This is the second part of what I hope will be a continuing series on figuring out what it means for me to be a man.
Most of us, boys that is, are raised with the implicit knowledge that crying, hurting, showing feelings is for women. You do not talk about your problems, you do not talk about your fears. You do not hurt, you do not cry. You are a man. This dubious philosopy sinks in and it takes a lot self-awareness to see how false and detrimental it is to your mental and emotional health.
Instead of confronting your feelings, you run: into a bottle, into work, into another person’s arms. I did the into-a-bottle and the arms-in-another-person-thing. If I was not trying to find the bottom of a green, brown or colourless glass container, I was moving further and further away from myself by numbing the fears and insecurities with someone else. It is amazing how distracting being with another person can be. One can convincingly make a case for regular moments of absolute solitude.
This might also explain why I often found it easier to lie about my intentions, about how I was doing and why I was doing it. “If they know the truth, if they see that I am flawed and scared. I will become diminished.” was the underlying ethos.
My interactions were thus shrouded in sarcasm, irony, self-deprecation and self-parody. Most people just thought I was fun to be around and while they were distracted, they could not see what lay beneath the empty banter and cynicism couched as intellect: months of regret, repressed feelings and resentments piled up and waiting to tip over.
This kind of escapism never ended well. The cliché is your feelings are in the basement doing push-ups. I used to have meltdowns when all the feelings I had repressed exploded, and in turn, caused me to implode. Tears and mucus running down my face, expletives were thrown at anyone who attempted to calm me down or remove me from the place to avoid embarrassment. It always happened when I was drunk and in the company of close friends and family and supposedly having a good time.
It must have been because of the lowered inhibitions. For some reason, no one ever asked me what was wrong. It was all down to The Devil Drink. I have an uncle who never ceases to remind me of one such incident. Even after apologizing, I still do not feel completely absolved. I always wonder whether we might one day sit down, and I can show him how far along I have come and from where I began (and here I was thinking I was beyond his approval).
When I started out writing, I talked at length about my sexual desires and escapades and the things I wanted to do, purr purr. There was no story there, not the kind I envisioned telling, they were a little more than a string of racy words. Anyone can talk about their exploits and claim to be making meaning out of them.
I was told often, quite politely, that I should diversify. In a society in which manliness is measured by how many women you are sleeping with and how often, how could I not, a floundering boy trying to grasp manhood, tell the world how well I was doing with flowery language and interesting turn-of-phrase? To hell with suggestions and feedback!
As long as I was getting likes and “Buda…!“s I was okay. Also, the sexism there was evident: you have conquered women. Therefore, you are a man. You conquered. She is not the one who made the choice to sleep with you. You made her sleep with you. What happens when you are not “conquering”? Do you cease to become who you are? To say nothing of the fact that you are defining yourself according to a constantly shifting externality: what other people feel and think about you at a given moment.
Part of growing up and being a man, I think, means being able to handle your emotions well. This is not to say you should be happy all the time, never show any feelings, or showing all your feelings all the time. It is a balance between recognizing what you are experiencing, seeing that you are not defined by your emotions, getting to the bottom of them and putting them in the proper context.
You feel. You are not what you feel. You can feel without being governed by your feelings. These are things I am working on and I hope by being frank about my shortcomings and telling better stories, not self-aggrandizing ones of conquership, I will learn how to go about this better. At least now I do not need to be high to open up and be honest about what I am going through nor do I do it mostly from behind a screen.
On top all of this is the realization that there is nothing emasculating about opening up and sharing your thoughts and feelings. It does not make you less of a man to feel and to show that you feel. I have a long way to go before I can afford a modicum of smugness as far as this kind of maturity is concerned but I recognize how far I have come. This deserves an ice cream. Or an indulgence at Bookstop.