How Men Became "Emotional Gold Diggers"
May 3, 2019 9:23 AM   Subscribe

 
Also see the prior discussions about Emotional Labor (MetaFilter, MetaTalk - for both of these posts, it's useful to really read the whole huge things - in both cases, a great deal of processing and careful thinking was done by a great number of - mostly - women, and I think it's useful to honor that labor by really doing a careful read - warning though - that can be time consuming).

I'm a fairly strident anti-toxic masculinity person, and I'm AMAB, but have identified for almost 30 years as nonbinary, transgender, and am also intersex, and part of the impetus for that is gender dysphoria at the hands of toxic masculinity.

I think the article is accurate but also a bit overly emotive? Maybe it's my dysphoria making me less sympathetic than I should be. I do a lot of second guessing around this domain, because my visceral reactions due to trauma as a sort of wimpy kid among all the boys practicing intimacy as physical violence kind of get in the way of me being able to be nice about their emotional processing 20 or 30 years later.
posted by kalessin at 9:57 AM on May 3 [18 favorites]


Also, please note I'm talking about "overly emotive" here when talking about the masculine subjects of the articles. I think the feminine subjects are calibrated and speaking accurately.
posted by kalessin at 10:01 AM on May 3 [3 favorites]


I seem to remember an article posted here maybe a month or two ago about men's consciousness-raising groups of the 70s, and I'm wondering how these won't end up the same way. (Color me pessimistic, but that's where my head's at.)
posted by epersonae at 10:07 AM on May 3 [5 favorites]


What's described in this article is the primary reason that I personally checked out of mainstream male culture decades ago, and why I've always invested time and energy into friendships with other men, and am lucky to have several whom I've known and loved dearly for many years, friends who provide ongoing emotional support when needed.

From my perspective, the article puts clear focus on something critically important, something that, while obvious to many, more men need to be more specifically aware of, talking about, etc. Men really, really need to learn to be OK with having feelings, talking about them, learning to understand them; all of these basic skills that an organism that experiences emotions must have, just to get through day-to-day life. We ALL have emotions and feelings whether you like it or not and it's well past time to deal with it. This is not weakness, it's the essence of strength.
posted by LooseFilter at 10:09 AM on May 3 [29 favorites]


Oof, this resonates, and was the source of a lot of tension between my soon-to-be-ex-huz and I. He would be extremely upset that he had no close friends, and partially blame me for it, due to my keeping his social calendar too full with time spent with my friends. He did try to make friends, but whenever that fizzled out for whatever reason, it'd be back to the same funk. He had (has?) other mental health issues, and refused (refuses?) to get the treatment he needed, claiming that it was too costly in money and time. It ended up costing him his marriage. I realized that I was not able to solve his problems, by going to therapy myself ironically enough. Once I started putting in the work, I realized that unless he did, we were never going to improve, so I left.

After leaving, one of my biggest surprise joys was being able to have a very full social calendar without the accompanying guilt afterwards. When I found out the guy that I'm dating now has multiple friend groups with shared interests and standing weekly hang-outs, that was a huge positive attribute, and was very refreshing! A lot of the guys I met via Tinder didn't seem to have any or many friends, or hobbies, or … anything.
posted by Fig at 10:23 AM on May 3 [52 favorites]


I've been lucky enough to avoid this behavior in male partners, but I have seen it in numerous straight male friends, who ended up treating me like an unpaid therapist and/or dating coach until I got sick of their bullshit.

Based on this experience I'm not sure all these men have trouble expressing their emotions, but I don't think they are socialized into being as emotionally supportive as most women are. Like, if my female friend wants to vent and bitch to me that's fine, and I know she'll be there for me when I have a bad day next week. But for these guys, they didn't know how to be supportive of someone else's issues, so they were just taking and taking and taking.
posted by noxperpetua at 10:24 AM on May 3 [44 favorites]


Have you met other men, though?
posted by tobascodagama at 10:34 AM on May 3 [79 favorites]


Something I didn't appreciate before I started stripping: Men who need therapists often seek out sex workers instead. Therapy is seen as emasculating, while patronizing a sex worker seems inherently masculine.

You know what particular life event causes a lot of men to patronize sex workers? The death of a parent.

Men never talk to me up front about the death. It takes usually years of knowing me. It takes trust. And they don’t make the connection between the deaths of their parents and their beginning of (or increase in) patronizing sex workers. The connection is something I notice. These guys tend to speak in general terms about “stress.” If you dig to the source of that stress, though? I have been astounded by the number of times the “stress” they’re talking about is the death of a parent. I pleaded with one guy in particular to get grief counseling, which would be both more effective and far less expensive than seeing me as often as he was. He never did.

I like the idea of group therapy for men, as discussed in the article. It's hard to convince men that they aren't alone. And as a stripper doing a weirdass stand-in for a grief counselor, I'm at a particular disadvantage because men come to see me because I make them feel special—different from all the rest of the guys in the room. Acknowledging to a customer that I see other good guys that they might have this tragic thing in common with—it's really awkward and uncomfortable for the customer. I haven't figured out a way to do it that wouldn't end up doing more damage than good.

Beyond the loss of a parent, I've been the person that guys turn to for emotional support re: being sexually abused, seeing horrific shit in combat, and being diagnosed with a terminal illness. Most of the time, I am much younger than these men. I don't have formal training to deal with these issues. I'm always on the clock. I'm usually naked or about to be naked. I do the best that I can. Honestly, given these circumstances, I'm generally proud of what support I am able to offer ... but in most cases I think it's a fraction of the help a professional therapist could provide.

As a sex worker, I'm trying to strike a balance between (1) my genuine human sympathy and empathy for the emotional suffering, and (2) the fact that this is my profession—a challenging, highly stigmatized and sometimes dangerous profession that brands me for life re: dating and many/most other careers. I've written here before about how I get up and move on when a guy indicates that he won't be paying me. I don't want to be a cold person and I found it hard to walk away in the beginning because the notion that I had made someone feel hurt or unwanted would fester in the pit of my stomach.

But as emotional labor (rightfully) gets more attention, I think people better understand why I draw the lines I do in my professional life. Still working on it for my personal life—but I'm getting better. Stripping, hard as it is, really has been a good thing for me overall.
posted by Peppermint Snowflake at 10:36 AM on May 3 [260 favorites]


God. Me, my sister, and her best friend(who is... basically my little sister now) have a group chat and it's ridiculous how much of the content of it can be summed up by complaints and exasperation about this.

I try not to get too Dr. Manhattan as the eldest dyke one, and i always try and avoid centering my identity on why i don't like men instead of why i love women... But like, literally every other lesbian i know talks about this as almost the core of why men are exhausting.

When i was younger, i had a good close group that included several guy friends. It was pretty evenly distributed gender wise honestly. As i got older, they either revealed themselves as creeps or drifted away. It became me being the relationship steward every time.

The ones who didn't drift away, including my literal brother, started only reaching out when they had something to unload on me. The rare exceptions were "i just remembered this one funny time years ago/saw something that reminded me of you and i miss you!" but... Without any meat about me or how i was doing. This is exhausting, and alienating. But i probably don't even need to say that.

I'm not even sure where i'm going with this between the start and the conclusion, but that is that as i grew into my own womanhood(more with coming out than knowing. I knew from a young age, and i was repeatedly slotted into the "woman" role in friendships and relationships throughout my teen years) my friend circle slowly winnowed down and then shifted to just being other women. They're the ones i can feel good putting my energy into, into caring for. They're the ones i know will show up to support me when i'm having a hard time, to just understand why things get under my skin, why i'm struggling, and what i need.

In all my relationships with men, i can never get past the stage of "this bad thing is happening and i need this immediate material solution". And in return, i get a whole freight train load of complex emotional and psychological mess that they've had no one else to process with.

And like, god, if you're going to do that, at least have enough decorum to wait for the right moment. And above all, at least understand my pain.
posted by emptythought at 10:37 AM on May 3 [17 favorites]


I feel like normative cis men should probably see a therapist (or a sex worker) regularly (like once a week or more often) if they don't have or get emotional support from mutual friends (who are not overburdened women who aren't getting reciprocal support from them). Like as a civic duty. So they can pay someone for the time and effort involved in providing emotional support during emotional processing. But that's sort of the point of the article, I think.
posted by kalessin at 10:41 AM on May 3 [11 favorites]


I wrote a whole thing, but then I saw kalessin's comment.

Yeah. This. If you get a physical every year, why not a mental as well?
posted by sockshaveholes at 10:52 AM on May 3 [15 favorites]


One of my cis white Male colleagues who is married to a woman prefaced a rant to me with: my wife hears this all the time, so I'm gonna burden you with a rant now. Geez. Thanks. After about 20 minutes my head wanted to explode, and I try to make my self unavailable now. He also was envious that two of my fellow POC female colleagues and I regularly chatted and had lunch together. He asked if he could join. Which ended up being his ranting for the whole time and never asking what we were talking about. And the thing is, he's actually a nice person. I like him. But still. I just can't with this.
posted by jj's.mama at 10:59 AM on May 3 [48 favorites]


Something I am puzzled about in this article: men "became" this way; it is a challenge of "a generation."

This rhetoric implies that the problem is a problem of the current historical moment. But the analysis in the article is all timeless or about mens' socialization "for generations."

If we took seriously the historical positioning, what would it be about the present moment that makes things this way?
posted by grobstein at 11:25 AM on May 3 [9 favorites]


If we took seriously the historical positioning, what would it be about the present moment that makes things this way?

Sympathetically, a guess would be that men are taking on some of the burdens of the household, and time is not unlimited so that time has to come from somewhere - it's generally at the expense of social clubs and hanging with friends and allocated towards activities that can be done alone or at home. I'm sure the same thing is happening to women, but it's somewhat mitigated because they spend more time conversing with family members on the phone.
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:31 AM on May 3 [6 favorites]


Tupac warned us of the perfidies men will commit when they ain't got no friends. As true today as it ever was
posted by prize bull octorok at 11:32 AM on May 3 [29 favorites]


If we took seriously the historical positioning, what would it be about the present moment that makes things this way?

I'm not sure I buy the 'present moment' framing either, but the economic precarity of late captialism isn't helping. Long hours, at-will employment, stable career paths disappearing in favor of endless Choose Your Own Adventure. Mix that up with the Provider thing from toxic masculinity, add in some skyrocketing college prices for your kids, and you have a hell of a cocktail going.

I'm not saying things were better before at all. They weren't. But in this area I think we've turned up the anxiety level to 11 for everybody.

If you're already not equipped to handle feels, what happens when you get more of them?
posted by sockshaveholes at 11:43 AM on May 3 [35 favorites]


Oh man jj' mama's comment reminded me of an ex-boss. A nice guy, too conservative for my taste, but a mostly fair boss.

He would often go to lunch downstairs with the rest of us, which was fine.

Except that, in the middle of an innocuous conversation about favorite meals or something, he would drop in horrific anecdotes about his horribly abusive parents. Like it was a normal thing that his parents locked him in closets or shamed him over food, etc. And occasionally he would just be filled with RAGE over some minor issue or another, way out of proportion to what was happening. In other words, the dude had TONS of baggage. And yet, he thought he was fine. He had no idea everyone could see his pain. He was a ticking time bomb of unaddressed grief and I was always wondering whether he'd have a heart attack before he ever just went and talked to somebody.

Lots of men walking around thinking nobody can tell how fucked up they are because they aren't crying in public, and they are wrong.
posted by emjaybee at 11:49 AM on May 3 [84 favorites]


I got all sorts of shit growing up for having the gumption to not hide my emotions at all costs, to the point where, upon going to the nurse's office after knocking myself out by hitting a tree branch while running away from bullies, I was told "not to be such a baby" because I was crying. A not-so-helpful school therapist later diagnosed my emotional expressiveness as either "brain damage or lyme disease" - I shit you not. My mom was bewildered that afternoon, let me tell you.

I hadn't thought about this in a long time, but two incidents in middle school illustrate this perfectly.

First incident: I am walking down a stairwell after having spent lunch in the library to avoid schoolyard bullies (though there were also library bullies) and a kid, I'll call him Smithers, tries to knock my books - which I carried in a pile because I didn't like going to my locker - from my hands. He succeeds in knocking maybe one off, but that is the last straw. I drop the books and attempt, unsuccessfully, to attack him. Some teachers aides break us up and I get angry and expressive and basically send myself to the vice principal's office because I think he'll understand. He doesn't understand and I, along with Smithers, get suspended.

Second incident: a bully is following me down the hall, calling me names and throwing pencils at me. Like most days, I'm on edge because kids pick on me without end. I finally break, turn around, and punch him in the forehead. He stops, fazed, and I turn back around and go to class. Rumors start circulating that I punched a girl. I get called into the vice principal's office, where instead of being emotionally expressive I am cool as a cucumber and profess not to know what they're talking about. I do not get suspended.

Now obviously one of the lessons was "don't say nothin' to nobody, and definitely don't tell the truth" but the other, relevant lesson was that sharing my feelings with authority figures was a Very Bad Idea. Calm == good kid, emotional == bad kid. It didn't help that I was a child of divorce and probably already on some district blacklist.

Generally speaking, having emotional responses as a boy made me a target for derision from adults and bullying from other kids. The message was clear: nobody wanted me to have feelings. Thankfully music provided an environment where emotions were not only accepted but expected.

The point I am attempting to make, though, is that our whole society is designed to punish and repress emotional expression by boys and men. That's really hard to fix once someone is an adult.
posted by grumpybear69 at 12:00 PM on May 3 [122 favorites]


Good to know I'm not alone, oh wait, I am alone.
posted by sammyo at 12:02 PM on May 3 [27 favorites]


I guess the lesson for men continues to be "never ever share your feelings with anyone, including your life partner."

Kind of makes me sad.
posted by FakeFreyja at 12:16 PM on May 3 [39 favorites]


I find the framing of this article frustrating, for a couple reasons.

First, men having no friends and having trouble expressing their emotions is primarily a problem for men. But the focus of this article is on how this a problem for women. Is the fact that the majority of men are miserable not enough of a problem, or does that not matter until a woman is hurt or frustrated?

I don't dispute that men are desperately reaching out for intimacy or lashing out in frustration, nor do I dispute that this behavior also harms women. But by framing it this way, you naturally focus on the end effect (women being hurt) and its cause (men are bad at handling their emotions and making friends) without looking at the root cause.

Put another way, if "Men are taught that feelings are a female thing," who is teaching them that? And how can this lesson be corrected for men and avoided for boys? Instead of "boy, men sure are exhausting!"

Second, you have to get more than half way through the article to get to an example of men are forming their own group to try to work through their emotional issues. (Even this has to be justified. "This isn’t him going to grab a beer with guys. He’s going to find psychological and emotional support from men who understand his problems.")

Which is, you know, the opposite of being "Emotional Gold Diggers," to use the headline of this post.

I want groups like this publicized and for the idea to spread. I think they're the right way to handle this problem. But articles framed like this one do a poor job of getting that across.
posted by JDHarper at 12:17 PM on May 3 [64 favorites]


You know, I'm just gonna say that I did all the things - made friends in volunteering and other groups, I worked hard and kept in contact, did the emotional labor and all that. Thought I had a pretty good community of friends built up around me - some mutual with my spouse, and some outside of that.

When I found out she was having an affair, and wasn't really being very subtle about it, that whole thing collapsed. It was all made very much worse by some of those friends knowing about the affair before me, and cutting me out as I found out....

And the rest just kind of Homer_into_Shrub.gif.

Anyway, I lost most of my "friends". I have some really, really good friends that did come through. But largely, if it wasn't for them, and some peeps at Metafilter and women I met while dating... I don't know what would have happened.

Frankly, I think most of the advice in this ask was terrible. Your friends should be there to support you when things get tough. If they don't, they are not friends - they're just people you know.

I think people primarily exist to provide you with two things : Judgment and disappointment. It's rare enough that they do anything more than that.

I'm going to not put so much work into having friends going forward. It's just not worth the effort. It's easy to be friends when things are going smooth - but if they can't/won't be there when it goes to shit... what even is the fucking point ?
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 12:23 PM on May 3 [19 favorites]


I find the framing of this article frustrating, for a couple reasons.
Yeah, but think of it this way: That's how nearly every mainstream article about the problems of any non-dominant group is. Sucks don't it?
posted by The_Vegetables at 12:25 PM on May 3 [21 favorites]


There are no actual facts in this article. If you are going to make generalizations about 49% of the population, you are going to have to do better than gossip. Let me see some sociological studies about how many friends men have compared to women, and we have the beginning of a basis for a conversation.

I suspect, considering the tone of the discussion so far, that most of the people participating have gone out of their way to be unlike ordinary men and to avoid ordinary men. Good. Me too. What that means, though, is that we don't know a whole lot about ordinary men, and probably shouldn't make generalizations about them without doing some research.
posted by ckridge at 12:26 PM on May 3 [25 favorites]


Extra fun when the wife has passed, or left, and then said dude starts bugging his female colleagues to take up the burden. You plan a thirty minute meeting to discuss some specific work issue and suddenly they’ve chattered for 45 min about their lost wife.

On the other hand, I do have a little hope for the future— from the Tattle Phone post. Several of the preschoolers, including the boys, expressed their dismay in terms of “I feel” statements. Yeah, the socioeconomic stratum of a preschool attended by the kid of a TALer is probably skewed, but it was still great to think that these little boys might have some vocabulary to talk about their feelings. It’s a start.
posted by nat at 12:33 PM on May 3 [4 favorites]


considering the tone of the discussion so far, that most of the people participating have gone out of their way to be unlike ordinary men and to avoid ordinary men

We can’t. We can’t because they are everywhere and they are bleeding all over things and getting their rage all over things. It’s not just women taking the /sad/ feelings - I literally can’t even count the amount of women I know doing the slow job of bleeding off men’s rage from men who are unable to deal with it, for the good of everyone else because they know the men won’t handle it and it may eventually explode in violence.

Women are sad all the time but they’re managing not to get it messily all over other people. Men need to learn that too.
posted by corb at 12:37 PM on May 3 [67 favorites]


I'm going to not put so much work into having friends going forward. It's just not worth the effort. It's easy to be friends when things are going smooth - but if they can't/won't be there when it goes to shit... what even is the fucking point ?

Fwiw I feel tempted by this feeling every so often but i don't find it particularly empowering in the long run even if it's soothing. No doubt, regardless of gender, making friends as you get older as you're now outside of institutional settings is much harder.

I don't actually have a real solution, but for a start I think women and men who have a knack for friendships recognise somehow tht their needs can't be met by just one person or group. And it's absolutely okay with fair weather friends. That said though, the gendered socialisation means women can bond and go deep even with more casual friends. You don't have to have only ride or die friends. I noticed guys have a very all-or-nothing attitude abt it all, but I'm hoping for a generational shift (waiting for it to make its way here though!)
posted by cendawanita at 12:37 PM on May 3 [13 favorites]


But I agree that men not being allowed to express their feelings is a thing socialized and let's hope we can reverse it. It's not good for anyone. The men's group sounds like a good thing. My son's dad is very much from the old school and isn't trying to change that anytime soon. I hope that my son picks up more from me than him on how to be a boy and man including able to express your feelings and not acting out violently. Tangentially... been thinking a lot about the recent shootings and who does them. Any correlation? I think so. Sigh. (not to mention layer of white privilege, supremacy in the mix as well)
posted by jj's.mama at 12:37 PM on May 3 [2 favorites]


I guess the lesson for men continues to be "never ever share your feelings with anyone, including your life partner."

That's not the message I took from this article. I was gonna write an angry response but I'll write a supportive one instead.

What I took from this article, as a man, is "share your feelings with more people". Find a community of friends, including other men, who will emotionally support you. A good part of the article is all about men who are finding or making communities exactly like that, there are examples to emulate.

The part that's a little negative is the part of the article that talks about what a burden it is for some wives to be their husband's only form of emotional support. You might conclude from that "don't share your feelings with your wife". But I don't think that's the intent. It's just men also need to recognize and appreciate the burden they create for their wives; this kind of supportive emotional labor is often unrecognized. And maybe everyone would be healthier if men had other outlets than just their wives.

As for my own situation.. I struggle with this stuff as a gay man. I'd like to think I've escaped some of the toxic masculinity that affects so many straight American men. (Or more honestly, suffered from its abuses and also learned a bit not to internalize it all.) OTOH my network of friends I share emotional honesty with is smaller than I'd like. Also I'm very aware that my partner is another man, even more steeped in this avoid-emotions stuff than I was, and that creates extra complications.
posted by Nelson at 12:38 PM on May 3 [56 favorites]


I've said before that there needs to be some kind of Feelings and Friendships Academy for adults, taught by monetarily compensated women (mostly, probably) since we're 'so good' at this stuff. But there's not, because people are starting to realize the public health deficit of never socially learning how to feel or "relationship", but it's still not seen as a labor or talent worthy of compensation.
posted by nakedmolerats at 12:41 PM on May 3 [7 favorites]


I think there should be room for men to be frustrated and say things like "I had the desire to express emotions healthily literally beaten out of me as a kid, can you not make me feel like shit for that?" because that's fair.

