Tag Archives: men and women

How To Make A Man Feel Loved

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People seek out love. Whether you’re a man, woman, transgender, or just anyone with human emotions, we have an inherent drive to connect with one another. Whether it’s emotional or physical, we are wired to desire such intimate connections. It’s an integral part of being human.

I suspect most reasonable people would agree with that sentiment. Humans are social creatures. Both science and general experience make that abundantly clear. The disagreements tend to occur on the nature, process, and exercise of those intimate bonds. What some think of as love may come off as obsession to someone else. I’ve tried to be mindful of that difference, both within real and fictional romance.

Things only get trickier when you apply gender differences to the concept of seeking love. In a perfect world, there would be no differences, but we don’t live in that world. In today’s complicated web of social norms, traditions, gender politics, stereotypes, and taboos, how you go about pursuing love and feeling loved varies considerably by gender.

Now, I can’t speak to how women or those who identify as transgender approach that process. I am a heterosexual man. I can only speak to my own experiences, some of which I’ve shared in the past. I certainly can’t claim to speak for all men, either. Everyone is different, complete with their own romantic quirks and kinks.

However, in contemplating various gender issues and social taboos, I feel like there’s a growing disconnect surrounding the idea of masculinity, being in love, and what it means to feel loved. Some of that has to do with the current state of identity politics and loaded terms like “toxic masculinity,” a concept I’ve done plenty to criticize before. Other issues, I believe, run much deeper.

For me, being the self-admitted romantic I am, it comes back to what it means to feel loved. People can argue what love is until the end of time. I’ll leave those discussions to smarter, more capable individuals with a better understanding of philosophy. Instead, I want to focus on what it means for men, in general, to feel loved.

As a man with a modest amount of romantic experience, I think men are held to a very different standard. Some of it isn’t fair, but women and transgender individuals can probably make that same claim. With men, I believe those standards are rarely scrutinized and easily misconstrued.

To understand how, you need only refer to Chris Rock’s

2018 Netflix special, “Tamborine.” In it, he made this memorable observation about men and how they are loved.

“Only women, children, and dogs are loved unconditionally. Men are loved under the condition that they provide something.”

In addition to being both hilarious and insightful, this sentiment reflects the unique challenges that men face when it comes to love. It’s not always overt and oftentimes, it’s inadvertent. Some of these issues are just woven into social norms that go back to certain pre-modern traditions about family structure.

Whatever their source, society never stops evolving. How people interact and relate to one another will keep adapting to changing circumstances and make no mistake, those circumstances will change rapidly in the coming years. That’s going to impact how men, women, and everyone in between relates to one another and not always for the better.

With that in mind, I’d like to start a discussion on what men seek in pursuing love and how to go about making men feel loved. I know the media, popular culture, and even a recent movie centered around men’s thoughts have given us many impressions. In the interest of streamlining the discussion, I’d like to offer a brief list of insights and approaches for making a man feel loved.

Again, this list is hardly definitive. I’m just one heterosexual man. I’m sure there are plenty of other men out there with different experiences who can offer far greater insights. If you’d like to share those insights, please post them in the comments. For now, here are just a few small ways to help a man feel loved and inspire him to love others.


Make His Efforts And Contributions Feel Valued (And Not Just Expected)

This one is subtle, but powerful. Watch any sitcom, from “Married With Children” to “Leave It To Beaver,” and the man of the family is usually the sole provider. Regardless of how you feel about this family structure, be it a hallmark of tradition or a byproduct of a patriarchal conspiracy, the sentiment comes off as more of an assumption rather than a contribution.

Even if a man works his ass off every day, whether it’s digging ditches or selling women’s shoes like Al Bundy, that work isn’t always valued. It’s just expected. It’s just what a man is supposed to do. Him wanting any other kind of affirmation is just seen as excessive or a byproduct of a fragile male ego. However, such assumptions only breed resentment.

In almost any other situation, we seek and hope for acknowledgement of our sacrifices. We want our labor, be it physical or emotional, to feel valued. It’s part of being a social species and is not contingent on gender. A man isn’t going to feel loved if what he contributes is always taken for granted.

It doesn’t have to be glowing praise. It just has to be an acknowledgement of his efforts. That makes him feel good about the contributions he makes and will only make him work harder at returning the favor, which is good for any healthy love.


Treat Him As A Partner And Not An Asset

This idea manifests in many ways, the most obvious being instances of women seeking men for the sole purpose of gaining access to their money and resources. This sort of thing isn’t new. That kind of power dynamic goes back to ancient times when wealthy kings saw women as assets just as much as they saw his wealth as an asset.

We don’t live in ancient times anymore. While we still have rich men using their wealth to hook up with beautiful women, this issue often arises among those who are not rich. Relationships may start out as loving and intimate, but can descend into a bland business partnership where the man is nothing more than a buffer against poverty.

It’s true that a man can bring things like money, resources, and the siring children to a relationship. However, that can’t be the only things of value. If men are reduced to just the things they do, then they’re not going to feel loved. They’re going to feel like a tool, one who can be easily replaced by anyone of greater means.

That’s often why men get concerned, jealous, or even paranoid when their lover treats them more like a tradeable asset rather than an equal partner. Even those who champion equality often fall into a trap that focuses only on the tangible components of that relationship. Since love is inherently intangible, it can leave things feeling unbalanced.


Don’t Treat His Interests And Hobbies As Stupid Or Juvenile

When it comes to men’s interests, there’s often a sense that they’re always immature or crude. Sports, video games, and comic books are seen as something for children. Mature men are expected to outgrow them and embrace other interests more befitting of adults. However, it’s often the case that those interests align with those favored by women.

