I regularly have female clients who are single, struggling with body image issues because they’re afraid they’re not thin, pretty, beautiful, or sexy enough to find or keep a man’s interest.
This insecurity might seem straightforward, but actually it’s not. When we get right down to it, these same women obviously want to be chosen, valued, and loved by a partner for who they are deep down, not for how they look. With some digging, the real fear they’re usually struggling with is revealed: that the person they are deep down is too much.
“Too much for whom?” I ask them. “Too much for what?”
“Too much for men,” they tell me.
“What man would want to deal with someone so emotional, so needy, so anxious, so dark and twisty? Men want women who are fun, happy, laid-back, and easy to deal with. Men don’t want baggage. Men don’t want to work as hard as he would have to work with me.”
Sometimes I have this same conversation several times a week. My clients often tell me they don’t have the same trouble or insecurity when connecting with other women, and that they’re far more likely to feel seen and accepted by female friends, sisters, and me.
They say things like “yeah but she/you understand and won’t judge me.”
Growing up in a capitalist patriarchy teaches women to hate, hide, and shrink themselves in many ways, but this I find to be one of the most common and destructive. Due to the unequal power dynamics at play, we’ve learned to boil down our relationships with men to a simple transaction:
If you make yourself look perfect and constantly turn him on, then maybe he’ll generously allow you to have feelings and opinions and take up space in return.
This conditioning has extremely upsetting implications for women, but lately I can’t stop thinking about what this means about men.
What have we women been taught about men that we assume their ideal relationship is completely devoid of emotional labor and communication about our inner worlds?
How did we come to think that men have no feelings, neediness, or baggage of their own, so any we bring to the table is a burden on him which must be minimized and apologized for?
Where did we learn that he is so unfeeling, selfish, and lazy that the only reason he would connect with his partner on a deep level is as a favor to her?
When you really break down the world my clients’ fears are living in, it’s a whole-heartedly depressing view of men. And yet, when they ask me how I can possibly see men otherwise, I find it difficult to answer.
After all, I’ve known many selfish, lazy men whose ideal relationship seemed to be devoid of emotional labor, depth of connection, feelings, needs, and communication. I’ve been on dates with them. I’ve been friends with them. I see them on the internet every day.
How can I argue that this is “not all men”? How can I disagree with the idea that men as a monolith prefer their female partners to be fun, happy, laidback, easy to deal with, and unrealistically pretty/thin/sexy? Or that asking him to deal with anything else is a burden on him; a favor he might do for us occasionally because he’s a good person, but ultimately a net negative?
The reason I disagree is because of all the examples of men I know who crave deep emotional connection, communication, and a space for their own feelings, needs, and baggage to be shared, seen, and accepted. The patriarchy teaches us all that men don’t have real feelings, and that men don’t want to be seen and known, but that’s a lie. We all have real feelings, and we all want to be seen and known. It’s how we’re wired as humans.
It’s just that a lot of men are conditioned and socialized to disconnect from their feelings and needs, and to reject the vulnerability required for intimacy.
In other words,
it’s not that most men are selfish and lazy robot-cavemen who just want to fuck and chill… it’s that most men are socialized into repressing or rejecting (and therefore lacking) the skills and resources required to get the emotional connections they really want.
We can see this clearly when we look at little boys.
Up until a certain age, little boys are just as sensitive, sweet, easily hurt, empathic, kind, and in need of cuddles and snuggles and eye gazing as little girls. At a certain point however, they learn that those things are for girls, and they stop asking to be held, sharing their feelings, crying, attuning to others, and tolerating tenderness.
Where does that sensitive little boy go? Are we to believe he just disappears, and is replaced by a simple-minded, selfish, emotionally distant fuckboi forever?
Tragically, in a lot of cases that is exactly what happens. My heart breaks for those men that were never given the resources, space, time, and acceptance required to live a life of full emotional depth and satisfaction.
I can’t even begin to imagine the amount of courage, vulnerability, and hard work that would be required for a man like that to go in and reconnect, after a lifetime of being disconnected from himself.
That said, I know quite a few who have.
It’s those men who inform my view of men in this way– those men who have gotten sober, gotten into therapy, discovered a spiritual path, healed through plant medicine, or come to liberation work, and recovered access to their sensitivity, their kindness, their empathy, their feelings, their attunement, their vulnerability, and their tenderness.
I’ve seen these men do the work of casting off a lifetime of conditioning about what it means to be a man, in search of his own heart, soul, and truth.
Never once have I seen a man doing this work say “I searched myself, and what I discovered is that I don’t really have feelings, and connecting deeply with people is too much damn work.”
Never once have I seen a man doing this work say “What I really crave is a shallow relationship with a hot girl who doesn’t bother me too much.”
These men crave intimacy the way my female clients do, deeply and in a way that is so vulnerable and scary that they sometimes run away from it or sabotage it, and then wonder what’s wrong with them.
These men crave a place to be seen and heard and understood, and wish they’d been armed with the tools and space to practice the skills of opening up, letting people in, asking for help, and sharing their inner world sooner.
These men are committed to their personal growth and evolution, and recognize the power of being challenged, and rising to that challenge.
For these men, a woman who is fun, happy, laid-back, and easy would actually be a drawback, because he knows he comes with baggage and is looking to connect deeply, to share himself and be seen, and to be challenged and grow. Instead of looking for a partner who is baggage-free to stay superficial, he is looking for someone with compatible baggage and values to go deep.
Please don’t misunderstand, the men I’m referring to aren’t perfect, but they’re also not rare. They’re just as fucked up and flawed and insecure as you and I, so they can often camouflage themselves in toxic dude-bro culture to such an extent that you might never know who he really was inside.
After all, depending on where he is in his journey, the one thing he’s been taught about manhood is that he’s supposed to be a simple-minded emotionally stagnant robot-caveman obsessed with getting his dick wet and averse to depth or intimacy. He’s not about to show his true colors to anyone who might judge or reject him for it (because he has feelings and that would hurt), so he’ll often play the role and give women what he thinks they want/expect from him.
When I told my boyfriend what I was writing about this week, he reflected on how many men think their female partners expect and want them to be emotionally unavailable dicks because no matter what a woman says she wants, when a man acts emotional, vulnerable, or needy, his partner will tend to reject and shame him for it.
This is what I think about when my clients say things like “what man would ever want someone as emotional/needy/dark/deep as me?” I think of the guys who have done coaching with me, of my friends, my brothers, my boyfriends, and of the men I meet doing anti-oppression and healing work.
I think of how badly their tenderness and sensitivity has been received by past female partners, and of what a service it is to those men to show up and share your own darkest and most intense feelings, needs, desires, and baggage… so that he may feel safe doing the same.
There is a fundamental misunderstanding about men in our culture, and it hurts us all. Men suppress their inner world in order to be “the kind of man women like,” and women suppress their inner world in order to be “the kind of woman men like.”
It leads to none of us feeling whole, or seen, or known, or accepted.
It leads to resentment, power struggles, loneliness, shame, and insecurity.
It leads to women believing their only value to men is their body, and to men believing their only value to women is financial security and a hard dick.
Meanwhile, we all want the same thing: to feel safe, seen, known, understood, accepted, valued, and loved.