The Secret Lives of Boys

I was talking to a mother the other day about the tragedy of the fatal car accident at her son’s school. The classmate who died wasn’t her son’s best friend, but they knew each other as kids do when they share classes, familiar but not close.

The mother was badly shaken up and took many days to try and make sense of something senseless. 

When I asked her how her son was coping with the loss, she replied: “He’s a boy, they don’t feel the same as we do, he acts like nothing happened.”

She was OK with that!

I was appalled.

This was a woman who had been in therapy. She had some self-awareness but never really dug deep enough to understand that everything in our lives revolves around our emotions… whether they are acknowledged or not.

All embryos start female; six weeks later, they shift either to becoming male or continue down the path to being female. Emotionally we are identical, but it’s how our society’s mores shape us and pass messages to us that either encourages our emotions to blossom or hide under denial.

The right brain develops first: empathy, compassion, artistry, and imagery.

Growing up male, I would think, is so much harder than being female. The core of who we all are, our authentic identity, is based upon how we feel, not how we think. 

It’s only later that intellect and choice define our values, purpose in life, and behaviors.

The pressure on boys to become “men” is based on fear; fear that if they feel too much, and/or express their emotions, they will be weak and woman-like.

That repression shows itself in aggressive behaviors, rage, and shame. Homophobia runs rampant in the male community.

Suppression of one’s feelings has no value, in fact, it’s harmful to one’s health and sense of well-being and, ironically, it keeps us out of control, not in control.

Self-awareness, while growing up, usually gets assigned to women, not men.

How many times did I ask my former husbands how they felt about something, and get a foggy look in their eyes?

Maybe one in a hundred men have a clue about deep feelings; it’s not that they lack them, it’s more about identifying them and being able to discuss them without feeling diminished.

What I have found is that the men who can articulate how they feel usually had a good relationship with their parents and the father was involved in activities that engaged his son.

It’s the father’s responsibility to usher his son into manhood.

Those men have good relationships with both their parents, their parents are typically not divorced, and all the kids in the family are connected to each other. 

Everyone treats one another with affection and respect. Or, they have been in therapy that really enabled them to shift and be more emotionally accessible.

These men have a strong sense of who they are and move through the world with a sense of competence and clarity.

Their choices reflect confidence coming from trusting their instincts, not fear or the need to have power over another person.

Understanding how men process feelings, has helped me greatly to understand my brother better, and my dad (who is 100), and the men I date.

It’s up to us as women to change how we talk with men. 

What I have learned is: vulnerability comes at a price; capital P is for Patience.  Give them space while they learn a new language.

How we talk to them determines if they can trust us or not.

That is the core issue for men; from early on, the women in their childhoods… teachers, mothers, older sisters—all have a profound effect on how they view women as they get older.

The biggest lesson I have learned about men: treat their feelings with respect, and always remember they also struggle with their own unique inner battles; it just doesn’t seem that way all the time.

But if we provide a non-judgmental space for them, their softer side can come out of hiding in those moments, that we will cherish.

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