There is a silent epidemic of loneliness amongst men. Not because men don’t have friends or family. Not because they don’t have people to hang out with or go places with. Lonely because they are not truly seen and authentically connected.
Words: Craig Wilkinson
Men go where the cheering is
Albert Schweitzer nailed it when he said, “We are all so much together, but we are all dying of loneliness”. It’s possible to be surrounded by people yet feel lonely. It’s possible to have a rich social life, have fun with the guys, attend parties, events and sporting fixtures, cheer for your favourite soccer team surrounded by other men, yet still be alone inside. We can only truly connect with other people when we are our authentic selves. And there are a number of reasons why men often don’t present their authentic selves to the world.
Do I have what it takes?
The first reason is that most men, whether they are honest enough to admit it or not, have a deep, secret fear that they don’t have what it takes to truly be a man. Every man needs to know that he has the strength to be everything the world demands of a man – to kill the metaphorical lion if he has to, fend off the intruder, win over the woman, protect and provide for his loved ones, build a life of significance and leave a legacy. Because of this, every boy grows up with a burning question on his heart: “Do I have what it takes to be a man?” And he brings this deep question of the masculine heart to his father. His young heart cries out, “Dad, am I enough, am I strong enough, fast enough, smart enough, cool enough? Do I have what it takes?”
In the absence of a father a boy will bring his questions to an older male; an uncle, grandfather, teacher, coach or brother. But the sad reality is that the older man we so desperately need is all too often absent, doesn’t know how to answer, or even worse, is abusive – usually because he wasn’t validated himself by his own father or older men. The result is that this core question of the masculine soul is seldom answered well and very few men grow up believing that they do have what it takes to be a man. So we do whatever we think we need to do to be “the man”. We swag, we become the joker, the nerd, the player, the drinker, the businessman, the intellectual, the fighter; whatever we think will be accepted and admired and convince ourselves and other people that we are “the man”.
Every man needs to know that he has what it takes to be a man, yet most men doubt that they do.
Masculinity is imparted by men
Men who are fortunate enough to grow up with a present and engaged father or older men who impart to them a sense of validity and identity, don’t struggle in this way. They know who they are, they don’t have to prove themselves, they are able to be vulnerable and enjoy a sense of true belonging by simply being who they are. They have authentic self-love, and are able to love others. They are able to be strong and gentle, to say sorry without feeling less-than. They can lead and be led, serve and be served, handle winning and losing with grace. They have nothing to hide and nothing to prove.
Sadly, most of us were not that fortunate and we end up spending a lot of our lives looking for ways to validate ourselves and escape from the pain of our unanswered question. We look to women, money, possessions, power, position and worldly success to feel good about ourselves. We self-medicate through drinking, sex, sport or any number of the pleasure distractions the world offers. Or we escape by failing to stand up and take responsibility for our lives and actions. But none of this works because none of it heals the tear in our masculine souls. All it does is mask the sense of inadequacy we feel inside. No amount of external success can heal the heart of an un-validated man.
No amount of external success can heal the heart of an un-validated man.
Vulnerability is strength
The second reason men don’t present their authentic selves to the world is the misconception that it’s a sign of weakness to show our emotions and vulnerabilities. We grow up believing that real men suck it up, deal with whatever comes their way and just get on with life. Real men don’t ask for help because asking for help means we don’t have what it takes.
Because of this false belief most men feel the need to present to the world an image of someone who has it all together, no matter what they are feeling or going through. So we hide our vulnerabilities. We posture and pose and fake it, hoping that no-one will see what’s really going on inside where our fears and insecurities hide. We live with the secret fear that if people really knew us they wouldn’t like, admire or respect us. Yet it’s a lie. The world is crying out for authentic men. Far from being a weakness, vulnerability is a strength. Being fully who you are is what your family, loved ones and the world needs you to be.
When our true self remains hidden behind the façade of what we believe to be manly, the essence of who we are stays alone, disconnected from those around us. Only when we operate out of our authentic selves are we able to truly connect with others. The truth is that we don’t have to play the man to be the man, we are the man. And so much more so if we don’t have a constant need to prove ourselves. Author Gordon Dalbey made the profound observation that “Masculinity grows not out of conquering the woman, but only out of conquering the man – and not another man, as in war, but oneself”.
As the brotherhood of man we need to see each other, validate each other and discover the true power of masculinity to love, protect, serve, and build. We need to simply be who we are – men. We are strong. Very strong. But we have forgotten our strength and we have misused our strength. Our task as men today is not to curse our manhood but to redeem it.