Any therapist, or any woman sitting with friends and a glass of wine in her hand, has heard something like this:
“I just wish my man would open up more. He’s way too closed off. All that toxic masculinity bullshit these men push on each other keeps them from being complete humans. It’s annoying and makes me less attracted to him. I just wish he would let me in.”
Men are often more “stoic” and “closed off” for a reason. The reason is NOT that all men got together one day and decided that being emotional was for wusses. Yes, men often say exactly that to each other… but let’s dig deeper. Where did that come from? Some of your more feminist types may say that this “toxic masculinity” is a generational mindset that is passed down from man to man for thousands of years. Sure… but WHY? Keep digging. The truth is staring you right in the face.
Much of our behavior as humans is dictated by one all-encompassing question: “What will the opposite sex think? If they like it, I will do more of it. If they don’t like it, I will stop immediately.”
So… men think that women don’t like emotion, so they don’t do it? That’s it?
Well, that’s silly. Where does that thought come from?
Our experience with women.
To break it down into simpler terms: Men have, through generations of trial and error, come to the conclusion that overly emotional men don’t get laid as much as unemotional men.
That’s it. Yes, really.
Women: “That’s bullshit! I swear I would be way more emotionally connected to my guy and be more apt to open up physically to him if he just let his guard down!”
I hear ya, sister. I do. I get it. Makes perfect sense. Unfortunately, whether you know it or not, your actions (and the actions of every other woman in his life) have told him the exact opposite. He probably had a little bit of an emotional moment a time or two in the time he’s been with you, and your visceral reaction wasn’t good. You probably, unknowingly, shut off the sex supply for a good amount of time after that little emotional hissy fit of his. Trust me, he noticed. If he’s like most guys I talk to, he could probably tell you exactly how many days you went without sex. The message received from you was clear: “Oooo… emotions no good. Please don’t do that. Turns me off. Thanks.”
Then you saw a giant furry spider in the kitchen and panicked. You jumped up on the kitchen counter to get away from it. Your husband calmly walked over and stomped on it. You hugged him like he just returned from the war. He was cool under pressure. Message received: “Be cool when I’m not cool. I like that.”
Then there was that time you had the grease fire in the kitchen. You screamed. He calmly moved you out of the way as he dumped baking soda on the stove and saved the day. You gave him oral sex later that night. You didn’t connect the grease fire with your desire to please your husband, but he probably did. Message received: “Being calm under pressure makes me want you.”
You get the idea.
Now, with all that being said… men DO tend to take this a little far. There is a big contingent of men on the internet comparing notes and asking each other which action is more “alpha”. It’s all silly and cringe-worthy, but it’s understood. They just want to know what’s going to get them laid. As human nature dictates, these guys don’t just stop with a little bit of a good thing. They get a taste of the drug that comes with their newfound stoic image (an increase of validation and sex from women) so they turn the emotional knob down even further.
Here’s an example of a guy on a dinner date who takes it too far and comes across like a douchebag:
Him: “I was in a car accident when I was 10. My mom died.”
Her: “Oh my god! That’s horrible! I’m so sorry to hear that. That would be tough for anybody but as a ten-year-old!? That just breaks my heart. That must’ve been so hard on you.”
Him: “Nah. People die. It happens. You want to do some appetizers?”
There’s nothing real there. Nothing human. He’s putting on a front for the woman. It’s obvious and very douchey. Of COURSE he was affected by that car accident. OF COURSE it was a traumatizing event. She sees what he’s doing in that moment. He’s basically scared to open up a bit.
Here’s a healthier way to navigate that situation, but still look “cool” in the process:
Him: “I was in a car accident when I was 10. My mom died.”
Her: “Oh my god! That’s horrible! I’m so sorry to hear that. That would be tough for anybody, but as a ten year old!? That just breaks my heart. That must’ve been so hard on you.”
Him: “Thanks, it’s been 25 years ago now and I still think about it pretty much every day. It was really rough, not gonna lie. I still remember my mom and think about her all the time. But, I’ve learned a lot from it. Life is a gift. In an instant it can all go away. That’s why I try to enjoy every moment and spend it with good people like you. Now, let’s get some chips and queso. I’m starving.”
