The phrase "gold digger" has been around for a long time, best I can tell it was coined in 1919. Appropriately for the mass media forms of that era, it was popularized in a play. And just in case you haven't heard of it, the term refers to someone who gets involved in a romantic relationship for money rather than love. It is commonly assigned to women. It is not a compliment.
In 2016, a woman named Erin Rodgers put a different spin on the term. Because we're in the digital age, the mass media form used to broadcast this instance of the term was Twitter. In her astute twist - people putting off their "emotional labour" onto the person with whom they are romantically involved - she expands the term "gold digger" in a meaningful way. This instance of the term is specifically associated with men. It is not a compliment.
You know what? I think Erin Rodgers is right. I think guys do that. Better yet, I know that I have done that. It wasn't OK. For her or for me.
Before I get to some thoughts on how we can change this - because we need to - I want to delve into why it happens. I used to think that my own isolationist practices, which included difficulties sharing my emotions, were a result of my familial upbringing. While that's true, in part, it isn't the whole story. So many men struggle with this that it can't be just that.
There is ample evidence that men in modern society are struggling immensely to build intimate connections, especially with other men. A fundamental reason for this is men's propensity to latch onto a single source for emotional support: a woman, particularly a romantic partner.
The impact of that is huge, for both men and women, as so thoughtfully described in a recent article by Melanie Hamlett in Harper's Bazaar. The subtitle of her piece cuts to the crux of the issue so well:
Toxic masculinity—and the persistent idea that feelings are a "female thing"—has left a generation of straight men stranded on emotionally-stunted island, unable to forge intimate relationships with other men. It's women who are paying the price.
An "emotionally-stunted island"? Yikes! That is scary to read because I find it to be so true to my own past experience.
Wait... "past experience", you say? Yeah. I can honestly and proudly say that I am not on that lonely island anymore. Don't get me wrong - I'm far from some kind of Emotional Superhero, although I will fess up to crying at that movie. But I've realized that the "emotional gold digger" way was far more painful than doing the work to open myself up.
At first it was scary to face that reality and start making big changes in my life. As I accumulated new skills and more agency over my serenity, I quickly realized it was worth it. Now I'm pretty much always looking for the next scariest thing to get me deeper into who I am and how I feel. It's an incredibly alive feeling.
Ok, so I wrote a "click bait" title that promised you 4 things you could do to help put away your emotional pick-axe. And I'm a man of my word. So here are some things I've done to get started:
Journal every day. Sit down at a predetermined time each day - late evening works best for me - and write about your day. Write about whatever comes to mind without worrying if it's "right" or "good". Just write. You don't need to share it with anyone, or even read it yourself. And you will be surprised what comes out of your pen/keyboard.
Meditate. I tried meditation years ago, thinking I had to sit uncomfortably on the floor and be quiet without any thoughts entering my mind for a long period of time (e.g., 30 minutes). I kept trying and quitting. Then I gave myself "permission" to do it differently. Most days I listen to a guided meditation that's about 10 minutes long. Sometimes I'm sitting in a chair. Or lying on the floor. Often it's what is playing as I lie down to sleep at night.
Dedicate time to learning about yourself. You might be an avid reader. Perhaps you prefer learning by watching videos. Or you may even like talking to another person you trust. There is so much information available to us in this day and age. (We should call it the Information Age or something.) I have personally found so much solace in books, TED Talks, conversations, and more over the last several years. That time is a gift I give myself regularly, and it's the best gift I ever get.
Find at least one person you trust to be an intimate friend. Assuming you're a guy - because that's who this is predominantly meant for - try to find another man. It could be a therapist - mine has been SO helpful to me. It could be a friend, new or old. It could be a coach, like me. But please trust me on this ... there are PLENTY of men out there who want to connect just like you do. Be vulnerable and make that first move. [By the way, if you need to try this out first with a female friend, that's OK. Just don't confuse "intimate friend" with romantic and/or sexual intimacy. That's gross, totally contrary to the point, and will only make matters worse.]
There are lots of other ways for men to continue growing into the "emotional continents" we need to be. But for now, let's start by getting off the island.
Drop me a line, or put something in the comments, if you have any other thoughts & questions. I am also happy to share some useful books and journaling techniques that have been helpful to me over the years to get you started.