The article was a shallow take on Emotional Labor but that's Harper's Bazaar for you.

So maybe instead what the takeaway could be is this:

1. Boys are raised to be emotionally stunted (or else)
2. They get to adulthood and it fucks them up to be that way
3. They then have to choose to
a. offload that pain to women or
b. start doing that work on themselves and stop expecting women to do it for them. Do not make your partner also be your therapist. She is not trained to be and it's really stressful.

From the women's POV, we're mostly concerned with that last item. For the men, their work means getting past their shitty societal brainwashing in a way that doesn't create more harm.
posted by emjaybee at 12:44 PM on May 3 [81 favorites]


It's pretty valuable to recognize when your own problems affect your partner. This isn't unique to men, but it's worth looking at men in this light because of how society pushes us away from other sources of support.

I also feel like this is sort of about me. My ex and I decided to split up in January after 7 1/2 years together, and it was a huge relief to no longer have to worry about the effects of my mental health on someone I loved so much. I mean, I'm devastated, just gutted, and this has been the absolute worst and bleakest period of my life by far, but now I can focus on myself. I miss her daily, and part of the problem is that no one else has ever gotten me on the same level, but I need to find a way to build support for myself.

Part of the problem is that you can be the sensitive, emotive guy, but that's not going to change everyone around you. I feel like the article overlooked this somewhat -- it's great that these guys have build groups for themselves, but you need people who are willing to do it. I mean, one of my oldest friends just came to visit here, and he never got in touch with me. We've known each other for 22 years, he knows what I'm going through, but he didn't care about seeing me. I only found out he was here because I saw pictures of him doing stuff with other people we know. If I can't trust someone like him, who can I trust? It's one thing to open up to people you have a connection to, but it's another thing to make that happen with total strangers, when you're whole life you've had to be on edge about showing emotions around other men.

Or to put it another way -- I would love a group of men to open up with, but I've found myself pushed out of male spaces precisely because I needed emotional support. You can't always trust that other guys aren't going to just magically accept your openness, even if some can and do in the right circumstances. This isn't just a matter of having the will to make it happen.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 12:45 PM on May 3 [33 favorites]


I guess the lesson for men continues to be "never ever share your feelings with anyone, including your life partner."

I think I'm think I'm actually still reeling from an email from my ex wanting to talk to ME to process his feelings, and BUD GO TALK TO YOUR GODDAMN FRIENDS.

Share your feelings more is what I'm trying to say, and don't freaking expect one person to handle all of your emotional needs*. Talk to your friends about feelings. Go to therapy. Do the work.

[I do find this article weirdly ahistorical tho: "unlike women in our mothers’ generation, Gen X’ers and millennials are starting to hold their partners accountable—or they’re simply leaving" - isn't that the generation that had record divorce rates? maybe millennial women are getting fed up sooner, and as I often find myself saying about the next generation, good for them.]

* and conversely, BE OKAY with your life partner talking things through with other people
posted by epersonae at 12:48 PM on May 3 [9 favorites]


I'm in my late forties. I'm cis-male, married to cis-female. I have male friends whom I've known for 25 or 30 or even 40 years. In some cases, yeah, my males friends and I talk about emotional subjects, like parenting or marriage. We share stories and listen.

These conversations are infrequent, mostly because I rarely see my good friends -- maybe once a year.

The rest of the time I rely on my wife for that emotional bond. She's my closest friend. I'm her closest friend. There is nothing I would say to my close male friends that I would not say to her. I think she feels the same way.

She's actually in school now, finishing up -- at midlife -- a technical degree. She's remarked that one of the things she has that many younger, single students don't have, is emotional support at home, from me and the kids. EDIT: there are a few other older female students who are married with kids who have the same support.

This is a challenge sometimes for the younger students, especially because the program is so hard and so stressful. The social isolation the younger students must live through makes everything more stressful for them, and this stress can manifest itself in bad ways, such as acting out.

I don't think marriage is for everybody, but, having been in a relationship for 25 years, I'd say that the closest emotional bond you ought to have is with the person you have married or are partnered with -- assuming you are a cis man with a mature emotional life and do not live with mental illness.

I think the problem is that some (many?) adult men are emotionally immature, which means they are emotionally needy, emotionally distant or just angry.

Having male friends will not solve this problem.
posted by JamesBay at 12:52 PM on May 3 [16 favorites]


Also: the boyfriend/girlfriend dynamic described at the start of the article, or an ex-husband dynamic is not what I'm talking about, although I doubt friends would fix things. These men need to grow up and become emotionally mature.

The friendship bond we as men must cultivate is with ourselves. I know there is a lot of toxic masculinity out there, but I also think that it's pretty normal for men to just grow up and become emotionally mature. It takes just a little bit of self-introspection and effort, but it's not a huge obstacle.
posted by JamesBay at 12:55 PM on May 3 [2 favorites]


I am just floored by this attitude. Like I didn't think anyone outside of those already contemplating divorce thought this way. I can't imagine doing the cold calculus of tallying labor in my head, making sure I was at little use to my partner as possible, to the point of "don't even tell me about your day I can't be bothered". I mean I expect a lot of my spouse, and a lot is expected of me. At least on the front of being there for one another.
posted by FakeFreyja at 12:55 PM on May 3 [15 favorites]


I should also point out that I was always the sweet, sensitive boy, and literally everyone around me just thought I was gay. Some adults said I was too effeminate. Some adults cracked jokes about "when he figures it out," as if I couldn't understand them. Other kids bullied me for being gay, even though I wasn't. Boys and girls, men and women, anyone at any time could see me as the butt of a joke or a sad kid who just needed to come out. No surprise that most of my close friends in high school wound up being girls.

After my breakup, I realized there were a lot of people I hadn't talked to in a while. So I reached out to them to see how they were doing. I know some great guys, but I feel like the only people I've been able to get any real emotional support from (and offer emotional support to!) are those same women I met in high school. Like I said, you can work on your own openness and support, but you can't change all the guys around you, especially when you've all had decades of pretty shitty messaging.

I'll make more of an effort with my guy friends, but this isn't a simple thing.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 12:56 PM on May 3 [19 favorites]


3. They then have to choose to
a. offload that pain to women or
b. start doing that work on themselves and stop expecting women to do it for them. Do not make your partner also be your therapist. She is not trained to be and it's really stressful.


I find this "Get a Therapist" stuff incredibly dismissive. I spent years talking to therapists - being a victim of childhood abuse (mom used to drag me around the house by my hair) will do that. The therapy was good for putting some of that in context, sure, I guess. But they weren't there to talk me through the nightmares, or the random panic attacks, and they cost a ton besides. I don't feel like I have gotten my money's worth from it. All of which leaves aside the difficulty in finding one you can mesh with.

And let's be totally frank - Treatments for PTSD and such are terrible. Might as well using dowsing rods or something.

Most people don't need a therapist. They just want to heard and validated.

We have a suicide problem in this country because people don't want to do the work of helping other people. It's not that hard to create a space for someone to talk about what they feel and think and help them work through what they are experiencing. You don't need a degree to give someone 15 minutes here and there. You don't have get a license to hear someone out.

Life is hard, and frequently sucks. People kill themselves because they think nobody will care - When society is all "shut up with your feefees, manchild, get a therapist" that's exactly what's being said - the only one who will care about your experiences is someone paid to do so, between the hours of 8am and 5pm M-F, assuming you have the insurance and time off from work.

That sucks.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 12:59 PM on May 3 [66 favorites]


I guess I feel lucky to belong to some close-knit communities that involve interdependence to the extent that it fosters platonic intimacy -- music is one, caving is another - both avocations where you spend a lot of time together driving in vehicles, loading, unloading, cooking around a campfire, whatever, with lots of time to talk. Music is bonding because you're creating a powerful & beautiful thing together, & it has meaning. Grown-ass men can acknowledge that & talk about it. Caving, because we literally put one another's lives in each other's hands. Do I trust your rigging? Do I trust YOU? Do you trust me to haul your ass out if you break your ankle? If you can't answer yes to those questions, don't go caving with those people. There' are more women in caving than in music (sad for music) but all of my lifelong, close friends -- you know, the 3 AM & I have a flat tire in Lubbock friends-- are all musicians or cavers.

The third group that's been good companionship for me is amongst the friends of Bill W. When you can sit down with another man & really get down to the bottom of a thing that's bothering or hurting you, it's freeing & empowering in amazing ways.

I'm sad that lots of men don't get those things in their lives & that women bear the burden. I do see it happen all around me, & it's not worth it to put up with men-children. I do not advocate it.
posted by Devils Rancher at 1:03 PM on May 3 [17 favorites]


I'm taking this post as a nudge to find a therapist I can work with. Spouse and I are pretty good about discussing these issues explicitly, and our social dynamic is not woefully out of balance. That said, I vastly prefer spending discretionary time alone, and so an ongoing therapist gig seems like a plausible approach for me.
posted by salt grass at 1:08 PM on May 3 [3 favorites]


I should also point out that I was always the sweet, sensitive boy, and literally everyone around me just thought I was gay.

Sorry, I want to back up and explain that the only problem with people thinking I was gay as a kid was that I wasn't. It placed me into this other category, because little straight boys don't behave the way I did. I realized it may sound like I was minimizing the experiences of kids who actually were gay. Because of course, all that bullying and teasing is horrible for the kid who can't escape it. My thoughts aren't very well-organized today, and I guess the point I was trying to make is that people can be incapable of truly accepting you for who you are.

But in general, the way I worded that comment probably sent a message I didn't mean to send, and I apologize for that.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 1:08 PM on May 3 [10 favorites]


Is this article saying "Men should never talk to their female partner/friends about their feelings!" or is it saying "Maybe men shouldn't rely solely on their female partners/friends? Maybe there's some men friends they can work with here too?"
posted by delicious-luncheon at 1:09 PM on May 3 [24 favorites]


I've found myself pushed out of male spaces precisely because I needed emotional support.

Preach.

it's not worth it to put up with men-children. I do not advocate it.

Totally. I find sporting events obnoxious rather than cathartic, I don't like publicly commenting on women's bodies, and my hobbies are mostly individual activities. From working in the trades and being interested in DIY stuff, I've always had a handful of straight male friends who were emotionally stunted.

As I've gotten older most of these dudes have either grown the fuck up and started being able to talk about their feelings, or I just gradually stopped hanging out with them.
posted by aspersioncast at 1:18 PM on May 3 [15 favorites]


Or to put it another way -- I would love a group of men to open up with, but I've found myself pushed out of male spaces precisely because I needed emotional support. You can't always trust that other guys aren't going to just magically accept your openness, even if some can and do in the right circumstances. This isn't just a matter of having the will to make it happen.

My experience was somewhat different than yours, but this part rings absolutely true.

I figured a lot of this out at a young age. I watched a relative of mine become a shut-in with no friends, leaning only on their spouse for emotional support and becoming toxic and unbalanced as a result of that loneliness. (Datapoint: maternal grandmother, not a man, but of all the people in my family, she's the one I probably had the most in common with in terms of temperament. I even ended up a writer, just like her.)

Starting in my teens, I made a point of going out and seeing people even if I didn't want to because I was scared of what would happen to me if I got too lost in my own head. Holds true today too: I come here partly just to listen to what other people think and feel to get a reality check from a community I respect.

I also learned that women get treated horribly in many interactions because I watched it happen to my mother. She left my physically abusive biological father, and their whole social circle took his side. I was terrified that I might inadvertently end up doing that to a woman in my adulthood, so I made a rule with my current SO: some of her spaces were sacred. I would not join some of her activities. I would not meet all her people. We had lots of stuff in common, (still do, it's important), but we would have to have some boundaries there. I also made a point of maintaining some platonic relationships and spaces where I could talk about important things without always putting them on her, and I am careful to offer an ear instead of always talking about me.

My SO came from a very dysfunctional family and she didn't understand at first. It took some years before she came around to 'this is necessary' instead of 'humor me.'

Talking people into this stuff is hard even if you know it's a good idea and can articulate why in detail. I have exactly one close male friend left, (as in 'discuss feelings'), and I'm down from a personal lifetime best of two at the same time.
posted by mordax at 1:24 PM on May 3 [29 favorites]


It has never been clear to me why it is generally assumed that one can only express one's feelings by weeping or by venting at length. One of the most moving things ever told me was a quiet "My mother never calls anymore. I wonder if she's mad," said of a woman who had been dead for three years. So: she's not only not over it, she hasn't yet fully registered that it happened; it preys on her mind; she feels guilty. That's not me being perceptive. She had just said that. If you can talk well, you don't have to talk lots.

Another friend, about what it is like to be dying: "I am falling, and I grab onto something, and it is falling too."

Another, a hoarder: "Everyone goes away, but I can keep things."

Language works.
posted by ckridge at 1:27 PM on May 3 [33 favorites]


Pogo_Fuzzybutt, ok but that's not the entire picture of what people are saying...

Yes. It doesn't hurt to give a supportive ear to someone for 15 minutes here and there, but it's another to be dumped on with no reciprocity. My colleague who dumps on us doesn't ask me how I'm doing. Ever. He just dumps for 15, 45, an hour if I let him. And this is just one cis white Male colleague.

I get dumped on in aggressive manners by some of my young cis white Male students who get pissed off that we're talking about microaggressions in the context of a book.

No one deserves to get dumped on. And no one said go to a therapist and never share your feelings with anyone else.
posted by jj's.mama at 1:29 PM on May 3 [43 favorites]


So the article advocates for men to form their own support groups. I would love this! Because my colleague and my students need this. They need support, and I can't be the only person they get that from.
posted by jj's.mama at 1:32 PM on May 3 [11 favorites]


Part of this I think has to do with the pervasive nature of what might be considered the “hermeneutics of gay suspicion”. The thing is that in contemporary culture any interaction between men (by men and by women too often) is considered as problematic.

Add to this the stigma and stink that many people wish to build about the “toxic” nature of homosocial environments and the people that frequent them.

Problematised as either homosexual or mysogenistic it’s not hard to see why male sociability ends up cut off at the knees.
posted by Middlemarch at 1:34 PM on May 3 [22 favorites]


That suspicion, Middlemarch is in largely western countries. As one example. Middle eastern men, North African men, perhaps even Japanese men, are allowed to walk with arms on each others shoulders and spend lots of time just shooting the shit... maybe only western context for this would be the black barber shop. Men aren't seen as gay in these contexts. That suspicion is so hurtful to everyone.
posted by jj's.mama at 1:39 PM on May 3 [6 favorites]


In my traumatic toxic masculinity upbringing, gay suspicion was part and parcel of the violent physical bullying used to both cultivate "intimacy" and to distance one's own involvement in anything that could possibly be considered not masculine enough. So yeah.
posted by kalessin at 1:39 PM on May 3 [8 favorites]


The interesting thing is that it’s often women who make and uphold these judgements and police this behaviour too. It’s deeply ironic.
posted by Middlemarch at 1:42 PM on May 3 [11 favorites]


I've said before that there needs to be some kind of Feelings and Friendships Academy for adults, taught by monetarily compensated women (mostly, probably) since we're 'so good' at this stuff.

I'm dead serious when I say this, but I've always believed that this was the main cause of the existence of bronies (there are other causes, but those aren't the scope of this comment). My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is a show in which the central conceit for the first 3 seasons is that a friendless bookworm/nerd (who doesn't even see value in friendship at the beginning) has to make friends and learn about friendship. There is an explicitly-told friendship lesson in each episode. These bronies, young men, were seeking guidance, found none among their male cohort and were too sheepish to ask women how to make friends.
posted by Groundhog Week at 1:52 PM on May 3 [31 favorites]


"I'm going to not put so much work into having friends going forward. It's just not worth the effort. It's easy to be friends when things are going smooth - but if they can't/won't be there when it goes to shit... what even is the fucking point ?"

I feel this. But for me it was a combination of not having good friends, and actively pushing away people who wanted to help me. The second was due to my alcoholism. It was from a sense of shame at what my life was descending into.

Fortunately, being in the 'program' is working wonders. This has provided me with what this article is calling for. So, I had to ask for help with my disease to finally find something that should be available for all men (people)!

Also, there is a movement that started in Australia called "Shoulder to Shoulder"; where men get together not to talk but to do stuff. Building something etc. The idea being Men like to bond while working on something tangible. This was created specifically to address the alarming increase in suicides in the lesser populated regions
of Oz.

There are a couple of such groups that are starting in US, but they are more based in Rural/suburban Minnesota and such other places. I would love for there to be more things like this in Chicago. I have always wanted to learn how to do rudimentary carpentry, fixing things, growing vegetables etc. I don't want to take classes, as much as have a group that does these things.

But what this article is talking about is true. I was there 6 years ago.
posted by indianbadger1 at 1:57 PM on May 3 [15 favorites]


Groundhog Week: And, of course, bronies were *immediately* shamed for liking a show designed for little girls, often with the implication that there was some kind of sexual deviancy involved.
posted by JDHarper at 2:04 PM on May 3 [11 favorites]


Groundhog Week: And, of course, bronies were *immediately* shamed for liking a show designed for little girls, often with the implication that there was some kind of sexual deviancy involved.

But to be fair, there is a fair bit of that too.
posted by indianbadger1 at 2:12 PM on May 3 [10 favorites]


JDHarper: Yes, and the existence of online MlP:FiM pornography poisoned the well with that.
posted by Groundhog Week at 2:12 PM on May 3 [3 favorites]


We have a suicide problem in this country because people don't want to do the work of helping other people. It's not that hard to create a space for someone to talk about what they feel and think and help them work through what they are experiencing

How much time - I will accept any quantifiable unit - do you think nonmen, each individual, and let’s face it, it is always nonmen, should spend being an unpaid and unreciprocated therapist?

How long, on average, do you think it takes someone to “work through” a mental health issue that has reached the acute stage of suicidality?
posted by corb at 2:15 PM on May 3 [42 favorites]


How much time - I will accept any quantifiable unit - do you think nonmen, each individual, and let’s face it, it is always nonmen, should spend being an unpaid and unreciprocated therapist?

I didn’t think that was the point of that comment. I thought the point was more in line with what the article was about, that we need spaces for men to express themselves. I never got the impression that they meant only women can or should do this. But therapy is something that’s out of reach for many of us, including me, so leaving it at “get a therapist” doesn’t solve the problem.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 2:31 PM on May 3 [10 favorites]


I've at least build enough emotional skills over the year to read the audience - if my friend / partner is in a worse spot than me that evening I'll focus on listening instead of looking for support myself; I feel like I'm also decent at knowing how much I can lean on a friend or partner without exhausting them, even as a stereotypical male who does not have the breadth of an emotional support network a person really needs.

From there I bump into the next layer of culture-bound problems - making male friends is hard, and I still have bad habits with regards to making and maintaining friendships, even with improvements over the years. I'll often freeze up when emotionally difficult interpersonal conversations are happening - I have some ability to work through this, but I've had issues with recent partners where they're expecting a certain level of response during such conversations, but I need several minutes to breathe through that defensive response before I can say anything, which has caused frustration. It's tough in the context of future dating - is an emotionally healthy woman in her 40s really going to want to roll with me on improving that further?

There are still pieces of the patriarchy for women to unpack - seeing men as emotional beings is not a trivial task. A lot of the emotional labor forced on women is in the context of "difficult men" who emulate high status behaviors and are toddlers emotionally; the skills there are more on the order of learning to walk on eggshells so you don't get abused or killed. Or some of the softer versions as noted in this thread and many others - men who refuse to take care of themselves emotionally and project that onto women, for example. Culturally women are in a better place than men to work with emotionally healthy men, but it's a different set of skills, and there is still cultural baggage amounting to "real men fit this profile, others are to be ignored" to work through for a lot of folks.
posted by MillMan at 2:32 PM on May 3 [6 favorites]


I mean, not all support is something you can pay for. Finding ways for men to support each other is an alternative to therapy that doesn’t place the burden on a partner, and it’s a different kind of relationship than even the best therapeutic one. That’s what makes the challenges to male friendship such a problem, because for many men, they’re left with no healthy source of support.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 2:35 PM on May 3 [6 favorites]


Add me to the list of men who try and keep their stuff away from their partners and locked up thanks to childhood bullying. One of my favorite PE teachers (who looking back through the lens of time was clearly a closeted lesbian working at a Catholic school) told my mom that kids bullied me because I was too sensitive and that I needed to be less so. My grandfather told me I had to stop crying when I found out my dad had died (I was 8) because I was now the man of the house and had to help my mom. Those are the top two examples - there are a bunch of others from my childhood. I learned quick what was expected.

