For the majority of my life, I have largely distrusted men.
Being raised in the 1980s and 90s when third wave feminism was starting up and gaining momentum, I received a heavy dose of “This is how men are currently damaging the world” during my childhood conditioning. As a reaction to this messaging, I put forth a great effort to ensure that I was unlike other men.
For me, the greatest moments of my teen years were when my girlfriends would say anything to me along the lines of, “You’re so unlike any other guy I’ve ever dated.” I needed to feel different, special, better than other men. And I prided myself on this sense of differentness, or separateness from how most men were apparently operating.
Whatever men were doing, I had to find ways to appear as the opposite to them.
Men were stoic? I had to be communicative and emotive. Men were into watching televised sports? Not me. Couldn’t stand them. Men loved binge-drinking and boasting about their exploits with women? I was sober and respectful.
But in being so desperate to brand myself as different from other men, and masculinity in general, I also lost out on a lot.
I lost out on allowing myself to lean into sports. I lost out on leaning into my competitive edge in my business dealings. I lost out on developing many healthy character traits that are typically labeled as more masculine (assertiveness, decisiveness, directionality, etc.).
And, most importantly, I lost out on a lot of intimacy in my male friendships.
How I Healed My Relationship With Men
Ultimately, in order to heal my relationship with the men in my life, I had to heal my relationship to the concept of masculinity within myself. Only by embracing the parts of myself that I had disowned would I be able to truly see and appreciate the men in my life as they were, as opposed to being trapped in a state of seeing them as the caricatures that I had built them up to be in my head.
I had to let go of the stories that all men were competitive, dense, selfish, and emotionally unintelligent. And if I decided to hold on to these stories by leaving them unchallenged, then I knew that all I would ever hope to be able to attract into my life were men who reinforced this false story to me.
So I set out on a mission to heal my relationship to the masculine.
My Journey Towards Masculine Integration
I set the intention of wanting to connect more deeply with my masculine energy, and with male friends in general, at the beginning of 2016. I dragged my heels for the first few months of the year, but a few emotionally challenging events occurred (most notably, ending a significant relationship) that had me feeling desperate for close male friends and a deeper sense of community.
I did some research in my hometown and found out that there was an emerging men’s community picking up steam. The community described itself as being in alignment with the "mythopoetic men’s movement," which is a branch of men’s work that seeks to get men in touch with their masculine core, while also honoring women completely.
I reached out to the appropriate people, dove in head first, and within a week I was a part of a men’s group.
The Men’s Group
Every Tuesday night, nineteen men and I (all roughly aged 25 to 55) met in a community center and talked about life for three hours. We would alternate between doing open shares (where men spoke openly about life, love, work, and their struggles and received feedback from the other group members) and doing formalized group exercises.
We did exercises that helped us:
- Get in touch with our anger
- Get in touch with our relationship to our sexuality
- Get in touch with the full spectrum of our emotional reality (sadness, grief, joy, pride, frustration)
- Get in touch with our darkest thoughts that we felt didn’t have a place in our everyday lives
- Heal our relationships with our siblings, our parents, and ourselves
- Gain clarity of who we are as individuals and how we can help the world with our unique gifts
And while the exercises sometimes bordered on the kind of absurdity that would make the average person off the street break out into a nervous sweat and/or fit of laughter (holding direct eye contact with a guy and screaming “F*ck you!” to his face five times, or dancing around a room in a trance in order to discover your spirit animal), I have gained massive benefits in diving into this tribe of my peers over the past few months.
Here we are, repeatedly screaming ‘F*ck you!’ at each other while 18 other men look on. It’s even more fun than it sounds.
Most notably, I further healed my relationship with my siblings and parents (without them ever having to be present), was able to fully express my judgments towards my male peers in a safe place, and enjoy some of the richest and deepest friendship with men that I have ever experienced in my life.
On top of these tangential benefits, I essentially have a firing squad of men who are all personally invested in calling me on my bullsh*t, holding me accountable for my goals, and ensuring that I stay in integrity with myself. There are very few places in my life where I have this sense of people giving me clear, directive feedback with my best interests at heart.
As a result of being a part of this group, I’ve traded distrust, competitiveness, judgment, and contempt for men, with appreciation, connection, and a deep feeling of being loved and supported by them.
If you find yourself feeling pulled to working on your relationship to men, here’s what I would recommend.
1. Read literature on the mythopoetic men's movement.
If you’ve never heard of men’s work or the mythopoetic men's movement, then it might help you to study up on some of the predominant literature that gets passed around in these circles. Scan a book or two, and if you feel like the themes in these books resonate with you or pique your curiosity, then this area of study might be worth digging into further.
- Iron John by Robert Bly
- No More Mr. Nice Guy by Dr. Robert Glover
- Absent Fathers, Lost Sons: The Search For Masculine Identity by Guy Corneau
- Fire In The Belly: On Being A Man by Sam Keen
- The Way Of The Superior Man by David Deida
2. Reach out to men more often.
Many men who have an underdeveloped, cautious, or distrustful relationship with men frequently primarily keep women as their closest friends. These men rely on women for the vast majority (if not all) of their emotional needs.
The next time you need to talk something out, have an emotional release, or complain about something to someone you trust, try reaching out to your male friends more often than not. Give them the chance to be there for you, and you’ll grow your connection (and trust for men) in the process.
3. Join a men's group.
At this point in my life, I now believe that one of best things that we can do for ourselves, our intimate relationships, and our sense of integrity and growth is to enlist the help of a group of people who you truly believe have your back. Especially if all of the people in your group are of the same gender as you.
You might be nervous about sharing vulnerable things in front of a group of strangers, but that fear will dissipate once you get in the room and hear the types of shares that are coming out of the mouths of the people around you.
This is the overarching benefit of any type of group therapy: you benefit from hearing the thoughts of everyone around you because they make you feel more sane. It’s the “I thought it was only me, but apparently it isn’t” effect of hearing other people verbalize your deepest, darkest fears.
You might label some of what they say as insightful; other things they say might trigger you and thereby educate you into an aspect of your emotional patterns. Whatever happens in your group, you’re pretty much guaranteed to grow as a result of what happens within the room. A well-run men’s group can be a pressure cooker for your growth, via the accountability that you experience while attending it.
Whatever your path may look like, I would recommend starting sooner than later.
The more you can heal your relationship to the masculine, the feminine, and to yourself as a person via a wide range of healing modalities, the better off you will be in your intimate relationships and life in general.
This article was originally published at Jordan Gray Consulting. Reprinted with permission from the author.