People have all sorts of hobbies, be it watching football, building birdhouses, or trash talking one another while playing video games. While some are healthier than others, denigrating them just sends the message that you want men to build their interests around you. It’s akin to wanting them to want to do the dishes rather than just doing the dishes. One requires courtesy. The other requires the thought police.

All good relationships require some level of sacrifice, but when one side is expected to sacrifice something they love and cherish, it gives the impression that they’re not loved for who they are. They’re only loved for what someone else wants them to be. It also implies that the only way for men to love someone is for them to make their significant other the center of their world.

That may count as romance in a fairy tale, but in the real world, that’s dangerously close to obsession. Most men seeking love aren’t looking for that kind of relationship. They’re seeking someone who will love them for who they are, which includes their hobbies.

That doesn’t mean you have to share in those hobbies. If you do, that’s a nice bonus. That shouldn’t be a deal-breaker, though. A man who can keep loving the things he loves and share some of that love with someone else is going to make him that much more appreciative.


Don’t Assume He Can/Should Fix Everything

When your car breaks down, you take it to a mechanic. When your toilet backs up, you call a plumber. Most people don’t give that a second thought. The fact that many mechanics and plumbers are men is beside the point, although I’m sure that colors our perceptions about what people who fix things look like.

In any relationship, things are going to break. That’s just life. However, when the burden of fixing everything falls on the man, it creates another imbalance that can compound a bad situation.

Regardless of whether you think men are more inclined to fix things, just assuming that they can further reduces a relationship to roles. If you’re the man, you fix things. It’s not always appliances, either. If someone is upset, the man is supposed to fix it. If something goes wrong, the man is supposed to resolve it.

If a good relationship is supposed to be a partnership, then this dynamic is hardly equal. One side can’t be solely responsible for resolving every problem, be it a faulty garbage disposal or serious intimacy issues. Being in love and making your partner feel loved goes both ways. Expecting only one side to get their hands dirty and make the sacrifices isn’t going to leave someone feeling appreciated, let alone loved.


Make Your Love Feel Like A Choice Rather Than A Favor

I’ve heard more than one women, and even a few men, tell their partners they’re lucky to have them. It’s not always in a condescending sort of way, but by definition, it kind of is. It sends the message that the love they’re sharing isn’t really a matter of choice. It’s just a favor they’re giving to someone, one that can be revoked at any time.

That kind of a relationship is many things, but it is not very loving. Men jump through a lot of hoops to be with someone. I know women have challenges as well, but in the current gender climate, men are still the ones who do most of the pursuing and women are the ones making the choices. Just look at the gender disparity on dating sites for proof of that.

As a result, a relationship will feel more like a privilege than a genuine, emotional connection. It creates this dynamic where a man feels like he has to navigate a constantly-shifting set of expectations, just to keep the relationship going. The woman is the one who sets those expectations and can determine at any moment that he has failed and the relationship is over.

Again, I’m not claiming that this is how most women approach a relationship. By and large, the love they feel is real. However, a good chunk of that love is contingent on the men treating that love as a favor that is granted rather than something that’s genuine and sincere. As Chris Rock said, it’s a conditional kind of love and that love will limit any relationship in the long run.


I hope this list helps further the discussion surrounding men, love, and relationships. If you feel like I missed something or need to expand on a particular concept, please let me know in the comments. For everyone out there lucky enough to be in relationships, I hope this gives you something to think about and provides tools with which you can use to make one another feel truly loved.

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Masculinity, Feelings, And The Taboo Of Expressing Emotions

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Real men don’t get all touchy-feely with their emotions. How many times have you heard that said in one way or another? Maybe that’s the wrong question to ask. Maybe a better question would be why is it that men can’t get emotional without it being a flaw?

Whatever way you frame the question, it’s hard to deny that there’s an unspoken taboo when it comes to men expressing emotions. A man who gets emotional is seen as weak. He’ll get called a sissy, a wimp, or a pussy. Their ego takes a hit. Their reputation and sense of worth takes a hit. As a result, men have little choice but to suppress their emotions, which is objectively unhealthy.

Conversely, a woman who gets emotional tends not to get criticized. For them, showing emotions is normal. We don’t think it’s wrong for a woman to cry during an emotionally distressing experience. We don’t see that as a sign of weakness. If anything, we would be more concerned if they didn’t show emotion.

It’s a strange, but impactful dynamic. One gender is allowed to express a wide range of emotions without ridicule. The other is expected to suppress those emotions. For men, the only acceptable emotion, it seems, is anger. Men being angry is the only emotion they can show that isn’t entirely taboo, although even that is changing.

The same regressive attitudes that create meaningless terms like “toxic masculinity” adds even more constraints on men’s emotions. Now, a man isn’t even allowed to be angry anymore. His anger just identifies him as another member of a toxic culture that hates women, despises minorities, and wants to create a patriarchal world where they’re all Don Draper.

I hope I don’t need to explain why that notion is wrong, misguided, and just plain asinine. That’s not the purpose of this piece.

I bring this topic up because, as a man, I’ve felt the impact of these attitudes on a personal level. There are a lot of stereotypes about men and masculinity that don’t bother me because the effects are usually overblown or exaggerated. This is one issue where I’ve felt genuine distress.

As I’ve said many times before, I’m a big romance fan. I love romance in comics, movies, TV shows, and even video games. I’ve been a fan of all things romantic since I was a teenager. However, a young man who admits that enjoys romance is likely to get a lot of odd looks from men and women. Nobody ever told me that it’s uncool for men to like romance, but that’s the impression I got.

As a result, I was downright secretive about my love of romance. I wouldn’t mention romantic sub-plots in movies or TV shows among friends or family. I often had to seek out romantic media covertly. There were even occasions where I would be watching something with heavy romance on TV, but change the channel as soon as someone entered the room.

