[Warning: This post contains terms that are offensive to most people. I do not condone their use - nor any other means of denigrating another human being. I use them simply to underscore the realistic threats and risks that men face when opening up to certain behaviors, beliefs and feelings in our society.]
Right around the end of last year I saw a post from a friend on LinkedIn that asked the questions "What do you need in the new year?" and "What will come?". I read those questions and immediately wrote the following words in a comment:
Just. More. Love.
It was so clear to me. That's all I need in 2020. And 2021, 2022, 2023 .......... And ever. Just more love. I'm also going to blatantly lay it on the rest of you that it's all you need, too.
[Funny aside. I have shared a version of this story verbally with several people already, often flashing the small handwritten note that I taped inside my transparent smartphone case that reads "just love more". Yeah, imperfect me didn't remember the order of the words and until I just looked them up a minute ago, I thought I had said it as an active sentence. Turns out, I like that version better, so we're switching to it from here on out.]
If you've read any of my previous posts, you know that I often refer to scholarly articles and facts to back my opinions. I'm not doing that here. I am just writing from the heart. Why? Because that's all I need. AND... it's a place from which most men I've known in my life struggle to communicate.
And why is it that men can't "just love more"? Here's what I think.
Men are afraid to show their love for fear of losing their Man Card.
It's stupid, right? And it's true. I've been in enough conversations where I've felt the palpable discomfort of men around me when the topic of love and being loving comes up. We're so, so very afraid of being called things like "pussy", "fag" or "sissy" if we reveal any of the vulnerability required to be a fully loving human being. We lose status with other men in those moments, which ends up making us feel ashamed.
Speaking of shame... It's another answer to the question of why men can't just love more.
When we live in shame, we can't truly love ourselves, which means we can't love others.
There is research about this (Hello, Brené!), of which I've read a decent amount. But, again, I'm not going to reference anything but real life experience in this post. (Maybe in Part 2.)
So how do I know what I said above is true? I have lived it. For about 45 years, give or take, my life was overridden with shame. Outwardly I seemed to be a loving and kind person. Inside, though? I was loathsome. I was so incredibly mean to myself and so deeply unhappy about how I felt about myself. I did not love myself.
And why was that so? Why didn't I love myself? Because I thought I was a terrible person. My "shame catalog" was long and it was deep. Here's just a sampling of what I would tell myself on a regular basis - how I would shame myself:
My upbringing didn't measure up - we didn't have much money or live in a nice house.
My family was strange and unlike other families - outcasts, even.
I was ugly - my nose and ears were too big, my teeth crooked, my face off kilter, my hair never looked cool enough.
My body was unattractive. I had a gut and love handles - since I was a teenager. (I still do.)
I didn't have enough money compared to "successful people" with their big houses, new cars, fancy clothes, grand vacation plans, big retirement funds.
My education wasn't good enough - no MBA, no prestigious college, no professional certifications to show how smart I am.
I was codependent in many of my relationships, both romantic and otherwise, too weak to fend for myself.
I was always afraid of women. (Gee, I wonder why?)
Bottom line: I wasn't "man enough".
Do any of those sound like the kinds of things you'd share if you had any fear of having your manhood discredited?
Didn't think so.
Can you imagine loving yourself if that was the soundtrack playing on repeat in your head? Of course not.
Do you, or any of the men in your life, relate to some or all of these, or more?
Yeah, I thought so.
So I'm laying out a pretty solid case here for the "simple" directive to "just love more", huh? Sarcasm aside, it's still the right answer. It just might need to be interpreted in a bunch of different ways. But here's a simple version of what finally worked for me:
I started just loving myself more.
About seven and a half years ago, on the brink of separation and eventual divorce, at a very low point in my life, I started bombarding myself with positive messages. It started innocently enough when I signed up for the Gratefulness.org Word of the Day email. I've laid my eyes on that small message of positivity first thing each day just about every single day since.
I slowly - and I mean over the course of seven and a half years - added new positive practices into my life: spiritual reading, connecting to community, routinely learning about subjects that light me up, volunteering, investing in deep friendships, learning improv comedy, meditating, yoga, deeply investing in being a great parent, and many, many more.
It took me a long while to really love myself. And it was hard work that laid me out on multiple occasions.
I have had to face my shame and my fear, two things that DO NOT FEEL SAFE for a man in our culture. But guess what's worse than that? Not being able to really love.
Just loving more starts with ourselves. In every moment, we have a choice to love ourselves more or to hide in our shame and fear.
Do we dismiss our partner's request for a vulnerable conversation because we're afraid? Or do we turn towards love and open ourselves up to learning how to connect? (Men want connection just as much as women - don't deny it, dudes.)
Do we give ourselves the benefit of saying "it's good enough" (i.e., love ourselves) instead of constantly striving for "more", whether that's money or status, both of which pull us away from people and towards things?
Do we stop and ask ourselves the question of what love means to us and what would actually be the most loving thing we could do in a given moment? Or do we plow forward and do the next thing on our never-ending list that is allegedly getting us to some type of "success"?
Those "things" that gives us "status" or "power" or "money" are not love, nor are they paths to get to love. No, they are shields that we hide our fears and our shame behind. Drop them for just a minute, guys, and see what it feels like to stand there, shaky and vulnerable and open.
See if you might be able to ... Just. Love. More.
Jim Young lives - and loves - in Western Massachusetts. He spends half of his time lovingly Dadding with is three amazing kids and tries to find other ways to love the world around him in the other half. A long and incomplete list of his loves includes improv comedy, music, dark chocolate, coaching people to be more loving, learning about people & relationships, mindfulness, and that pair of pants that hits just right from the waist down to the tops of his shoes. (They're surprisingly hard to find.)
If you are a man/guy/dude who is interested in talking vulnerably about how not loving enough is making your life dull/flat/miserable, Jim would ... ahem ... love to talk to you to see if he can help you Just. Love. More. You can drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also, Jim loves you.