I'm still sensitive about some things. I still hold it in. My wife doesn't like it when I'm upset about something, so I keep it away - even though I know that's somewhat contraindicated from a health standpoint. My wife likes to have my ear to listen when she feels like sharing, but boy do some of her feelings straight out terrify me - I can't imagine walking through the world that angry. (And I always got told by women in my life that I'm a good listener/sounding board.

I've been to therapists, but the truth is - I don't normally feel anything (maybe recognize it in the moment is the better way to state it) except frustration at not being able to do what I'm thinking about right then. I feel too much in my head and not enough in space.

Unfortunately, therapy hasn't helped much.

I'd love to spend more time with my friends, but I don't have time, they don't have time - I have things to do, for me and my family. I was watching episode one of Barry last night and laughed to see a bar and a diner I used to hang out in all the time featured in the show. I'd love to revisit them, but don't have the time anymore. My best friend, I get to see maybe 3-4 times per year - we're only 20 miles apart. He'd be up for more emotional talks. He checks in with me from time to time. (I think being a really great dad has gotten him there)

Even typing this out... here in this relatively safe space, makes me feel - weak? Yup, that's screwy.
posted by drewbage1847 at 2:39 PM on May 3 [22 favorites]


I totally feel the Catch-22 structure for hetero men, but that reminds me that a big part of therapy goes back to the cliche of "being the change". This means don't let the oppression fool you into accepting the terms of misogyny. It's a bit like What Would Captain Picard Do? There are caveats and the actual therapy process is involved. But the overall idea of breaking this structural cycle on an individual agency level is a premise of a lot of conventional therapy. It can be empowering when it works, I guess.
posted by polymodus at 2:43 PM on May 3 [9 favorites]


kids bullied me because I was too sensitive and that I needed to be less so

That was, like, a mantra from every adult in my youth. Such a load of toxic victim-blaming horseshit.
posted by grumpybear69 at 2:45 PM on May 3 [16 favorites]


Friendships take time. Even crappy fair-weather ones. You get out what you put in, more or less. Usually less, but sometimes you find a good one. A best friend, in every sense of the word.
It's great that people are realizing that they need emotional outlets. The groups talked about in the article did not come about overnight and they had the advantage of being explicit in what they were about, and what the members wanted to get out if it. Making friends is hard. Keeping them is work. Mostly the work of reaching out and scheduling and organizing and keeping in touch. But! Today it is easier than ever to do those things. Social media is amazing at the administrative tasks of friendship. You still have to show up in person with a token of appreciation now and then, but at least you don't have to write letters.
No one is going to do it for you, but don't get frustrated, get out there. Say hi.
posted by domo at 2:52 PM on May 3 [6 favorites]


A lot of men are completely self-centered and have no desire to think about the emotional well-being of others. There's also toxic masculinity - listening is feminine and talking is masculine. Healing, especially emotionally/mentally is also feminine. Too many dudes would rather die than do anything feminine.
posted by clockworkjoe at 3:03 PM on May 3 [3 favorites]


Anecdotally, since becoming aware of "emotional labor" as a concept, the net result is I feel more exhausted when discussing anyone's problems and feel guilty ever unsaddling my own. Labor is fundamentally a thing to be avoided in my mind, framing it as labor makes the entire affair of addressing feelings feel even worse on every end.
posted by GoblinHoney at 3:04 PM on May 3 [22 favorites]


It's natural to interpret the behavior of others through the lens of one's own experience.

We see someone behaving a particular way, and ask "why might I behave that way?"

And whatever answer we come up with becomes our explanation for the other person's behavior. "Tom doesn't eat beef. I don't eat beef because I believe in animal rights. Therefore, Tom must avoid beef because he believes in animal rights."

But maybe Tom just doesn't like the taste. Or his religion prohibits it. Or he's allergic to it. Or he's trying to watch his cholesterol.

So, yeah. Maybe Bill doesn't talk to men about his feelings because he's a walking stereotype in a Tapout shirt with "a puffed up chest, fist bumps, and awkward side hugs". Or maybe there are other reasons at play.

I don't doubt that women suffer from men's alleged friendlessness, in exactly the way described in TFA. But it seems like an awfully shallow read of what's actually going on with men. I certainly don't see much of my own experience in it. (Granted, I'm kind of a weirdo.)

And that's about as concise as I can make that.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 3:05 PM on May 3 [13 favorites]


Life is hard, and frequently sucks. People kill themselves because they think nobody will care - When society is all "shut up with your feefees, manchild, get a therapist" that's exactly what's being said - the only one who will care about your experiences is someone paid to do so, between the hours of 8am and 5pm M-F, assuming you have the insurance and time off from work.

The thing that makes therapy different from talking with friends is that ultimately, a friend is going to mostly be able to offer love and sympathy/empathy, whereas a therapist can help you with professional insight and coping mechanisms.

I'll listen to my friends all day every day, and I love being there for them and love when they've there for me, because that's a really beautiful bonding experience. At least in my mind, that's what life's about. But what we're getting out of that give and take isn't the same as what a person gets out of therapy. Not a value judgement at all, just an entirely different kind of relationship.

And I actually went to therapy specifically to get better at relationships and to be more emotionally available/open. When I went through my most recent breakup, I decided to try therapy out because I wanted to be sure I wasn't doing a bad job in relationships, sabotaging them somehow. My last session was yesterday, and the whole thing was an interesting experience (still processing, really). In my mind, the difference between friendship/relationships and therapy is like the difference between reading a novel and reading literary criticism about the novel.

Anyhow, I think that that difference between friendship and therapy is why the article takes care to specify that these men's groups are not about the guys being buddies, but that they're skills-building workshops for men to work on their social/communication/emotional skills (aka, they're essentially group therapy). The men put the skills they work on in their group to use in the wider world in how they interact with their SO's and hopefully their friends (or friends-to-be), but key is that they're learning those skills within the group rather than directly within those wider-world relationships. And I mean, they might ALSO be friends with the guys in their men's group, I actually think them becoming friends is pretty inevitable, but my understanding is that that's separate from what they're doing within the group itself.
posted by rue72 at 3:25 PM on May 3 [24 favorites]


Generally speaking, having emotional responses as a boy made me a target for derision from adults and bullying from other kids. The message was clear: nobody wanted me to have feelings.

Yea as a trans woman this is essentially 80% of my childhood trauma lmao. This applies to every single trans woman i know, too.

At least i can dodge a punch good
posted by emptythought at 3:41 PM on May 3 [18 favorites]


Also, I'm a woman, and I literally *do not know* what it's like to exist as a man in the world, so some of this toxic-masculinity-based stuff is totally bewildering. I think of my male friends and exes and how they've had such a hard time opening up, and have been so terrible at reciprocating emotional support and all that, and honestly, in the past, I've taken it really personally, as basically a rejection.

Like, "Boyfriend X has so much trouble expressing his feelings and he never seems to have insight into what I'm feeling, he must just not care about me -- guess it's not going to work out" is something that I've said to myself about multiple relationships (and then ended them). It's HARD to be close with someone who can't/won't be emotionally available and who doesn't have a certain amount of emotional sophistication because it's like, are they closed off because they don't trust me or don't care about me? How can I count on them when it feels like they're constantly emotionally rejecting me? Is this shallow connection all the relationship is going to be?

Just giving that POV to say that sometimes masculinity is a foreign and confusing land, even if everyone (all genders) is trying their best to navigate it lol.
posted by rue72 at 3:44 PM on May 3 [17 favorites]


As a gay guy I figure other men are very afraid of other men and thus creates this emotional closet.

The other problem is that society is becoming more isolating and lonely overall, and it's important to recognize and evaluate the reality that sustaining friendships is hard in an atomizing society.
posted by polymodus at 4:11 PM on May 3 [12 favorites]


I, a woman, have never had any fuckin money, and yet I've been to probably a dozen various therapists over the course of my problem-riddled life AND I have good reciprocal relationships with good friends whom I help and who help me with our various griefs and woes and goddamn neverending personal problems. I see the value both in the talk with friends and the therapy, so wtf is with men who complain that they do not have good reciprocal relationships with friends of the kind I describe--AND who as a rule make a whole big giant fuckload more money than I do--what is with the men thinking they can't afford therapists therefore they need to rely solely on the help they get gratis from their female friends? HAH?
posted by Don Pepino at 4:22 PM on May 3 [18 favorites]


Most of us men, even those of us with emotionally expressive fathers, got socially punished for emotional expressiveness and the pursuit of intimacy growing up, or watched others get punished and learned from their mistakes.

I guess you end up with "gold diggers" when people are shut out of something that comes naturally. If people are shut out of making lots of money, some of them will end up as classic "gold diggers". If people are shut out of emotions and intimacy, some of them will end up as "emotional gold diggers".
posted by clawsoon at 4:25 PM on May 3 [15 favorites]


I think nearly every one of my queer friends sees or has seen a therapist regularly at points in their lives and I would hazard a guess that none of my straight friends have/do (or they haven’t chosen to share it with me if have). Me, after dissatisfaction with a therapist who only wanted to prescribe antidepressants—and letting that scare me away for years—I finally found one with whom I can just talk and honestly, in a lifetime filled with poor decisions, deciding to work with that therapist is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
posted by octobersurprise at 4:53 PM on May 3 [7 favorites]


Lots of men have quite literally had expressing vulnerability beaten out of them at a young age. Deep psychic trauma like that is nefarious and colors ever single interaction you make. I'm not trying to "what about the men" this but imagine going through life desperately wanting emotional attachments to people but always policing yourself because mentally (and very often socially) seeking deeper friendships makes you a target. Constantly wanting something but denying yourself it because that's how you've been socialized since birth. You're always punishing yourself and it breeds a ton of self loathing which in turn makes you feel unworthy of friendship or real attention.

It's horrible and exhausting and most men are constantly operating in that fucked up headspace.
posted by Ferreous at 4:55 PM on May 3 [23 favorites]


As an addendum: go see a therapist is a lot harder than it sounds. Maybe it's easier in major metro areas but if you're suburban or rural there's never enough therapists to go around and even if you do get one there's a good chance you won't click with them.

Fun fact, plenty of therapists aren't good with issues related to toxic masculinity or even perpetuate it themselves! Ask me how I know!
posted by Ferreous at 4:59 PM on May 3 [18 favorites]


I've had issues with recent partners where they're expecting a certain level of response during such conversations, but I need several minutes to breathe through that defensive response before I can say anything, which has caused frustration. It's tough in the context of future dating - is an emotionally healthy woman in her 40s really going to want to roll with me on improving that further?

Hey Millman, I'm a 40+ woman and I don't think of myself as being emotionally unhealthy. I've found that I sometimes dissociate in Big Conversations, especially with someone I'm still getting to know. I think I'd be capable of understanding that same behavior in a partner, and I can't possibly be the only one.
posted by bunderful at 5:06 PM on May 3 [3 favorites]


Fun fact, plenty of therapists aren't good with issues related to toxic masculinity or even perpetuate it themselves!

No lie, I’d recommend looking at the website of your local LBGTQ+ center and seeing if they recommend any therapists. I mean, no one knows “Constantly wanting something but denying yourself it because that's how you've been socialized since birth.” like LBGTQ people.
posted by octobersurprise at 5:07 PM on May 3 [41 favorites]


"If we took seriously the historical positioning, what would it be about the present moment that makes things this way?"

When I look at photos of my grandfather in the 1930s (teens) and 1940s (20s), I'm always struck by how physically affectionate he and his male friends are, in a way that I simply never see today. And then as a young married man, there was so much community involvement -- church and bowling leagues and local civic organizations -- that just isn't around for most people today (largely due to late capitalism eating all of our free time and breaking our civic and social institutions because it can't profit off them).

"In other words, the dude had TONS of baggage. And yet, he thought he was fine. He had no idea everyone could see his pain."

It always seems to me that the men who believe themselves the most stoic and the most unemotional are the ones who, to outsiders, look like vibrating balls of emotion waiting to explode that are broadcasting their emotions noisily on all available channels. And, yeah, they think nobody else can tell. Everyone can tell!

"The rest of the time I rely on my wife for that emotional bond. She's my closest friend. I'm her closest friend. There is nothing I would say to my close male friends that I would not say to her. I think she feels the same way. "

I'd be dead curious to know. I know I'm my husband's closest friend, but he's not mine, and there's a shit-ton of stuff I wouldn't say to him that I instead say to close female friends, because (in my experience as a heterosexual woman in relationships) men are super fragile, especially when it comes to their primary relationship, and you're really, really circumscribed in how it's possible to talk to your romantic partner about certain things, if you don't want to upset them and spend days managing the fall out. And I don't want to hurt his feelings! And like every man I've ever dated, he's very sensitive and his feeling get hurt easily.

But my husband knows he's not my "best friend" -- most men seem surprised to learn that their wives don't consider them their "best friends" and aren't aware of what best friendship entails for many women.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:09 PM on May 3 [55 favorites]


Let me see some sociological studies about how many friends men have compared to women
Google scholar is free for people of all genders. There is a veritable shit ton of research about this. Egocentric social network analysis could be a good method to look into. Typically, yes, research demonstrates that men (in the US, which is the research with which I am familiar) have smaller social networks and fewer strong or reciporical ties when compared with women. The amount and type of social support that is exchanged also breaks down differently by gender. A huge problem with the bulk of research in this area is that it almost universally breaks down gender on the binary, which is definitely problematic.

On another note, I'm a woman, and finding a therapist is a total fucking nightmare. I might suggest looking for trauma therapists specifically if you feel this article and the traumas of toxic masculinity described in it may apply to you.
posted by sockermom at 5:31 PM on May 3 [11 favorites]


Sometime in the last few years, I've explained to my husband a few times that there's a whole message system out there for women about self-care and finding happiness from within and what friendships are and how to become stronger as a woman, mom or partner. It's part of the self-help industry somewhat, an industry supported overwhelmingly by women. There's definitely a self-reliance kind of message out there which is kind of interesting in contrast to what we are talking about here. Women are regularly encouraged to support themselves. I feel like I hear a lot more messaging about supporting your women friends and getting support from them than I ever, ever hear about turning to a male spouse.

My mom was a Marriage & Family therapist in a dysfunctional relationship with an alcoholic husband. I watched them work through loads of shit. But my Dad always had the option to check out, and he frequently did. We did therapy as a family fairly regularly to deal mostly with my Dad's issues. My mom was bound and determined not to divorce and she was with him right up until the end. I came into my relationship with a lot of sensitivities but also a lot of tools. I was prepared for A BIG FIGHT. But, luckily, I married a great guy who was not a strangled man. But what I learned from my mother and what I learn from the world is that women are generally responsible for the emotional health of the relationship, the emotional health of the family. That includes all that labor of maintaining outside social ties and keeping the domestic sphere humming along. The man can say, "I feel bad" and the woman must figure out why and solve it if she can, otherwise he can take the whole house down with him.

When my Dad felt bad, the whole family was hostage to his coping skills or lack thereof: anxiety, depression, drinking, anger, yelling, suicidal ideation, violence. AA was the best thing for him, although he did do therapy off and on. But AA provided an atmosphere of support that he needed. He was better when he wasn't drinking and he was better when he wasn't just dumping on his wife. (Like she didn't have enough to do studying to be a real PhD therapist and raising 3 kids!)

Having adult friendships is hard. There's not enough time. People are flaky. One person's emotional connecting is another person's no-thank-you. But in an intimate romantic relationship, there needs to be as much mutual support as possible. And if the coping skills are unhealthy than both a willingness and a commitment to fix those things is required. And a good part of that is having a social network of the real kind and cultivating intimacy and vulnerability where you can. So that you don't have just one person shouldering the work and being used as a dump.

We've been having a tough time lately. It's not within the relationship, it's forces on the outside. And everything was kind of coming to a head and my spouse and I had talked about it non-stop. I had to call a friend, someone who I consider a very close friend, one of my best, but we don't necessarily have deep, intimate conversations. But I called her up and said, "Hey, I know you have 3 kids and a super busy life and your kids are doing 3 different kinds of activities this weekend, but I really need someone to just tell some stuff to, can you meet me?" And she did. She made the time. We met up, I told her my shit and she was helpful, and listened and offered a few ideas and it was great. I could have told those same stories to my spouse and it would not have felt as cathartic. I went back home feeling stronger and more able to meet the challenges we needed to meet. That's what I want for the men in my life!
posted by amanda at 5:42 PM on May 3 [25 favorites]


I guess the lesson for men continues to be "never ever share your feelings with anyone, including your life partner."

The last time there was a large wave of men's groups, we got the Men's Rights Movement--they took Stoltenberg and twisted his words around. So yeah, getting men to open up to men seems only to lead to those same men to conspire against the world.

there are also large men's groups already--they are called the oil and gas and construction industries.

But I second the commenter who said that communal work was the way to go--clearing forests of invasive trees, cleaning out ditches, landscaping, massive re-vegetation projects--I have found that working outdoors on these kind of communal physical labor projects is a great way to find friends and continuing emotional validation, and, for whatever reason, you end up avoiding the expectations or specter of sexual relationships that you may find in other spaces.

There's a ton of ecological work necessary to save our culture, and it's work that the modern economy doesn't value. This work is gendered, and I have found solace and friendship there.
posted by eustatic at 5:49 PM on May 3 [21 favorites]


You don’t need a therapist to work on yourself... there are some very good cognitive behavioral therapy workbooks out there. But you gotta put your ass in a chair, fill out the worksheets, do the exercises, week in and and week out.

It’s very hard for me to imagine the men I’m close to doing that. And I can be compassionate towards them and listen to them, but there are some things that no one else can do for you. This isn’t about women being selfish, it’s about men who aren’t working on themselves effectively or at all.
posted by pickles_have_souls at 6:07 PM on May 3 [20 favorites]


But you gotta put your ass in a chair, fill out the worksheets, do the exercises, week in and and week out.

Seconding this. this has helped me.
posted by eustatic at 6:18 PM on May 3 [6 favorites]


Gosh, this just doesn't resonate at all for me as a 30-something straight woman. This has definitely not been true of the dynamic with any of the men I've been in multi-year relationships with. They all had rich social lives that they maintained, and I benefited from being woven into.
posted by amaire at 6:31 PM on May 3 [4 favorites]


There are a couple of such groups that are starting in US, but they are more based in Rural/suburban Minnesota and such other places. I would love for there to be more things like this in Chicago. I have always wanted to learn how to do rudimentary carpentry, fixing things, growing vegetables etc. I don't want to take classes, as much as have a group that does these things.

But what this article is talking about is true. I was there 6 years ago.
posted by indianbadger1 at 1:57 PM on May 3 [8 favorites +] [!]


right, it's hard to find the space for a wood shop if you live in a city, and then tools costs $$$, this stuff comes more naturally to open spaces, rural areas.

but there are community colleges, there are community garden projects that need chicken coops and simple wooden structures that aren't mission critical, like chicken coops; i've found volunteer work at the botanical garden. Gardening is a great source of unending labor, heh. minute to learn, lifetime to master.
posted by eustatic at 6:54 PM on May 3 [4 favorites]


I'm going to not put so much work into having friends going forward. It's just not worth the effort. It's easy to be friends when things are going smooth - but if they can't/won't be there when it goes to shit... what even is the fucking point ?

I would not be so quick to write off "light and frothy" friendships. I think there can be a tendency with guys to have a real all-or-nothing approach to friendships, you're either passing acquaintances, or soulmates. After one's early twenties, when you're working all the time and have kids and responsibilities etc, this ends up meaning for a lot of men that they feel they have no "close" friends whatsoever.

I've observed that the women in my life (mostly) are a bit more pragmatic about this. They have larger friendship groups, with far more gradations of intimacy within those groups. In addition friendship status seems to be more fluid and dynamic. There is less categorisation, intentional or otherwise, and more communication through whatsapp, or FB message groups etc. I feel this is a healthier way to be, to be honest.

Those "lighter" friendships can be very nourishing. A cornerstone of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy is that emotions, behaviours and thoughts are all reciprocal and influence each other. I think men are often socialised to put emotions in the "Emotions" box, and thoughts in the very private "Thoughts" box etc. This means for a lot of men, trying to deal with emotions, means talking Emotions, being Emotions, and so on. And it's very full on for them and for people they do it with. Especially so because how and when men are expected to express vulnerability is a very fraught and culturally circumscribed thing.

Women - as an outsider looking in - seem to be socialised with a better understanding of the connection between behaviours and emotions and thoughts, and thus if they are feeling a bit down a night with "the girls", drinking, watching a movie, just shooting the shit, is perceived to be cathartic and satisfying (because the positive behaviours engender positive thoughts and then feelings). Men I feel sometimes view that as running away from the problem, ignoring things etc, because it's not all "EMOTIONS! I AM HAVING FEELINGS!".