At times, I treated hiding my fondness for romance with the same tact as most men would in hiding their porn stash. If anything, hiding porn would’ve been easier because most people expect men to enjoy that. A man admitting he watches porn won’t surprise anyone these days. A man admitting he enjoys romance doesn’t have that luxury.

That sounds melodramatic on my part and in hindsight, it probably was. However, being a man, I didn’t want to deal with that extra scrutiny. Growing up, I already had other personal issues to deal with, including a terrible acne problem that killed my confidence for most of my youth. The last thing I needed was another reason to feel like a freak.

Eventually, it helped when I found online communities full of romance fans who were men, women, gay, straight, bisexual, and everything in between. That finally gave me an outlet and it’s a big reason why I started writing sexy stories. While I’ve come to appreciate that outlet, it was still frustrating having to hide the fact that I liked romance. If I weren’t a man, it wouldn’t have been a big deal.

As hard as that was, the cost of managing emotions as a man can get much higher. Just this past year, I’ve felt the extent of that cost in ways I honestly can’t put into words. It started with the passing of my grandmother. Saying goodbye to her was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done before.

I had to go through so many painful feelings during that process. I couldn’t tell you whether I handled them well. I like to think I did, but I can’t say with a straight face that I successfully managed my emotions through that whole ordeal. There was a lot I had to either temper or suppress.

It wasn’t because someone was stopping me. There weren’t a cabal of other men actively shaming me for feeling sadness, sorrow, and grief. There weren’t teams of women questioning my masculinity because I dared to show unmanly emotions. As a man, I just didn’t know how to express these feelings. There was just a sense that this wasn’t something men did.

I think it’s only getting harder as masculinity, itself, faces more scrutiny. Nobody can seem to agree on when it’s okay for men to get emotional or how they should go about it. We just know there’s a high price for screwing up. Think about the kinds of criticisms men face if they don’t put on the tough, confident poise of James Bond.

A man who shows too much anger is just a product of toxic masculinity.

A man who cries openly is overly sensitive.

A man who is overly romantic is either whipped or domesticated.

A man who shows sadness is weak and incapable.

A man who tries to talk about his feelings is either mansplaining or whining.

Given all these pitfalls, how is a man supposed to go about expressing his emotions? Just being strong isn’t enough anymore because strength has steadily become more gender neutral. While I think that’s a good thing for men and women alike, I also believe that dealing with emotions is a major blind spot in the world of gender politics.

That’s not to say this issue is being ignored. In wake of the anti-harassment movement, there has been some efforts to re-evaluate how we think about men and emotion. A few tech companies have even formed private men’s groups where men can get together and do more than discuss these issues, among other things.

I can already hear some men saying those groups are for wimps. Some might even doubt the masculinity of the men who participate. That’s understandable. These kinds of attitudes don’t change overnight. However, between the growing suicide rate among men and the impact emotions have on mental health, this is an issue worth confronting.

I won’t say yet whether these groups will be effective at helping men with their emotions, but I believe it’s a start. I also believe that this is one issue in which men and women can come together on. Other parts of the anti-harassment movement and modern feminism are bound to be divisive. This can actually be a unifying force.

Human beings are emotional creatures. No matter how masculine you are or how feminine you are, you’re going to experience a wide range of emotions over the course of your life. If one gender can’t even figure out which emotions are socially acceptable, then how can we hope to forge emotional bonds with one another?

I don’t doubt that emotions are difficult to deal with. I’ve learned that the hard way this past year. I know plenty of other men who are going through the same struggle. In the end, being able and comfortable expressing feelings should be one of the most gender-neutral aspects of the human experience.

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Why Henry Cavill Shouldn’t Apologize For His Comments On The Anti-Harassment Movement (But Still Had To)

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What does it say about the state of a society when people have to apologize for voicing honest, legitimate concerns? Pragmatically speaking, it implies that the value of truth and just has been subsumed by other influences. Whether it’s politics or ideology, it’s not hard for society to get to a point where unreasonable forces subvert reasonable issues.

In that sense, it’s ironic that the latest person to experience those influences once played Superman, the personification of truth, justice, and the American way. Henry Cavill, whose star has risen significantly since he broke out in “Man of Steel,” got into some hot water recently after an interview with GQ.

In that interview, he essentially made the same mistake Matt Damon made when he tried to comment on the anti-harassment movement. He said something that was reasonable, honest, and understandable from a purely logistical standpoint. He’s worried that something as simile as flirting with a woman could somehow be construed as harassment, which could lead to a full-blown scandal.

For reference, these were his exact words from the interview and the ones that subsequently led him down the same path as Matt Damon.

It’s very difficult to do that if there are certain rules in place. Because then it’s like: ‘Well, I don’t want to go up and talk to her, because I’m going to be called a rapist or something’. So you’re like, ‘Forget it, I’m going to call an ex-girlfriend instead, and then just go back to a relationship, which never really worked’. But it’s way safer than casting myself into the fires of hell, because I’m someone in the public eye, and if I go and flirt with someone, then who knows what’s going to happen?

Now? Now you really can’t pursue someone further than, ‘No’. It’s like, ‘OK, cool’. But then there’s the, ‘Oh why’d you give up?’ And it’s like, ‘Well, because I didn’t want to go to jail?’

Think about what he’s saying here and take a step back to see how he got to that point. He’s talking about being called a rapist just for going up to a woman and talking to her. How is that reasonable? It’s not. It sounds paranoid, but it’s perfectly understandable in the current social climate.

It’s easy to picture a scenario where someone like Cavill walks up to a woman, starts flirting, and ends up saying something inappropriate. That’s not just something men do. Women do that too. Being vulgar knows no gender. However, if the woman in this scenario takes particular offense, it could be construed as harassment or even assault.

If a woman was especially vindictive or just prone to exaggeration, she could accuse him of assaulting her. Even if those accusations aren’t even close to warranting an actual crime, it would still be devastating. The accusation alone would be enough to derail a promising career.

