I don’t want to get into the privilege of being a man. I know that I have it and that it is an enormous advantage. I wish more men were able to admit to that.
What I want to talk about in this post is the challenge of being a man in getting our needs met.
What do I mean by needs? I mean the emotional, physical and spiritual needs that all humans have. The basic needs are food, water and shelter. Once those needs are met, we move up Maslow’s hierarchy to safety. This is the need to be able to feel safe in your environment. And not feel as though some danger is lurking constantly.
For many men who will be reading this I would imagine that most of you have these bottom two parts of the needs hierarchy met. What I really want to talk about is the third one – love and belonging.
When you grow up in a culture that associates feelings with being unmanly and you are consistently told that having feelings makes you weak, you don’t really have a space to get these emotional needs met. You certainly are not able to get them from your male friends. Which leaves women as the last resort. The challenge of being a man is to open up and be vulnerable, with enough strength to protect yourself.
For many men they look to partnership as the place where they can finally feel love and they belong somewhere.
Men project onto women, (who for many of men are the first deep emotional connections they have felt), all of the deep longing they have been storing up their whole lives. Some men can see finding a partner as a way out of their deep despair.
Partnership is a wonderful place to get these needs met.
It is a place where two people can come together and start to heal many of the emotional wounding that happened in childhood. It can help each partner to start to look at some of their habitual ways of reacting, (defensive posturing, blaming), so that they can be more openhearted, loving people. Partnership seems to inevitably call people to grow.
There is also a dark side to this pent up need some men have for the woman they choose to start a life. Some men can kind of put their needs aside for many years. They might be waiting to get it all from some woman, only to be disappointed. It can put a kind of burden on the woman and push her to be something that is impossible. No person has the capacity to fulfill the emotional needs of another. As they say, it takes a village. The challenge of being a man is to realize this and take care of your needs so that you can be softer and more genuine to those around you.
Paul Kivel expresses this beautifully in his book, “Men’s Work: How To Stop The Violence That Tears Our Lives Apart.”
Many of us who are heterosexual believe we can get our emotional needs met only by women. Therefore, in relationships we dump all of our needs on women and expect them to take care of us. Since women work, often help take care of children, and have needs of their own, they inevitably fail to take care of us the way we expect them to. When this happens we become panic-stricken.
For men they find themselves in a bind. They are faced with seeking out more ways of getting this emotional sustenance or cutting themselves off from their needs. Unfortunately many men choose the latter. This can lead to anxiety, depression and substance abuse.
The way out is through breaking through this connection men have with each other.
It is starting to reach out to the men in our lives who we respect and love. Showing up in male relationships in a way that provides some of the necessary emotional support can be one of the most important events in a man’s life.
Men must start to move out of this fear of being in strong, vulnerable friendships with other men, showing emotion and being affectionate. It is what so many men need to feel in their lives. Friendship and brotherhood help the challenge of being a man. It provides community in a way only male friendship can.
Feeling the support of male brothers will help men be in better relationship with themselves and their wives and children.
Reference: How to Stop the Violence That Tears Our Lives Apart, Kivel, Paul (1998).