Not being a "here's a kidney" friend, is not a betrayal, nor a burden; it's just a different facet of friendship,and I think an important and healthy one.

Enacting positive behaviours with others will lead to positive thoughts and feelings, it's been proven clinically time and time again. I am quite an introverted person, and I also dislike driving, so geeing myself up for a night out with friends (and strangers, ugh!), can feel quite draining at times. But I try to push myself to do it, because doing something enjoyable in the company of others is literally good for me (and for my partner, and my kids). And doing that regularly is actually one definition of friendship - it's how deeper relationships grow.

Or not grow. But if you view the activity, a bowling night, a gaming night, whatever, as an end in itself, it doesn't matter so much. There's no unstated "test" for your friends to meet, there's not betrayal waiting in the wings. There's just the moment itself, and the pleasure in it.

Friendship is worth the effort, even if it's only for the night, I guess I'm saying. That kind of friendship is significant, even if the relationship itself is not. It's worth it psychologically, for yourself and others. It's worth it morally, because it reminds you to be open and in the moment. Don't close yourself off from gestures of love, however fleeting , minor, or ephemeral.
posted by smoke at 7:16 PM on May 3 [54 favorites]




I know I'm my husband's closest friend, but he's not mine, and there's a shit-ton of stuff I wouldn't say to him that I instead say to close female friends, because (in my experience as a heterosexual woman in relationships) men are super fragile, especially when it comes to their primary relationship, and you're really, really circumscribed in how it's possible to talk to your romantic partner about certain things, if you don't want to upset them and spend days managing the fall out.

This is is really true for me as well. I'm my husband's closest friend, but he's not mine - and it's mostly because of that fragility and the blindness around being sensitive.

For example: I have non men friends who are very sensitive on certain subjects. But they are aware that they are sensitive on those subjects, and when they start coming up, they either talk about where their boundaries are, or say 'hey I could use a little extra sensitivity on this one, I'm having a really hard time dealing with this' or 'I could use a check-in.' And they pay attention to where I'm at, so if I seem to be doing a lot of emotional labor around something, they will acknowledge it and thank me for doing that work.

In my experience with heterosexual men, they are both super sensitive and insist that they're tough and can't possibly be being defensive, don't want to pry into why they are thinking certain things or any kind of examining their own biases. And it's just exhausting. And it's hard to carry a deep friendship when one person is just...not really reciprocating. And you get that lack of reciprocation when the person involved only has one person (you) that they can talk to.
posted by corb at 7:45 PM on May 3 [26 favorites]


Perhaps men’s groups have gone bad in the past because all the relatively normal men become less involved, after building up some useful skills to apply to the rest of their lives. So you’re left with people who really can’t function in society, reinforcing each other.
posted by vogon_poet at 7:52 PM on May 3 [4 favorites]


In my experience with heterosexual men, they are both super sensitive and insist that they're tough and can't possibly be being defensive, don't want to pry into why they are thinking certain things or any kind of examining their own biases.

Absolutely my experience as well, and key to my gender dysphoria and key to one reason why I've identified as nonbinary for almost 30 years. The rank hypocrisy, it turned out, after a couple of decades of gender performance related bullying and terrorizing (as the victim of it), was something I couldn't tolerate and made me far more comfortable not identifying with as I went on in life.

Working in IT, I met sooo many dudes who were convinced they were soooo smart, and though, sure, they were clever in tech, they had next to no emotional intelligence or articulacy, and I couldn't tolerate their general arrogance without the great temptation to emotionally cut them down in a context where I knew they had no defense.
posted by kalessin at 7:52 PM on May 3 [10 favorites]


Also what I find super weird and kind of emblematic of the problem, both in the microcosm of this thread, and in the macrocosm of the world we are discussing, was that even after talking about unpaid, uncredited emotional labor, most early commenters here didn't say anything like shut up about your fee fees, man-child, or get a therapist. Many of us also said, or get some friends to reciprocally process with and most of the folks complaining about what we said about therapy have completely left out the getting some friends to process with.

I admit I ID as nonbinary, for sure. But I also have, for obvious reasons (in that I was AMAB - assigned masculine at birth - and also non-transitioning), a peculiar bent toward masculinity, still, and I have also been able to get and keep men friends (and friends of other genders) to process and vent and converse and talk with, thus keeping the burden of that off my primary life and romantic partner, and I also have friends of many genders with whom I have a reciprocal venting and supportive relationship. Certainly not all of them share that with me, but those who are interested, do, which keeps down the therapy bills. And it's real and absolutely possible.
posted by kalessin at 8:09 PM on May 3 [12 favorites]


pickles_have_souls, that sounds super helpful! Do you have any links/recommendations for good workbooks?
posted by JDHarper at 8:24 PM on May 3


I am annoyed at the number of comments here that boil down to, "as a boychild, I was told to hide my feelings and I was punished for showing them, so it's not my fault that I don't know how to maintain meaningful friendships today."

Men sometimes got beaten for showing vulnerability. Women sometimes got beaten for showing anger, ambition, sadness, confidence, joy that wasn't quiet and still, intelligence, curiosity, or sexual desire. Sometimes got death threats. Sometimes got killed. And unlike most men's situations, the physical threats and attacks don't stop when when women turn 18.

If I were less cynical, it'd be shocking how few men talk about the unfairness of how little girls are taught to suppress their emotions.

Nobody here said, "shut up and get a therapist." The advice is, "find some friends who WANT to listen to you, whose joys and sorrows you want to share, who will build a community with you. Maybe go to therapy to figure out how to do those things."

Nobody here is saying it's easy to find friends and maintain friendships. But women don't have any magic friendship powers; the skills that women use for these things are available to men. Sure, women have generally been practicing them longer. It's not like we were given a choice about that.

It sucks for guys to realize that they have to start learning in their 30s (or 40s or 50s) the stuff that was often literally beaten into women in their grammar school years. The good news: They get to seek out lessons that actually suit their lifestyle and personality, instead of having them forced on them, and odds are good that nobody twice their size is going to physically assault them if they get it wrong and offend someone.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 8:57 PM on May 3 [58 favorites]


It is important to remember here that these women don't have a choice about this.

It is important to remember that these men don't have a choice, either.

Agency doesn't exist.
posted by poe at 9:18 PM on May 3 [6 favorites]


ErisLordFreedom, I think that's a somewhat uncharitable reading, especially the part you put in quotes, I don't really see anybody saying that. More broadly I think traditional gender norms suck for both men and women, for different reasons and in different ways. For this particular conversation, I'm not sold that an argument about who has it the most suckiest is especially germane (though of course, it can be very much so in others).

One challenge I think is that a lot of men don't ever have this realisation, indeed traditional gender programming counsels the opposite - and that leads to bad outcomes, for everyone.
posted by smoke at 9:19 PM on May 3 [12 favorites]


"Why now?" I can think of two big social changes that have plausibly made this worse.

Before Freud writes, even when only a few intellectuals have read Freud, I find a lot more descriptions of deep male friendship in novels and biographies. They mostly know homosexuality exists, but without the cod-Freudian dogma that everything is about sex somehow you can have a guy friend and not worry about it. Or you can write In Memoriam.

And before the Great Compression almost everyone in the West was so poor (by modern standards) that socialization happened in groups because the infrastructure had to be shared. Dance halls, bowling alleys, pub sings, church charabanc outings, town parades -- no-one got exactly what they wanted. When wealth made individualistic consumerism possible, most people went for it. (Then marketing capitalism stuck its mouthparts in the crack and finished the job, but really it happened in a bunch of cases before anyone thought it could.)
posted by clew at 9:38 PM on May 3 [16 favorites]


The religious right and the Reagan "cowboys" probably played a big role in establishing active and explicit homophobia as an essential part of masculinity. And a big part of that was the myth that we're everywhere. We're in the schools trying to convert your children, in the washrooms trying to steal a peek and cop a feel. We're in the games and books with our subversive messages.

To be honest, I've gotten abuse from everyone, both men and women, over trivial violations of heteronormativity. I've found straight relationships unsupportive at best and abusive at worst. So I'm generally skeptical about what kinds of intimacy are possible within heterosexual relationships if heterosexual identity is that fragile.

With the structure of church discussion groups and an LGBT center, I'm developing friendships, but it's still difficult and I still have periods of hyper-vigilance. Some of that is irrational but I don't think it all is.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 10:16 PM on May 3 [4 favorites]



The religious right and the Reagan "cowboys" probably played a big role in establishing active and explicit homophobia as an essential part of masculinity.

they certainly did their bit, but I hit my teen years well before Reagan + co assumed control and found no shortage of "explicit homophobia as an essential part of masculinity" messaging all through the media -- movies in particular. It's a "thing" that I'm pretty sure goes back at least as far as the end World War 2, probably way further.
posted by philip-random at 11:04 PM on May 3 [5 favorites]


One challenge I think is that a lot of men don't ever have this realisation, indeed traditional gender programming counsels the opposite - and that leads to bad outcomes, for everyone.

In my experience this lack of realization was indistinguishable from malice. After umpteen times ending crumpled at the feet of a bully poisoned with masculine toxicity, any impulse I had to be kind about it, understanding, or empathetic was magically transformed to seeing to my own short and long term survival.
posted by kalessin at 12:32 AM on May 4 [5 favorites]


Or to put it another way -- I would love a group of men to open up with, but I've found myself pushed out of male spaces precisely because I needed emotional support. You can't always trust that other guys aren't going to just magically accept your openness, even if some can and do in the right circumstances. This isn't just a matter of having the will to make it happen.

Yes, I relate strongly to this! Almost every time I try to have a more emotionally intimate relationship with a man, I get no reciprocity back. I mean, sure, they'll dump their emotional stuff on me - especially younger men who have a little more familiarity with and a little less stigma about the language of expressing one's own emotions. But they have little interest in providing emotional support to me. If I bring up the idea that reading up on and thinking about one's own emotional regulation, or relationship (friendship, romantic, whatever) dynamics is a valid and worthwhile area of study or skills building, I'm not infrequently met with one of: derision, defensiveness that exhibits as anger or hostility, or just complete stonewalling. To emphasize: this happens even with the dudes I mostly hang out with, who are mostly pro-feminist or nerds who were bullied as kids, and quite aware of how toxic masculinity has harmed them, and who believe that feelings are healthy things to have, and that other people should be able to deal with their feelings. They just haven't extended that to the idea that maybe healthy skills for dealing well with other people's feelings were also beaten out of them when they were young, and so are also things that they need to intentionally learn and practice as adults.

... oh, you were talking about relationships between men, not hetero romantic relationships between men and women?

Ok, that was a bit snarky, I'm sorry. But what if every dude I've ever heard in my own personal life bemoaning how hard it is to form these sorts of deeper, emotionally connected reciprocal relationships with other (cis, het) men were to begin by practicing the behaviors that they, themselves, would like from other men, but in the (more often, at least) somewhat safer contexts of their relationships with women who are more open to and supportive of that sort of emotional growth? Like, what if they stopped focusing only on what it feels like on their end to not receive that from other men (as in, didn't out that aside, but also:), and started also putting an equal amount of thought and effort into developing in themselves the being-emotionally-supportive-of-others skills that they wished other men could meet them with?
posted by eviemath at 4:56 AM on May 4 [17 favorites]


Be the Emotionally Supportive Male Friend you wish to see in the world. Practicing with female friends or romantic partners first is probably helpful.
posted by eviemath at 4:58 AM on May 4 [15 favorites]


A couple of things bugged me about this article:
* The statement that "For millennial men in particular, a major challenge is understanding they need help in the first place." - Looking at my parents and grandparent's generations I definitely don't see the distinction here. Wish a source had been cited.

* "But individual therapy—which can cost upwards of $200 per session and is rarely covered by insurance—isn’t financially viable for everyone." - Rarely? Really? Since I have had insurance it has always covered therapy. The coverage isn't always great, but it's there. It's possible my experience is unusual - again I wish a source had been cited. The overall point that therapy is not always financially feasible stands, but I think it could have been better made.

I'm a woman and I'm not the emotional whiz at connecting described in the article - sometimes we have issues with developing friendships too. That said, I've put god knows how many hours into therapy, and I actively work on being a good friend and maintaining connections. And when I realize that I'm putting too much on my friends, I go to a therapist.
posted by bunderful at 6:03 AM on May 4 [3 favorites]


Reading the comments here (more so even than the article) is eye-opening for me as someone who considers myself a generally emotionally available/vulnerable man in a loving and supportive marriage with a woman.

Since roughly middle school (a.k.a. since the time when having feelings other than rage now made me a "pussy"), my friend group has consisted primarily of women. Like, today, I'd say 90-95% women? And I've been one of those guys who just says "I get along better with women."

And I have tried to be closer friends with some of the men in my life. I have a few close male friends. Well, one close male friend (who I've known since age 5), and a couple others that are close to being close, I guess.

Or at least, I tell myself that I've tried. But the truth is, I put in "only so much" effort. Because I'm scared. I don't mind being emotionally vulnerable with women. But being emotionally vulnerable with men--as a closer relationship requires--brings up a lot of old fear for me. Fear of judgment, of humiliation and ridicule. Fear that's grounded in personal experiences with toxic masculinity in my peer group that began to really rear its head around age 11 or 12.

With the help of therapy, medication, and no small amount of emotional labor from the women in my life, I've become far more comfortable in my own skin. I'm kind of a goofy, flamboyant guy, and I've come to cherish those things about myself, to allow myself some sorely needed self-love. It's made me a happier person (and probably more pleasant to be around).

But that fear of judgment is still governing the relationships I allow myself to cultivate in ways that I'm really only realizing now; and that fear must be unhealthy to me in all manner of other ways in my day-to-day life. So, thank you to everyone for your comments; I am going to do something about this.
posted by duffell at 6:13 AM on May 4 [25 favorites]


I went through this with my ex-wife. (Obviously, the genders are reversed, but still).

She never had friends of her own. If I had an event with work friends, they would become her friends. I'd drag her out to meet my other friends in the hope that they would bond. I'd constantly be pushing her. "You and Soandso both like thing! Talk about thing! MAKE FRIENDS WITH THEM! PLEASE GOD!" And she just wouldn't. Didn't know how or didn't care to. So I'd quit that job or have to move or whatever and then she'd have no social group and would clamp on to me.

I was her husband so I was supposed to be her friend and that was that.

And it was like that for everything. I had to manage her life for her. Because she didn't talk to people about anything, I was her sole source for anything resembling culture or new things she'd like, so I was always in the role of supervising her both socially and culturally. "HERE IS A NEW THING YOU LIKE PLEASE GOD ENGAGE WITH IT."

I often say that while I'd rather not be the captain of our metaphorical life ship, I can do so if needed, but my partner needs to be like Riker. Maybe do things differently and has their own style, but I come back to the bridge and everything is basically okay. My ex couldn't handle that. One of the last straws was a time I went out of town. I got back super late, like 11pm. I was tired, I'd had a long cross country flight. I was hungry. And...there was literally nothing in the house I could eat. Not even a box of Cheerios or something. She'd gone grocery shopping! But only bought food for herself and didn't even think "Hmm, he's coming back in at 11 o'clock and will want to eat something..." which is a level of courtesy I'd extend to a roommate I was picking up.

She was tired and wanted to go to bed so I, still frazzled from a cross country flight, had to drop her off, then wander out and find a place that was open and had food so I could get something to eat. Amazing.

And that's ultimately one of the big reasons I split up with her. She's a fine person. I'd write her a recc on Relationship LinkedIn if such a thing existed. But man, carrying her through life, I couldn't do it anymore.

Sometimes I tell my current partner "Thank you for having your own friends and tastes" and she's a little puzzled, but I've been with someone who doesn't have those things and it is exhausting and frustrating.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:00 AM on May 4 [16 favorites]


Flagged jj's.mama's and pickles_have_souls' comments as fantastic.

While I have empathy, I have very little patience for 100% boohoo help me if 100% boohoo help me takes no time to examine, embrace, contemplate, and accept their feelings.

It's a lesson to learn, and like any other lesson, YOU have to do it for it to stick.
posted by yoga at 8:02 AM on May 4 [2 favorites]


"friend" is such a nebulous word, the more so now that Facebook is a societal institution and has poisoned the well. While this entire thread is an interesting read (and much more so than the article that spawned it) it nonetheless feels like without this consensus everything will be at cross-purposes forever. (Infinite sympathy for anyone navigating these tensions, which I suppose is all of us. Guess culture is a lie, it just means you make inappropriate assumptions.)
posted by Going To Maine at 8:14 AM on May 4 [3 favorites]


I don't think the gender essentialism is terribly useful. I've known many men who have strong, supportive friendships and many women who are total shut-ins and/or emotional vampires.

For my part, I'm a woman and this has been a good reminder to me to seek emotional support from sources other than my (wonderful, empathetic) spouse. I find it's very easy to fall into a pattern of relating to friends superficially, through hobbies and activities ...It takes time and courage to talk about the things that really matter.
posted by Kilter at 8:20 AM on May 4 [6 favorites]


At work, I am part of a multi-agency coalition working on some legislation. I'm a woman, an attorney, nearly 50. Most of the others in the group are in their 30's--men and women, some social workers, many just people with liberal arts education who found their way into legislative advocacy. None over 35. There are, notably for this conversation, 2 men attorneys just about my age in the meetings as well.

Our meetings are generally run by a man in the early part of his 30's, and run in what I now recognize as a particular meeting style I see at nonprofits, community groups, and other spaces that are largely young-millennials. We often start with a "check-in question" like "what's giving you joy this week?" or "what's keeping your feet on the ground?" or even something a little less squishy like "what are you looking forward to, now that it finally might not snow again?"

This is weird for me in a work space, but for those two male attorneys who are my age? You can feel how tense it makes them. They don't sneer; they don't roll their eyes; they offer a seemingly genuine (if terse) response. But it's almost counter-productive to investing them in the group-focus that is the nature of the work.

For me, the discomfort is the whole "these are not my friends and I'm not interested in bonding with you people." division between work and life. I suspect with these two men attorneys of the late Gen X age, it's that plus the 50 years of having to swim in toxic masculinity that would have mocked them for people able to quickly conjure, then express, what precisely is giving them joy this week. I hope it keeps getting easier, not just for any specific man but for generations of them.
posted by crush at 8:22 AM on May 4 [10 favorites]


Homophobia is def. at work here, but it's not the whole answer by any means. I also do find the gender-essentialism at work in the article a little reductive.

That said, I've lived much of my adult life in very QILTBAG circles, and when you take implicit homophobia out of the picture, male-male friendship, expressing of emotion, and physical affection all become much easier.
posted by aspersioncast at 8:31 AM on May 4 [4 favorites]


An investing thing about the article itself, not tied back to the thread, is that it reads a bit like women pathologizing manhood in the same way that I think of men as historically pathologizing womanhood.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:14 AM on May 4 [10 favorites]


A few thoughts here:

- I'm a straight guy, and told up and down by friends, partners, acquaintances that I'm unusually empathetic and comfortable expressing my feelings. It's fucking LONELY.

- Even if you are a guy that reaches out, seeks, support, etc., there are so few guys around that know how to nurture friendships over the long term that after 42 years I sometimes think "what's the point?" I need someone outside my partner that I can trust and talk to, and even though I have the skills, there aren't many people that want to reciprocate. So now I'm one of these dudes whether I like it or not.

- I understand the point of articles like this, but it makes the world feel even lonelier. It feels like being told, "ugh, find your own friends," when that's what I was trying to do in the first place.

- This article does a good job of articulating a real problem: Society beats vulnerability out of men, which causes problems for women. However, it doesn't mention that women are also part of the society that help beat the vulnerability out of men.

- It might be a lot more helpful and productive to identify how women AND men contribute to a society that ends up with emotionally damaged men and emotionally overburdened men, and what we can do together to turn this around.

- Honestly, I'm starting to get really fucking sick of being understanding and empathetic to my friends and family, still feeling isolated, then seeing articles that imply that me and my gender are either actively awful or these malformed creatures that can't help but hurt women. Even if it doesn't say that directly, I'm starting to get this message in a way that's developing a resentment I didn't used to have.

- If I didn't feel lonely and misunderstood before, I sure as shit do every time I read something like this. I can't even complain about it to anyone without a) getting my head torn off or b) finding kinship with some shitbag Trump supporter which is not the audience I want.