You don’t have to look far for evidence of this. Aziz Ansari was not charged with any crimes for the infamous incident that came out earlier this year and even if he had been, there’s no way he would’ve been convicted. An incident built entirely around a he said/she-said situation doesn’t come close to meeting the burden of proof for a criminal conviction.

That doesn’t matter, though. Ansari’s career has already taken a major down turn. His hit show, “Masters of None,” has not been renewed by Netflix since the allegations came out. Men like Henry Cavill, whose careers are ascending, certainly take notice of that. They don’t even have to commit a crime and suddenly, everything they worked for is in ashes.

For powerful men in Hollywood, it’s a reasonable concern, but one they probably won’t get much sympathy for expressing. Men like Henry Cavill are rich, successful, and handsome enough to comfortably wear Superman’s skin-tight costume. He’s a man who can attract women just by breathing. However, that may end up making him even more vulnerable.

Most people aren’t going to be inclined to make a big deal about someone who flirts inappropriately. When that person is a celebrity, though, the incentives are much stronger. You need only have an overreaction or a burning desire for attention to twist it into something much worse.

It’s for that reason that Cavill shouldn’t have apologized for his comments. His concerns are legitimate and after all the work he’s put in, he’s right to worry about the forces that might destroy it. That still didn’t matter. His comments still triggered a major backlash on social media. He also had to apologize for it. These were his exact words.

“Having seen the reaction to an article in particular about my feelings on dating and the #metoo movement, I just wanted to apologize for any confusion and misunderstanding that this may have created. Insensitivity was absolutely not my intention. In light of this I would just like to clarify and confirm to all that I have always and will continue to hold women in the highest of regard, no matter the type of relationship whether it be friendship, professional, or a significant other. Never would I intend to disrespect in any way, shape or form. This experience has taught me a valuable lesson as to the context and the nuance of editorial liberties. I look forward to clarifying my position in the future towards a subject that it so vitally important and in which I wholeheartedly support.”

Notice that there’s nothing in that apology that expands on his concerns. Cavill doesn’t attempt to re-frame his point or address some of the complaints levied against him. He just throws his hands up and apologizes about everything, as though every word he said was factually wrong.

Now, to be fair to Cavill, it’s very likely that the statement he gave was written by a publicist or agent. Chances are he was pressured to read that as quickly as possible in order to prevent him from getting labeled a misogynist or someone who did not wholly support the anti-harassment movement. Even if he didn’t feel inclined to apologize, he still had to do it in order to preserve his career and reputation.

Regardless of his reasons for doing so, he still apologized for telling the honest truth. The backlash he received didn’t even argue that truth. Most of it amounted to scoffing at the concerns of a rich, handsome celebrity who is undeserving of any sympathy. One commenter even went so far as to call him a wannabe victim.

Such criticism is every bit as absurd as the kind Matt Damon got when he dared to point out that there’s a difference between patting a woman on the butt and full-blown rape. They also fail to acknowledge that it’s entirely possible for a woman to be vindictive enough to falsely accuse someone of a heinous crime for the sole purpose of ruining their career, despite documented cases that this has happened.

It’s one thing to expose the serious crimes of predators like Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein. Those cases did have evidence and are being processed through appropriate legal means. The behaviors Henry Cavill described don’t even come close to that kind of conduct.

The fact that Cavill had to apologize sets a dangerous precedent for the anti-harassment movement. History has shown that any movement that throws off honest truth and basic justice is built on a poor foundation. In time, that foundation eventually crumbles and the merits of the movement get lost.

There are plenty of behaviors among celebrities and non-celebrities that warrant outrage. What Henry Cavill said wasn’t one of them. The fact he still had to apologize for his words does not bode well for anyone concerned with the values that heroes like Superman embody.

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The (Fragile) State Of Modern Chivalry

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These days, you can’t go more than a few days without hearing someone complaining that chivalry is dead, dying, or some elaborate patriarchal conspiracy to keep women in their place. A few are even arguing it’s part of some matriarchal conspiracy to control men. The very concept of chivalry is in a precarious state is what I’m saying.

Now, I’m somewhat hesitant to write about this because in my experience, both in real life and online, it brings out a lot of mixed sentiments. I’ve met men who resent it. I’ve met women who are outright offended by it. No matter how I approach it, there’s no way to avoid rubbing certain people the wrong way.

Hesitation aside, I do feel compelled to talk about it because the idea of modern chivalry, the kind that involves common courtesy and not the medieval kind that made high school English class so frustrating, is kind of personal to me. That’s because I had awesome, loving parents who went out of their way to teach me and my siblings the manners, attitude, and mentality that go into modern chivalry.

They may not have built their entire parenting strategy around it, but I like to think that them emphasizing it was part of a larger life lesson. It’s one that effects me to this day. I still make it a point to hold doors, pull out chairs, and address people as sir/ma’am. If I don’t, then I feel like I’m not showing the respect I want.

It may not sound like much, but I find myself wondering and worrying about the state of this gender-driven quirk. Some of that worry stems from how relevant those vital lessons my parents taught me are today and whether they’re losing relevance with each passing year. That might just be a byproduct of me getting older, but it does concern me, if only because I feel there’s a lot of gender-driven conflict these days.

To understand why, I need to give a little background as to just how my parents instilled an appreciation of modern chivalry in me and, as a bonus, demonstrate why they’re so awesome. While both my parents were big on teaching me and my siblings manners, my father was more focused in emphasizing courteous behavior.

As a kid, I remember more than one occasion where we would go out somewhere and my father told me to hold the door for women and/or total strangers coming up behind you. It wasn’t just for women either. He made it clear that if you have a chance to hold the door for someone, you do it and you be a gentleman about it.

