What Does it Mean to be a Man?

In modern America we have no clear concept of manhood. There are a thousand different voices shouting from a thousand different directions about what they think manhood should be. There are people who think that a boy becomes a man when he can grow a beard. There are people who think a boy becomes a man when he makes his first million. There are people who think that having sex makes a boy into a man. There are people who think that having a large penis is the real mark of manhood. There are people who think that taking another human life makes a boy into a man. There are people who think that a first job makes a boy a man. All of these point to the desire for a rite of passage. A clear marker of the shift from childhood into adulthood (and lets be honest here, simply saying that a child becomes an adult at 18 is both arbitrary and ridiculous).

However, even if we accept any one of these rites of passage, there is still no clear idea of what manhood is or what it means to actually be a man. American culture of the mid 20th century argued that manhood meant a desire to acquire and possess a modest amount of meaningful things (this is exemplified in the entertainment of the day which focuses strongly on the ‘desire of a man’ to own his own home). Of course, if we run the clock back a hundred years then the mark of a man was not owning a home, but owning land and buidling his own home upon it. However, ownership of anything seems ridiculous as a mark of manhood. Ownership of land, a home, a car, etc says nothing about who the person actually is or of what he is capable. Ancient rites of passage emphasized a trial of ability instead of a test of means.

This can be seen in the rites of many tribal groups which provide a task of some kind for the boy to complete. He may have to hunt and kill a bear, build a canoe to escape a deserted island and return to his home island, or survive in the wilderness on his own for a period of time. This is certainly a better mark of manhood. These tests of ability also show some degree of the character of the individual. Hunting a bear requires great courage. Building a canoe requires patience. Surviving in the wilderness requires endurance and determination. These trials both test the individuals ability to be a positive addition to the tribe and aspects of his character that are important in each particular culture.

This is a part of the problem we have in America. Every voice shouting about manhood has a different idea about what aspects of character are important. Some of them emphasize wildness, some emphasize greed, some emphasize brutality, etc. Some of them really say nothing about the character of the individual (i.e. getting your first job). The problem is that we don’t have any clear idea concerning what a man is, and thus we don’t have any clear idea concerning how to identify a man. Hopefully, over the next few days, I can codify my own thoughts on this and at least have some clear idea of what I see as manly and why.

Advice to Women

Not that I figure that any of you are likely to listen to me. Honestly, I’m not really sure that any of this advice is actually worth listening to in the first place, but some things that I’ve noticed in the women that I’ve dated, and women that I know well.

1) Be Courageous: relationships, good ones, are about commitment, and commitment is scary. Women today, just like men, often pursue things that are easier, safer, and less panic inducing. I can’t count the number of women I know who have pushed off one great guy after another in order to focus on a job, a move, something that they thought was fun and exciting. A friend of mine tried to tell me today that extended adolescence is a male issue. I had to correct him. Many of these women are single, living with their families or with roommates, and saying they want families as they push off relationships into their thirties. This isn’t to say that there’s never a good reason to walk away from a guy, but plans a year down the road aren’t a good one. Stop making excuses, take a risk, and commit to building a life with someone.

2) Stop looking for Mr. Perfect, Mr. Right, Mr. Right Now, etc: You are never going to be the ideal woman and you are never going to find the ideal man. These people don’t exist. People are messy. Relationships are messy. A good relationship isn’t about being perfect for one another, it’s about being there for one another. It’s about accepting the other person’s flaws, and helping them to see what they need to work on. If you think that you can fix the guy you want to date, then you’re wrong. However, you can help him see where he needs to strive to be closer to God. In line with this, and guys generally need this advice too, stop mooning over that guy that doesn’t give you a second look or the one that treats you like crap and start looking around at the guys that are showing interest in you. If you don’t share that interest, fine, but give them a chance before you write them off. You might be surprised how much you’re missing.

3) Domineering and Passive are Two Sides of the Same Problem: Both types of women are extremely attractive for the first couple of dates. Domineering women are attractive because they’re obviously interested. They make everything easy and a guy doesn’t have to do much work. However, if you’re trying to make all the decisions, do all the pursuing, and control the relationship then he won’t ever have the chance to lead and you’ll either wind up with a wuss who you don’t want, or he’ll get fed up and walk away. Passive women are attractive because they project the need to be protected. They make a guy feel strong and manly, and they encourage his natural instinct to pursue and protect. However, if you don’t do anything, then the man pursuing you is either going to get bored, or he’s going to realize that you’re asking for everything and offering nothing. This leads into the next point.

4) A Great Relationship is about Mutual Pursuit: If either partner is doing all the pursuing then the relationship is doomed to failure. Let him lead, follow him, keep up with him, etc. However, if he isn’t pursuing you, then move on. Similarly, you need to be pursuing him just as hard as he’s pursuing you. If you can’t keep up with him then let him know (see my next point), but if you can, then do. You want someone to make you feel special, and if he’s a decent guy then he wants to make you feel special (if he doesn’t then run away). However, he wants you to make him feel special just as deeply. Find ways to do that and do it often.

