trying to navigate my way around a grocery store with a friend that day, I realized that women aren’t weak at all. They’re relational.
Psychologist Carl Jung said that men have a feminine aspect, or part, and women have a masculine one. He called these parts of ourselves the anima and animus, respectively.
And guess what the anima is about?
And isn’t that what so many of us men need so desperately to learn? Oh, we think we’re relational, but it’s kind of like that scene from “Inside Out,” when the daughter is having a bad day and the wife looks at the husband for help.
But he’s thinking about hockey, and he’s totally missed the conversation. So, he goes and asks his daughter how school was—the exact question his wife had just asked.
The wife rolls her eyes and thinks about the Brazilian helicopter pilot she could have married.
We men, for whatever reason, aren’t wired to be relational. It’s something we learn, assuming we do, through our intimate relationships.
That’s why we constantly hear women say that men need to be “trained.” Men, being more singularly-focused, often miss the subtle cues of loved ones, as they’re either actively slaying dragons—i.e., being good providers—or they’re watching the slaying of dragons by their favorite sports team.
Growing up, the idea of being relational, or showing vulnerability, equated to being a p*ssy. So, just as countless boys and young men had done before me, I learned to stuff it—my feminine side, that is.
I used to love drawing with crayons as a kid. My favorite color combination was dark forest green and a deep pink. I would sit in a booth at my dad’s restaurant with my 64 count box of Crayola Crayons and get lost in a world of color.
Once in junior high, however, the color pink was promptly banished from my life. Wearing a pink shirt to school would have been unthinkable.
Today, it’s normal to see boys wearing pink shirts. They are free to express themselves—including their feminine side—in a way that didn’t seem safe when I was growing up. As I’ve allowed these divorced parts of myself back into my life, I’ve become more of a whole person, and the quality of my relationships with women has expanded. (See Robert Bly’s, The Long Bag We Drag Behind Us, to learn more.)
But as Jung says, “There is no coming to consciousness without pain.”
In my case, the pain came from learning to walk the messy walk of being vulnerable in my relationships. You see, to be truly relational means being willing to admit things: when you’ve been hurt, when you’re feeling down, when you don’t believe in yourself, or feel lost. In other words, to let someone in where you feel the least safe.
My last relationship was the first time I practiced real vulnerability. It was scary, ugly, messy…and beautiful. At first, I was her emotional rock. But what I came to realize was that being “her rock” was also a great escape—and excuse—from doing the difficult work of being vulnerable with her.
I remember one night in bed together. We had been really struggling. I started talking to her, in the dark, just above a whisper. As I continued talking, a stream of thoughts and feelings poured out. And in that moment I realized why I was so afraid to fully commit to her and to the relationship. I felt that to do so meant sacrificing that which was most sacred to me.
And I couldn’t do that.
Conventional man-wisdom says that real men don’t do that kind of stuff. If we’re having problems, we go to our man-cave until we’re ready to face the world again—as if nothing ever happened.
But you don’t leave us alone, do you?
Your relatedness radar hones in on us as we scan for the nearest exit by which to make our Houdini-like escape.
How’s all that evading going?
One just has to look at all the problems in the NFL, as strong, masculine men beat up on their wives and girlfriends. Or the statistics of domestic violence. These issues are directly related to men being unable to show up as a whole person to their partner—or with anyone, for that matter.
We’ve been conditioned to be this way out of fear of being labeled effeminate. The last thing a dude wants is to appear as too much.
Perhaps those of you reading this who are women can finally understand why the men who have left footprints in your lives haven’t always been very relational or vulnerable.
It’s terrifying as f*ck, that’s why!
For you, sharing emotions and being relational is the water you swim in. But it’s the water we drown in. Being vulnerable requires us to do what is antithetical to what we’ve been trained to be: strong, a pillar, your rock.
Of course, being vulnerable isn’t weak at all. But for men, that’s how we perceive it. It’s so much easier for us to see it in you—and label you weak—than it is for us to face the messy feelings going on inside ourselves.
Do you ever wonder why men make you feel like you’re going crazy in your relationships?
It’s because we’re so detached from our anima, our feminine side, and we’re scared of losing control. And since we can’t allow ourselves to appear that way, we project our insecurities onto you and make it wrong. Now, it’s you who is weak.
In fact, a woman’s craziness will always be proportional to her man’s lack of relatedness. This isn’t news. Aren’t you happiest and least “crazy” when you feel completely related (i.e., connected) to your partner? And isn’t the opposite also true? When you’re with someone who is hot/cold or keeps pulling emotional disappearing acts, don’t you feel like you might lose it?
Can you see how we’ve come full circle?
Women aren’t weak at all. They pose a challenge that men don’t know how to wrap their heads around.
Women point to an aspect of our being that’s not just under-developed—it’s checked into a Witness Protection Program.
We’d rather make you wrong than take on the Herculean task of befriending our emotional/feminine side (i.e., our anima).
I believe the best thing that women can do is trust themselves. Trust your feelings and don’t ever allow a man to manipulate you into doubting yourself. By holding the bar high, men will (eventually) rise to the occasion.
Besides, self-respect is sexy.
And if you’re with a man who is on the path of integrating his anima, try to be understanding. He’s on his way to becoming a fully-relational human being.
“Feminism isn’t about making women stronger. Women are already strong. It’s about changing the way the world perceives that strength.” ~ G.D. Anderson
Author: Alex Obed
Image: “Mildred Pierce” still
Editor: Travis May