I only remembered why it was so important on the occasions I forgot. There was this one time when I was around 10-years-old that my parents took me and my siblings to the mall. I, being an overly excited kid, ran out ahead to get inside. In doing so, I forgot to hold the door for a woman and her daughter. My dad did not approve of that.

I vividly recall him catching up with me, grabbing me by the arm, and telling me that if I’m going to run out ahead like that, I damn well better hold the door like a goddamn gentleman. Remember, I was only 10 at the time and my father was holding me to higher standards than that. At the time, I was kind of annoyed, but as I got older, I came to appreciate that lesson.

There were probably other similar incidents. My dad, who I know occasionally reads this site, can probably remember plenty of others like that. I hope they’re still relatively few because as I got older, things like holding doors, pulling out chairs, and saying sir/ma’am became second nature to me. It got to a point where I really didn’t think about it.

Then, in a more recent incident, I had an encounter that kind of worried me. I was walking around my neighborhood. I then make my way into a fast food restaurant for a quick lunch. Since an older woman was behind me, I held the door for them. She smiled and thanked me. I replied with a simple, “You’re welcome, ma’am.”

It was that last part, though, that got a stronger reaction. She was genuinely surprised when I said “ma’am.” It was a pleasant surprised, though. She even went out of her way to thank me for being so courtesy, claiming she doesn’t hear that sort of rhetoric much anymore.

Now, this was not some old woman longing for the good old days, mind you. This woman didn’t look that much older than me. It really caught me off-guard, mostly because I was just doing what my parents had taught me to do all my life. It also kind of worried me, too.

That’s not the first time something like that happened. I’ve said “sir/ma’am” to strangers before and gotten strange looks, both from older and younger crowds. I’ve noticed the older women, though, are the ones that react most often to it. They tend to react most positively as well. Women who are around my age or younger just smile and shrug it off, as though it’s no big deal.

I’m honestly not sure what to make of it. I understand my experiences are purely anecdotal and it’s unreasonable to make broad generalizations about society, as a whole. However, the more reactions of this sort that I encounter, the more I worry that the value of modern chivalry is declining.

That worry, though, is not akin to some old man longing for the good old days. I understand that the good old days are never as good as we remember. I feel a more pressing concern is how this attitude reflects the growing tension between genders that seems to fuel so many conflicts, these days.

I’ve talked about a few of those conflicts, including the absurd ones. A part of me can’t help but wonder whether the lack of a reaction I get from younger women on my chivalrous acts reflects a distressing trend in attitudes towards men, in general.

I worry that recent scandals, trends in feminism, and even a few trends in men’s rights activism are conditioning people to just assume the worst in men, even when they demonstrate good conduct. Assuming the worst in any situation is usually the first step towards falling into a nasty cycle of self-fulfilling prophecies.

In that context, there’s no behavior, chivalrous or otherwise, that can convince anyone that they’re just trying to be polite. I hold a door for a woman with those assumptions and she won’t see it as good manners. She’ll just see it as some elaborate effort to get into her pants or somehow draw her into a system of patriarchal oppression.

The assumptions are just as bad for the men. I hold a door for a man, or just get seen holding the door for a woman, and the assumption is I’m trapped in some radical feminist agenda that seeks to turn all men into weak, submissive, beta-males. Again, it overlooks the mere possibility that it’s just the kind, courteous, polite thing to do.

I sincerely hope this is just empty concern on my part and the observations I’ve made are just a byproduct of growing cynicism. I also hope that the current state of gender politics doesn’t reduce the concept of modern chivalry to an agenda. Just acting like a decent human being to other people, regardless of their gender, should never be an agenda.

It’ll be interesting to see how the current social landscape evolves over the next several years. How it sees and interprets modern chivalry will reveal a lot about the direction we’re heading with respect to how men and women relate to one another. If every little action suddenly becomes part of an agenda, then I imagine it’ll get a lot harder to just show common courtesy to someone.

I hope it doesn’t get that bad. I sincerely hope that the lessons my parents taught me about showing good manners and common courtesy are just as relevant in the future as they are now. If I ever get around to having kids, I intend to teach them those same lessons.

Some things just don’t need to be part of a gender-driven conflict. They can just be an overly-formal way of showing respect to one another. Call it what you want, be it modern chivalry or just not being an asshole to someone. There’s still a place for it in any society and I believe there always will be.

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Dangerous Double Standards And The Distressing Stories They Tell

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When it comes to conveying complex ideas in an understandable way, I don’t consider myself exceptionally skilled. When it comes to telling a story, though, that’s a skill I know I have and not just because I aced every essay question in college.

Sometimes, a story is the best way to convey an idea and the emotional weight it carries. Anyone can list the details of complex issues like gun control, abortion rights, or net neutrality. Some, like John Oliver, can even make it funny or entertaining. However, explaining what an issue is doesn’t necessarily convey why it matters.

Whenever I talk about gender double standards, be it uncomfortable thought experiments or imbalances in our sexual attitudes, I try to do so in a way that highlights the larger implications. Those implications, I believe, are part of the reason why there’s so much hostility on issues like the anti-harassment movement, representation in popular culture, and fair treatment under the law.

I don’t want to belabor the points I’ve made on that topic in the past. Instead, I want to tell a quick story that I thought about turning into a short novel. Then, something happened in the process that struck me on a personal level. Read the following story and see if you can tell where the process broke down.

An average man, single and living alone, is walking down the street on a Saturday evening. It’s cold and rainy. Not many people are out in these conditions.

Then, as he passes by the dumpster near his home, he sees a girl who can’t be older than 10-years-old huddling under some dirty boxes. She’s wearing dirty clothes, she’s shivering, and is clearly in a bad situation.

