I serendipitously had two different conversations with two girlfriends the other day. Each was concerning what I regard as an extremely important topic. The subject?
Well, in a broader sense, how in our culture it seems to be a distortion of our natural tendencies as human beings. Men, consciously and unconsciously, are instilled early on to don a façade of stoicism, apathy, and crass bravado that ultimately can wreak havoc on the psyche of millions of young men (myself included) by creating diametrically opposed states between our outward expression and our inner, authentic selves. Whether through television (Netflix is included, sorry everyone), movies, advertising, or non-media related forms of influence from societal and social institutions, we are inundated with an immense pressure to appear infallible. Invulnerable. Impervious. Like a Greek God whose parents had the sense to dip him into the River Styx twice¸ each time being held by the other ankle…
Shitty Greek mythology commentaries aside, it really doesn’t take much to realize that men (me as no better example) are just as fallible, often incompetent, emotional, scared, sometimes lonely, and confused as any other human being fucking things up, trying to figure out life. One of those friends I mentioned above turned me onto a podcast many of you may know called the Hidden Brain. The first episode to come up on the playlist was ultimately the inspiration for my post today. In a nutshell, what is discussed is the dissolution of men’s interactions with other men. We are promulgated with the notion that our male-male friendships are to be these glib interactions in which the average depth of our conversation’s go down as far as the results of the last sporting event, who got drunk at what party, and who ‘got lucky’ last weekend (it makes me cringe writing just the phrase). We succumb to that societal influence to be ‘bros’ at the expense of an active pruning of our emotional intelligence, of ourselves and our friends.
The podcast episode integrated perfectly with a discussion I had earlier two weeks ago with Rebekah (not afraid to name her, she’ll enjoy the minimal amount of free publicity she’ll garner – check out her podcast and the badass work she is doing). I am not one to concede men have to endure anything in our society with more difficulty than women, but Rebekah elucidated a point on this I hadn’t considered. Let me give you an example. Imagine yourself (as whatever gender you identify with) experiencing a hardship: relationship ending, death in the family, car stolen (sucks that I can say that last one happened to me – pro tip, don’t leave your fucking keys in your car). Alright, which of your friends do you turn to? Are they male or female? Is the only person you talk to your significant other? How many people do you trust you can confide in? I’m willing to say it’s likely (for the few people reading) that if you’re female, that that person was not only your significant other but a group of close group girlfriends you have developed some level of confidence and trust in. People who can empathize with your pain. And if you’re a guy, that group of guy friends is significantly smaller, or perhaps non-existent. Maybe you have only an SO, or family members you turn to. Great outlets to be sure, but what happens when that relationship ends, or as often can be the case, the problem is the family? And what if, like myself at one time, you have entirely shut down the mechanism of identifying and sharing emotions at all. The result can be huge gap in the availability of social support. The best evidence suggests that our connections with each other have fallen significantly. That we are offloading (as the hidden brain gets into) our baggage solely to a significant other, or even worse yet, to the finite bottle of welling frustration and anger in our soul. All the while outwardly expressing an aura of nonchalance consistent with all of our male ‘role models’ we engage with on every medium. The results of this disconnect are horrifying.
I’m a numbers person. I like data. Here are some things I have found that illustrate what I’m really getting at. Men are over 4x as likely to kill themselves than they are to be shot and killed, and are almost twice as likely to do it with a gun than someone to shoot and kill them with a gun. It gets much worse as you get to middle age. Suicide rate among men is over 3x what it is for women, and with guns it’s not even close. As much as we talk (and need to talk more and take some action, here’s looking at you you badass high school demonstrators) about assault with guns, I can think of more than a few reasons why one of the most potent enemies men face are themselves. And that’s not a target that any man (or woman) should confront with lethality. There are many reasons that men tragically befall a death by suicide. For sure there will still be many (one is too many) that occur every year, but the correlation between increased social isolation and the rate of self-injury and death is startling.
So much for the negative – what about its positive effects? Here are some folks who looked at the effects of social interaction and longevity. Including over 300,000 participants, the basic finding of their research was that the greater one’s social support system, the likelier they were to add years to their life. The effect was comparable to quitting smoking (yes, like upping your friendship game having the effect of not putting tar into your lungs) and even exceeds impact played on obesity. This protective effect of social interaction is even measured down to the biological level – with high social interaction potentially decreasing your risk of heart disease (based on measurements of a specific protein in your blood) by 2.5 times as much as someone with low social interaction. Heart disease is bad – making friends is good. Science is simple shit.
Okay I’m babbling. And taking quite a bit of time researching and summarizing google hits each of you can accomplish competently on your own. Let me end this long overdue post by saying my maturation as an adult (oh dear god I fall in that category) will include a conscious effort to establish a greater quality of male friendships. In my early life I have actually been quite successful in establishing quality male-female relationships. I have longed questioned the role that society has placed on the ‘manly man’ and my relationship with that. It’s only recently that I realized I was still under its strong influence. That I had adopted its overly prescriptive demand that I be un-feeling and cold when it came to my own feelings. I work on undoing that as often as I am conscious of it (which is more now than ever). Essentially, I was halfway toward an emotionally intelligent man – establishing myself (and enjoying the role immensely) as a confidant of my girlfriends while reciprocating none of the honesty I was receiving. If you’ve been following my experiment since its inception, you’ll know that I’ve made a helluva lot of progress on the latter.
Armed with some more knowledge, it’s about time I elevate the principle of open honesty to the other half of the not-usually-neglected population. Men – I think it’s time we did away with the useless, superficial ‘How’s it going?’ and start asking the questions that actually produce a real fucking answer. ‘How are things with your boyfriend/girlfriend?’ ‘How has your family doing?’ Fuck, why not just be outright – “Anything on your mind lately? Something you want to share?’ Why waste time with the bullshit when we know the answer is going to be ‘fine’ or ‘good’ or ‘same’ or whatever generic nonsense that is spewed as a pre-determined response to a predetermined question of which neither reflects any truth or value. How the hell is that masculine? (You know I’m letting loose on my inner monologue when the curse words are flying out). Let’s really embody what I consider are ‘masculine’ values: Honesty, especially with regards to our fears, doubts, and emotions. Letting go of our preconceived notions of what strength is (something built in our own isolation) and finding strength in each other. There are countless ways women are leaps and bounds ahead of us, but this one may be more pressing than of them. We can continue on this culture of machismo and depraving ourselves of meaningful, lifelong friendships, or we can change. It’s quite literally costing us our lives.
Let’s start getting to the heart of our own, and each other’s, matters. Let’s start relying on each other to carry the burdens of life, and sharing in its infinite pleasures. If nothing else, at least you won’t get a damn hard-attack. The great thing is – we (well me anyways) have excellent role models that embody just the type of relationship I’m describing. To close – here’s a picture of two men who are #relationship goals. JD and Turk are everything any friendship should be. They happen to be men. Scrubs happens to be the greatest TV show of all time. And it just so happens, I’m done with this post.