background of a man’s life and the foreground of a woman’s,” says psychologist Josh Coleman, PhD, author of The Lazy Husband. “Testosterone affects most feelings in men, who compartmentalize and intellectualize more. Women seem naturally more in touch with their emotions, while men have to work at it. But when they do, it’s a win/win situation. Their relationships are happier, and they’re much happier too.”
MALE BRAIN DRAIN
Thirteen years ago, businessman Chris Schroder, 48, of Atlanta, had it all: robust good health, the job he’d always wanted, a wife and two children he cherished. In one soul-searing month, he was hospitalized with appendicitis, he was laid off and his marriage fell apart. He never saw it coming. “All three legs of the tripod of my life were kicked out from under me,” he recalls. “I had been cruising along, not expressing much of anything, not aware that you need to and not knowing how to.”
Why are many men so emotionally clueless? Blame the male brain. “Men are hard- wired differently,” explains David Powell, PhD, president of the International Center for Health Concerns, who explains that the connection between the left brain, home of logic, and the right, the seat of emotions, is much greater in women.
“Women have the equivalent of an interstate highway, so they move readily between the right and left brains. For men the connection is like a meandering country lane, so we don’t have such ready access to feelings. This may explain why, in 125 studies in various cultures, boys and men were consistently less accurate at interpreting unspoken messages in gestures, facial expressions and tone of voice. Men also react less intensely to emotions—and forget them faster. In an experiment at Stanford University, photographs of upsetting or traumatic images triggered greater activity in more regions of female brains. Three weeks later, the women remembered more detail about the pictures than the men. In similar ways, the researchers speculated, a woman may continue stewing over a tiff or a slight her husband has long forgotten.
Divorce, which typically is more emotionally devastating for men, forces them into unexplored emotional territory . “1 had to face raw emotion for the first time,” says Schroder, who recently remarried after more than a decade on his own. “For years I wrestled with deep, intense feelings I never knew I had. Once you’re in touch with your emotions, you can’t bottle them back up. Now I appreciate life more. I’m in touch with my creative side. If I’d known everything I’ve learned, I might have been a better husband.”
THE CRYING GAME
The first time that Robert Westover, 41, of Washington, D.C., saw his dad cry was the day he graduated from the Marine Corps boot camp where his father and grandfather had trained. “A little tear ran down his cheek,” he says. “I was shocked.” Growing up in a military family with three brothers, Westover learned to eat fast, talk loud, compete ferociously and keep his feelings under guard. “Showing emotion, he says, “is a no-can-do among men. Boys learn this lesson early . By age one, they make less eye contact than girls and pay more attention to moving objects like cars than to human faces. Both mothers and fathers talk less about feelings (except anger) to sons than daughters, and boys’ vocabularies include fewer “feeling” words.
In the playground, if not at home, boys learn to choke back tears and show no fear. Their faces, once as openly emotional as those of girls, become less expressive as they move through the elementary school years.
As adults, men use fewer words, and they talk, at least in public, as a means of putting themselves in a one-up situation—unlike women, who talk to draw others closer. Even with friends, men mainly swap information as they talk shop, sports, cars, computers. “Women talk to clear their heads, but men think before they talk,” says psychiatrist Mark Goulston, MD, co-author of The 6 Secrets of a Lasting Relationship. “If they didn’t, they’d risk saying something stupid and being real humiliated or offending another man and getting beaten up. They’re safer not saying anything.”
What lurks behind a man’s silent, stoic mask? Vulnerability. Most men, experts agree, are far more insecure than they like to admit—and than their wives ever even guess.. “Inside every man is a secret fear that he lacks competence and courage, that he’s not as manly as he should be,” says Goulston. “A man knows he is really supposed to take a bullet for his family. A man knows he is supposed to fix whatever gets broken. When he’s feeling powerless, he shuts down and withdraws.”
As gender roles and rules have loosened, some men—dubbed sensitive New Age Guys (SNAGs)— have dared to let their softer side show But many men remain confused about how much they can dare to share. “In one breath a woman says she wants us to be emotionally open,” says Westover, who is divorced. “In the next minute she wants us to be her rock. Women are asking us to perform these most incredible emotional gymnastics, and it is messing with our heads. Men don’t have a road map or a role model to show us how to be both emotional and strong.”
WHY MEN EXPLODE
Although women get angry just as often as men, rage remains the prototypical male emotion. “My kids still talk about my ‘freak-outs,’ “ says Kim Garretson, 54, a corporate strategist in Minneapolis, who once erupted into volcanic fury in a large restaurant when served a still-frozen entrée. “I didn’t express much of anything, but once in a while, I’d just blow.”
Why do so many men lose their tempers? “The rage comes because there’s so very much frustration when you cut off something that is you. Yet that’s just what men do, because they’re afraid that if you give emotions an inch, they’ll take a mile,” says psychologist Kenneth W. Christian, PhD, also author of Your Own Worst Enemy. “If you don’t develop all of yourself in some way, if you don’t learn how to work with your emotions, you’re a shadow figure, a small truncated version of yourself. It’s only a matter of time until the house of cards that you are falls apart.”