The man feels sorrow and concern for the girl. He asks her where her parents are. He learns that the girl has run away. Her mother was abusive, even showing him some scars she had from when her mother cut her with a fork. Horrified, the man offers to help the girl. She eagerly accepts.

The man takes the girl home, gives her some badly-needed food, lets her take a hot bath, and lets her sleep in his bed while he sleeps on the couch. The next morning, he calls social services and finds out the girl’s mother is nowhere to be found. Overwhelmed and under-staffed, they are unable to find any relatives to take care of her.

Having grown fond of her company, he offers to look after her. The girl eagerly accepts. The man spends the next several weeks caring for her, getting her new clothes and introducing her to his family. At first, his parents and siblings are uncertain about him taking care of a kid. When they meet her and see how much she loves him, their worries quickly fade.

As time goes on, the girl comes to love the man as a father. She starts calling him daddy. At first, he keeps reminding her that he’s not her real father. Soon, he stops and just smiles. The girl enriches his life in ways he never imagined. He wants to be a father to this girl who isn’t his. He wants to love her in the way she deserves.

Then, one day, a woman arrives at his door. She’s angry, disheveled, and badly dressed. She claims to be the girl’s mother. When the girl sees her, she’s terrified and hides behind the man in fear. The man demands that she leave, but she refuses to leave without her daughter. He threatens to call the police, but she threatens to do the same.

She then takes a step closer, revealing bad teeth, foul breath, and loveless eyes, and presents him with an ultimatum. If he doesn’t hand over the girl, she’ll call social services, the police, and the local news crew and tell him that he’s a sick pervert who took a girl off the streets just so he could groom her to be his personal slave.

It doesn’t stop there. She points out that he’s single, unmarried, and living by himself. Conversely, she’s just a poor woman who got taken advantage of by the girl’s biological father, fled out of fear for their safety, and got tragically separated in the process. All she wants to do is get her daughter back and away from a sadistic pervert. She even says she’ll claim he gave her all the girl’s scars.

In that story, he won’t be the man who took a poor little girl under his care and loved her like a father. He’ll become a disgusting pervert, his reputation destroyed and his life ruined. The fact the girls loves him will just be proof of how much he’s groomed her to be his slave.

The man is horrified. The girl says her mother is a liar and a monster. The woman just laughs before asking one more time for the man to hand over the girl. The man, seeing the terrified look in the girl’s eyes, doesn’t want to see her suffer. He then gets up in her face and tells her this.

“You stay the hell away from her! She belongs with me! Lie all you want. I know the truth and so does she.”

The woman just shakes her head and laughs again.

“It doesn’t matter what the truth is. Everyone will believe me at my worst before they believe you at your best.”

This is as far as I could take the story. At this point, the creative process broke down for me. For someone like me who loves telling stories, sexy or otherwise, that’s akin to tripping over my own feet in the middle of a race. It usually takes a lot for me to throw my hands up and give up on a story. This was one of them.

Image result for man in defeat

That’s because when I imagined that final confrontation, I could not come up with a way to see it through. I can easily see the man fighting the woman’s accusations and winning out in the end. I can also see the woman winning out and the man having his life ruined, all because he showed compassion for a little girl.

The fact that I can see both outcomes as equally possible really bothers me and not just because I found myself unable to finish the story. In telling that story, I touched on a disturbing implication of double standards and the assumptions we have about men, women, and how they treat one another.

The story was partially inspired by an incident in the UK where a man, who happens to be a widower, took his teenage daughter on a vacation. When they checked into a motel, though, the staff got suspicious that an older man was traveling with a teenage girl. They called the police on him, suspecting that he might be a pedophile.

 The dad and daughter were staying over for trip to Thorpe Park together

By most measures, it’s a simple, albeit egregious misunderstanding. It deeply disturbed the girl and put the father in a terrible position. He was able to show the staff pictures and IDs to prove that he was the girl’s father and not some pervert. The damage was done, though.

When I read that story, I found myself wondering what would’ve happened if the man hadn’t had those family pictures. Then, I wondered what would’ve happened if the man wasn’t a blood relative of the girl. Then, and this is where the impact got especially heavy, I wondered what would’ve happened if the man had just tried to help a girl who had run away and had nowhere to go.

If he had been a woman helping a 14-year-old girl in her time of need, I doubt anyone would’ve batted an eye. However, because this involves a man and expectations about parenting is different for men, the situation takes on a much darker undertone.

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That undertone highlights why these gender double standards can be so damaging. It’s one thing for those standards to inspire overplayed tropes about men in sitcoms. When they create a real incentive for people to not do the compassionate thing, that’s not just a problem. That creates real, tangible harm in the world.

Men are capable of kindness and compassion. Most decent people believe this. However, when there’s a situation in which assuming the best for one gender requires that you assume the worst for another, that reflects the kind of double standard that needs to be confronted.

We’re already seeing men show more reluctance in being alone with women. Any level of reluctance requires a certain level of fear. When it gets to a point that just being alone with another human being scares us, then that’s a sign that something is very wrong with our attitudes.

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Ode To Tomboys And How One Made Me A Better Person

I try not to get personal on this site too often. When I do, though, I try to make an important point that others can learn from. That’s not easy, since everyone’s personal experiences are different. When one of those stories resonates, though, it’s a beautiful thing.

With that beauty in mind, I’d like to take a moment to appreciate a certain female persona that tends to evoke mixed emotions in people. For me, though, that persona has a special place in my heart because certain women have influenced me in a major way. That persona, in this case, is that of the female tomboy.

I know the stereotypical tomboy isn’t known for her sex appeal. She doesn’t come off like the kind of person who would inspire an aspiring erotica/romance writer. However, I think the appeal of a tomboy goes far beyond how little she has in common with the cast of “Mean Girls.”

