It wasn't until the age of 30 that I - smart, successful rising marketing executive and m.b.a. student - realized that men were supposed to be nice to me. Three weeks into dating the man, Noah, I am married to today, he said to me, "Christine you can't like a guy because he's nice to you, he's supposed to be nice to you." With that one sentence Noah changed my life and made me painfully aware that I had come to expect men to be controlling, short-tempered, hypercritical and unpredictable and with that my boundaries of what I considered acceptable behavior by my partner were extremely 'messed up.'
I learned to turn the cheek when he swore at me, when he got really angry at me for using the grill the wrong way, or when he grabbed my wrist harder than felt good. I learned to get by doing activities I loved by myself, to look to my friends for emotional support, and to put my bigger dreams on hold. And I came to find it totally normal to become a crazy banshee during our fights, to fall asleep to Roseanne Barr instead of snuggling with him, and to let the business contract of our relationship - which worked well - be enough.
Fast forward 9 years, lots of personal work, good boundaries re-established, and married to Noah, a good, loving and sexy man, I found myself in a conversation with Noah that brought another deep, and frankly shocking belief about men to the surface of my conscious awareness.
Noah has been part of men's group for over 3 years. They meet weekly for a few hours on Thursday nights and talk. Not about sports, business or the latest playboy pin up, but about their lives, their dreams, and their problems. Each of the men supports the other men to break through whatever is holding them back. While I knew Noah couldn't tell me what these men talk about specifically, I found myself curious about what kinds of things they talked about the most, so I asked him.
I expected him to say something like "Their careers, work or money." When he said, "What these men talk about more than anything is their relationships," my mouth dropped to the floor in disbelief. And inside my head this sarcastic voice said, "Really men, care about relationships, c'mon. Men don't care about having intimate, close, fulfilling relationships."
"Wow! Where did that come from," another voice shockingly replied in my head. What I didn't realize is that my lips were also conveying these thoughts out loud to Noah, who looked at me back, a little shocked, as I was that I would have these kinds of feelings about men - especially given that I had such a close, intimate relationship with Noah. Why would I believe that there weren't other men like Noah who were both caring and loving as well as masculine and sexy? Why wouldn't I believe that men, just like women, wanted to be deeply loved, seen and supported by their partners.
The why goes back to the fact that other than Noah, my gay male friends, my two best, straight male friends (both good guys who married not good girls), and my spiritual teachers (all over the age of 50), I hadn't experienced the 'imprint' of these good, heterosexual men. And therefore I didn't really believe they existed. It was like 'good men' were an endangered species or something. I had plenty of sightings of the narcissistic, self-absorbed males (my girlfriends and I have all dated or married them), and living in California I had also come across many 'Soft, nice men who've lost their mojo' (many women I know married and dated these guys to stay safe, only to find themselves unsatisfyingly both the man and woman in the relationship.)
But then on Noah's 40th birthday, I got the imprint of 'good men' washed all over me - yes it was as good as it sounds! We threw a party for Noah and many of the men from his men's group came, some married, some single, all ages, and all good men. Open, present, able to have a meaningful and stimulating conversation, caring, loving... and hot, handsome, funny and manly. All men who I could tell would very much care about having a strong, supportive, dynamic partnership just as much as any woman would. And this made me very happy.
And it also made me a little sad.
You see, I know, after seeing Noah transform through his connection with this men's group, that men just like women need support from other men. They need a place where they can come to talk, be real, and explore the truth of who they are, without all the macho puffery b.s. and beyond the surface connection points of football and business. And while these groups do exist, they are nowhere near as plentiful, accessible or socially acceptable as all of the tele-classes, workshops, retreats, and book clubs out there for us women.
So what can we women do to support men to get what they need, without emasculating them or turning them into soft ponytail boy? Here are a few suggestions and inspirations I have had, including one that my guy Noah was inspired to create:
* Emasculate your man
* Take up all the masculine space in the relationship and then get mad at him for not being a man
* Put all the responsibility on yourself and then get mad at him for not doing his share
* Shame him for not being perfect or living up to your standards
* Compare him to another man
* Make fun of him for being too sensitive
* Measure his worth by his paycheck, his papers, or any external measure.
* Put up with him not giving you unconditional love and respect - but that means that you have to give it too
* Settle for a man who isn't willing to be honest with himself and do his own personal growth work, or get mad a man who won't change for you.
* Value him for his ability to act and do as well as be and love; see his strengths and support him
* Be honest about your personal expectations, and take your personal hang ups out of the equation
* Expect a man to be honest with himself and do his personal work, and be compassionate with him along the way
* Believe that there are good men out there.
* Drop your unrealistic expectations and see your man as human, without giving up or settling for what your heart and soul truly desires.
* Encourage him -- not mandate, plan or sign him up - to explore activities geared towards men coming together in powerful groups (the 5-week virtual class Tackle the Inner Bully is a good example of some of the cool experiences starting to pop up www.tackletheinnerbully.com )
If you have a good man or an emerging good man in your life, my guy Noah Martin and his friend Chris Kyle recently held a 90 minute call with men around the world called, Tackle Your Inner Bully - all about helping men break through what's holding them back. It was a super powerful call - and anyone can download it for free at http://www.TackletheInnerBully.com
Also really powerful - encourage all you women to listen to - is a shorter 5 minute segment with men giving voice to the self-sabotaging voices inside their heads. If you ever wondered if men were hard on themselves too, listen to this ...http://tackletheinnerbully.com (scroll down just a little to get to the recording)