“Be a man” was a phrase I heard for the first time when my kid sister died. It was directed to my brother by almost all the visitors that came to visit us in a bid to let him know he was expected to keep his emotions in check and care for us – the women in his life. We heard it said so many times that afterwards we changed it to the acronym BAM and called my brother that for a while.
I was acquainted with the phrase again when I chanced upon a thread on twitter made by some guys who in our local parlance had “been served breakfast” by their partners. It was a sad thread with many men stating that in their moment of pain and anguish over death, a failed relationship, failure in business, uncertainty in life, they had no one to turn to. Some said they didn’t know how to express their emotions, others said they didn’t even know they were affected by what had happened to them until they found themselves crying. All of them agreed that they weren’t taught how to handle their emotions and most importantly, didn’t trust anyone to share them with.
They couldn’t share them with their male friends because they didn’t talk about things like that neither could they share them with the women in their lives, as they didn’t want to be seen as wimps so they manned up and took life a step at a time figuring that their emotions would take care of themselves.
As I have said severally, men intrigue me. I like to know why they think and act the way they do. I love the camaraderie they have amongst themselves but remain baffled as to how they can call themselves friends and relate with each other in public without knowing intimate details about one another. It’s a known fact that men can hang out socially with one another for years calling themselves “chairman”, “Oga”, “Capone “ without knowing each other’s first names.
It is my opinion that most men know what they want from life earlier than women their ages, even though we are said to mature faster than them and although they appear to have their lives figured out, I have come to discover that both genders face the same things. We are both afraid of failure (men more so), we are faced with doubts about our competency in almost everything – I was surprised one day when Mr Aisi told me about his doubts about being a good father to our children because he always seemed to know what to do and say to them unlike me that was always second guessing myself. We both crave the same things in our relationships – acceptance and love.
The difference in both genders is in the way we handle our emotions. Most men have been brought up to be stoic in nature, they are taught that a real man never shows his emotions, well, at least not the tender side of him. Anger, possessiveness and the like are acceptable emotions for men to express openly and publicly but should a man cry or express some tenderness in public, we tend to regard him as a wimp and pushover.
So, unlike women, who have the freedom to express their pain both by crying and talking with their friends, our men have grown up bruised and damaged without an inkling as to how to deal with their pain. Many men feel so alone and will only share their pain with those closest to them and even then, after much introspection, unlike women who can open up to their close circles at the drop of a hat. Some years ago, a friend who was going through a financial crisis, called me and his first words were “Tara, I feel so alone” I don’t know who to turn to or who can understand the way I feel. I can’t talk to my male friends because we have a somewhat unconscious rivalry going on and I don’t feel safe enough with my wife to open up to her because I think she will use the information I give her against me. I have cried myself to sleep many a night whilst she is sleeping soundly beside me and I am at my wits end and I need to talk to someone” and so we talked for hours. He, just pouring out his heart, me, just listening. I didn’t have the resources to give him but he felt relived at the opportunity to be able to express himself without shame and to be heard without judgment. On my part, I felt privileged to be a safe place for him and the experience has deepened our friendship.
Apparently, most men ignore their pain because it’s what strong men do, they will rather mask it by drinking, sex, gambling, adventure, etc and will mostly only confront it when it becomes too much to handle. But pain was not meant to be buried deep within us. Like a dead body, it will one day rise to the top, overwhelming us with its ferociousness and its demand to be addressed or assuaged.
I believe that we all need both genders in our lives. There is a place for women and male friends in our journeys in life because there are experiences that only our gender can relate to or with. Women have found support in one another, we can laugh and cry with one another and with our men too but men are not that privileged, they mostly cry by themselves and the narrative has to change for we are seeing an increase in suicide rates amongst men and emotional absenteeism in relationships because men are not able to express themselves emotionally.
Crying and talking to others unburdens our soul and I daresay that the freedom to fully express our emotions is one of the reasons women outlive men. We have found that the secret of dealing with the harshness of life lies in sharing our experiences and emotions with others.
The picture of a man crying invokes strong emotions and it is a sacred and beautiful thing whether or not it stems from a happy or sad place but it is rare and it shows that he trusts and feels safe with whomever he allows into those moments. More importantly, it shows that the man is secure in himself and has come to terms with all aspects of his emotions. So, if you have a man that can cry in front of you, do ensure that he never has reasons not to continue to do so, don’t abuse or demean that privilege and do know without a doubt that you are a safe place for him and it is a huge responsibility. If your man is unable to cry in front of you it may be a variety of reasons – he doesn’t know how to, doesn’t trust you enough, is afraid you may take advantage of him or he has unresolved hurts.
A man that is free to express his emotions openly is an healthy man and thankfully our sons are beginning to ditch the myth that strong men don’t shed tears.
I don’t think a man should be left to cry alone, someone should be there to help wipe his tears preferably the people (male and female) that he does life with. Be that person.