Saturday, January 01, 2011

I once read about a study of unrequited love in adolescents.  One of the findings was that young men reported much more heartbreak over unrequited love than young women.

On the surface this might seem puzzling given that women stereotypically are much more affectionate and emotional.  But it was obvious to me.

As a young man, I couldn't have explained why it was obvious, but having had my heart stomped on by more than one indifferent young woman, I knew it was true.

But I think I could explain it now.

For women, being connected is socially acceptable.  Women hug and kiss and hold hands in public with other women.  Women engage in social activities with other women that would be comical for men to do together.  For example, women go to the bathroom as a group activity, it is socially acceptable female behavior.  Another example I see in my line of work is female motorcycle riders.  Two women on a motorcycle or scooter is cute, two men on the same motorcycle is embarrasing for all involved.

What's this got to do with unrequited love you ask?  I think that men aren't wired so differently from women.  I think that men experience the same emotional needs for acceptance and connection as women do.  And as boys these needs are met by mothers and fathers, big sisters, brothers and extended family.  Nobody is uncomfortable with it.  But at some point before puberty boys are made to become ashamed of affection. We are set adrift in a sea of competitive isolation wherein we founder aimlessly until we strike upon some foreign shore of love and affection.  Sometimes this is a safe harbor, but often it's an island inhabited by cannibals.  Because the women who become the objects of our affection are not as needy as we are, we eat ourselves alive.

For adolescent men, disconnectedness and isolation are the norm.  Everything from football to pornography reinforces this disconnectedness.  The way we are expected to relate to both men and women is infused with aggression and alienation.

So of course young mens' hearts are more often broken.  Young women have eachother, and the undivided attention of young men who don't even know how to approach them.  Young men have only their confused selves and their raging loneliness.  (An argument could even be made that their loneliness rages harder than their hormones, but I won't go into that here.)

Unfortunately all of what I've just said is anecdotal.  And any serious research would be thwarted by the very problem I'm trying to describe.  Men wouldn't admit to having these feelings, because these feelings are not manly.

Years ago I was introduced to a girl who was in a Women's Studies program in a prestigious university back east.  She looked down her nose and saw the grease under my fingernails and proceeded to tear me apart for being a manly man.  That's all I was to her, and all I would ever be.  Her contempt for me was clear, and her ability to talk circles around me left me speechless.  I felt I'd been run over by a trainload of sneering, superior, articulate women and I hadn't been able to get a word in edgewise.  In my impotent frustration I behaved exactly as the troll she saw in me.  Our one-sided conversation turned into an argument that culminated in me dropping her off at the curb and squealing my tires as I sped away.

I couldn't express my feelings at all then, and "manly" anger took over, but what I wish I could have said to her is that her course of study was not liberating her femininity, but rather it was arming her with the same weapons of self-isolation that are standard-issue for all ten-year-old boys.  I would have explained to her that both men and women are bound and gagged in boxes and that liberation will not come in the form of one gender tightening the shackles of the other.  I would have told her that we need to free eachother as people in order to be truly free.

Unfortunately, had I had the sense to say those things, I probably would have used them as pick-up lines.


Ashley Thalman said...

I thought immediately of this book:

I was reading the good book today about the iron rod leading us to the love of God. God is a man, we know that. God is love.

I am sure that the enemy delights that he has so deceived men and their societies in this way. And in his delight, we are ravaged and confused.

Azúcar said...

So, as the mother of boys, what can we do to prevent "islanding"?

David said...

Ashley, I'll have to check out that book.
Carina, I don't know. It seems like so much of what's wrong with boys and girls stems from "daddy issues." But men are bred to detach and go win the bread, you know? Families don't work together very much in our society. Gender roles are a two-edged sword.

Kaerlig said...
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Kaerlig said...

With 50% of marriages ending in divorce I don't think dads are around that much and we all know how important their influence is on children. And mothers are having to work outside of the home, even if they aren't divorced, because it is harder than ever to survive on a single income. I think gender roles are more confused than ever nowadays but I don't think society every had it right. First it was controlling and subduing women- machismo-, now it is putting men down and displacing them from the home- feminism.

Both are emnity. Neither are fulfilling or bring lasting happiness. We don't get what we want and need by shaming the other gender.

I don't think men being taught to provide or being taught a role is the problem. I think the problem is that men and women don't have commucation skills in order to solve issue without blaming and hating each other. I certainly didn't have those skills modeled for me, coming from a family of divorce. Our society is ill.

I think studying Jesus Christ in New Testament this year will be enlightening in discerning what is "manly" and what our "gender" should look like. I can imagine Jesus peeling out or raging at a football game or browsing the internet for smut. Can you? He is love just like His Father.

My thoughts....