5) Communicate!: If he asks, great, but if there’s something you need him to know don’t just expect him to ask about it. Men are not telepathic. We cannot read your mind. If you need him to slow down, then tell him that. If you think he could maybe pick things up a little, tell him that to. Don’t try to take over the relationship (remember the whole domineering thing), but let him know what’s going on in your head. We do not think the way you do, and most men aren’t that good at reading signals. You actually have to talk to us about things. Women are supposed to be the one’s that talk more, you should try using that skill. Also, if you want something, tell him. This goes back to point 1. Yes, if you tell him your fantasy and he doesn’t do it that will suck. However, I promise that he’s more likely to do it if you tell him what it is. You want to wake up to breakfast in bed every now and then, let him know. The first time it happens you might not be surprised, but it’ll still be special, and I promise that by the third or fourth time he does it you won’t even remember that you had to tell him in the first place.

6) Accept a Compliment: If I walk up to you and tell you that you’re a lovely woman I might be hitting on you or I might not. In fact, whether I am might depend on how you react. Either way, the correct response is not to suddenly assume that I’m a predator. When someone gives you a compliment say ‘Oh my, thank you so much’ or ‘Hey, thanks, that really made my day’. Don’t assume that what I mean is ‘I want you in my bed tonight’, because even if I am hitting on you, this isn’t what I mean. Also, don’t assume that I’m lying. If I’ve taken the time to compliment you then I’m not lying to you. I know American culture makes men out to be either pathetic wimps or vicious beasts, but American culture is full of crap. Men are not the enemy. It would be nice if you would stop treating us like we are.

7) Know Yourself: I don’t care who you are, there is something beautiful about you. You beauty might be only skin deep, or it might all be on the inside, but there is a clear beauty in you and if you don’t realize that then you won’t show it. If someone points out something beautiful that they see in you don’t assume that they don’t know you or are just trying to get in your pants. Take some time and give that part of yourself a good long look. Decide for yourself whether its beautiful and why. Also, remember that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If he sees something beautiful in you that you think is ugly, take some time and ask him why he thinks it’s beautiful.

8) Trust: I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. Trusting God means trusting people. It doesn’t mean being stupid. If a guy invites you up to his apartment at midnight and one of you doesn’t normally work night shift, then there’s a good chance that he’s after something. However, trust people. Give them the benefit of the doubt. You don’t like being judged as first glance. Neither does anyone else. Take the time to find out who people really are.

9) Turn Off You’re Damn iPod: This goes for everyone. The world is filled with more lonely, hurting people than at any point in history. Turn off your iPod, take out your headphones, close up your computer, and say hi to a stranger. We tell children not to talk to strangers, but you’re not a child anymore. Grow up and act like a human being instead of a cyborg. Introduce yourself, talk to people, make friends, and act like you give a fuck about someone else.

10) When Someone Likes You, Don’t Run Away: Yes, men want to pursue, but there’s a big difference between letting yourself be chased and bolting because you’re scared. If a decent guy likes you then its a huge compliment, even if you don’t return his affections. Things are only as awkward as the two of you make them, so stop being skiddish, woman up, and tell him what you think of him. Tell him the good, tell him the bad, tell him the unsure and the confused. Treat him like he’s a real, live human being who has feelings. I promise you, he is and they’ve been crushed before. Even if you aren’t interested at first, you might give him a chance. If he actually is a decent guy then he might really surprise you.

11) Choose the Nice Guy: I have yet to figure out why women seem to fall in love with assholes. If you find a guy whose willing to treat you well, love you well, and pursue you well, then do the same in return. Love is a choice, not a feeling. If you’re picking your relationships based on which guys give you the most butterflies then you’re making a mistake. The guy you wind up with might not be the most exciting guy in the world, but he will be the one who keeps loving you over the long haul.

12) Be Good: This is a twofer, but the first is much more important than the second. Just like men aren’t vicious monsters, women are little angels. Actually, an experiment done in the 90s, based off of Stanley Milgram’s famous obedience study, showed that women were significantly more likely to harm others and less likely to show empathy if given leave to do so by an authority figure. You all know that you can be pretty horrible people sometimes. This means that you have to practice virtue. Learn to be good and to do good on a regular basis.

13) Looks Matter: I know they shouldn’t. I know it’s not fair. I know it makes us shallow. However, for guys (even the really good ones) looks matter. The good thing is that there are guys out there that like just about everything. There are guys who like big women, guys who like tiny women, guys who like tomboys. There are guys who like manly women, guys who like prissy women, guys who like goth women. However, looks do matter, so don’t tell yourself they don’t. This doesn’t mean that you need to look like a 90 lb supermodel. Sure there are some guys that like that, but there are others who want a girl with some size to her. However, it does mean that you need to take care of yourself. Go out of your way to look good, and make sure that you go out of your way to look good for the guy you’re with, not for complete strangers.

I’m sure that I’ll have more eventually, but I’m guessing that this is enough for now.