For Kim Garretson, that day came four years ago when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. As often happens when illness strikes men, he realized he had nothing to lose, and everything to gain, by letting himself feel. “I’m no longer afraid of expressing almost any emotion,” he says. “I get anger out with my quick, sharp tongue and move on . I use humor as an outlet. I’ve reconnected with the old friends. I talk about the big questions of life. I search for spiritual meaning. I am so full of exuberance and joy that my wife describes me as giddy.”
GUYS, TRY THESE
In his “Dirty Harry” days, Clint Eastwood never flinched. Now as a hus-
band, father and Oscar-winning director of movies that explore the depths of men’s souls, the tough guy has turned tender—but not talkative. “The men who hide their emotions the most may in fact be the most sensitive,” observes Christian. Yet men can become more emotionally expressive without tears or fears. Here are some of the ways to start:
• Develop a creative outlet . Hobbies like painting or playing a musical instrument can tap into a man’s soul. Remember that much of the world’s greatest art, music and literature was created by the allegedly emotionally challenged sex.
• Release stress and anger through exercise. “When you get to the breaking point where you just want to put your head through a wall, taking a ten-minute time-out isn’t enough to calm down,” says Westover, who in moments of very extreme emotion finds a place to drop to the floor and do push-ups.
• Try expressing “a little” emotion. “Start with feelings you can control,
find a sympathetic ear and use the term ‘a little,’ “suggests Coleman. saying you feel “a little” sad or “a little” scared feels safer than a full declaration of vulner-ability.
• Lean into the discomfort. “Rather than avoiding a feeling that you’re not
sure how to handle, move toward it,” says psychologist Travis Bradberry, PhD, co-author of The Emotional Intelligence Quick Book. “Learning to handle emotions takes time and practice, because you need to retrain your brain, but it does get easier.”
WOMEN BE AWARE
“A man is like a hermit crab,” says businessman Chris Schroder. “If we trot out our emotions and get burned, we’ll roll right back into that shell and may not ever come back out. We can’t be bullied or cajoled into sharing our emotions. We have to be seduced over a period of time until we feel safe.” Some ways you can help your man be more comfortable with his emotions:
• Talk side-by-side rather than face-to-face . “Getting in a man’s face makes
him feel competitive or confrontational,” says psychologist David Powell. Rather than looking at him across a table, sit next to your husband.
• Do something physical together. When you hike or bike, a man’s defenses come down. Let topics bubble up naturally, but don’t force a man to walk and talk, or he may balk.
• Watch a guy flick. “There’s a 95% tear factor when a group of men watch Field of Dreams,” says Powell. “Sports is the archetypal bond between men and their fathers, and for most men the most primitive, important relationship in their lives is with their dads.” Don’t try to dissect the movie or analyze his childhood. Just be present.
• Don’t press a man to talk about a bad day. “If he’s just spent the day struggling, he may just want to get away from the pain,” says psychologist Ken Christian. “What’s the point of being miserable all evening when that won’t solve the problem? Show, don’t tell. Talk may be a woman’s favorite form of foreplay, but men view sex as a form of communication. “We men express so much of our emotions physically,” says psychologist Powell. “Sex is our way of expressing affection.” Rather than pressing a man to translate feelings into words, speak his language.
• Let men know what emotional support you need. In her research, psychologist Lisa Neff, PhD, of the University of Toledo found that husbands can be as emotionally sensitive and supportive as wives, but often their timing is off. “Men aren’t oblivious, but wives need to let them know what they want and when they need it.” Say what he means to you. “At a quiet moment, ask your husband, ‘Have I ever made you feel that I don’t admire and respect you more today than when we first met?’ ” suggests psychiatrist Mark Goulston. “Tell him that you feel blessed to have him in your life, and you’re sorry if you don’t let him know that often enough. Most men’s jaws will drop.”
NOTE: How do the men in your life handle their emotions?
Tell us at www.rd.com/community.
‘I LOVE YOU, MAN!’
The nuts and bolts of male friendship.
By: William Speed Weed.
F OR MUCH OF THE 20th century, most people believed that men were too out of touch with their feelings to make friends. True intimacy was just for women and sissies. “There was a wholesale feminization of friendship,” explains Michael Kimmel, a sociologis~at State University of New York, Stony Brook, and author of The Gendered Society.
For decades, sociologists used a female gauge to measure friendships: If two men didn’t talk on the phone every day and pour out their hearts, well, their friendship wasn’t as legitimate as that of two women who did. But now researchers are just realizing that two laconic men may understand each other as well as two prolix women.
Still, men are sharing more . Clinton and Gore hugged each other when they heard their election results. Bush’s eyes welled up when he was sworn in. Tom Cruise gushed about love on national television. In April, 2005, The New York Times used the phrase ‘man date” to describe the growing phenomenon of straight men having dinner, going to museums and doing other non-sports-related activities together.
