My epiphany struck in Publix.
I was shopping with a friend and just slightly ahead of him. I found myself keeping tabs on whether he was coming with me or not. I started to feel a tinge of insecurity. He was more alpha than me. Was I going to assert my independence, or was I going to have to follow him if I wanted us to stick together?
At that moment, I had an astounding realization:
This must be what it feels like to be a woman in a relationship with a man!
You see, in my past experiences of dating and relationships, I’ve often seen women as somewhat, well, weak.
Take some strong and independent women and put them in a relationship with a man and— voila! — they suddenly turn into ricotta cheese.
At least, that’s what I used to think.
But in trying to navigate my way around a grocery store with another human being, I realized that these women aren’t weak at all.
They’re certainly not dependent on anyone but themselves and they are nothing at all like cheese of any kind.
These women are relational.
Psychologist Carl Jung said that men have a feminine aspect and women have a masculine aspect. He called these parts of ourselves the anima and animus, respectively.
And guess what the anima (i.e., the feminine side) is all about …
And isn’t that what so many of us men need to learn? Oh, we think we’re relational. But it’s kind of like that scene from Inside-Out, when the daughter is having a bad day and the wife looks at her husband and makes a face, trying to get him to empathize with their daughter.
But he’s thinking about hockey, and he’s totally missed the conversation. So, he goes and asks his daughter how school was — the exact question his wife had just asked.
The wife rolls her eyes and thinks about the Brazilian helicopter pilot she could have married.
We, men, for whatever reason, aren’t wired to be relational. It’s something we learn, if we ever do, through our relationships.
That’s why we constantly hear women say they need to train men for the first several months–or years–of their marriage. Men, being more independent-minded, often miss the subtle cues of loved ones, as they focus on the business of slaying dragons (i.e., providing for their family).
Growing up, the idea of being relational or showing any kind of vulnerability equated to being weak. So, just as countless generations of boys/adolescents have done before me, I stuffed it. My feminine side, that is.
I used to love drawing with crayons as a kid. My favorite color combination was dark, forest green, and deep pink. I would sit in a booth at my dad’s restaurant with my 64 count box of Crayola crayons and get lost in a world of color.
Once I got to junior high, however, the color pink was promptly banished from my life. Wearing a pink shirt to school would have been unthinkable.
Today, however, it’s wonderful to see boys in school wearing pink shirts–and thinking nothing of it. They are free to express their feminine side — all their sides — in a way that just wasn’t possible when I was growing up. As I’ve allowed these divorced parts back into my life (see: Robert Bly’s The Long Bag We Drag Behind Us), the quality of my relationships has expanded.
But as Jung says, “There is no coming to consciousness without pain.”
In my case, the pain came from walking the messy walk of vulnerability in my relationship. You see, to be truly relational means being willing to admit shit: when you’ve been hurt; when you’re feeling down; when you don’t believe in yourself. In other words, to let someone in where you feel least safe.
My last relationship was the first time I practiced real vulnerability. It was scary, ugly, messy, and beautiful. At first, I was the one listening to her being emotional. I was her emotional rock. And, yet, I also made her feel like she was somewhat crazy.
One night we were in bed together with the lights off. We had been really struggling — and so had I. In the dark, I started talking to her, just above a whisper. As I continued talking, a stream of thoughts and feelings poured out. And at that moment, I realized what I was most afraid of: by committing to her fully, I would have to sacrifice what was most sacred to me.
She felt me, as she would say, and I was able to get to the root of why I wasn’t fully giving myself over to the relationship.
Conventional man-wisdom says that men don’t do this kind of stuff. If we’re having problems, we go to our man-cave until we’re ready to face the world again — as if nothing ever happened.
We’re great at fronting, pretending, and, when necessary, lying to get you to leave us alone.
Why won’t you leave us alone?
But you don’t leave us alone, do you? Your relatedness radar is equipped with a heat-seeking missile, with one and only mission: get us to relate. We respond, of course, with the ol’ shake-n-bake, as we scan for our escape route.
How’s all this evading going?
One just has to look at all the problems in the NFL with strong, masculine men beating on their wives and girlfriends. Or the statistics on domestic violence. These issues are directly related to men being unable to show up as a whole man for their partner — or with anyone, for that matter.
We’ve been conditioned to be this way because of the adverse effects of being judged as effeminate. The last thing a dude wants to appear as is too much.
Perhaps those of you reading this who are women can finally understand something about the men in your lives, and why we haven’t always been very relational or vulnerable …
It’s hard as fuck for us, that’s why.
This process is terrifying for most men. It sure as hell was for me. Actually, it’s so unconsciously terrifying that most men won’t even consider going through it. No man wants to admit to his girlfriend that her words just hurt him. We’d rather raise our voice or our fist or grab the car keys and take off.
For you, it’s the water you swim in. For us, being vulnerable requires us to do what is most antithetical to what we’re trained to be: your strength, your pillar, your rock.
Of course, being vulnerable and relational isn’t really weak. But for men, that’s often how we perceive it within ourselves. It’s so much easier for men to see it in you and label you weak than it is for us to face the feeling of vulnerability within ourselves.
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Do you wonder why men make you feel like you’re crazy in your relationships? It’s because we’re so detached from (read: scared of) our feminine side. And since we can’t allow ourselves to be that way, we project our insecurities onto you. Now, it’s your relational/feminine aspect that’s weak.
In fact, a woman’s craziness will always be proportional to her man’s lack of relatedness. This isn’t news to you. Aren’t you happiest and feeling the least crazy when you feel completely related (i.e., connected) to your partner? And isn’t the opposite also true?
Can you see how we’ve come full circle?
Women aren’t weak; they pose a challenge that men don’t know how to wrap their heads around.
Women point to an aspect of our being that’s not just under-developed — it’s hiding out in the Witness Protection Program.
We’d rather make you wrong than taking on the Herculean task of befriending and owning our emotional/relational side (i.e., our anima).
I think the best thing that women can do is to trust themselves. Trust your feelings and don’t ever allow a man to manipulate you into doubting yourself. If you hold the bar high, men will (eventually) rise to the occasion.
Besides, self-respect is sexy.
And if you’re with a man who is on the messy path of integrating his anima … try to be understanding. He’s on his way to becoming a fully-operating human being.
“Feminism isn’t about making women stronger. Women are already strong. It’s about changing the way the world perceives that strength.”
— G.D. Anderson
Alex Obed is a life coach exploring non-monogamy and polyamory. He specializes in love and dating topics.
This article was originally published at AlexObed.com. Reprinted with permission from the author.