Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Man Behind the Walls

In my previous two posts, I've been talking about some of my anxieties and fears around women, which I think quite possibly has to do--if only in part--with why my opposite-sex attractions are not as direct or physical as my same-sex attractions.  As I've continually tried to make clear, I'm not saying that women are to blame for my difficulties, as many women have been good to me, especially my wife.  But, the same as a woman who has been mistreated by just one man or a group of men may have issues revolving around men in general, even if she's rational enough to know that's not the men's fault, so too I have some scars I have to work on regarding women, who as an overall group bear absolutely no fault for it.

In the post immediately before this one, I had clarified that I believe the first of the three posts was pointing to two things.  The first was that I feared that women, upon seeing my basic personality and traits, would not see me as masculine, but as "harmless," which I argued is mutually exclusive with being masculine.  In this post, I'm exploring the other thing.

The second thing, the thing that touches on a very deep insecurity, is the thought that even if the average woman can see me as a man, a "lion," upon a first or surface impression of me, she certainly wouldn't if she saw the real me.  This is something I'm surprised I ever overcame with my wife, but somehow I did, and rather early in our friendship.  Before meeting my wife, I had always thought I'd just have to keep up a wall, a facade, in order to be taken seriously by a woman.  Even when women have born their hearts and souls to me, I have feared that if I did the same in return they might "see how pathetic I am," and lose respect for me, so I've kept the walls up.

I'm hiding somewhere on the other side.

Here's how I am when the walls come totally down:  I can be petty, I whine and complain, I get upset over little things that seem childish, and I am moved to a tearful sorrow ridiculously easily.  I'm mushy and sentimental, the sort of guy that wants to say "Awwwwwwwwww" over anything remotely cute or adorable, or over anything sad.  I cry pretty easily at times, whether at sad movies, or sometimes even over inconveniences that I've somehow exaggerated into tragedy.  I can be confused, inconsistent, passive aggressive, just plain passive, timid, obsessive, worried about what people think of me, scared, and often a nervous wreck.  "You big baby!" is a phrase that many might be tempted to throw at me as they watch me freak out or complain about some seemingly trivial slight or problem.  And that's not just on a bad day.  I'm not saying these things display themselves dramatically on a daily basis, but on any given day it's probably easy, for someone I really allow in, to see those traits in some capacity.

*In the past, I've had women (not a majority, and not constantly, but enough to leave a mark) mock or criticize me because of these traits, in sharp and hurtful ways.  Often enough, this was done not in private, but in front of other women and sometimes even in front of my fellow men.  So it's relevant that I didn't see most other guys I knew being treated this way.  When I've described these interactions to my wife, she pointed out, with a woman's perspective, that they were treating me not as a man, but as girls will treat other girls if they think they're too weak, whiny, or whatever; her words make sense to me, and for obvious reasons that explains why it was so emasculating.  In fact, there was a period of time in my life when I received sharper and more "public" criticisms from women than from any of my fellow men, who--for all the stereotypes of men being less empathetic than women--were surprisingly understanding, perhaps because they, being men and knowing that they could be big messes inside too, didn't feel that they were solid rocks of manhood themselves.

Might be a little uncomfortable for a special lady to cuddle with, anyway.

So it's easy, now, for me to think that my wife is simply a rare exception to some overwhelming rule about how most women see me.  If I see a woman on the street, I fret that she would laugh me to scorn if she knew how I really am.  I have no temptation, unlike the average guy, to sexualize women at the beach, no matter how skimpy their suits, because how can I be attracted to someone whom I fear--if she was allowed a real glimpse at how I am--would mock me?  I'm not saying that it would be a good thing to struggle with objectifying women at the beach or on the TV screen, but often blessings are mixed with curses:  The blessing of not having that struggle comes, for me personally, with the curse of hardly being able to see the feminine body as a sexually magnetic thing at all.

But it's only natural, if on average I would feel unsafe letting women in, that I wouldn't have any sexual urges inherently tied to the female form either.  Because one (among others) important part of sex, a part that I think subconsciously underlies sexual attraction--yes, even in men--is the total vulnerability.  In sharing your naked body, you are expressing a deeper sharing, the sharing of your naked soul, heart, and mind.  If some subconscious part of me recoils at the thought of being able to bear my deep nakedness with women in general (with my wife appearing to me to be an exception that only proves the rule), then it's normal that the general concept of sharing bodily nakedness with a woman would fail to arouse me.

To highlight all this, I think it's worth mentioning the way I perceive men, whose bodies do tend to hold more potential for evoking a response from me.  When I look at a man to whom I'm attracted, I tell myself, correctly or not, that somewhere inside he is "like me," a belief helped along by the fact that we're both men.  I believe that he has the same messy person in there as I do.  Even if he doesn't display the traits I do, I tell myself he knows he's just as capable of it.  Women, in my imagination, have some unrealistic idea that men are emotionally steady and have less concern with such petty things than I do, so that a man like myself is "less than" a man; but if I'm telling myself a man is in some sense the same as I, then he can be trusted not to have such unrealistic expectations.  He's safer.  Now in our culture, I know plenty of men are cruel and mock guys like me, just as I know that in reality plenty of women are not at all like the few who have given me such a hard time--in High School, in fact, my worst tormentors were guys, not girls (for that reason, though, I think it shocked me and cut me much more deeply when girls did partake in the same behavior toward me).  But somehow, my immediate gut reaction to an attractive man is to think of him as being able to empathize with me due to "knowing what it's like," where my immediate reaction to such a woman, unless she somehow proves otherwise like my wife did, is to think she'll find me "pathetic" and not "man enough" for her.

Notice:  Losers will be dismissed out of hand!

Yet again, I don't fully know what to do to change my anxiety.  It's been years since any woman has consistently treated me in a way that made me feel emasculated, and I was never treated that way by the general female population.  In fact, I had many of these anxieties before any female treated me poorly, with the short span of time when I did experience it merely reinforcing these fears, not being their source.  Since puberty I always had the fear that, in order to have a significant woman in my life take me seriously, I would have to become "another Josh," a Josh who would be more traditionally regarded as masculine, and I could never take that persona totally off in front of her, not even if we married.  I don't know where this impression comes from.

This time, though, there is one thing I think I do know.  It truly is masculine to exercise self control.  When it comes to the litany of faults I mentioned before, for the ones that are actual flaws--such as being petty or whiny, as opposed to the neutral traits that our culture merely considers unmanly, such as being sentimental or "too" emotionally expressive, which I don't consider inherently unmanly at all--it's the mark of a man to not simply say "Well, that's just who I am!" and expect that women (or men, for that matter) will just accept it; rather it is his mark to work at changing those things.  I'm not excusing anyone who would treat me poorly for these flaws.  But I'm saying that, even if it is their responsibility to recognize that treating me poorly wouldn't help me overcome such flaws, it's my responsibility, by God's Grace, to be transformed.  When the day comes that I've made progress there, the day when "the man behind the mask," who I am in my own home or among those I trust the most, is someone whom I feel is manlier, perhaps the general thought of letting a woman see him won't be so scary.

*Note:  This is not a "blame game."  The marked paragraph is not about blaming anybody nor holding them responsible.  Any such incidents happened a long time ago, besides which I take responsibility for my own reactions, feelings, and the things I've internalized.

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