Feeling Down

Sometimes you don’t even have words to explain how you feel. There are times when this is due to the extremity of the emotion. It is certainly possible to feel love, joy, pain, fear, or despair to such an extreme degree that all words fail. To the point where you actually do simply stop trying to explain how you feel. I can say this because I’ve been at that point for each of these emotions. I can’t explain how terrifying it was to be chased through the woods with someone trying to shoot me. I can’t describe how much I loved a certain young woman who broke my heart several years ago (I’ve written about this before). I think this is probably true for any emotion. We are capable of feeling things that we simply can’t describe in any meaningful way, and this is not surprising. Much as we revere them, words are really an incredibly weak medium. However, sometimes it isn’t the extremity or intensity of an emotion that makes it difficult to explain. Sometimes it is the sheer complexity and variety of interacting emotions that become difficult to parse.

Lately I’ve been feeling rather unwanted and unappreciated. Some of this has to do with a difficult class that I’ve just finished. Some of it has to do with deciding to give up on flowergirl. Some of it has to do with being continually turned down by women in general. Some of it has to do with my spiritual life, which has been rather dry lately. Some of it has to do with the simple day to day drudgery of my life. Ultimately, I’m feeling joyful, depressed, stoic, sad, frustrated, excited, fearful, relieved, and hopeless all at the same time. A while back I started talking to a lady over eHarmony (I mentioned that I paid for a year long account this summer). Today she and I decided that, while we both liked the other, there wasn’t anything more than friendship in our future. This is one of the few times that I’ve had this actually be a mutual decision. She and I were both honestly relieved and we both look forward to talking again. I also asked another lady… let’s call her Paula… for her number today… well, yesterday technically. That is, I asked for her number yesterday, put her name into my phone, and then tried to text her with a name only and no number. I ran into her again today and got her number. However, I’m not really one to wait… that’s not entirely true. Perhaps its better to say that I’m interested in this woman and I don’t particularly want to play games, so I texted her earlier tonight. So far, there’s been no response.

I don’t know that I’m honestly surprised about this, and it is certainly a part of the ‘unwanted, unappreciated’ feeling that I mentioned above. However, it certainly isn’t the entirety of it. In general, I talk to people. I reach out. I call. I text. I walk over to say hello. It’s relatively rare for someone to reach out to me, and the past few months it’s been even rarer than normal. Honestly, I rather feel like I could disappear off of the face of the earth and no one would be significantly affected. This feeling is generally exacerbated by the kind of tacit rejections that are all to common in my life. Personally, I much prefer it when a woman tells me, ‘I think you’re a really great person, but I’m just not interested’. This is significantly better than the tacit, silent rejections that seem to be the norm among… well, women in general. Honestly, what makes it harder is to then watch these women find someone that they are interested in, and again I get left behind.

In a lot of ways I feel like the cliche little boy, standing cold and alone in the dark and snow with his face pressed against some families window, watching everyone else enjoy what he can never have. At the same time, I honestly am happy for my friends and acquaintances who have found love and who are doing well in life. Sometimes I just want to cry, but then I haven’t been able to express pain through tears for… well, longer than I can remember. Even when that young lady gave me a heart attack I couldn’t cry. I tried, and I almost did. I could feels the tears, but I couldn’t manage to coax them out.

I care about people. I do my best to show this, and I don’t want to ask for things in return. Like with Flowergirl, I try to do for others without thinking about myself. I want to do for others without thinking about myself. I want to be able to love God first and to love others completely and not worry about myself. To be honest though, I’m a little pansy wimp. Much as I want to be strong and take care of others… I think I need some people in my life who are interested in taking care of me. Problem is… I’m pretty sure everyone forgets that I exist when I’m not actually there in front of them.

What Does it Mean to be a Man? Part 4

In part three I focused on the emotional, and presented the first positive signifiers of manhood. Prior to this I had only presented negative signifiers of manhood. For instance, a child is not a man, a mental vegetable is not a man, and similarly I have shown that certain commonly revered qualities (such as wealth, physical strength, or attractiveness) are completely unimportant in a discussion of ‘real’ masculinity. Immanuel Kant, in Critique of Practical Reason, provided an interesting point that has, in some ways, guided my rational in determining the qualities that must appear in a true man. Kant argues that those things which truly define us are those things that are truly capable of being respected. For instance, one does not respect an individual who was gifted with great natural strength or beauty. One may admire those persons, but there is a significant difference between admiration and respect. We admire those qualities that we find desirable in others (i.e. strength, beauty, wealth, charisma, etc), but we respect those qualities that an individual has achieved through their own means (i.e. emotional stability, strength of character, a good work ethic, etc). For instance, wealth itself is not inherently respectable. A man who inherited $20 million from his father’s death and through no practical effort of his own is not respectable for his wealth. However, a man who earned $20 million through hard work and wise decisions is certainly respectable. However, in this man it is not the wealth that we respect, but the qualities that helped him attain that wealth. The means by which such wealth was obtained may change our respect for the individual. For instance, a man who earned $20 million through questionable practices such as extortion or ruthlessness is less respectable than a man who earned $20 million through hard work that exemplified a care for those around him and a concern for fair play.