- I know the author of this article personally and I'm really happy for/proud of her, even though I feel like this barely scratches the surface.
posted by chinese_fashion at 10:12 AM on May 4 [34 favorites]


I think you can be resentful and let it stop you there or maybe resentful but still commit to use your privilege to make progress. Part of the new world order where we acknowledge and try to provide recompense for other folks' previously free and taken advantage of emotional labor is a certain degree of humility and grace. Acknowledge also that despite your resentment and defensiveness you also owe others a great debt (for generations and centuries of care for you and your ancestors) and make something of making it right, making amends. Move forward. Make justice and equity happen. I promise you that I'm the process you will get more of what you need than you would if you let resentment and defensiveness ball you up and make you nonparticipating in society.
posted by kalessin at 11:09 AM on May 4 [8 favorites]


The article has more generous examples than the ``men bad'' framing. The whole conclusion is men working on themselves and extending help and equality to others. Doable! Granular nature should adapt well to varying tastes and conditions! Did not rely on female-gendered labor! HOW do we push back against the catchy counsels of despair?

Going back to *both* my hypotheses about historical conditions -- the fraternal clubs and orders and cellar clubs (previously) were shared recreational infrastructure plus also someplace for men to hang out together and inquire mutually into standards of virtue. (In theory, certainly.) And drink and buy lots of stuff and march in parades.

(Nb: more about the history of male socialization in the Related section of this link from above.)

Also, surely any healthy religous system invites self-examination and realistic self-assessment and putting one's values into practice? Maybe that used to help as much as it hurt.
posted by clew at 11:38 AM on May 4 [2 favorites]


These last two comments really describe the feedback loop that's been running in my head for the past few years, both how I've come to feel and what I'm trying (aspiring?) to use those feelings and experiences as catalyst for doing. The response that kalessin describes is a beautifully compassionate, humanist one and also the only way I can see to keep this all from eating us up. Spin the straw into gold, man; make some lemonade from those lemons.
posted by LooseFilter at 11:42 AM on May 4 [3 favorites]


I don't think the gender essentialism is terribly useful. I've known many men who have strong, supportive friendships and many women who are total shut-ins and/or emotional vampires.

So, Not All Men, basically?

I also know a small number of men who are quite good at providing emotional support for others, and I would say that a majority of people I know of any gender are not necessarily particularly skilled at making friends. But gender does seem to be a significant influencing factor in level of skill at providing emotional support, with common themes in folks' experience of gender socialization in childhood in this area, and actual studies and data on how that gender socialization affects men and women differently on the population level. So that seems like a reasonable thing to talk about, to me.

As someone with a scientific background, I would probably tend to phase things in ways that really emphasize that I am talking about overall population trends, not necessarily any specific individual; and I also get annoyed with more essentialist-sounding phrasing at times. But I also understand that not everyone has that sort of training, and that my communication style in that respects sometimes even comes across to some folks as so verbose as to actually obfuscate my meaning. Nothing's going to be the right phrasing to connect with everyone I guess?
posted by eviemath at 12:10 PM on May 4 [5 favorites]


It's a difficult transmutation, a cusp, a test for true allies. Whether, when faced with a difficult challenge about our egos we ball up or reach out. It's a cusp that a lot of marginalized people, whether consciously or unconsciously, look for in putative, self-declared allies. To see whether we can trust that they really have our best interests or just theirs in mind.

I'm seeing this whole discussion and particular, obvious responses from some of the commenting normative men in that light. It's disappointing but totally normal to see defensiveness in this context. The impulse to get criticism on something you're feeling vulnerable about is to take your ball and go home.

But I'm here to tell you: you can develop the strength, reliability, and emotional fortitude to get criticism about vulnerable things and still be gracious. And it's really lovely to be able to build and develop that literacy because it can level up friendships and relationships you have. You can deepen and broaden trust and emotional intimacy with all sorts of interesting, nourishing, admirable people if you can make something good out of this kind of criticism and pushback in this kind of context.

It's difficult for sure to find a way, to develop this discipline, to become this reliable. But I promise, the risk and work really are worth the rewards.

I think it applies not just to this situation in gender inequity with emotional labor and articulacy, but also in many other socially just contexts.
posted by kalessin at 12:24 PM on May 4 [8 favorites]


Because toxic gender roles are so powerful in (US) culture, it seems possible that we are bringing some implicit bias into our judgments. Maybe it seems like "too much" complaining from a man sooner in a discussion than it would if we were listening to a woman. The anecdotes near the top of the linked article are pretty subjective.

However, I admit that I can't listen long at all to someone who seems to be getting angry. That really amps up my adrenaline level and triggers my flight response.
posted by puddledork at 12:36 PM on May 4 [4 favorites]


I would agree that constructive criticism is a lost art. But it has to be a two way thing where the recipient feels understood. Activist criticism is different because it's not this one on one process but rather articulation against an out-group.

An example is statements like, "I promise X" without, or even with, backup by justification. This is what dogmatic leaders do because it ignores theory of mind of the recipient. It weaponizes the rhetoric of misogyny itself. It is black and white performativity (in the proper academic meaning) that fights and confronts in its approach.
posted by polymodus at 1:04 PM on May 4 [1 favorite]


I think you probably don't know me well enough to be leveling the rather dismissive criticism that I'm being performative. Perhaps to collect points or cookies? How might I, a self professed activist, convince readers that my writing is genuine and comes from my heart, hard earned experience, and good intentions? Is it possible to instead assume good intent here?
posted by kalessin at 1:07 PM on May 4 [3 favorites]


I just said performativity in the Butlerian sense. You're using the other definition of performativity.

You don't know me either. So cut it with the dismissive versus good faith bullshit because it's very triggering.
posted by polymodus at 1:10 PM on May 4 [1 favorite]


@kalessin

This is exactly what I'm talking about: I have been aware of and doing everything that I can do to acknowledge that debt and doing what I can to move forward as soon as I become aware of an issue. And nevertheless, I keep seeing articles like this and comments like yours and I'm getting really tired of being painted with a brush broad enough to letter your comment on an inspirational yoga mat.

I'm sure it made you feel good to type all that out, but it really 1) proves my point and 2) chaps my ass.
posted by chinese_fashion at 1:21 PM on May 4 [10 favorites]


Chinese_fashion, I definitely get where you're coming from, and have been covering so much of this thread with my therapist for the past few months.

I think I've taken on the idea that the only non-toxic masculinity is one of self-abnegation; constantly acknowledging that that I should be receding in most situations, and allowing someone else to take the driver's seat. It's gotten to the point where I can't... force myself? allow myself? to ask people out on dates outside of very circumscribed circumstances - I'm happy to be approached, but I can't imagine letting myself contribute to someone's day by being the fifth guy to ask them out when they thought it was just a friendly conversation.

And I described the above to my therapist, and cited a lot of the comments I read on Metafilter to describe where I'm getting the idea that women are more or less constantly on guard for that sort of thing - and my therapist was, basically, stumped.

I've already gotten to the point that Kalessin describes, I think, in how I look at this problem. I know where resentment leads, also because of Metafilter, and I don't want to end up there. The problem, though, is that it's not doing all that much to lessen the feelings of resentment - although I certainly try not to be defensive. I still feel, though, as if I'm trying to do everything right, and that the payoff is just to... disappear, I guess, or at least to hide so much of myself so as not to burden anyone else.
posted by sagc at 1:32 PM on May 4 [15 favorites]


My story and point of view is as valid as anyone else's. That's the big change the Internet brought - marginalized voices. Those of us who weren't killed in the transformation process (i.e. many of my trans - spiritual - siblings) anyway. We got a voice. We got to tell our stories (sometime as self-righteously as our oppressors, sure). But at least we managed to find and have our voices. In public. Talk about the things that happened to us for not taking the normative, expected way.

This... backlash I'm getting here feels super silencing, super supremacy-reinforcing, and feels like it's being done in very gratuitously poor faith.

I'm wired, psychologically, to keep standing up. Let's imagine for a moment how many ass-beatings that invited as I was growing up in toxic masculinity.

I'm sorry that my perspective is chapping asses. But let me remind the cis men commenting that while your asses are getting chapped, but you're not flirting with the maddening abyss of getting triggered into silent rage, into fleeing, into blocking everything out, and dropping out.

There are far fewer killings coming in your direction for this thread or threads like it or conversations like it in public for doing and saying the mirror image, non-normative things in non-cis-identity and living land. Trans people die for less than this. Please keep this in mind while your asses are getting sore from trans, non-binary, non-masculine people finally having a voice. Finally being able to speak openly (sometimes) about our experiences at the hands of normal, toxic masculinity.

There are ways to mutually find a way - where everyone can have a voice, but the impulse just to tell me/us to stop, that's not the way. To find a way where we can both talk means making room for all those voices, not singling out dissent and trying to quiet it.
posted by kalessin at 1:34 PM on May 4 [14 favorites]


Why would you assume I'm not flirting with that exact abyss? That abyss terrifies me, and I think that's the same for a lot of men. On that note, though, I'm not particularly attached to my experience of gender! I am, though, constantly, painfully aware of how I present to the world, what gender is assumed of me, and everything else that comes along from that.

I don't even disagree with you on anything here - it's just that your first response to chinese_fashion was something that I think doesn't wholly address the problem, or misses some aspects of what the problem actually is.
posted by sagc at 1:39 PM on May 4 [2 favorites]


1) Read article that criticizes men for being unable to express their feelings.

2) Simultaneously agree and disagree, leaving a comment that expresses a strong feeling and a desire to be heard.

3) Read a series of posts from a stranger that offers prescriptive, unsolicited advice and invalidates the expression of the aforementioned feelings.

The gender of the stranger is unclear, but in the moment, -splain is a decent suffix.

4) Leave another comment that is admittedly angrier and more hostile and frankly I kind of regretted until ...

5) Read that by expressing my feelings I'm part of the problem and don't deserve to have or express those feelings because other people have other experiences.

6) Stop expressing feelings.

7) [See 1-6]
posted by chinese_fashion at 2:07 PM on May 4 [5 favorites]


I think factoring in intersectionality, Crenshaw's idea that experiences of marginalization are incomparable, it's sort of meaningless to compare relative suffering, or relative effort to face fears.

That said, I think it's supportable from a legal and criminal statistical standpoint (at least in the US) that my position of getting triggered and facing abyssal fears centers more firmly on real risks of being hurt or killed over these topics and my vocal opinions on them as a nonbinary/trans person than cis men's risks, in general, and it feels a bit unjust and not-level-playing-field and #notallmen to have cis or normative men or other masculine folks saying that abyss is just as scary. But I will leave it to everyone to determine an appropriate level of self-care with respect to the abyssal emotional landscapes we're currently navigating. (And I know that when one is suffering, it's definitely a big ask to compare one's relative level of suffering to another's and to determine appropriate public response/reaction/divulgence.)

Also I am not at all unfeeling. Despite my remarks about cusps and transmutations and allies (real and fair-weather), I don't wish suffering on anyone. It's just that that pain of self-discovery and self-protection seems to happen a lot to folks with privilege getting publicly confronted with hard truths about others' experiences of that privilege.

And in that spirit, it is not emotional labor I choose to pick up and do here - I'm sorry that my responses leave things not wholly addressed. But it's not work I'm planning to do to provide those missing answers. I think it's been amply illustrated in my and other, similar folks' (trans, nonbinary, gender dysphoric folks') comments here in this discussion (as well as our allies in like-minded women talking about reciprocal emotional support) that a lot of emotional labor has already been done in that regard, and that self-help among men, or at least forming reciprocal relationships with friends is probably what's called for here.
posted by kalessin at 2:13 PM on May 4 [7 favorites]


4) Leave another comment that is admittedly angrier and more hostile and frankly I kind of regretted until ...

5) Read that by expressing my feelings I'm part of the problem and don't deserve to have or express those feelings because other people have other experiences.


you frankly kind of regretted being angrier and more hostile than you would have liked until the moment another person pointed out that anger and hostility like the anger and hostility you displayed and briefly regretted is frequently dangerous to more vulnerable people? At that moment you learned it caused problems for other people, that's when you ceased to regret your anger and hostility. Can you see why responding this way to other people might make it hard for you to form reciprocal relationships with them?
posted by Don Pepino at 2:42 PM on May 4 [12 favorites]


> How much time - I will accept any quantifiable unit - do you think nonmen, each individual, and let’s face it, it is always nonmen, should spend being an unpaid and unreciprocated therapist?

This doesn't feel great in terms of perpetuating the idea that men can't have emotions, in that part of that idea is the idea that men can't be emotionally used.
posted by lucidium at 2:44 PM on May 4 [2 favorites]


[kalessin, I understand you're trying to be helpful, but at this point you are coming across like you're trying to silence AMAB people whose lives and narratives are different from yours. They're entitled to their feelings and experiences, even if they come from privileged social groups.]
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 3:13 PM on May 4 [6 favorites]


So many men act like there is no choice between the extremes of "repress, deny" and "dump all my feelings out thoughtlessly on whatever forum and then get mad because responses aren't universally 100% supportive." Like expressing feelings is just another vector of being privileged. When I get angry at work, I can't and shouldn't just start yelling at people; nor, if my emotional reaction is disproportionate, can I ask my colleagues to help me unpack why it's so strong or how to temper it in the future. For that, I go to my friends, with whom I have spent years putting in the work in relationships of mutual support and consensual intimacy. Men need to recognize their own and other people's feelings in a healthy, mutually supportive way. Otherwise they're just being a billowy-coated king of pain instead of John Wayne, and honestly neither of them is very good.
posted by praemunire at 3:26 PM on May 4 [17 favorites]


philip-random: they certainly did their bit, but I hit my teen years well before Reagan + co assumed control and found no shortage of "explicit homophobia as an essential part of masculinity" messaging all through the media -- movies in particular. It's a "thing" that I'm pretty sure goes back at least as far as the end World War 2, probably way further.

Did the rise of fascism have anything to do with this, I wonder?
posted by clawsoon at 3:31 PM on May 4


I think some of the issue here might be that the men that are engaging in the kinds of discussion on Metafilter about dealing with emotional labor are the same men who are already diligently trying to address these issues in their lives. So a response that's tailored to someone who has not done any of that work can be very frustrating when directed to someone who has been working hard in good faith to do those exact things.
posted by fader at 3:32 PM on May 4 [19 favorites]


lucidium: Yeah, somehow I had the misfortune of having to deal with about a half-dozen crisis suicide attempts, and two rape crisis events without training or compensation before the age of 21. That was in addition to the reality that it was my co-habitating grandmother with the dangerous and untreated mental illness in my family, and everyone else bore the responsibility of preventing the next episode.

So one of my heroes with my new coming out process is E. (straight, cis, and male), who shows up for covenant group practically every month with this incredible self-reflective honesty about his life in recovery and dealing with the bad circumstances and bad decisions he made along the way. Generally, I think coming away from this article about men creating those spaces in order to express deep skepticism and fatalism is a very bad read. And maybe instead of poh pohing the idea that those relationships could work, perhaps it would be better to connect with people who make them work.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 4:04 PM on May 4 [3 favorites]


I think both sagc and chinese_fashion both get at something I've been struggling with how to express.

It feels like just by being a man, I am considered evil or threatening or, at best, broken and tiresome. It feels like the only way for a man to be a considered decent person is to be silent and invisible and out of the way. It feels like no matter what I do to correct my behavior, it won't be enough.

That way leads to a self-loathing attitude that is absolutely toxic. How can you form a positive relationship with anyone (platonic or romantic) if that's the self-image you've been taught to accept?

There has to be room for a non-toxic masculinity. What does a good man look like?

That's what I found encouraging about the end of the original article, and part of why it bothered me so much that it was buried. Here is a concrete example of a positive way for men to address a problem with toxic masculinity.

It's obviously not a perfect solution--the tricky part, as others have expressed already, is how do you find other men interested in providing this kind of mutual support? But it's a start.
posted by JDHarper at 4:04 PM on May 4 [18 favorites]


But that's exactly the sexist framing being spoken about earlier in the thread, the idea that if we can't center the conversation around men, or if people do not want men to center themselves, then the only solution is OH I GUESS I BETTER JUST GO AWAY BECAUSE I'M EVIL OR BROKEN rather than listening and helping to move the conversation along in a way that encourages contributions from all sides.

And I do kind of get it, but at the same time, when I started therapy, we started with a list of vocabulary words. And a feelings vocabulary wheel. And even emotion faces. And my therapist would ask me how something made me feel and I'd have to do the work and figure out what word went with what I was feeling.

And it is work, which is the point. The idea that women or queer or transfolks should help you along and be tolerant while you do the emotional labor of learning to talk about your feelings (when they have probably been dealing with it for years) because you're trying so hard is still asking them to do unpaid emotional labor. It's the same reason it's tiring and lots of people push back when someone blunders into a thread like GOLLY GEE WILLICKERS I DUNNO, I THOUGHT RACISM WAS OVER BECAUSE WE ELECTED A BLACK GUY? And when someone tells them to do their homework, we see the exact same HOW DARE YOU, YOU HAVE LOST A POWERFUL ALLY THIS DAY meltdown that we're seeing here and there even in this thread.

Let me quantify: I've spent about 5 years in therapy. Let's say 2 sessions a month at $125 each. (The low end, it's more expensive many places). That's $15,000 of work right there that I would've been asking women/queer/etc. folks to do for free for me so they'd have the "pleasure" of having me as an ally, otherwise I'd get mad and stomp off.

Would YOU do 15 grand worth of free work for anyone? I sure wouldn't.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 5:15 PM on May 4 [31 favorites]


There's 2 things: 1) sensitivity; 2) empathy; sensitivity is a part of empathy, but when we have the first without much of the second, then we have the 3rd thing: 3) dumping. Dumping is an honest cry for affirmation that sours & turns somewhat alienating, when a person expresses their personal hurts (annoyance, trauma) without the emotional maturity to balance a healthy reciprocal relationship with their, uh, audience. (One thing I've gradually realized over time: everybody hurts).
posted by ovvl at 5:22 PM on May 4 [5 favorites]


how do you find other men interested in providing this kind of mutual support?

In all sincerity (ie. zero "snark" intended), this would make a great AskMe question, and I'd follow it with interest even as a CIS woman. A couple of the men in my life have found such support through the military and/or 12 step groups, but those paths might be a bit drastic for the average guy.

One avenue where some of these issues are starting to come up is in the area of leadership studies, for example the work of Brene Brown on "wholehearted leadership" and the role of empathy and emotional literacy in making organizational leadership effective and, frankly, profitable. Framing the discussion within the language of business seems to work in encouraging at least some of the men I know to consider things they might not otherwise.

As an early GenX-er, I'm very heartened by this article and the discussion surrounding it, even with its bumps and rough edges. Over the years, my peers have often noted that the heterosexual men around us have very limited emotional outlets and avenues for expression aside from their relationships with their female partners, but until fairly recently, the prevailing attitude was that this was just something we all, male and female, had to accept. This new willingness to really interrogate the issue can only benefit all genders in the long run.

That said, it's telling that something like this is being published in Harper's Bazaar, and not in GQ or another publication marketed to men themselves. When I see this discussion taking place in a forum that is by and for men, and it focusses not only on the ways the issue is a problem for themselves, but for the people around them, I'll know we're really moving the needle.
posted by rpfields at 5:28 PM on May 4 [16 favorites]


I should note, in reply to Ghostride the Whip's post, that this doesn't really intersect with my actions as an ally, and it certainly isn't a perquisite. That's part of where the disconnect is coming from, I think. Again, I'm paying a damn therapist, and the suggestion that my main problem is not knowing the name of feelings feels off to me.

Hell, the whole point that I think a lot of people are making in this thread is that they don't have $15 000 dollars to spend on therapy, and they keep running up against the whole "pay me for my emotional labour" side of things when they really need help. It's a thorny issue! But I don't know that the answer to "I'm afraid to talk about my emotions, and have some serious things preventing me from doing that" can be "You're not actually in touch enough with your emotions."
posted by sagc at 5:42 PM on May 4 [3 favorites]


It is amusing to me that the thesis of this conversation is "men have problems processing their feelings and this is causing them to hurt those around them" and that we have reached a point where there are objections to "centering the conversation around men and their feelings." Well, yes, that is where the problem we're discussing is.

I think I must have been unclear though. I'm frustrated with the feminist attitude that men are garbage, and I have to make active efforts to not internalize that poisonous message for my own mental health. I am not asking you for any emotional labor; I recognize that members of an oppressed class have bigger worries than hurting my feelings. I'm not going anywhere; I need to hear what you're saying if I am to do better.

I'm saying "ouch" not "fuck this."
posted by JDHarper at 7:41 PM on May 4 [14 favorites]


I know a guy with a T-shirt that says,

HURT PEOPLE HURT PEOPLE

It's about child abuse (of the "A Child Called It" variety, not just the normal treatment of boys) and I like how it acknowledges all the victims without shying away from the fact that some of them are now perpetrators as well.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 8:29 PM on May 4 [5 favorites]


I feel as though some of the commentary here is comparable to "lean in" philosophy for women. That if you just perform in a way antithetical to what society expects and reinforces problems will just solve themselves. It tends to ignore structural forces that perpetuate harmful behaviors.