That’s vulnerable. That’s showing emotion. Good stuff, right?
Well, he could’ve been emotional and open and vulnerable to a fault. His reaction could have been something extreme like crying right there at the dinner table. People would’ve stopped eating and stared. He may have to leave the room to collect himself. He may pick up the phone and call his dad in a crying fit of emotion to tell him he loves him. He could look over to the table next to him and yell out, “You kiss that woman, sir! You don’t know when she could go away forever!”
We all know what would happen after that. The woman would either ask for the check right away and run outta there or just ghost the man afterward and never see him again. Why? Wasn’t what he did a normal and understandable response to a pretty horrific and traumatic moment in his past? Isn’t he just being vulnerable and, in a sense, strong enough to share his innermost feelings of sadness?
No. He’s being a weirdo. It’s been 25 years since the accident. He needs to learn how to cope in a healthy manner. He needs to know that the first date with a woman is no place to break down like this. It’s strange and highly unattractive.
The dinner date scenario sounds like a real “Yeah…DUH” thing to most of you reading this. Well, it’s usually not so cut and dry for men. There’s a very real tipping point where it goes from healthy vulnerability to “Ew, stop”… and men today seem to have a real hard time figuring out where that boundary is. In our defense, you ladies don’t make it any easier. If anything, we men interpret your pleas for us to open up as a test of our fortitude as men.
Her: “Open up to me!”
Him: “Okay, here you go.”
Her: “Okay… just… don’t talk to me right now. Don’t touch me.”
Him: “Dammit. Not doing that again.”
Which do you think is easier? To try to discern the difference between attractive vulnerability and yucky weak behavior, or just erring on the side of showing little to no emotion. Yep, humans tend to gravitate to the easiest solution. Not necessarily the healthiest solution… but the easiest.
Take a guy who went through a marriage where he was routinely way over-the-top emotional and open with his wife. A wife’s infidelity and divorce are not uncommon for those guys. He then takes this emotional state into the dating world. He is friend-zoned by every single woman he meets. Some women even tell him that he’s just way too nice of a guy. Weird… how can a person be “too nice”? Then he learns a thing or two about being more “alpha” from numerous books and Youtube videos that are aimed at guys just like him. He goes back out into the dating world with his new “tough stoic guy” suit on and… holy shit… he gets laid. A lot more. In one month he got more sex than ten years of marriage with his ex-wife. Wow. The market has spoken. The customers are buying what he is selling.
You think THAT dude is going to be quick to “open up” to his woman?
It’s going to take A LOT of time and effort on the part of the woman to break down that man’s walls. What does that effort look like? Well, emotional stability for one. Coping with life in a healthy manner. As soon as a typical man sees that life’s negative but completely understandable moments send his woman into a tizzy… he learns that he does NOT want to add to that chaos. Many men can be heard telling their kids, “Don’t bother mom with that, okay? She has enough to worry about.” The last time he told his wife about the possible layoffs at work resulted in her shutting down sexually for two months, going to the doc for an SSRI prescription, and the start of a bottle-a-day wine habit. Message received: “I don’t handle stress very well.”
And THAT woman wonders why her man just doesn’t “open up” to her very often? Because that man is no dummy. He knows how much his woman leans on him for stability in an otherwise turbulent world. If he were to sit her down and say, “You know how you think I’m so rock solid? Well, I’m not. I’m a mess like everybody else”... well, he might as well just throw a damn grenade into the living room. Same result.
Yes, ladies, you hold a lot of power in the relationship. We all know this. You can probably get your husband to do that one annoying chore by saying, “Blow job tonight” and you can also dictate the emotional landscape of the house with your emotional instability. The man either learns to tip-toe around you like a guy trying not to wake a sleeping newborn, or he just stops giving a shit. What he doesn’t do is let his guard down and “open up” to you. That’s a recipe for disaster.
So, maybe you should stop asking, “Why doesn’t he open up to me more” and instead ask, “What do I do and not do as his partner, that shows him he can trust me?”
Just food for thought.