“Men are emotional,” says Kimmel. “They disclose weakness and build trust.” They just don’t always do it the way women would. Male friends do more together hut talk less than female friends. Yet that doesn’t make male friendship any less remarkable or important . Here’s an inside look.
Male friendships can take root in “those transitional periods in our lives—becoming a father or a busband, getting a divorce, dealing with a parent dying,” says Robert Heasley, a sociologist at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, who is doing a long-term study of male friendships. When two men meet while going through the same thing at the same time, there’s often an instant connection.
That happened with Larry Hirschberger and Gary Fine, both fathers from the Ithaca, New York, area. They had met once, because their wives had worked together, and they got separated within a year of each other, both keeping partial custody of their kids.
Hirschberger sold his house, while Fine kept his. In what should be a Hollywood sitcom premise (“The Odd Couple” meets “The Brady Bunch”?), Hirschberger and his kids lived with Fine and his daughter—for nearly five years. “There was a lot of mutuality in what we were going through, and that formed our friendship,” Fine says. “We both wanted to be good fathers in a difficult time, so I’d be doing the dishes and he’d be in the other room reading to the kids. We supported each other that way really well. ” Both men have since gotten remarried and moved into separate homes, but they’re still close friends, having bonded over a common emotional event in their lives.
Kimmel maintains it goes deeper than that: “Friendship is one of the major avenues of self-exploration” in life . We are wired to use our friends as mirrors for our own growth, so it’s no surprise that we reserve the special category of friendship for people who are like us, usually in age, temperament and curiosity.
Work would seem an obvious locale of common interest for men to form bonds, but “friendship requires exposing vulnerability, and that’s dangerous in a competitive environment like work,” notes Peter Nardi, a sociologist at Pitzer College in Claremont, California, and editor of the book Men’s Friendships. While most guys are amiable at work, very few find their closest pals there, because they don’t develop the trust that friendship demands.
THE TRUST EQUATION
Trust has an age-old recipe, says Nardi: one part disclosure,
one part reciprocity, one part intention.
Disclosure: In short, you have to open up, lay aside the public face you use for the toll taker and the grocery clerk, and let someone in. It can happen while doing things together that expose weakness, such as playing golf and hitting it into the rough. And it can happen when men assist each other, say, by letting a new acquaintance help fix the car or build a deck.
“Men are still taught not to expose their anxieties and that opening up emotionally is unmanly,” says Nardi, “so men find other ways to fill the same requirement of establishing trust.” Once the relationship is forged, many men will communicate their emotions to close friends. Like the four Yankees in the article “A Winning Friendship”, men often know one another’s deepest feelings through the efficient expression of a look or a nod—not by talking.
Reciprocity: If a friendship is to prosper, any vulnerability shown by one man has to be matched by the other in some fashion. I tell you about my father, and you share something about yours. I play racquetball with you, and you include me in your poker night. You do the dishes, and I’ll read to the kids. “Reciprocity is key at the beginning of a friendship,” notes Nardi. “You keep tabs on each other. But once trust is established, this becomes less important.”
Intention: Most people have had the experience of seeing promising friendships evaporate into thin air because no one bothered to commit to spending time together. It takes the dedication of scheduling that bike ride, that time at the diner, that afternoon tuning up the cars in somebody’s driveway. If new friends can just schedule a standing commitment—to lunch, to tennis, to a monthly kayak trip—all the better. When all three ingredients are in place, a friendship is born.
BAND OF BROTHERS
It makes sense, then, that the military has long been the quintessential cradle of men’s friendships. War comes with built-in common interests (staying alive, and being homesick). A soldier’s vulnerabilities are naturally exposed, whether he talks about his fears aloud or trusts that the guy next to him shares his trepidation, and his courage. Intentionality is taken care of, because, as every soldier knows, you sure see a lot of each other.
Take Drew McCreary and Tom Rice, both former Army reservists from Pensacola, Florida, who were called up in 1990 to fight the first Gulf War. They were both older soldiers assigned to a South Carolina unit, so they bonded over being outsiders in the group. When they were sent to Saudi Arabia, Rice says , “We were in a true totally new world, dealing with officers we didn’t know, and we were going to war. We had to look after each other.”
They met in the mess after dinner, pretty much every night. “We’d have a cup of coffee or fill a sandbag together,” Rice remembers. “We had no idea how long we were going to be deployed. My daughter was a preteen, and Drew’s wife was now raising their adopted children without his daily support and presence. Those conversations with Drew helped me, because I spent time worrying about him and his family, which meant that I had less time to worry about myself.”
The intense trust forged in the military has kept their friendship alive 15 years later. When they got back to the States, they made a point of meeting regularly. McCreary finally persuaded Rice to pursue his dream of opening a restaurant, and he became a partner in Rice’s Magnolia Grill, which still serves up good food in Fort Walton
READER’S DIGEST Magazine
October 2005. (Pgs. 101-111)
Return to the words of wisdom, the ruminations index..
Church of the Science of God
La Jolla, California 92038-3131
© Church of the Science of GOD, 1993