I’m guessing that most people knew someone growing up who fit the mold of a tomboy. She was a girl, but she didn’t have “girly” interest. She liked sports. She liked cars. She liked to hang out with boys, didn’t care for makeup, and didn’t mind getting her nails dirty. Whether she was a friend, relative, or classmate, she probably stood out more than most.

There’s all sorts of social and psychological insights into what makes a girl a tomboy. I don’t want to get too much into that. For this, I want to keep things personal. I want to tell a short story about how a very special tomboy influenced me in a positive way, one that I still feel to this day.

Out of respect for her privacy, as well as the fact that I haven’t kept in touch with her, I won’t use her real name. From here on out, I’m just going to call her Carly. If, by some remote chance she ever reads this, she’ll probably recognize the importance of that name. She may even recognize me. I hope that happens because I don’t think she knows what a profound impact she had on me.

I knew Carly from grade school. We met when we were in the third grade and we shared the same classes until grade six. That’s a pretty critical time because we were both still kids, but were on the edge of puberty. While I don’t think it played too great a role at the time, I think it influenced the context of our friendship and our connection.

What made Carly stand out, even for a kid like me, was the fact that she didn’t look like the kind of hardcore tomboy you’d imagine after seeing “Little Giants.” If you randomly met her in public, you wouldn’t know she was a tomboy, but you would probably expect it. While she did look feminine, she never wore dresses, skirts, or makeup.

If you spent any amount of time with her, you learned quickly that Carly wasn’t a typical girl. She didn’t conduct herself like the other girls I knew. Whenever we did group projects, she worked with boys. Whenever we had lunch at the cafeteria, she sat with the boys. It wasn’t that she hated other girls. She just preferred being around boys, myself included.

I didn’t think too much of that until I saw her doing more than just being around boys. What made Carly special was how she went out of her way to match other boys in terms of skill, grit, and strength. While the other girls hung out on the playground, Carly was playing basketball and football. While those same girls talked about boy bands, she talked about who won on Monday Night Football.

I remember multiple instances where the boys got together to play touch football and she would be the only girl who wanted to play. We let her too. None of the other boys joked about it. There was this unspoken rule that Carly was one of the guys. She proved that she belonged. Anyone who gave her crap about it was not welcome.

Keep in mind, these are pre-teen boys who still think cooties are a thing. These are boys whose maturity level is limited by the amount of cartoons they watched that same morning. The fact that none of them gave Carly a second look, nor did they question her ability, says as much about them as it does about her.

More than any other girl, at that time, Carly fascinated me. I watched as she ran alongside other boys during gym class, playing sports like football and baseball better than some of the other boys I knew. Being so young, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. I just knew I had to go out of my way to hang out with her and be friends with her.

While I won’t say we were close friends, we did know each other. We recognized each other outside of class. That eventually culminated in a moment that would both solidify Carly’s place in my memory and inspire me in ways I didn’t appreciate until later in life. That moment occurred when I was in little league one year.

From the time I was in first grade until the time I went to middle school, I played little league baseball. I loved baseball as a kid and it was the only sport I ever felt passionate enough about to play seriously. In all those years of playing little league, I played with a lot of other boys, some more memorable than others. However, through those same years, only one girl ever dared to play little league with boys and that was Carly.

I still remember the day when I saw her run out onto the field, a dirty old hat and a new baseball glove in hand. I had no idea she would be on my team, but when I saw her, I remember smiling. I even watched as she fielded pop flies and practiced batting with the coach. While I wouldn’t say she was our best player, she held her own. She could throw, run, hit, and catch. She wasn’t just a tomboy. She was an athlete.

In later years, that memory has taken on far greater meaning. Remember, I was a kid at the time. I was still at an age where girls might as well have been another species. Since pre-school, boys hung out with boys. Girls hung out with girls. We didn’t question it. We just separated ourselves, as though it had been ordained.

Carly showed that those unwritten rules weren’t really rules. She showed that girls didn’t have to be that different. Girls could still like boyish things. They could also be tough, play sports, and relate to boys just as well as they did with girls. Carly embodied that spirit better than anyone I’d known before or since. She was like a kid version of Rhonda Rousey.

That may not sound like much on the surface, but I can’t overstate the importance of that influence. The fact that I knew a girl who could so comfortably embrace boyish things made me question whether the divide between genders really mattered that much. The older I got, the more I realized how arbitrary that divide truly was. Carly was living proof of that.

It was because of Carly that I began interacting more with girls. This did make me a bit weird in the eyes of other boys. I started seeking out female company before it was considered cool for a kid. I like to think that gave me a head start on puberty in that it prepared me to appreciate female company better than most.

It’s also through my interactions with Carly that I stopped trying to talk to girls as though they were so radically different. In doing so, I realized that girls can talk about things like sports, cartoons, and even comics. While these girls might not have been tomboys like Carly, we were capable of sharing the same interests.

Conversely, it showed me that boys can share girls’ interests as well. To me, that was a big deal because it’s through dealing with girls that I developed a fondness for romance. Whereas boys may look at movie, comic, or TV show and appreciate the action, I often found myself appreciating the romantic sub-plots. I don’t think I would’ve had the mind to appreciate those things without Carly.

For that, I’ll always be grateful to her. At the same time, I regret not being a closer friend with her or keeping in touch with her. In my defense, we ended up going to different middle schools so we never got a chance. I would still love to know what came of her. She struck me as the kind of girl who would go far in life.

I don’t know if she outgrew her tomboy persona, as many girls do. Even if she did, Carly’s influence on me was a turning point. I may have been a kid when I knew her, but she inspired in me the kinds of ideas that shaped me into the man I am today. I like to think I’m a better overall person because of it.

Dealing with Carly helped me interact better with girls and people who were different from me, in general. Carly also proved to me that girls and boys weren’t so different after all. We could relate to one another, work together, and grow together. As a kid, that’s a radical concept. As an adult, that’s an important life lesson that helps men and women alike appreciate each other.

