Conceal, don’t feel. This isn’t just a line from a Disney song. This is a message sent to boys and men by most of Western culture, both secular and religious. Being emotional is a girl thing. Don’t be a pussy.
It’s harmful and cruel, not to mention insulting to girls—can you imagine if someone used your name to insult others by telling them not to be like you?
Harmful, because males have emotions. The pervasive idea that men have compartmentalized brains and inferior emotional processes makes men think they are weird, or freaks, if they show their emotions more naturally and feel more deeply. Cruel, because it ends up forcing them to live lonely lives, surrounded by people they can’t really connect with because the emotional vulnerability required to really become known is, in most contexts, considered weird or unacceptable for men.
I know I’m probably not a typical guy. Perhaps some guys really do fit the stereotype…perhaps that’s how it came to exist in the first place. But I know there are a lot more males in the world like me. Sensitive, emotional, lonely. I know I’m not the only male who relates to the “girly” dreams of being rescued, protected, and loved.
But that’s not acceptable. Popular culture tells me that I love being seen as tough, that I want to be fierce and independent. The Christian culture I grew up in tells me that I want to protect women and provide for them because they’re weaker.
None of that is true. Okay, perhaps I’m physically stronger than the majority of…people. But emotionally I am fragile. I’m so fragile that simply standing up for myself against someone who unknowingly says something mildly hurtful leaves me profoundly shaken, mentally exhausted, and afraid. As you might expect, in most cases I just don’t stand up for myself. It’s easier—and safer—to be a “pushover”.
According to the culture, a pushover is what you become if you don’t respond to attempts at inciting conflict. See, men are these virile brutes who snap at each other in challenging ways and enjoy it.
I’m not buying that. The incessant joking insults bother me to no end. This never-ending competition; who has the fastest car, the best truck, the strongest arms, the prettiest wife…I hate it. They try to drag me in and I halfheartedly tried, for a time, in an effort to fit in.
It felt wrong. I’d rather go shopping with the girls, or play music in a small band. Or do anything together that doesn’t involve comparison and competition. Sure, I like being good at things, I like the feeling of winning, but it’s not a driving force. The driving force for me is feeling comfortable with who I am. I don’t care that you’re better than me, I care that you care about me.
Working together for the same goal, like creating music, is much more gratifying than working for different goals, like being better than each other.
Emotions are what define me, even though I’m not quite sure what they are. They’re kind of thoughts, but not really; kind of a physical sensation but not really. They are necessary to form connections with people. Perhaps they are the ephemeral cables that link the spiritual to the physical.
Sometimes those cables snap. The electricity they carry remains on the other side, unreachable despite my efforts to put in new cables, or repair the old ones. This is depression. The empty realization that I’m separated from everything that makes me human, and it feels like there’s nothing I can do to fix it.
And maybe there isn’t. Sometimes the frantic search for another connection leads to one conclusion—that it cannot be found. I realize that without the connection, I cannot function as a human. I have nothing left, just a hollow shell that does a robotic duty. Nobody wants a connection with someone who is incapable of connecting with them. Nobody seeks out a robot for love, which means I cannot be loved. I really have nothing. No happiness, no legitimate sadness, no anger, just a vast amount of nothing.
This is how I reach the point of thinking I should die. After all, nobody could possibly love me, and if I ask them to try, I ask the impossible. I ask them to bare their hearts to my cold touch, when that would do nothing but hurt them.
But just as I stand at the brink of self-destruction, somehow an emotion gets through…fear. There’s a connection again, I’m not dead yet, I’m not a robot, I still have something. It’s fear, and it’s terrifying, but it keeps me alive.
Don’t let them see. I hear it from the culture (pansy, faggot, wimp), I hear it from the depression (empty, worthless, unlovable). I want to escape it, and I see two ways out.
I can be myself, emotional and sensitive and not-manly. But that is impossible without the support of someone to connect with, since my very nature demands a connection in order to be itself. If I have no connections, I have no choice. The other way out is dying, either slowly or all at once.
I’m not sure why everyone would prefer that I die slowly. Maybe since their emotions still exist, they think there’s hope that mine might come back from the dead, and the process of dying will reverse, and I’ll find connections again.
To the one who is dying, that sounds impossible. I know it isn’t, but everything screams that it is. Try drowning out a scream that’s inside your own head. Plugging your ears doesn’t do anything but make it louder.
Sometimes hope just doesn’t exist, and a person decides that they can’t bear to die slowly. In their mind, the end result is the same. Might as well get it over with quickly, so the people who have been burdened with the care of this bleak robot can return to their meaningful emotion-filled lives.
This is what it looks like from the inside. Not all of us are strong enough to pull ourselves up by our suspenders and soldier on like good little independent fierce males.
I’m sure it looks a bit different for everyone, and what I’m talking about here is clinical depression, not a generally depressive mood that everyone experiences from time to time. I think conversation about depression gets muddled a lot because people who think they have been depressed apply their philosophy of general depressive moods to the very different clinical depression. It’s like saying you can relate to someone with PTSD because you had a panic attack once.
A lot of people have been talking about depression and suicide recently. I actually planned to write an article on emotion and depression before the event that caused the discussion, so this isn’t really a response to that whole mess, except that it affected me strongly and prompted me to sit down and finally write.
Between the episodes of serious depression, I do sometimes have normal emotions. They feel strange, like returning home after being lost for a week. And often what sinks me back into the depression I’m fighting is something that insults, belittles, or denies my emotions.
There are other people like me. They are much more likely to kill themselves than the general population. We don’t just need to tell people the truth, or that we love them, or that we understand. We don’t need grandiose back-and-forth articles by bloggers with an inflated opinion of their own philosophizing ability.
What we need are connections that set emotions free and build empathy.