I am annoyed at the number of comments here that boil down to, "as a boychild, I was told to hide my feelings and I was punished for showing them, so it's not my fault that I don't know how to maintain meaningful friendships today."

This feels particularly mean especially given the fact that male identifying people here aren't saying "I have zero culpability" but that institutional forces make it extremely hard even as an adult to find or maintain meaningful relationships. In addition I would never minimize physical or psychological abuse people have suffered. I take people at their word about what psychological issues they have and how it affects their life as an adult.

I don't think there's any men in this thread who are saying "I deserve unreciprocated empathy from women". Primarily it seems to be people explaining the difficulties they face and asking for understanding.

I believe women when they talk about emotional distress brought on by patriarchy that I don't experience or fully understand. As far as I can tell most the men here are asking the same thing.
posted by Ferreous at 8:51 PM on May 4 [28 favorites]


Did the rise of fascism have anything to do with this, I wonder?
posted by clawsoon at 6:31 PM on May 4 [+] [!]


I suspect it did, yeah - for example, see this Wikipedia article: Model of masculinity under fascist Italy. To quote, "The model of masculinity under fascist Italy was an idealized version of masculinity prescribed by dictator Benito Mussolini during his reign as fascist dictator of Italy from 1925-1943. This model of masculinity, grounded in anti-modernism and traditional gender roles, was intended to help create a New Italian citizen in a budding New Italy."
posted by soundguy99 at 11:01 PM on May 4 [5 favorites]


I can only speak to my own experience as a traditional, cis, het, white male. I grew up immersed in a culture of Hollywood-cowboy masculinity, which gave great value to the standard tropes of men as protectors and providers and which definitely discouraged any male discussion of feelings and weakness.

I found great comfort in this in my time of need, and I am thankful that I had internalized these values.

When my wife became sick a few years back and couldn't work, and then became really sick and couldn't be with me and the children, part of me wanted to just fall apart, to just lie down in the middle of the road, to just give up. But that's not what my vision of masculinity told me to do, and so I swallowed my feelings and I took care of my wife and I kept the children fed and clothed and out of trouble. There was no room for me to talk about how I felt about these things, because my wife was literally and emotionally and physically falling away from us all, and I had to be the pillar of strength to keep us above water.

Dear readers, I did have a moment of weakness, just one. When my child came in one night to ask me about how things went with my wife that day at the hospital, I got out two words and then started to sob. I will regret that for the rest of my life, for my daughter, already desperately worried about losing her mother, was now terrified that her father might not be the rock she had always relied on to carry us through. She still talks about that night and about how frightened she was.

It was only because I had seen the other men in my life stand up and quietly take care of the things that needed to be done, that I was able to find the strength to do the same. It was only because I had internalized the messages of being strong and straightforward and of protecting and providing and of never ever showing weakness that I was able to nurse my wife back to health, keep things as normal as possible for my family, still work 40 hours a week at my job, and reassure my wife and children that all would be well and that there was nothing to worry about and that daddy was here and taking care of everything.

Brené Brown talks about toxic masculinity as a wooden box of rules that we can't break out of. I was able to take that box of rules which could so easily trap so many of us in what might seem like outdated and retrograde notions of manhood as provider and protector, I took that box and I used it to stand on top and I used it to keep our heads above water.

Funny thing, though. So essential to my sense of self (then and now) are these two masculine traits of provider and protector that when I saw the heavy cost we all paid over these last few years, I saw what needed to be done next and I did it: we're in family therapy to try and talk through and understand what happened to us. And so, in an effort to protect our children from their own fear and grief, and to provide a space in which our children feel safe to talk about their feelings, I'm now the first to talk about my feelings, and how difficult it was, and how scared we all were, and how it was OK to be scared.
posted by fuzzy.little.sock at 11:36 PM on May 4 [28 favorites]


There has to be room for a non-toxic masculinity. What does a good man look like?

I know that was a rhetorical question but I think it's really important. And as a woman, I too want to hear about and see examples of good men. So much so that I almost posted an ask but was hesitant about wording. Instead:

‘It’s a man’s problem’: Patrick Stewart and the men fighting to end domestic violence

Single Dad Creates Tutorials Doing Daughters Hair

Crafty Men Find Community in Knitting

Those are all public examples that are easier to point at and perhaps less helpful than personal examples. Maybe I'll think of good wording for the ask.
posted by bunderful at 8:08 AM on May 5 [7 favorites]


"HURT PEOPLE HURT PEOPLE"

That . . . seems pretty easy to misread as advocating violence, out of context.

Re positive examples of masculinity, I don't actually think we need to strive for non-toxic masculinity - I think "masculinity" and "femininity" are inherently flawed ideas, and that the best we can strive for is to be good people without worrying about how our behavior is gender-coded.
posted by aspersioncast at 8:32 AM on May 5 [7 favorites]


the best we can strive for is to be good people without worrying about how our behavior is gender-coded

Oh yeah. So far if I mentally line up examples of good men and good women, the only place where gender coding matters to me is where men cross gender lines. Like the guy braiding his daughter's hair - women do this every day, but for a man to do it is to make a statement that this is not women's work, this is just human work and I'm not embarrassed to do it. In a perfect world this wouldn't be remarkable in any way but as long as it is, I want to underline it.

But yeah. Good behavior is just good behavior. Respect, patience, courage, kindness, charity, curiosity, self-examination, helpfulness, willingness to apologize, change, help, listen - they look good on everyone.
posted by bunderful at 8:49 AM on May 5 [8 favorites]


think some of the issue here might be that the men that are engaging in the kinds of discussion on Metafilter about dealing with emotional labor are the same men who are already diligently trying to address these issues in their lives. So a response that's tailored to someone who has not done any of that work can be very frustrating when directed to someone who has been working hard in good faith to do those exact things.

I think what’s frustrating for me is that most of the cis men I see who are “diligently trying to address these issues in their lives” are only going from about 100 to about 95. They’re not dialing back very far at all, and they want so many cookies and praise for dialing back 5% and meanwhile they’re still splashing all over and still taking a lot of emotional labor in this thread and probably outside it. They’re still reacting angrily to being criticized, they’re still demanding that their feelings be taken as more important than the people they’re hurting, they’re still not even acknowledging that they’re hurting people.

I’m not tailoring my responses to people who haven’t done any of the work. I’m tailoring them to those who still haven’t done nearly enough.
posted by corb at 10:15 AM on May 5 [11 favorites]


I think we all need extra encouragement when we're doing something that's scary, that we've been punished for in the past, whether we're men exploring intimacy and emotions or women getting into math and computer science. Nothing wrong with some pats on the back to let us know that we're heading down a good, welcoming, worthwhile path. This is especially true, I think, when men who don't want to hurt people are trying to make the choice between isolating themselves and learning how to do emotions and intimacy.

I’m not tailoring my responses to people who haven’t done any of the work. I’m tailoring them to those who still haven’t done nearly enough.

To me, that sounds like you'd be nicer to someone who's unapologetically toxic than to someone who's doing a half-assed job of trying. Is that what you mean to say?
posted by clawsoon at 10:56 AM on May 5 [2 favorites]


I don't need emotional support to feel welcome in STEM; I never did (I'm a woman and a STEM professor). I needed (and unfortunately still need) the men in my field to stop actively sabotaging my efforts. Part of the issue here, from what I've read in this very valuable thread, seems like it comes from a tricky balance of men perhaps feeling like their efforts are being sabotaged if people don't give them emotional support for trying emotionally? Because at its heart this is an emotion/emotive problem, so that desire makes a lot of logical sense. I really see where that is coming from. However, it simultaneously glosses over some of the very real problems that happen when we ask for cookies, especially when the dynamic seems to naturally flow towards marginalized people being asked to give those cookies.

I was just reading the emotional labor thread again a few days ago for some reason that I can now not remember, but there I made a comment about the difference between a father braiding his daughter's hair and a mother braiding her daughter's hair that I think is relevant here. And I do think that a big part of the answer is that men need to do this work for other men. That also seems to be one of the major thrusts of the article: men need to do this for and with men.

I recognize that this is gender essentialist. I also think that talking about how everyone needs to be a good person without attending to gender or gender roles ignores that this is a structural problem with components that transcend individual behaviors. We need to tackle this issue on many, many levels, not just on the level of "be kind to one another/everybody needs a hug."
posted by sockermom at 11:52 AM on May 5 [16 favorites]


I'm female, and I just want to make the point that the "normal" way boys are raised in the US, especially a few decades back, was/is abusive.

And I think that there are people here, people who would put a "Nothing About Us Without Us" bumper sticker on their car (or bicycle fender) who are also a leaning a little hard on "why don't you just..." types of advice.

My husband (over sixty) was a fat kid, and he tells me someone hit him every day in school. Sarcastic mockery and verbal threats can also be traumatic. It's possible to get (or see someone else get) hundreds of those in a week. When people have experienced extreme negative feedback it stongly shapes, bends, twists their behavior.
posted by puddledork at 12:01 PM on May 5 [10 favorites]


(Change "behavior" above in last sentence to "responses."
posted by puddledork at 12:02 PM on May 5


Speaking only for myself, I wasn't trying to make excuses for anything. I just thought I'd share my experiences because this article resonated with me on a personal level. I've appreciated hearing that other people have had similar experiences, because one thing that goes in hand with a lack of male support is that I haven't had a lot of opportunities to talk about this sort of thing with other guys. Dealing with this stuff is a challenge, and it helps to know other people are dealing with it too.

I think it's useful to be able to express frustration or sadness without having to qualify it or defend it. There's not a whole lot of places for guys to do that online, because most of the predominantly male spaces are pretty awful. The only one I know of is on Reddit, of all places, at /r/MensLib (which isn't a great name, but they're careful to explain that they have very different goals than the Men's Lib movement from the 70s). It's generally a very supportive place, and if anyone is looking for an online, primarily male space for talking about male identity, I'd recommend checking them out.

Going forward, I'll bear in mind that not everyone on this site is going to know where I'm coming from; so I don't feel like I need to explain/defend myself, and so that I don't send a message I'm not meaning to send.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 12:57 PM on May 5 [10 favorites]


sockermom: I'm seeing less actual cookie-gathering than discussion about how to make these kinds of relationships work. In contrast, I am seeing a fair bit of actual sabotage in response, whether intentional or not. It's not your job to give out cookies, but it's also not your job to police or shut down conversations among abuse survivors either.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 1:12 PM on May 5 [8 favorites]


Seriously, it's not that hard to respond appropriately to stories about surviving abuse with "that sucks." That's not a cookie, that's a basic human courtesy.

And you can't have it both ways and demand that support systems for not-women attend to gender roles, while shutting down conversations about the abuse behind those roles.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 1:43 PM on May 5 [7 favorites]


I'm going to defend cookies a bit more, despite Metafilter's well-known anti-sugar bias. If some part of your development gets shut down when you're a child - at a stage when rewarding you with cookies (literal or metaphorical) still makes developmental sense - then when you restart that part of your development you're probably still going to be at a stage where cookies are useful and necessarily for you to maintain your motivation to keep developing.

It's good for men to make cookies for each other, though we shouldn't be surprised if some of the cookies come out like the misshapen lumps of dough that you get when you let a 3-year-old make their own.
posted by clawsoon at 2:20 PM on May 5 [4 favorites]


I am watching my (cis male) partner work really, really fucking hard at creating emotional bonds with his male relatives and friends, and I am watching those relatives and friends fail REAL BAD at reciprocating. So I fully hear what people are saying in this thread about the bind of being asked to do a thing that, at times, seems impossible because it has a component fully out of your control. And then being judged for not doing that impossible thing.

It's not unlike getting a bunch of unsolicited judgment and advice about finding a romantic partner, as if that were a thing you could do ALL BY YOURSELF and didn't require the consent of another human being with agency. (See: 100,000 AskMes.)

It really sucks to make yourself vulnerable and end up feeling judged, or even just feeling...blanked. It sucks to have to keep trying. In a just world, we'd all find romantic partners and friends and social networks with barely any effort, being that these are things we need so badly to thrive.

THAT SAID. A lot of things in life are unfair and stupid and suck, and we are obliged to keep working at them regardless, if we want to avoid the negative consequences of not doing so. Previously, men have been socialized not to recognize the internal negative consequences of isolation and emotional repression. And everyone, but especially women, have been socialized to keep them from feeling any external consequences, too.

This is the thing that is changing, and it is necessary that it change. Even though it will be difficult and painful for people as it changes. As a woman who has relationships with men, all I can do is pledge to be kind to dudes who are doing the work, and encourage the other people I know to do the same.

nth-ing the folks in this thread who have pointed out that therapy, while not universally available and wonderful and perfect, is nonetheless something many of us have managed to access despite our circumstances. In fact, every time my male partners have had mental and emotional crises, I am the one who ended up getting therapy. To deal with their crises. All of those partners had as much money (or at least as good of an insurance plan) and social capital and access as I did. Not denying that barriers to care exist, but plenty of folks refuse to access care even in the absence of those barriers.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 2:27 PM on May 5 [21 favorites]


My experience with therapy has made me wonder whether it has been shaped by having a century of having mostly people socialized as women as patients. Therapists have learned how to appeal to women to become patients, how to convince women to stay patients through the hard work required, and they've developed an effective set of techniques for helping women deal with the many horrible things which can and do happen to them during their socialization. Perhaps it's just my bad luck or failure to try hard enough, but it seems like therapy hasn't figured out any of these three challenges very well for men.

I guess that's the flip side of women having so many of their health problems dismissed as being "all in your head". As a man, I get the benefit of so much medical research being focused on men's bodies; as a woman, you get the benefit of so much therapy being focused on women's minds.
posted by clawsoon at 2:41 PM on May 5 [1 favorite]


As a woman, you get the benefit of so much therapy being focused on women's minds.

I mean, the psychiatric community had to work pretty hard to win us back after all of the forcible lobotomies and institutionalization and electroshock therapies administered whenever we proved to be horny, pregnant, or otherwise inconvenient to men. Despite all of that we still entrust our fragile minds and selves to therapists.

So you know maybe men can start meeting the therapeutic process halfway even if the modalities aren't perfect right from the get-go.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 4:10 PM on May 5 [27 favorites]


If some part of your development gets shut down when you're a child - at a stage when rewarding you with cookies (literal or metaphorical) still makes developmental sense - then when you restart that part of your development you're probably still going to be at a stage where cookies are useful and necessarily for you to maintain your motivation to keep developing.

Sure, this is all real. But I think the question really boils down to: who is responsible for providing those cookies? And also, should the people whose development is stunted be immune from all criticism while they're learning, even if they're hurting people?

Back to the article, we have stuff like this:
Kelly’s boyfriend refused to talk to other men or a therapist about his feelings, so he’d often get into “funks,” picking pointless fights when something was bothering him. Eventually, Kelly became his default therapist, soothing his anxieties as he fretted over work or family problems. After three years together, when exhaustion and anxiety landed her in the hospital and her boyfriend claimed he was “too busy” to visit, they broke up.
The article opens with a woman hospitalized because she was not capable of being a fulltime caregiver to someone who needed intense work, at the same time she was living with him. Did Kelly's boyfriend need re-parenting? Possibly! But it's an enormous, enormous, agonizing amount of work, and I think that doesn't seem to be understood in a lot of commentary on this thread.

Therapists do hard work, but at least they are paid for it, and they maintain strict boundaries to preserve their own sanity. They work with a patient for one, maybe two to three hours a week at most. You can't usually call therapists after hours - you don't have their cellphone. If you want, you can leave a message and they will check it in their own time. They have homes where they can go and retreat from their work environment and relax and be themselves.

On the other hand, partners of these cis men are often asked to do more than 20+ hours a week of emotional management. I know multiple heterosexual women in particular who do 40+ hours a week of emotional management - as much as a full time job. They are frequently asked to alter their living space, the private and public expression of their thoughts, and their own standards, so that the men involved don't have to confront directly the fact that they aren't measuring up. They aren't able to say their own honest opinions, and frequently, aren't allowed to live their own life with their own friendships. They don't have any space they can retreat to and just be. They hide just to have a breath to themselves.

And that is the context that men - who genuinely, genuinely, were often stunted in development - are walking into. And to be fair - often they do not realize how much emotional management goes into making their days more even keeled. The emotional labor thread is a good bit of it, but even it doesn't go into the thousands of small choices and decisions on a daily basis. Which food to make? Whose preferences in heating the house, in the music you listen to, in the decor, in the friends you have over jointly. So many of those tiny decisions are being made with the understanding that they must be made quietly comfortable, or else the man in the household will react badly with anger.

And so the men who realize that there is a problem are coming in and saying "Hey, I need more help with this", and they are often saying it to the women who have already been devoting the time of a part or full time job to helping. And it seems and feels insensitive. And a lot of women are tired of it, and say "do it yourself, because I can't." It's not that we're saying it wouldn't be good for men if they had someone to process with for twenty hours a week. It's that we're saying we can't do it anymore.
posted by corb at 4:12 PM on May 5 [23 favorites]


We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese: I mean, the psychiatric community had to work pretty hard to win us back after all of the forcible lobotomies and institutionalization and electroshock therapies administered whenever we proved to be horny, pregnant, or otherwise inconvenient to men. Despite all of that we still entrust our fragile minds and selves to therapists.

Now you've got me thinking about the fact that psychiatrists are mostly men, while psychologists are mostly women (with all the status and pay differences that typically arise from that). Not that psychology's history is harmless, what with Freud's construction of elaborate theories to dismiss sexual abuse reports from his patients, but it does seem like psychiatry has been much more "men doing things to women" while psychology has become, at least in the last couple of decades, "women doing things for women".
posted by clawsoon at 4:22 PM on May 5


corb: And so the men who realize that there is a problem are coming in and saying "Hey, I need more help with this", and they are often saying it to the women who have already been devoting the time of a part or full time job to helping. And it seems and feels insensitive. And a lot of women are tired of it, and say "do it yourself, because I can't." It's not that we're saying it wouldn't be good for men if they had someone to process with for twenty hours a week. It's that we're saying we can't do it anymore.

Thanks for going into detail; I appreciate it. It does make me sad, though, that it seems like the straw breaking the camel's back is not all the bullshit that these men are putting their partners through when they're being unreflective assholes, but the decision of the men to try to stop doing that. It's unfortunate that a stereotypically toxic man would be easier to deal with than a man who's just starting to figure out that maybe there's someone else they could be.

It reminds me of leaving the Evangelical church I grew up in because I couldn't believe what I was supposed to believe anymore. It was a lonely time, a no-man's land after leaving one community and having no idea how to find a new one. If your community of men has always been toxic, how do you find a new community? How do you know who to look for? (Especially when, as described in the article, these men's groups are organized like the Chinese Communist cells in the period of Nationalist rule, with complete privacy and word-of-mouth-only spread? If I was invited to something like that, I'd assume they were trying to recruit me to a cult and turn them down.)
posted by clawsoon at 4:59 PM on May 5 [2 favorites]


it does seem like psychiatry has been much more "men doing things to women" while psychology has become, at least in the last couple of decades, "women doing things for women".

Even were it the case that a category of therapeutic approaches are better suited to women, which tbh it seems like there would be hard evidence for... given that the entire rest of society being calibrated towards furnishing men with free emotional labor is the source of many of these problems, and women regularly have to adapt their needs to that state of affairs, men hypothetically needing to adapt the way they approach therapy seems like an especially poor candidate as a legit reason for cookie-seeking behavior.
posted by XMLicious at 5:08 PM on May 5 [4 favorites]


The article is great and I hope she writes more and maybe gets some exposure in men's media.

An old friend has killed our friendship by flaking out on 50% of ideas to hang out:whether it is cheap, short, or convenient to him, he is not committed enough and I'M OUT. He tried to explain his flaking as if I have endless flexibility and understanding. Nope.

His personality has changed in other ways thanks to a divorce where he took everything social for granted. Outgoing wife= kick back and wait for parties and invites to come to him for a decade.


His basic outlook now is: he can't believe someone divorced him and now he has to do all this talking and planning JUNK...

I have a feeling a lot of us have seen this play out with men who should be running to these social groups.
posted by Freecola at 5:13 PM on May 5 [8 favorites]


It was a lonely time, a no-man's land after leaving one community and having no idea how to find a new one. If your community of men has always been toxic, how do you find a new community? How do you know who to look for?

So, back when I was a bullied kid who hadn't yet learned all of the traditionally feminine-coded emotional/relationship skills, my mother gave me some advice that, I'll admit, felt a bit insensitive to me at the time and in the midst of that context; but that is very sound advice, as it turns out. Her advice was, "it takes a friend to make a friend."

