A recent newspaper article proposed the idea that something about the machismo in teenage boys prevented them from being able to form close relationships with other teenage boys. I didn’t stop to read the article that day, and by the time I thought about getting back to it the paper had already been recycled.
That didn’t keep me from thinking about the premise, though. I’ve thought a good deal about it since then, and I think our need to be macho does us a great disservice, and the effects are lifelong.
My wife has a number of close relationships with girlfriends she’s known since high school—some even since elementary school. Other than renewing acquaintances at periodic high school class reunions, I have no contact with childhood friends.
Until I saw this article, I always assumed the difference was that she went to college locally, while I went 1500 miles away, and that she always lived in the same part of town where she grew up, while I didn’t. Now I think there’s something more fundamental than just geography involved here.
As a teen, I couldn’t possibly allow anyone to think I was anything less than perfectly happy and well-adjusted. I think this is a normal part of the male need to be macho, but it robs boys—and men as they grow up—of the ability to be vulnerable.
Unfortunately, close relationships demand a certain level of vulnerability. You can’t get close to me unless I let you get past the facade I hide behind.
This is where the gals have a huge advantage over us guys. Where we could never let another guy see us crying, for instance, that’s no problem for them. They not only don’t mind letting a girlfriend see them cry, they strengthen their relationships when they do.
It’s sad that we guys are so pig-headed we value our macho image more than we value relationships. This behavior pattern we form as teens generally stays with us the rest of our lives. It followed me into adulthood and deprived me of countless relationships through the years.
Somewhere in my fifties—maybe even my sixties—I began to relax this wall I’ve always used to keep everyone out. I think I’ve only been able to do that because of writing. I began to let people see my babies—my pathetic early attempts to write novels. When people who read these things managed to accept me anyhow, I think I concluded subconsciously that it was okay to let people peek through the fence now and then.
As a result, I’ve managed to develop some pretty good relationships with other writers. Even now, I’m not sure how close a lot of these are. They’re mostly cyberfriends whom I’ve either never met or else see once or twice a year at writers’ conferences. And most of these friends are women. I don’t know whether I just don’t have that many opportunities to make male friends or whether I still have trouble letting men past the gate.
In any case, I’m grateful for the writer friends I do have, while at the same time I rue the loss of so many relationships through the years. Why do we guys have to worry so much about not letting anyone see any weakness in us?
How do your experiences stack up in this area? Those of you raising boys, what do you tell them to help them through the murk of teenage machismo?
For more information about David N. Walker, click the “About” tab above.
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