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Al Bundy Syndrome: The Face Of Learned Helplessness

Some concepts are so vague that it’s hard to put a human face on it. I suspect that’s part of why many people suck at math. You can’t personalize it, humanize it, or imagine it on a pair of breasts. Even things that directly affect people, like learned helplessness, are hard to grasp.

That’s why if you find a way to put a human face on a serious issue, you jump at the chance. It doesn’t just make it easier. It makes them memorable in an unexpected way. I consider the concept of learned helplessness a serious issue that affects our personal lives, our professional lives, and our sex lives. It goes beyond the world of an aspiring erotica/romance writer. It’s way bigger than we’re comfortable admitting.

That’s why, in the interest of putting a human face on a serious issue, I’d like to present the greatest personification of learned helplessness in the history of media. Some of us grew up with him. Some of us were appalled by him. He’s a myth, a legend, and an icon in his own tragic right.

His name is Al Bundy, the hapless husband and father of the Bundy family from the Fox classic, “Married With Children.” To those who have watched every episode and love the show as much as I do, you already understand why Al is the perfect embodiment of learned helplessness.

For those who aren’t familiar with “Married With Children” or why it was such a groundbreaking show, I feel sorry for you. For most people under the age of 20, they have no idea how much this show shook our collective understanding of modern television.

Say what you will about the trash currently on TV now, but before “Married With Children,” it was much worse. By worse, I mean they were boring. Most sitcoms were bland, generic, feel-good stories that tried to paint the world in an overly-rosy picture. Every one of them basically tried to capture the spirit of “Father Knows Best” or “Leave It To Beaver.”

Married With Children” saw that and decided to do the exact opposite, so much so that when it was in development, the title of the show was called “Not The Cosbys.” It was a show where all the conflicts weren’t solved at the end. It was a show where the world wasn’t idealized, perfect, or fair. In other words, it was more in line with the real world.

In that world, Al Bundy gets dealt a worse hand than most. At one point, he was a high school football star with a promising future. Then, he got hit with a streak of bad luck that effectively crushed his spirits.

He got injured and lost his football scholarship. He got involved with Peggy Bundy, a woman I’ve cited before as a character that men should rightly dread. He eventually has two kids that don’t respect him and works a dead-end, low-paying job as a shoe salesman.

While other sitcoms glorify the innate dignity of working class men like Ralph Cramden, Archie Bunker, and even Homer Simpson, there’s nothing glorious about Al Bundy’s life. There’s nothing noble about his poverty. He doesn’t even try to come off as sympathetic. His life doesn’t raise the bar or embody an ideal. If anything, it reminds ordinary people just how bad things can get.

Whereas other TV sitcoms try to uplift an audience by showing how loving, functional families solve their problems in a simple, 30-minute show, “Married With Children” sent a different message. It presented the audience with a level of dysfunction so extreme, so exaggerated that even if you’re home life was a mess, you could take comfort in the fact that you were not the Bundy family.

What makes that message so powerful is also what makes Al Bundy such a perfect example of learned helplessness. Fittingly enough, the actor who played him, Ed O’Neill, actually drew inspiration from someone in his own family.

In a sense, Al Bundy was built around the idea that he was just resigned to his fate. He realized how much his life sucked, that his family didn’t respect him, and that his best days were behind him. Dealing with all that in addition to working a dead-end job effectively destroyed his spirit, so much so that he stopped trying to better his situation.

That perfectly reflects some of the early experiments done about learned helplessness, namely those involving a poor dog that just stopped trying to avoid painful shocks. Al Bundy is basically that dog after it has been shocked so many times that it just doesn’t bother anymore. It accepts that it will suffer and doesn’t try to avoid it.

In a sense, it becomes a mentality akin to a psychological illness. In the spirit of caveman logic and excuse banking, I’ll give it a name. From here on out, let’s call it “Al Bundy Syndrome.” That’s a much more memorable name than the overly-technical term, learned helplessness. With Al Bundy Syndrome, the condition has a name and a face that Ed O’Neill made iconic.

Given that we already have weird diseases like restless leg syndrome and walking corpse syndrome, which I swear is a thing, I don’t see why we can’t create a syndrome out a fictional character. In fact, it wouldn’t even be the first time.

I’m not a doctor, nor do I claim to be an expert in anything that doesn’t involve telling sexy stories, but it’s for that reason that I feel it’s so important to put an actual face on an issue that’s hard to understand. Psychology is tricky, complicated, and messy. Al Bundy is simple, crude, and crass. One is innately funnier than the other.

In that sense, it’s easier to see the signs and symptoms of learned helplessness, so long as you frame it in Al Bundy syndrome. Watch any old episode of “Married With Children” and the symptoms reveal themselves. They include feelings like:

  • Being hopelessly numb to the misery around you, like Al Bundy
  • Making little to no effort to improve your situation, like Al Bundy
  • Assuming the worst in every situation, like Al Bundy
  • Having an extremely cynical outlook, like Al Bundy
  • Not caring about whether the world likes or respects you, like Al Bundy
  • Having no shame or filter about what you say, like Al Bundy

The list goes on, but there are too many to list and watching old episodes of “Married With Children” is probably far more informative than any list, not to mention funnier. It’s a show that probably couldn’t get made today, due to how politically incorrect it was, even for its time. That makes its impact all the more vital.

I doubt that Ed O’Neill or the producers of “Married With Children” intended Al Bundy to be the poster boy for learned helplessness, but sometimes the connections are there and all we have to do is make them. So, moving forward, if you want to know what learned helplessness is and how to avoid it, just remember this face. It may save your life, your marriage, and your soul.

For that, I thank you Ed O’Neill.

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Filed under gender issues, Marriage and Relationships