The masculine, problem-solving mentality has its place but also a price. Learn how one man reconnected with his self and family through his feminine side.
About a year ago, I walked into the bedroom to find my wife Morgan sitting on the floor, furiously writing in her journal. I smiled a hello and quickly noted that something was afoot. I sat across from her and asked what was happening. She broke into a long explanation of a new challenge she was having with our eldest daughter, my step-kiddo, and I sat, paid attention, and listened.
Well, that’s not entirely true.
While I was indeed sitting, paying attention, and listening, my masculine brain was in deep overdrive.
I am well-trained as a professional coach, engineer, and a MAN, so my inner computer was coming up with an epic project plan with detailed steps and milestones to solve all the problems she names. While she continued to speak and provide more information, I was modifying and updating my esoteric project plan, building a most beautiful Gantt chart, and believing I can solve this issue quickly, efficiently, and easily.
Then she stopped speaking, looked into my eyes, and asked, “So, what do you think?”
In response, I breathe in, pause for dramatic effect, and start to elucidate my project plan in simple organized steps. Then I notice that Morgan’s face is tightening and her eyes are narrowing. My brain translates quickly that something significant is amiss.
I ask: “Is this not what you wanted?” She pauses a long beat: “I actually just wanted you to validate my feelings.” Ah yes, validation, feelings… she’s asked this of me before.
To validate her feelings shows my willingness to put myself into her shoes to ensure that I truly ‘get’ what she is saying and create a field of empathy for deeper intimacy and connection.
Dr. Deborah Tannen, in her best-selling book, You Just Don’t Understand (1990), discusses how women like to speak in ‘rapport talk’ to create more intimacy while men tend to speak in ‘report talk,’ which is designed to exchange information without much interest in emotions.
In my rush to be what I thought she wanted me to be – helpful, useful, and supportive – I’ve rushed over what she actually wants: to be seen.
So I slow down and use humor to defuse the situation: “Ah, feelings, YES! My miscue! Let’s try that again.” I imitate the slapping of Hollywood movie clapboard, “Okay, take two.” My disconnection with my wife is alleviated and our conversation continues. However, I am shaken by my obsession with the dominating masculine part of my psyche.
The truth is that while I’m truly happy to adjust my methods and behaviors to create more connection with my wife, the masculine side of my personality doesn’t like to slow down. I am a man of action, a problem solver, and it seems deeply inefficient to take the extra steps to worry about feelings. Like some internal Paul Revere, my system is screaming. “There is an issue! Quick, sound the alarm, slide down the fireman’s pole, let’s get this party started.”
The challenge with this masculine-drive-run-amok is that I’ve alienated my wife, the person I most want to help. Her desire is that my feminine side connects before offering a solution.
Men in our society are taught to divorce ourselves from all things feminine. In his book, I Don’t Want to Talk About It (1997), Terrence Real states that “our culture teaches boys to repudiate the ‘feminine’ in themselves, to hold that part of themselves in contempt.” Feminine means weak or soft or slow, and to compete in today’s world, we need to focus on the masculine aspects of production, forward motion, and success. Real further says, “Society rewards self-objectification in men. It gives men privilege. It reinforces their superiority.”
I am seeing in this very moment that I feel superior to Morgan and her problems and I sense my deep internal need to save her. By removing any emotional connection to her experience of overwhelm with the children, I am standing above the fray and not allowing myself to FEEL her deep angst.
Logic and a fine project plan have kept me clean, but disconnected.
After this experience, I make myself a vow that I will no longer try to fix Morgan’s problems without first slowing down to connect with her. My attempts are clumsy at first. About a month later, I have the opportunity to step up to the plate again. This time, when confronted with her problem, my response is: “I can completely understand how that would make you feel. That must have been terrible.”
Her response is to smile a slightly rueful smile and squint her piercing eyes at me. She teases me good-naturedly: “You’re horrible at this.” She’s right. It is like I’m reading these hackneyed lines she’s giving me off a script.
I know that my system is still closed, and I don’t want to truly connect with her painful experience. I don’t want to feel.
I really just want to fix everything so I can slip back into that holier-than-thou place above the fray. She lets me know that she appreciates me trying and then gives me the problem to solve. I feel like a dog who has just been given a bone to chew on.
My history passes before my eyes. My mother likes to tell the story of “King Robert.” She says that when I started first grade in the suburbs of New York, I was a wild child. I was adored by my mother and my kindergarten teacher and not ready for the negative censorship of Mrs. Duffett, my teacher who had myself and twenty-five other rambunctious children to tend to for six hours a day. I was taken aback by her demands that I be quieter, smaller, and better behaved. I didn’t understand that my previously allowed boy behavior was now being frowned upon. I quickly learned the importance of coloring inside the lines.
My education continued through my formative years to stifle my feelings and energy. Writer Christina Hoff Sommers wrote in her controversial book, The War Against Boys (2000), how schools in the latter part of the 20th century started to skew towards girls by altering school curricula to less ‘boy-centric’ activities.
I was taught to push my feelings into a box in order to get along.
I ventured through college, graduate school, my first and second jobs, and even marriage without paying much attention to my feminine side. While I was intuitively a good listener and a good friend, with some connection to my emotions, I mainly treaded the waters near the surface of my psyche. I became adept at avoiding dramatic situations, picked partners who were more deeply emotional than me, and became the archetype of a ‘steady man.’ I was the one guy in the room you could count on when things turned ugly. I was the designated driver, the one to pull your hair back if you ever needed to visit a toilet and let loose your emotions, and that close friend that women loved to tell tales of boyfriends who mistreated them. I was the dutiful son who called his mother several times a week.
I was that guy — successful but disconnected.
Then, in one of those moments that would change my life forever, I made a complete fool of myself in a room full of strangers. From there, I saw the importance of connecting to my feelings.
Fast forward to the time I am sitting across from Morgan, running my masculine mouth off. By now I’ve spent twenty years on my own personal development, moving away from that disconnected man. I have learned the pros and cons of being connected to the softer feminine side of myself.
I have embraced the darker sides of my emotions: rage, fear, hubris, and jealousy. I’ve come to no longer fear my own emotions; however, I still hesitate to get into the mud.
I continue to work on my own resistance through therapy, conversations, coaching, writing, and relating to Morgan.
I start to see the impact of keeping myself disconnected. I then start to visualize how it would be to fully dive in. In a deep meditation practice, I finally tap into the rules I have set for myself around my feminine from my father, my peers when I was young, from society.
I let go of the responsibility of being the ‘steady guy’ and become more and more unhidden, real, and available.
As with any other practice, I continue to integrate the lessons into my life, make mistakes, learn, and get better.
Recently, when Morgan brought me a new challenge about the kids, she immediately asked for what course of action we should take. “Wait.” I said. “Let me validate your feelings first.” She turned to me with a warm smile and matching eyes and nodded at me. Score one for the feminine!
You may also enjoy reading Self Reflection: Journaling as a Means to Greater Understanding and Growth by Fateme Banishoeib