Abraham Lincoln famously said, “Better to be silent and thought a fool, then to speak out and remove all doubt.”
Perhaps it was in Abe’s spirit then, that before everyone had GPS in their cars, it was a well-worn cliché among women that their husbands would drive around lost rather than stopping to ask for directions.
Personally, I never related to that behavior, but I knew it was a thing.
For me it was more like, “Hmm, I think I’m lost. I’ll ask for directions. Now I’m no longer lost.” But then again, I was never the kind of kid who didn’t raise his hand in school for fear of looking foolish, either. And it’s fair to say, I looked foolish and felt foolish a lot. Often it was embarrassing, and sometimes even painfully so. But I learned that being seen “not knowing” didn’t kill me, and by developing emotional resiliency, I could shift from “not knowing” to “now knowing.”
I bring this up because many of my women friends and women clients express frustration with their husband’s “fragile male egos,” particularly in the domain of intimacy. It’s normal that over time relationships change, and different challenges emerge. But deeply ingrained in men’s psyche is the need to be right and to get it right, and when things are not right, and we don’t know how to make them right, it’s scary. And it feels somehow safer to “drive” around lost then ask for directions.
At a very early age boys learn—more so than girls, I think–that love is conditional. We learn that life is a competition over scarce resources, and we only received approval when we won, when we got the good grades, when we “scored” with the girl, when we got the big paycheck–and it hurt when we lost, or made mistakes, and was especially painful when we got it wrong. We learned we were lovable (or not) for what we did, for what we achieved, not for who we were.
Sadly, we internalized conditional love for ourselves, learning to love ourselves only when we succeeded. From there, it’s not a stretch to only want to do things you’re good at, and to avoid areas of perceived weakness. To be a successful man is to be seen as a successful man—at all times!–and so the image of empowered masculinity becomes transactional, measured by money and the accumulation of trophies. Success means winning, winning means destroying your opponent, and life becomes a zero-sum game. Feelings of doubt or vulnerability are perceived as weakness and need to be quashed if you are to be victorious–and from there, it’s not too far of a journey of disconnection from our hearts and our humanity to the realm of toxic masculinity.
In the context of conditional self-love, then, it becomes understandable how admitting you’re “lost” could be so painful you will do all manner of psychological gymnastics to avoid it. However, we only learn from our mistakes, so if you’re not admitting your mistakes, you’re not learning. If you’re not learning, you’re not growing. If you’re not growing, you’re dying.
In relationship and in intimacy, what worked well in the past often doesn’t work so well anymore. Not because anybody’s wrong, but because everything and everyone changes over time. There’s no shame in that.
But if you’re not growing, you’re dying.
The shame is that the fear of “not knowing” leads to not looking. Old school masculinity “wins” in the short term by force, or by denial, but love always loses in the long term.
My mission is to empower men to create even more love in their world. To do that I believe we let go of having the answers, and learn to ask different questions.
What becomes possible when we stand centered and open-hearted, fully present in this moment, confident in our not knowing?
Let’s show the women and children we love that the patriarchy and toxic masculinity have had their day. Are you ready to join me in launching the 21st Century Man Project?