As an increasing number of women choose to remain single, as more men than ever fall victim to incel culture and extremism, and as a perfect embodiment of toxic masculinity leaves the White House, the cost of shallow, emotionally-stunted models of manhood is a worldwide crisis.
Let’s face it – it sucks to be a man right now.
As a guy, we’re given a few options of manhood to choose from, and we make our choice, hoping it’ll bring us success, love, sex, esteem and some kind of purpose and fulfillment. This process starts early, and most of us have been sold a particular brand before we even realize a choice has been made.
We know the options well by now.
One popular brand is the strong man, the go-getter, the tyrannical self-made-man. This role can bring a man money and respect, but it will cost him his sensitivity, his awareness, his empathy, his heart. Men who buy into this brand often forget how to be tender and vulnerable, so they make reckless and distant husbands and fathers, causing damage in their families and their communities.
Another popular brand is the dude, the joker or the bloke. Innocuous, inoffensive, easy-going, fun. He drifts through life without purpose or direction, doing his best to seem appealing. He wants to blend in: acceptance is his goal. But he brings no inspiration, no fire, no new ideas. He doesn’t ruffle any feathers, and he likes it that way.
What other options have we got? The f*ckboy? The soldier? The rebel? The sensitive, new-age hippie? Without really knowing it, so many men are doing their best to embody a shallow, dysfunctional model of manhood; one which has no answers to so many real-world situations.
They don’t know what to say to their kids when they ask ‘why?’ They don’t know how to be with their partners during emotionally difficult conversations. They don’t know how to handle failure.
We’re not stupid. We play this game for really good reasons. We want simple, important things. We crave them. Love. Belonging. Identity. A sense of fulfillment and pride in our accomplishments. Peace.
We know that other options are out there (there are enough books, podcasts and life coaches in the world now!) but we stick with our brand. The risk of losing identity, even a shallow one, is too high.
But the risk is even higher if you keep pretending that shallow, external models of manhood are enough for you. And it’s not just a men’s problem.
An alarming number of women are talking about giving up on men entirely. And frankly – who can blame them? Men are a mess, they’re toxic, they want their lovers to be their mothers, they’re unwilling to face their own demons and get therapy. They’re unreliable, can’t form stable connections with women, and meaningful communication is likely to just involve sending a picture of their penis.
Not to mention, chasing after these shallow models of manhood leaves us wide open to manipulation. As traditional roles for men disappear and our lack of self-awareness is exposed, we’ve seen an explosion in plastic surgery, radicalization, substance abuse and mental health issues amongst men.
So what do we do about this? The answer is simple, but hard to do: We Go Deeper. We must study the existing brands of masculinity and we notice the temptations that they stir up within us.
Yes, I want money, I want safety, I want intimacy, I want approval. Yes, I admit those needs exist within me. I understand and accept my needs, and I begin to take full responsibility for meeting them myself. I work, maybe with professional help, to understand myself much more deeply. I go back to first principles: I begin studying my emotions and learning how to listen to them. If I’m carrying unresolved, childhood traumas, I get help to resolve those. I begin to forge a new identity that isn’t given to me by somebody else. I begin to find my own authentic self.
Trouble is, carving a new path is much harder than slipping into a familiar or well-worn track. It is easy to embody a shallow role. It is much harder to allow your own humanity to form your identity.
But it’s worth it.
Once we do this work, we emerge as men who aren’t chasing approval or safety. We carry those things within ourselves. We are truly strong. We have a clear vision for where we’re going and what we want. We know how to keep healthy boundaries and express healthy vulnerability. We become great lovers, husbands, fathers and leaders.
And as more and more men do this, we can begin to tip the scale – replacing the toxic, outdated versions of manhood that our culture continues to teach our young men.
Alexander Butler is the author of Deep Joy: 12 Words to Unlock Your Potential and Build an Amazingly Fulfilling Life published by Clink Street
If you believe in the work we are doing here at The Good Men Project and want a deeper connection with our community, please join us as a Premium Member today.
Premium Members get to view The Good Men Project with NO ADS. Need more info? A complete list of benefits is here.
Photo credit: iStock