How do you find a new community? You go out and make one. Yep, it's hard work. Might involve moving or making your community online if you live in an area with few potential other members for your community. Might involve specifically searching out (through Google, your local library, etc.) and studying up on relevant interpersonal skills as well as stories of others who have attempted similar feats. Quite possibly you'll have to do this with minimal help from in-person, mentor or coach-type figures (eg. a therapist).

I promise you, though, that if you research and practice the skills of being emotionally supportive for others, you'll find that community, and it won't take too long. Then you'll have a safe space to practice understanding and opening up about your own emotions, with the bonus that the women/femmes/already woke dudes in your life won't feel resentful of you for doing so, because you'll already be doing the reciprocal labor. It's like dinner parties. Dinner parties are a great way to build community! But you're not going to get a regular dinner party rotation among a group of friends started up by only and continually inviting yourself over to other people's houses, whether they feel up for dinner company at the time or not. Nobody likes a mooch. Instead, you have to start by hosting the dinner parties yourself.
posted by eviemath at 5:24 PM on May 5 [9 favorites]


Seriously, demanding both action and failure is a classic abuse pattern I've had to deal with repeatedly for almost 50 years now.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 5:38 PM on May 5 [2 favorites]


Folks, let's step back a moment and review the thread, shall we? The original post was an article in a magazine aimed at a primarily female audience, about an issue that affects many (heterosexual, cis) women, though also involves (heterosexual, cis) men and the patriarchal societal pressures on their socialization. The context of metafilter is that we have members and commenters of diverse genders. (Cis) women in the thread have engaged with the article (for which they were the primary intended audience) by talking about the phenomenon described and how it negatively impacts them. (Cis) men in the thread have engaged with the article by talking about the negative effects of those patriarchal societal pressures on them - a very real and important issue, but not quite the main thrust of the original article. Non-cis-gendered folks in the thread have added a variety of perspectives.

More specifically: an important point in the originally linked article is not exactly that men get socialized to be alienated from their emotions, but rather that men get socialized to not perform emotional support work for others. The "problem" posited in the first half of the article is not men's alienation from their emotions. It is the extra and specifically non-reciprocated emotional support work that women in relationships with men often have to perform (though with the secondary point of the author identifying this extra, non-reciprocated work as being a consequence of men's alienation from their emotions). This isn't to say that the (often traumatic) patriarchal socialization to alienate men from their emotions isn't a very real problem for men. However, it's not the specific problem that the linked article was primarily talking about. Which is to say, maybe a couple folks could reconsider how their responses in this thread are affected by other aspects of that patriarchal socialization, and lay off corb for talking about what the linked article was actually talking about, in a post about said linked article.
posted by eviemath at 5:48 PM on May 5 [19 favorites]


Therapy is problem solving, so you'd think someone would come up with clinics that are marketed that way to men.

I can see someone setting up these up like Minute Clinics or Crossfit gyms franchises and making some money! It would be normal to go to them after a divorce instead of wasting others' time on Tinder or depending on female coworkers to listen to deep problems.
posted by Freecola at 6:40 PM on May 5 [5 favorites]


eviemath: The article poses a problem, an obvious solution, and multiple examples of both. I'm really puzzled by the insistence on repeatedly attacking people who agree with both the problem and the solution, as opposed to just agreeing with the problem and considering it impossible to solve.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 6:50 PM on May 5 [2 favorites]


GenderNullPointerException, I don't see anyone in this thread "attacking people who agree with both the problem and the solution"? Per my previous comment, we are not, in fact, all agreeing on what "the problem" is. The "solution" that you seem to be positing to the problem you're preoccupied with is not a solution to the primary problem discussed in the article. No one is saying that your problem is impossible to solve (nor that it is unimportant!). Some of us are getting frustrated that some of the solutions posited ignore or would exacerbate our problem. Personally, I've been trying to point out that simultaneous solutions exist.

Regarding corb's comments, specifically: her initial comments focused on her own experience with the problem articulated in the article (women being expected to do unreciprocated emotional care work), and then responding to comments that talked about an also-important-but-different problem (traumatic socialization that alienates men from many of their emotions) - and, incidentally, that misconstrued her original comment that simply described her own experiences in her own life as an attack on other mefites - by trying to bring the discussion back to the originally articulated problem, and cautioning about who should reasonably be expected to do the work of solving the also-important-but-different problem.

On the very serious end of the same spectrum, often men who commit intimate partner violence have their own history of trauma. This does not excuse violent behavior, but it is a crucial part of understanding the behavior, which is necessary for changing our society in order to interrupt that pattern and prevent intimate partner violence in the future. I firmly believe that any justice system should be focused on rehabilitation rather than revenge, as well. So that means that society as a whole has a responsibility to engage with, heal, and rehabilitate men who commit intimate partner violence. At the same time, I very, very strongly believe that it is absolutely not the responsibility of anyone who has been harmed by a specific person to be involved with that healing and rehabilitation, unless they freely choose to be involved as part of a restorative justice process. This is corb's point, I believe. In her comments, she agreed that men should have support in connecting with their emotions in a healthier and more complete manner. At the same time, she pointed out that society as a whole having this responsibility absolutely does not mean that women who have been harmed by the situation already (like the woman whose story was described at the beginning of the article) should be the specific instrument of this general societal obligation.

My understanding is that corb clarified this in response to a couple comments from guys here saying that they wanted to become less alienated from their emotions, but either were afraid to try and work on that with other men, or had tried and failed, and thus either loosely stated or strongly implied that they felt that the women in their lives should be expected to step up and help them with that. I sympathize with the worry, but that would be the wrong conclusion.

It would be the wrong conclusion because those comments ignored what was the primary problem posed by the original article, and in doing so ignored a key component of the actual solution - which is that men who have not been doing their fair share of emotional support work in their relationships - whether as stoic cowboys or as emotional "gold diggers" - can start by learning the skills necessary to provide emotional support to others. Then, when they do the work of reconnecting with their own emotions, any assistance they get from romantic partners or friends will not be non-reciprocated, thereby solving the problem that the article was actually about, while simultaneously solving the also-important-but-different problem of men's alienation from their emotions. It doesn't have to be one or the other, or a contest about whose problem is worse. But the simultaneous solution to both problems does require that you acknowledge and recognize both problems, so that you are not misconstruing what other commenters are saying when they are talking about the other problem that is not the one you are focusing on.
posted by eviemath at 7:42 PM on May 5 [1 favorite]


It does make me sad, though, that it seems like the straw breaking the camel's back is not all the bullshit that these men are putting their partners through when they're being unreflective assholes, but the decision of the men to try to stop doing that. It's unfortunate that a stereotypically toxic man would be easier to deal with than a man who's just starting to figure out that maybe there's someone else they could be.

Uh, no. That's not what is being said even a little bit. The straw that breaks the camel's back is when you have worked a 12 hour day, shopped, cooked, cleaned, cared for the kids, all by your fucking self, and then your partner wants to keep you up until 2 am absorbing a fountain of rage-feelings (half of which come in the form of incredibly hurtful statements!) because he has nowhere else to put them but on you.

And when does he sit up late, wrecking his entire next day, to absorb your feelings? Half past NEVER O'CLOCK, friend. When you are crying yourself to sleep every night, he quite reasonably and logically insists that you go to therapy.

What is being said, is that some men (a lot of men) need more help than just a kind and listening ear. They need THERAPY. And women are not therapists, except for the women who literally went to school for many many years at great expense to become THERAPISTS. I can't reparent someone! I can't even first-parent someone! I can't heal someone's abuse trauma. I literally CANNOT, it's not a matter of not wanting to. If a male partner is coming to me expecting me to heal and process his abuse trauma I am likely to do more harm than good.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 7:52 PM on May 5 [20 favorites]


eviemath: You have fundamentally misunderstood my position, and I will not continue a discussion on those terms. It is actively painful for me. So I'm out.

If anyone wants a conversation about the multi-gender support networks I do work for, I'm on memail.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 8:17 PM on May 5 [3 favorites]


My understanding is that corb clarified this in response to a couple comments from guys here saying that they wanted to become less alienated from their emotions, but either were afraid to try and work on that with other men, or had tried and failed, and thus either loosely stated or strongly implied that they felt that the women in their lives should be expected to step up and help them with that. I sympathize with the worry, but that would be the wrong conclusion.

Oh woah, is that what people are getting here? Again, speaking for myself, that is 100% not at all what I was ever trying to get at, and I suspect the same is true for a lot of other people in this thread. Saying that something is a challenge doesn't automatically mean you think it's someone else's responsibility. Yeah, some people made that argument, but they seemed to state it outright. It didn't occur to me that people would think that was the argument I was making. Personally, I'm just frustrated with the way my own efforts have gone so far, and I think there can be a tendency to ignore the real challenges men face in forming supportive relationships. It's still my own responsibility, I just objected to the way that it was discussed in the article and in some comments here.

I think people have been talking past each other a lot more than many of us may have realized.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 8:32 PM on May 5 [12 favorites]


Yeah, count me in here with shapes that haunt the dusk as attempting to clarify what the process of attempting to deal with this *without* any sort of intimate relationship with women in my life is currently like - outside, again, of the formal relationship I have with my therapist. I was, at least in part, attempting to combat some of the talking-past I was seeing going on, where I feel there were a lot of unfounded assumptions about the circumstances of some commenters.

At least in my case, too, I can't be sure that it's about repression of emotions. I feel my emotions strongly, and I can generally pin the causes down pretty well. The problem, in my case, is that I've figured out that the reason that I'm depressed is this monolithic definition of masculinity. If I could renounce my gender, I would in an instant. But I present in a certain way, and I wish that the default assumption wasn't that I'm incapable of providing any sort of reciprocal support in a relationship. I recognized myself in the anecdote in the first article, but not in the male role.
posted by sagc at 8:40 PM on May 5 [8 favorites]


And to clarify, when I say that I feel my emotions strongly, I mean that internally. In social contexts, I'm generally assumed to be an upbeat, friendly, and equanimous - because, again, there seems to be an undercurrent that being anything else is to be demanding of others.
posted by sagc at 8:43 PM on May 5 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I think part of why we've been talking past each other is that there are two separate, distinct issues under discussion, and we've maybe not been very good at clearly articulating which one we're talking about at any given time. For example, sagc, is your "this" that you're attempting to deal with the alienation from one's emotions issue? Is it the gender imbalance in non-reciprocated emotional support labor issue? Or is it some third issue that I haven't understood?

Communication is hard, especially since both of these issues are important and very personal for folks! I will step back for a bit and work on just listening, and making sure that I am following my own advice if I post more in this thread.
posted by eviemath at 8:50 PM on May 5 [5 favorites]


fuzzy.little.sock: "When my wife became sick a few years back and couldn't work, and then became really sick and couldn't be with me and the children, part of me wanted to just fall apart, to just lie down in the middle of the road, to just give up. But that's not what my vision of masculinity told me to do, and so I swallowed my feelings and I took care of my wife and I kept the children fed and clothed and out of trouble. There was no room for me to talk about how I felt about these things, because my wife was literally and emotionally and physically falling away from us all, and I had to be the pillar of strength to keep us above water. [...] It was only because I had seen the other men in my life stand up and quietly take care of the things that needed to be done, that I was able to find the strength to do the same. It was only because I had internalized the messages of being strong and straightforward and of protecting and providing and of never ever showing weakness that I was able to nurse my wife back to health, keep things as normal as possible for my family, still work 40 hours a week at my job, and reassure my wife and children that all would be well and that there was nothing to worry about and that daddy was here and taking care of everything. "

It sounds like you went through some amazingly bad shit and did so really well and came out with new insight into yourself and you're processing the aftermath AWESOME with your family and I award you a billion dad points, like honestly it sounds like you did awesome in a shit situation!

When I read what you said, it reminded me really strongly of how I feel about being a mom -- that no matter how bad the shit is, I have to swallow my feelings and take care of my family and be strong and straightforward and protect and provide and create normalcy so my kids will be okay. And I very much recognize what you said as part of a traditional masculinity paradigm, including my own (very awesome) father, who tends towards stoic and practical -- and I have seen my dad cry exactly twice and, like your daughter, it scared the absolute bejeezus out of me because it was so unusual. So I definitely recognize and appreciate how you used a paradigm of masculinity to get this stuff done -- but I also recognize, as you talk about it, how much it is also EXACTLY the paradigm of motherhood that I (and many women) work to create every day for our kids, and especially so in times of crisis.

And I guess I'd like to ask you (or anyone else who identifies with your comment as a man or father) if you also see that commonality and, like, what you think of that? Or how you view it as different, if you don't see the commonality?

It just struck me really powerfully what a good description of mothering your description of how you used your "box" of traditional masculinity to get through this crisis was, and I'm curious if it struck anyone else the same way, and what others take from that. And maybe it struck me particularly powerfully because right now I'm reading a (non-fiction) book discussing the psychological and emotional needs of mothers dealing with certain particular crises with their children, but honestly, it read to me as a really great description of being a mom in a time of crisis, and I find that really intriguing, like maybe the elements of a healthy, non-toxic masculinity are actually already there, in the elements of a good parent, which are the same across all genders? I don't know. It just really struck me!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:57 PM on May 5 [16 favorites]


We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese: If a male partner is coming to me expecting me to heal and process his abuse trauma I am likely to do more harm than good.

I'm late to figuring all this out, but it occurs to me that someone who buys into
the female savior trope [which] continues to be romanticized on the silver screen (thanks Disney!), making it seem totally normal—even ideal—to find the man within the beast
is someone's who's buying into toxic masculinity, which means they're probably not someone who'd be good at getting their partner out of it.

Would, "I'm not qualified to help you with this, because I've also been buying into it and also need to find my way out of it," be a useful thing?

Or the converse from the man, i.e., "You're not qualified to help me out of this because you've been buying into it"?
posted by clawsoon at 3:50 AM on May 6


Freecola: Therapy is problem solving, so you'd think someone would come up with clinics that are marketed that way to men.

I find myself thinking about the comment someone (a Mefite, I think) made about what a bad idea it can be to send an abuser to therapy, since therapists usually affirm and build up. One of the side effects of therapy clients being mostly women is that therapy is mostly designed for people who have been socialized to put the needs of others before their own.

Maybe that kind of therapy would be good for a man who's been beaten down by toxic masculinity and never benefitted much from it, but it seems less useful for a man who's in a relationship where he's actively benefitting from his toxic behaviours. That seems like it would require a different sort of therapy, even if his desire to escape the toxicity is sincere. Maybe something more along the lines of the article's, "We deliver the truth and difficult feedback even if it might not be well-received," alongside the more typical therapeutic techniques about learning to accept and express your emotions?
posted by clawsoon at 3:54 AM on May 6 [1 favorite]


So much in this thread that was very good to read, many thanks to all.

Anecdotally, since becoming aware of "emotional labor" as a concept, the net result is I feel more exhausted when discussing anyone's problems and feel guilty ever unsaddling my own. Labor is fundamentally a thing to be avoided in my mind, framing it as labor makes the entire affair of addressing feelings feel even worse on every end

In response to this comment that very much resonates with me, and other people's attempt to quantify the hours of labour necessary for the emotional maintenance of any given man, I'm thinking of a comment I saw somewhere which pointed out that if what we do with these analytical tools is dissect every part of our lives for the purposes of commodifying that labour as well, we're definitely not using them as intended.

Which certainly isn't to say that we should maintain the currently unequal distribution of that labour, but the further we go towards making every social relationship a commercial transaction, the further down the path to hell we're treading.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 3:54 AM on May 6 [8 favorites]


GenderNullPointerException: Seriously, demanding both action and failure is a classic abuse pattern I've had to deal with repeatedly for almost 50 years now.

What does this mean? I ask because it seems like it would be useful for me to know about. Does it have something to do with set-up-to-fail syndrom, or is it something else?
posted by clawsoon at 4:02 AM on May 6


In response to this comment that very much resonates with me, and other people's attempt to quantify the hours of labour necessary for the emotional maintenance of any given man, I'm thinking of a comment I saw somewhere which pointed out that if what we do with these analytical tools is dissect every part of our lives for the purposes of commodifying that labour as well, we're definitely not using them as intended.

Recommended reading: Sylvia Federici's Wages Against Housework (and all of her follow-up writing and analysis on the topic).
posted by eviemath at 6:01 AM on May 6 [2 favorites]


the female savior trope [which] continues to be romanticized on the silver screen (thanks Disney!), making it seem totally normal—even ideal—to find the man within the beast

is someone's who's buying into toxic masculinity, which means they're probably not someone who'd be good at getting their partner out of it.


What? What does any of this have to do with anything I'm talking about? I'm not qualified to treat complex psychological damage because I'm a fucking English major, dude, not because I buy into the Disney savior trope. What an hell.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 6:48 AM on May 6 [6 favorites]


We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese: What? What does any of this have to do with anything I'm talking about?

I guess it doesn't - apologies. I guess I'm off on my own tangent, unrelated to what you were saying. Reading the article, it seemed like there was something like an enabler-addict dynamic going on with some of the couples, and I was thinking that maybe it'd be useful for the enabler and the addict to both realize that an enabler is not the best person to help an addict.
posted by clawsoon at 6:58 AM on May 6 [1 favorite]


I'm not qualified to treat complex psychological damage because I'm a fucking English major, dude,

yeah, exactly and plus, and, too:
Frequently in-family (or in-couple) people are the least capable of handling in-family (or in-couple) bullshit--because they're swimming in the same skankity water. I learned this dramatically myself a couple years ago. I know I've helped my friends; I'm hopelessly crap at helping my family. I can't help, there. I'm just as sick as they are because we're all in the same tank. (The water metaphor may be played out at this point.) Anyway, I was all the way won over to that Disney savior saint woman motif and subjected my suffering family to my efforts for years. It was an enormous relief to all involved when I finally really learned that I needed to quit "helping."

Also, I was mindlessly listening to NPR yesterday and Shankar Vedantam's really fantastic show about the placebo effect kept making me think of this thread. If you're somebody who doesn't want to pay for or can't pay for a therapist--and I sympathize despite my grumpy comment up there because they are expensive as hell and people are right that you have to flounder expensively for ages sometimes before you find one that works for you--per that show, you might try some outsidethebox options. I have a friend who reads tarot and reads people's astrological charts and is trying to learn herbs and a bunch of other stuff, none of which I believe in at all, but she's a fantastic help to me nevertheless. I sit through the yack about what the knight of cups signifies and then I hear what she's saying about whatever my question was and it's usually really helpful because though in my opinion she's deluded about the supernatural stuff, she's also really smart about people, and she's not in my skankity water, so she helps me. She's my friend, so she does these "readings" for me for free, but if I couldn't afford a therapist and she were cheap enough, I would absolutely pay her because she's good. per the Vedantam show, a lot of it is talking to someone smart about your pain and being heard and feeling understood. DoubleA: if you can't afford therapy and you're alcoholic, go to AA. Or just pretend to be alcoholic and go to AA. Those people are also great.
posted by Don Pepino at 8:50 AM on May 6 [6 favorites]


I can see someone setting up these up like Minute Clinics or Crossfit gyms franchises and making some money! It would be normal to go to them after a divorce instead of wasting others' time on Tinder or depending on female coworkers to listen to deep problems.

I work in the medical field and was reading some research on this and it’s exactly the kind of thing lots of medical clinics are starting to do to get men to actually come in. One hospital has like a “men’s lounge” so you can wait there and watch football and it’s more like a man cave than a waiting room. On the one hand, how silly, but on the other hand, if it gets them to show up, eh!

One other piece of research said the one time men will NOT ignore a problem and soldier on is when their dick stops working. Like if you can’t get it up or if you’re getting up to pee too much, then they actually go to the doctor. So they’re looking at training urologists to be like “while you’re here, let’s talk about sleep...” or whatever.

So maybe—my tongue is partially in my cheek—the marketing needs to be “if you’re happy, your dick is happy.”
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:33 AM on May 6 [9 favorites]


To Eyebrows McGee: I've been thinking about your comment all morning:

When I read what you said, it reminded me really strongly of how I feel about being a mom -- that no matter how bad the shit is, I have to swallow my feelings and take care of my family and be strong and straightforward and protect and provide and create normalcy so my kids will be okay. And I very much recognize what you said as part of a traditional masculinity paradigm, including my own (very awesome) father, who tends towards stoic and practical -- and I have seen my dad cry exactly twice and, like your daughter, it scared the absolute bejeezus out of me because it was so unusual. So I definitely recognize and appreciate how you used a paradigm of masculinity to get this stuff done -- but I also recognize, as you talk about it, how much it is also EXACTLY the paradigm of motherhood that I (and many women) work to create every day for our kids, and especially so in times of crisis.

And I guess I'd like to ask you (or anyone else who identifies with your comment as a man or father) if you also see that commonality and, like, what you think of that? Or how you view it as different, if you don't see the commonality?


