Written by Alexander Kenny, Peak Associate
I’m not muscular. Hell, I can’t even check off the “physically toned” box. I’m not incredibly assertive or aggressive. I’m usually pretty quiet, I avoid confrontation, and I show a lot of emotion. I’m not even six feet tall; in fact, I’m only 5’10” on a good day. OK, I’m sure you get it: I’m not exactly much of a stereotypically masculine man.
After a few years of trying to pretend to be one, I’ve drilled it into my dense head that it just isn’t who I am. Through watching my similarly atypical masculine friends try and hide their “irregularity” from other guys, I have become quite familiar with the self-doubt that can come with masculinity that doesn’t check all of the right boxes.
If you do happen to be masculine in all the ways the world already recognizes, there’s nothing wrong with that. However, I draw a line where I see us guys policing ourselves, and each other, into prioritizing “acting masculine” over being true to our own identities or preserving our own physical and mental health.
This self-doubt and self-persecution isn’t just damaging to the individual and their self-confidence. It’s damaging to the prospects of finding and maintaining a healthy romantic relationship.
The first question guys ask whenever they’ve heard that I’ve just entered a relationship can go one of two ways. Sometimes, people congratulate me and ask if the girl I’m seeing makes me happy — which is great! Sometimes, people ask, “Anyway, how is your sex life?” How about you get lost?
No, I don’t wish to tell everyone about my sex life — especially not you. No, I won’t allow the presence or absence of sex to be the benchmark for how happy or successful my relationship is. No, I definitely won’t tell you how big her breasts are; that’s just creepy! Could you be asking questions that get any more shallow or one-dimensional? Do you have a quota to reach?
Speaking of saying the wrong thing, when I’ve finally confessed to friends that I have struggled — at one time or another — with feeling down or anxious, the last response that should have come was, “I was like that once, I just got over it. Just get over it.” Yet that’s the response I got, and underlying it was the reminder that doubled as the really intended response: “You’re breaking the rules. Such emotion isn’t allowed. Now have another beer and shut up.”
This is a good example of how men condition each other when it comes to emotional matters. Expressing yourself supposedly means you aren’t “man” enough, and that supposedly means romantic partners won’t want you.
Well, my past relationships will call this theory utter malarkey, and deeply unhealthy. If anything, in at least one of those relationships, bottling up how I felt just frustrated my girlfriend, because it made her feel like I wasn’t comfortable talking to her. This led to arguments, when I could have instead just been myself and been open about what I was feeling. I know she loved that a lot more.
If my relationships have taught me anything, it is that regardless of how you display masculinity, someone will love you. Some people love the highly assertive, muscular guy who’s great at parties and likes his drinks. Some people love the openly affectionate guy who gets passionate about his nerdy hobbies and likes to get emotionally intimate. Neither of those is good or bad, and they aren’t even mutually exclusive.
A 2015 Men’s Health survey and a survey in 2013 by USA Today researched what single women said they were looking for in a guy. Both surveys showed the importance of the ability to be warm, caring, emotionally open, passionate — not just romantically, but in general — trustworthy, respectful, and funny. Of course, two surveys can’t possibly claim to speak for all women ever; nonetheless, this does highlight how many of the qualities men often discourage each other from showing are actually highly desirable.
I’m no expert, but I can definitely attest to the fact that there is someone for everyone. Attempting to conform to what some guys straight out of Central Casting attempt to police you in doing, while you police yourself like you’re in the world’s largest masculinity panopticon, will just make you unhappy.
Keep being yourself, and sooner or later you will find a fantastic romantic relationship. You just do you, bro.