It’s obvious that you can’t talk about relationships and leave men out of the equation.
First of all I want to say that, I like men.
After talking to thousands of them in person and over the ‘net’ I believe that in general they are well intentioned and mainly ( like women) trying to do the best they can.
When I asked for willing male volunteers to talk about relationships with me, I found that they had few conceptual thoughts about them, although they were on the whole very happy to answer any questions that I might have.
Numerous times they told me that they did not like being ‘tarred with the same brush’ as other men, any more than women would like to be stereotyped in this way. They wanted to be treated as individuals.
Having said that some common themes emerged.
Most of them seem to be completely mystified about relationships. When their answers showed insight into current or previous partnerships, I asked them how they had developed this understanding and most of them cited wives, ex wives and female friends.
When talking about relationships and love, many men who had a failed relationships behind them said to me the equivalent of ‘I couldn’t have tried harder in my marriage and it didn’t work so why should I try again?’
There is also a very fair chance that they are still paying for the ex-partner and children well after the relationship has broken down.
But a more recent theme is emerging, that is being talked about by some vocal, articulate writers and artists who believe that men and young men in particular are in crisis.
In an article by Jamie Doward in The Guardian entitled ‘Let’s reach out to men to halt the shocking suicide rate’, in October 2015, he highlighted that in 2014 suicide was the single biggest cause of death among men under the age of 45, with a man taking his life every 120 minutes in the UK. The article also suggests that
‘It is a myth that men do not want to talk about their problems, we see from our research that men feel that they shouldn’t need such support, that they are failing as a man when feeling suicidal.’
The article also quotes Robert Stringer the father of 18 year old Hector who took his life in 2011.
‘Wives and partners often wish for men to be in touch with their feminine sides so that they understand how they feel, but the moment a man bursts into tears and appears to ‘lose control’ or be less of a man they are truly shocked and don’t really like it’
He goes on to say:-
‘Men should be dynamic, problem solving, in control, go-getting, vital, successful and soft as and when required. Men’s magazines are about tight abs, not how you feel. Currently there is no real way of reaching men to discuss how they feel. As a bloke, if you go out with your mates, you drink a few pints, you talk sport, you might moan about the missus, but you won’t talk about your feelings, about how you can’t cope. Your mates would run a mile. They don’t know how to talk themselves. Men don’t; it is not seemly’.
This concern for the emotional and mental health of men was also highlighted by the artist Grayson Perry who when talking on the BBC One Show in on 28th April 2016, said that he believes the reason that men don’t share their emotions is that they don’t have the emotional language.
He also suggested that men are as emotionally complex as women and probably more so – but that they don’t have the language or societal permission to express their feelings. He also believes that men are a ‘stranger and more interesting bunch’ than they let on.
In his TV Series on masculinity called ‘All Man’ the artist who has never shied away from being different himself, investigates what it means to be a man in today’s society, whilst immersing himself in the very macho cultures of cage fighters, traders and hedge fund managers and police and drug dealers. When talking about the lack of communication between men he says
”This culture of silence, could be at the heart of why male suicide is reaching “epidemic” levels in the UK.“I don’t think men are always encouraged to be sensitive to themselves and to recognise that what they’re feeling is sadness. They’re not encouraged to notice what they’re feeling,” he says: “One thing that keeps coming up is that men have this kind of skin in a way. It’s their muscles, it’s their tattoos, it’s their bravado, it’s their banter. It’s all the things that we think of as masculine.“The weight of that very armour they build up in the end is quite a burden.”*
*Huffpost Lifestyle 5th May 2016
Talking on the TV show ‘Loose Women’ on 5th May 2016, he goes on to say
‘Men are like the jailer and the prisoner at the same time, so that they all look at each other and themselves to make sure that they don’t step out of proper male behaviour. It’s very tightly policed being a man. When you become a man, become an adolescent particularly 14 year old boys you look at the way they patrol each other and if they step out of line, they’ve touched an almost invisible electric fence that says ‘sissy’ and it’s very tightly controlled. They are very aware because they want very clear rules, particularly when they are young and I think that with men there is a horrible dissonance between this idealised man that they have all got inside their heads that’s sort of telling them how to behave and how they want to be normally’.
This connection between the suicide rate and the emotional lives of young men was also echoed in ‘Who Stole my Spear – How to be a man in the Twenty First Century’ by Tim Samuels a BBC documentary filmmaker and TV presenter.
In this witty, informed and open account of his experience of being a man, Samuels talks about
‘the media barrage, filling our heads with unattainable expectations’ and how ‘the roles and certainties cemented over millennia have fallen away’.
He also suggests that ‘there is an urgent need for men to talk about mental health’ since ‘an awful lot of men out there are having a tough time…’.
Reflecting on how women are better at recognising they have a mental health condition and seeking help he goes on to say
‘Men can learn a lot from this readiness to talk, to show vulnerability rather than bottling everything up. Our proud silence is killing us.
Echoing Grayson Perry he writes: ‘It’s also difficult, though to find the right language to talk about mental health – to tell people what you are feeling. And in a way that doesn’t appear emasculating’.
So what have the suicide rates in young men under 45 to do with relationships?
The answer is everything. Today women rely more and more on their men to ‘be there’ for them when they are going through difficult or even trivial times, replacing the extended family of mothers, aunties, sisters and friends that were previously there to listen and offer emotional support. From the comments of Grayson Perry, Tim Samuels, Jamie Doward and Robert Stringer, it is clear that many men are not able to deal with their own emotional issues let alone provide the emotional support to their partners that is expected of them these days. I believe that men lack the emotional awareness to understand that they need support. Until they have the behaviours and language to be able to nurture their own emotional selves they will not be in a position to nurture the emotional lives of their partner and nurture the needs of the relationship.
This lack of emotional maturity is compounded by the changes in dating and relationship patterns that have happened in the last 60 years. Of dating Samuels says
‘What was once a structured activity with its implicit codes and mores to push against is now a baffling free-for-all that sits right on the fault line of shifting gender relations.’
Men and relationships….. to be continued in the next blog ….
Men and relationships part 2 …..
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