Oh my god yes, that's exactly right. I remember at the time, when I would be making the medical appointments, arranging the play dates, and folding the laundry, that I was fulfilling my masculine prime directive to Provide and Protect. But really, as I see now in reading your comment, I was using my vision of masculinity to "man up" and become, well, the mom.

The irony is not lost on me.

And perhaps because I still carried around my box of gender essentialism (or perhaps because I was terrified of losing my wife), I was not very good at being the mom for those years. I got the food on the table, and I paid most of the bills, and I helped with the homework, but when my children wanted reassurance and comfort, my response typically was to sit with them on the bed, and hold their hands, and tell them that we all have to be strong for mommy, and that we would try not to think about anything else.

Not, in retrospect, the most comforting thing to say.

So, it's kind of ironic. The same paradigm that gave me the strength to be the mom, to (as you say) "... swallow my feelings and take care of my family and be strong and straightforward and protect and provide and create normalcy so my kids will be okay", which is probably the best definition of motherhood I've ever read, well, it also left me without any tools or skills to be very good at meeting that definition. And in retrospect, it didn't help that for years my wife was so fucking good at it that I never had to develop those skills.

One of the blessings of the modern age is that we don't have to be defined by the rules of gender essentialism. I hope my children will be able to take the parts of masculine and feminine and motherhood and fatherhood that speak best to them, and they will be able to form their own identities from that and use them in their intimate relationships.

One of the curses of the modern age is that despite all our work, we (even the best of us) can still fall into the trap of gender roles. I did nothing more than step into the shoes of my wife for a few years, and I get a billion dad points (thanks, Eyebrows McGee!). People in hospital waiting rooms and in children's playgroups called me a fucking hero, for god's sake, when I felt that I was doing nothing more than trying to be a good parent and a good dad, a good parent and a good partner, just like my wife had been for decades.

The irony is not lost on me.

I don't know if I have anything to contribute on what "healthy, non-toxic masculinity" might be. I don't know if what I did was particularly healthy. It worked, kind of, and it got us all through the dark times and out the other side. All I can do is tell my story, and talk about my mistakes, and maybe my children, my son and my daughter, can someday take from this what they need. Thank you again, Eyebrows McGee, for talking about this.
posted by fuzzy.little.sock at 11:48 AM on May 6 [21 favorites]


I am not a fan of gender essentialism, women who are socially isolated are experiencing similar issues. We all need friends. Humans are social animals. We need more than one other person to get by. I'll advocate for https://www.meetup.com/ as a good way to socialize without stress. Don't be discouraged by what appears to be a difficult task. Everyone grapples with learning to be a better friend. You aren't ever going to "finish" improving your mental space. The process of doing the work is rewarding in itself. Therapists are great, but maybe you want to start with something more low commitment. If you need to work through some things solo, the internet is a great resource for self-help. If you want some feedback, there are forums where you can anonymously post.
posted by domo at 12:27 PM on May 6 [2 favorites]


I think the best way to articulate what I feel like people are talking past each other with is that women being burdened as the sole providers of emotional support for men in their lives is a symptom and the disease is the extremely prescribed ways that men are allowed by society to express emotions/form relationships.

It's a structural problem and it's very hard to solve structural problems with individual action.
posted by Ferreous at 5:11 PM on May 6 [8 favorites]


Not to say that it isn't important for individual men to recognize and address how they affect women in their lives but doing that isn't going to change the underlying cause of the problem.
posted by Ferreous at 5:13 PM on May 6 [5 favorites]


It's a structural problem and it's very hard to solve structural problems with individual action.

in the earlier days of Vancouver's attempts to deal with the street level drug problem, the "four pillars" approach got a lot of mention, the basic idea being that you weren't going to adequately deal with the problem unless you took it on from four angles:

Harm reduction.
Prevention.
Treatment.
Enforcement.

... and that any one of these not working in concert with the others was doomed to fail.

This seems to be how you take on a structural problem -- the very first step being that you admit it's complex.
posted by philip-random at 5:37 PM on May 6 [9 favorites]


I just read this beautiful thread from top to bottom. I am so very grateful for all of the men / AMAB people talking about their experiences in this thread, as a cis man myself.

There's so much pain and memory and anger and hurt, but also so much thoughtfulness and introspection and care and ethical trying-to-figure-things out. Personally, I really see this thread as an incredible outpouring of feelings and experiences, amongst disagreement, empathy, and reflection. Thank you.

Some comments I really appreciated: grumpybear69, JDHarper, emjaybee, shapes that haunt the dusk, drewbage1847, sagc, and duffell, among many others.
posted by suedehead at 8:46 PM on May 6 [4 favorites]


women being burdened as the sole providers of emotional support for men in their lives is a symptom and the disease is the extremely prescribed ways that men are allowed by society to express emotions/form relationships

No, though. As I described above, even most of the men in my life who are comfortable expressing emotions beyond the societally prescribed ways still do not do a reciprocal amount of emotional caretaking and support in their relationships with women. These are distinct problems.

(a) Providing emotional support for others is a distinct set of skills from understanding or being connected to one's own emotions. There are trauma survivors with CPTSD or other mental health issues on the dissociative spectrum who are literally, neurologically disconnected or dissociated from some of their emotions, who are preternaturally good at caring for others' emotional needs (eg. due to hypervigilance). In the professional setting, effective therapists can be a hot mess in their own personal lives sometimes. Not often, maybe, since these skill sets are related and have some overlap. But they are distinct skill sets.

(b) There's also a can't versus won't distinction. It's like the housework - lots of (hetero, cis) men are perfectly capable of doing the housework. But have a look in the new thread on this topic - they don't(*). Research using time use diaries and such shows that even, often, when men think they are doing an equal amount of housework as their female partners, they aren't. And that's not even getting into different tolerances for mess between partners. The emotional care work of a relationship is similar. There are dudes these days who know how to provide emotional support - and there always have been, in past generations too. But many of these dudes still don't actually provide an equal or reciprocal amount of emotional support or care for their female partners in practice, even though they know how to. This situation is entirely distinct from the issue of men's alienation from their own emotions (except inasmuch as both are caused by patriarchy).

* "They" = "lots of (hetero, cis) men", not necessarily specific men in the other metafilter thread.
posted by eviemath at 12:54 PM on May 7 [8 favorites]


eviemath, I agree with you! And what I am hearing in this thread doesn't disagree with what you're saying.

What I am hearing in this thread is men / AMAB people saying:

"Yes, AND here is how expressing emotions and creating emotional relationships with other men / people is difficult. There are historical reasons and trauma related to how I grew up. There are social reasons, because even if I want to, other men don't reciprocate".

I see above not as excuses, but as sharing lived experiences. Of what what it is like to have been formed and seen as a "man", whether or not we identify as one.

--

It's like: the patriarchy and toxic masculinity fucks us all over, and it definitely impacts women ALL OF THE TIME. It impacts men also, and this feels hard to talk about to other men, partially because there aren't a lot of spaces to talk honestly and rawly about this, and partially because men talking about maleness risks decentering the conversation away from women. So, often erring on the ethical side of acknowledging privilege means err on the side of not talking about maleness. Which makes sense most of the time.

bell hooks writes about this a thousand times better than I just tried to in Understanding Patriarchy, which is a text I keep coming back to over and over, and I really really highly recommended to all the men in this thread, if you haven't read it already.

Separatist ideology encourages women to ignore the negative impact of sexism on male personhood. It stresses polarization between the sexes. According to Joy Justice, separatists believe that there are “two basic perspectives” on the issue of naming the victims of sexism: “There is the perspective that men oppress women. And there is the perspective that people are people, and we are all hurt by rigid sex roles.”...Both perspectives accurately describe our predicament. Men do oppress women. People are hurt by rigid sexist role patterns, These two realities coexist. Male oppression of women cannot be excused by the recognition that there are ways men are hurt by rigid sexist roles. Feminist activists should acknowledge that hurt, and work to change it—it exists. It does not erase or lessen male responsibility for supporting and perpetuating their power under patriarchy to exploit and oppress women in a manner far more grievous than the serious psychological stress and emotional pain caused by male conformity to rigid sexist role patterns.
posted by suedehead at 1:51 PM on May 7 [6 favorites]


"Yes, AND here is how expressing emotions and creating emotional relationships with other men / people is difficult. There are historical reasons and trauma related to how I grew up. There are social reasons, because even if I want to, other men don't reciprocate".

I absolutely agree with this. But it is not the same problem as the problem that the fpp article talked about and that many women in the thread are talking about. Nor is it the root of this problem that the article talks about, as you posited. They are separate, distinct problems. Both valid, both important, but neither one a causative factor for the other.
posted by eviemath at 1:58 PM on May 7 [4 favorites]


I absolutely agree with this. But it is not the same problem as the problem that the fpp article talked about and that many women in the thread are talking about. Nor is it the root of this problem that the article talks about, as you posited. They are separate, distinct problems. Both valid, both important, but neither one a causative factor for the other.

I think they're part of an interrelated system. Patriarchy leaves men emotionally stunted, making it much more difficult for men to have emotional relationships with other people. After all, empathy is a crucial part of providing emotional support; it's so much easier for me to support someone if I really feel where they're coming from.

And partially because how the ffp article ends, I think that conversation in this thread has morphed into a "men should talk to therapists AND other men AND create emotional support structures outside of their relationship partners" discussion.

So, I see the men in the thread saying "Yes, we should!! I would also like to share why it's difficult." Or as someone said above, I'm saying "ouch" not "fuck this."

And going back to what you said earlier: As I described above, even most of the men in my life who are comfortable expressing emotions beyond the societally prescribed ways still do not do a reciprocal amount of emotional caretaking and support in their relationships with women.

Yeah, this rings true. In my own relationship with my partner I am consistently worried / feel guilty that I'm not being reciprocal enough with emotional support.
posted by suedehead at 2:28 PM on May 7 [1 favorite]


(And as an aside to my last sentence above: I am pretty sure that guilt should not be a driving emotion in the long-term towards a healthy balanced emotional relationship, but currently it's a helpful emotion to harness alongside with joy, and care, and excitement.)
posted by suedehead at 2:32 PM on May 7


Absolutely. And at the same time, when some of us hear from the men in our lives, "I can't give you the same amount of emotional support you give me because I've been traumatized and alienated from my emotions", while we can and should be empathetic of that trauma and alienation, the causation argument doesn't follow. And we know very well that it doesn't follow, because we may have women in our lives who have also been traumatized and alienated from their emotions, yet who still provide emotional support to others. The use of that (very real!) trauma and alienation as an excuse to avoid reciprocal emotional support work in a relationship is a problem. If a metafilter thread were to primarily be about this non-reciprocated emotional support work in heterosexual relationships, bringing up the separate problem of men's alienation from their emotions would also be problematic, unfortunately, because it would derail the conversation. (*)

The problem of men's alienation from their emotions is also important and also needs to be discussed - and it sounds like the men's groups described in the article can be a good space for that, as can therapy if that's a feasible option for individuals, as can metafilter threads on that specific topic (*) - which should, likewise, not then get detailed by discussions of the separate problem of non-reciprocated emotional support work in heterosexual relationships.

* The original article linked in the post did talk about both problems enough that clearly different folks came away with different ideas of the focus of the article, based on what resonated most with them. Which means that neither discussion is entirely a detail here. But that also means that acknowledging the other discussion, or maybe being careful to specify which sub-discussion our posts related to, would be a good idea in order to avoid miscommunication.

What I'm responding to is that some comments (like yours that I originally replied to - if I've already convinced you otherwise, my apologies for beating a dead horse here) have directly posited a causal link between the two problems, with men's alienation from their emotions causing non-reciprocated emotional support work in hetero relationships. I do, specifically, disagree with the idea that the two problems are causally linked; and I think that making a causal link (as opposed to simply noticing that both are separate results of patriarchy) specifically harms the sub-discussion of the non-reciprocated emotional support work problem.
posted by eviemath at 3:00 PM on May 7 [9 favorites]


The use of that (very real!) trauma and alienation as an excuse to avoid reciprocal emotional support work in a relationship is a problem.

I completely agree!

I do, specifically, disagree with the idea that the two problems are causally linked; and I think that making a causal link (as opposed to simply noticing that both are separate results of patriarchy) specifically harms the sub-discussion of the non-reciprocated emotional support work problem.

I agree! I definitely agree that there's no deterministic causal link between "men's alienation from their emotions causing non-reciprocated emotional support work in hetero relationships", as you mentioned. I definitely agree that it's not so simple as X causes Y.

But honestly, I see most of the men in the thread as expressing their emotions, not complaining that they can't do X / don't want to do X. And I actually don't see anywhere where someone argues that it is a causal relationship.

I think this is a communication error. My partner and I have talked about how, us saying "I'm hungry!" is not necessarily a request for the other person to get us food, but sometimes just a pure request for empathy. Sometimes we ask each other, "do you want empathy or advice?" Or in other words, was what you said a sharing of emotions, or a request?

Maybe this is a question for us to ask some people in the thread: "was your comment about sharing or requesting?"

--

I'm also acknowledging that as a man myself, I might have more patience to talk about the patriarchy with men than a woman would, or to see these comments as emotional expression. And I think that's okay. That these comments may land differently for me than they would for others.
posted by suedehead at 3:38 PM on May 7 [2 favorites]


Ah, I see. When you described the problem of men not providing reciprocal amounts of emotional support labor for women they are in relationships with as a "symptom" of the "disease" of men's alienation from their emotions, I interpreted that as making a causal link, since that's how those terms are used in their more common, technical sense in medicine. Two things that co-occur without a causal relationship (possibly stemming from the same underlying issue, though not necessarily) would instead and more accurately be described medically as "co-morbid" - which, come to think of it, is a very apt or evocative phrase for the particular problems we're talking about in this thread! That's a different category of miscommunication than the "I'm hungry" example that you give. But I am glad that we seem to have more or less cleared up the causality miscommunication, at any rate.
posted by eviemath at 5:46 PM on May 7 [6 favorites]


(Ah, the symptom/disease comment wasn't my comment, and was made here).

Ah I see! Now I know a new term, thank you. "Co-morbid" is indeed, really apt.
posted by suedehead at 6:26 PM on May 7


Just wanted to say I really appreciated fuzzy.little.dot's story and Eyebrows McGee's thoughts about the gender associations. Still pondering the gender associations.

I was reminded of the "Ring Theory" guidance to comfort the people nearer the epicenter and spill your own emotional needs only on the people farther out. As a parent you keep your shit together with your children not to hide all your emotional turmoil but to present it so you're not leaning on them to carry the load as a peer or as your therapist. One point on a spectrum is to "be strong" for your children while getting support from friends, and another is to be strong while talking about your troubles to nobody, and another is to be strong while suppressing even internal consciousness of your troubles. Some gender attaches along there I think.
posted by away for regrooving at 1:04 AM on May 8 [3 favorites]


Arg. Apologies suedehead.
posted by eviemath at 2:41 AM on May 8 [1 favorite]


away for regrooving: As a parent you keep your shit together with your children not to hide all your emotional turmoil but to present it so you're not leaning on them to carry the load as a peer or as your therapist.

One idea that surprised me in a John Gottman parenting book is that some parents welcome negative emotions in their children because they represent a teaching+learning opportunity that isn't available at any other time. That's when a child can learn, with guidance from you, how to talk themselves through a negative emotion, how to not suppress it or be overwhelmed by it but instead work through what it means and respond to it appropriately.

When you're experiencing a negative emotion yourself, you can model the same process for your children; they'll see you having negative emotions, and they'll see how you handle them in a healthy way, and that'll help them learn how not to be overwhelmed by or dismissive of their own emotions.

I thought to myself, "That sounds like a good, reasonable idea." Then I thought to myself, "How the fuck do I do that if I've spent most of my life dismissing or being overwhelmed by negative emotions?"

I've spent the past decade gradually learning. I've discovered along the way that I did have some of those skills already, but I was compartmentalizing them. If I got a bruise or a cut, I responded appropriately to the pain. If I had a bad experience in a relationship, or got bored at work, I catastrophized. Part of the learning process for me has been transferring skills I already have from one compartment to the others.

Just like with a cut or bruise, "How long is this going to last?" and "What does a healthy healing process look like?" are two questions that I've been slowly learning the answers to, and that helps a lot with not being overwhelmed. I'm trying to pass what I'm learning on to my daughter as I figure it out myself - starting with her cuts and bruises.
posted by clawsoon at 3:31 AM on May 8 [8 favorites]


Clawsoon - if you don't mind me asking, when you say you catastrophized, what does that mean? (Trying to figure out what I'm doing because I'm doing something)
posted by drewbage1847 at 9:05 AM on May 8


This page has a pretty good definition:
Catastrophizing is an irrational thought a lot of us have in believing that something is far worse than it actually is. Catastrophizing can generally can take two different forms: making a catastrophe out of a current situation, and imagining making a catastrophe out of a future situation.

The first of these is making a catastrophe out of a situation. For instance, if you’re a salesperson and haven’t made a sale in awhile, you may believe you are a complete and utter failure and you will lose your job. In reality, it may only be a temporary situation, and there are things that you can do to change this situation. Another example is believing that if you make one small mistake at your job, you may get fired. This kind of catastrophizing takes a current situation and gives it a truly negative “spin.”

The second kind of catastrophizing is closely linked to the first, but it is more mental and more future oriented. This kind of catastrophizing occurs when we look to the future and anticipate all the things that are going to go wrong. We then create a reality around those thoughts (e.g. “It’s bound to all go wrong for me…”). Because we believe something will go wrong, we make it go wrong.
I usually use the first definition.

A recent example: A couple of Sundays ago, I became convinced that I would never be interested in my job again. I was anxiously weighing whether it was ethically okay for me to keep working at my job, since I was so sure that my boredom was forever and I wouldn't be able to do good work.

By a couple of days into the week, I was completely engrossed in a new problem at work. What I had convinced myself was a permanent situation was actually laughably temporary.

(There's a second thing that I was doing which led to this situation that I don't know the name for, but I'm sure it's a well-known thing: Looking back, I realized that my boredom was a secondary effect of having something I had worked hard on be received with no interest the week before. I was hurt by the reaction but didn't realize/admit it, and I transmuted it into boredom instead, without realizing what the original cause of the boredom was. Anybody know what that's called?)
posted by clawsoon at 11:34 AM on May 8 [1 favorite]


clawsoon, I would say that is probably "transference" where you move one feeling from a person/situation/place to another. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transference

Transference is a phenomenon characterized by unconscious redirection of feelings from one person to another. One definition of transference is "the inappropriate repetition in the present of a relationship that was important in a person's childhood". Another definition is "the redirection of feelings and desires and especially of those unconsciously retained from childhood toward a new object".

I moved back to my home state but a city I've never lived in January '18 and partially it was to have friends again. I've reconnected with some, made new ones... but something just happened this week with an old high school friend that has me questioning a lot. I guess I should have known to let that one go awhile ago. I get now that I am away from the moment and him that he was hurting me because he didn't understand or have a way to deal with his emotions, but damn, it sucked. I imagine he thinks he did nothing wrong. He certainly will never respond to my text message after the fact saying that really hurt my feelings, and we could talk about it later.

Anyway, I catastrophize so much in my life. It's really my worst quality, probably. I have to actively struggle to not slam the door emotionally on people in advance of my being hurt. Of course, one time I should have done it a long time ago, I didn't which is this case. I am constantly saying to myself that no one likes me for or that I've failed and will be fired because .
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 12:14 PM on May 8


I am constantly saying to myself that no one likes me for or that I've failed and will be fired because .

One thing I got from reading about CBT (cognitive-behavioural therapy) was the idea of keeping track of what I think will happen versus what actually happens. It helps to see how many times my catastrophizing turns out to be silly, and to learn to laugh at myself a bit when I realize it's happening.
posted by clawsoon at 12:26 PM on May 8 [6 favorites]


I'm a Jason Isbell fan because of his music, but I also really liked his reflections on fatherhood (Men's Health) and male friendship (WNYC podcast, transcript courtesy of NashvilleScene.com). The latter is a conversation between Isbell and one of his friends, Will Welch, editor of GQ Magazine, and includes this great reflection about how they've connected with each other over time:

"WW: Well, what I value about those conversations over the years is that they very rarely — they're kind of like rooted on a foundation of sobriety. But basically have nothing to do with using drugs or alcohol or any of it. So it immediately becomes a conversation that is much more about what's going on with us emotionally, how we're connecting with people or not, what's going on in our respective marriages and it all feels like in a way we're talking about sobriety, but we're actually never talking about like drinking. We're not like: "Man I'm really white-knuckling it right now.""

More high-profile examples of men reflecting on the quality of their friendships, please.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:31 AM on May 9 [3 favorites]


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