In the last section, I argued that a man who is not emotionally mature cannot be called a ‘real’ man. Whether the individual is emotionally closed off and incapable of dealing with his feelings in a healthy manner, or emotionally frail and prone to excessive sensitivity and outbursts, the lack of emotional maturity is not a respectable quality. Emotional maturity, on the other hand, is very respectable. A similar argument is true in the case of skill. Often certain skills are attributed to ‘real’ men. For instance, ‘real’ men know how to cut down a tree, kill and skin a deer, repair a car, build a house, start a fire, etc. The various lists of skills attributed to ‘real’ men is rather lengthy and certainly monotonous. However, the problem is that each list connects ‘real’ manhood with a particular skill set. One group argues that ‘real’ men are men of the wild. They have skills associated with survival away from civilization. Another group argues that ‘real’ men are builders. They have skills associated with the construction of certain items, often items that require a degree of physical strength to create (i.e. many argue that real men build cars, work with stone, wood, etc. Few argue that real men knit doilies). A third group argues that ‘real’ men are warriors. They have skills associated with finding and killing the enemy. The problem with each of these is that none of these skill groupings is inherently more or less respectable than the other. All have value in the world, all are important in maintaining an orderly, functioning society, and all are equally difficult to master.

So, does this mean that skills can have no impact on a meaningful discussion of ‘real’ manhood? Absolutely not. While no particular group of skills can be identified as ‘manly’ or supremely respectable in and of itself, the effort, determination, and drive to master a particular skill set is certainly a highly respectable quality. While a soldier is no more or less respectable than a carpenter or an academic, a bad soldier is certainly less respectable than a good soldier. The ‘manliness’ of skills lies not in the choice of skill to master, but in the achievement of mastery in that skill. For instance, a man who is unwilling to put forth the effort necessary to master a skill, who waffles from one skill set to the next, dabbling in many things until the learning becomes ‘too difficult’ or ‘too tedious’ to continue is not particularly respectable, nor is he particularly manly. However, a man who puts out his best effort to master a skill and, through drive and commitment does so, is certainly both respectable and manly.

However, this brings us to a problematic question: does this mean that a male who lacks natural aptitude at a particular skill is not a man? Again, it does not. This is, I think, an entirely positive qualifier for manhood. Those who have set forth and made the effort necessary to master a skill are certainly respectable and manly. Those who (and this crosses somewhat into the realm of character which I will discuss later) lazily give up because something is too difficult for them to try are not particularly manly. However, there is a third category: those who put forth the effort to master a skill, but still fail. Every individual has a different set of inherent aptitudes that, to some degree, limit their ability to learn a particular skill. For instance, my friend… John… plays the Piano. However, if John and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart put in the same amount of effort and practice, Mozart will still be significantly better than John at playing the Piano. This is because Mozart had a very high natural aptitude for the piano and John has only an average aptitude for the piano. John may work his hardest to improve, but he will still not surpass Mozart. However, this does not make John less respectable or less manly than Mozart. Kant’s argument concerning admiration and respect applies here. Mozart’s devotion to the piano is respectable, as is John’s. However, Mozart’s aptitude for the piano is not more respectable than John’s aptitude because it was not earned in any way. Mozart’s aptitude for the Piano is more admirable than John’s, but it simply makes him better at playing the piano. It does not make him better at being a man.

Admittedly, as I mentioned above, parts of this discussion of manhood and skill are inextricably interwoven with the discussion of manhood and character. This will be my next topic, but some presuppositions concerning that topic can certainly be made from this discussion.

Wistful Pangs

I was going to write about sin today. About the difference between sins that are proscribed in scripture (adultery, murder, etc) and sins that are the result of individual convictions (drinking, watching R rated movies, etc), and those sins that seem to fall somewhere in between, and thus are immensely and distractingly confusing. Then I sat down in the only seat available in my favorite coffee shop to see a woman who I rather liked sitting with her new boyfriend.

This isn’t a woman that I dated, not even close actually, but it is a woman that I wanted to date. Honestly, from everything I’ve seen, she’s generally the kind of woman I’d like to marry… except that she wouldn’t give me the time of day. Actually… that was quite literal one time. The one major flaw that I’ve seen in her is that she couldn’t tell me ‘no, thanks’. She simply brushed me off with promises every time I tried to ask her out, and then never followed through on them. This is something that has become one of the things that I generally judge (i.e. discern) a woman’s quality by.

As I’ve said before, honesty is a big thing with me… quite possibly the most important character quality for me to see in someone. So when a woman is incapable of telling me that she’s not interested, when she makes promises with no intention of keeping them, then it really factors into my opinion of her character. This particular woman, we’ll call her Anna, has a very strong character, except for this one important area, which I have to admit rather thoroughly turned me off to her.

That being said, when I first saw them my gut reaction was confused at best. I wasn’t quite angry about her invasion of what I all too often consider ‘my’ place (it is a business after all), and I wasn’t quite hurt that she had chosen someone else when she wouldn’t even give me a chance, and I wasn’t quite happy that she had found someone to share her life, or at least a part of it, with. There was a little of all of these in my first reaction on seeing her, and I think it’s finally settling down into a happiness to see that she’s found someone… I think. Honestly, I think it’s probably something that I need to look more closely at.

The Taoist in me says that my gut reactions show my true self, and that if those gut reactions aren’t pure, then I am not pure and this is something that I need to work on. The Confucianist in me tells me that it is my actions that matter, and so if I treat her with filial love and kindness, then I will become filial in spirit. The Christian in me says that my gut reactions do show my true self (or at least my fleshly self) and that they aren’t pure (duh…). It also tells me that my actions do matter, but that my actions alone cannot change my true self. The Christian in me tells me that I need Christ to change who I am, to make me whole, and to make me better, and that is something that is far too easy to forget.