With all the discussion lately about toxic masculinity and such, I wanted to pen some of my thoughts and experiences growing up in that culture. I use the term adjacent to toxic masculinity as I have always rejected it, even though I did not understand at the time that I was doing that, while it was all around me.
For those wondering I am a 55 year old cishet male and for another datapoint I grew up in Reykjavik Iceland and spent my adulthood (23 through 53) in Seattle WA USA.
From my viewpoint the patriarchy and toxic masculinity asserts itself very early when you are just a young boy, with various toxic messages, such as:
- Real men don’t cry or show any emotions
- Real men resolve their problems and disagreement with violence
- Real men don’t ask permission, they take what they want and punch anyone that has a problem with that.
- You show a girl you like her by harassing her, teasing her, pulling her pigtails, poking her, grabbing her, etc. No other form of showing affection is acceptable. All other forms such as kindness, taking care of her, showing her your feelings, telling her how you feel, etc. Means you are weak pathetic excuse for a man, who might as well be girl.
- If a girl/woman says no, it’s because she wants you to try harder
- Girls love to play hard to get, show you are a real man by breaking through her denials, wear her down and get the girl.
- If you are not good at sports and don’t know cars inside and out, you are a pathetic little girl, not a man.
- The measure of your manhood is how many men you have beat up and how many women you have scored.
- Real men don’t make love, they screw, bang, score and hit.
- If you find a girl pretty you are required to try to have sex with her otherwise you are a severely broken man.
Now I know this is just pure toxic patriarchal control BS. When I was a kid and young adult, I did not understand this, I just knew this didn’t jive with my conscious and something I wasn’t willing to participate in. Just felt all wrong without knowing why. I just instinctively knew it was all wrong.
The fact that I wasn’t willing to participate in the patriarchy caused me a lot of grief as a kid and teenager. I was relentlessly bullied, harassed, and assaulted by the other guys, for the most part two of my classmates were the chef offenders. They were the self-appointed patriarchal enforces trying to get me to fall in line.
However, this just entranced me against going along with the “real men” guideline. If this is what real men were all about, I would have none of that. I just kept to myself and tried to minimize my encounters with these bullies.
This meant that growing up I had few to no friends and learned early on how to enjoy my own company, be self-reliant and all that. Skills that I believe were very beneficial in life. The closest thing I had to a friend was a cousin of mine.
This also meant that my relations with girls was messed up and I had no idea how to interact with them. Any girl that showed me interest was interpreted as a bait for additional harassment. I guess you could say that the bullying gave me trust issues.
It didn’t help mater that girls were getting similar toxic messaging. Naturally I don’t know for sure what all messaging they are getting but from what I’ve been able to piece together it seems they are getting the following:
- If he isn’t pursuing you hard, he isn’t interested
- If he isn’t harassing, you and knocking you around a little he doesn’t like you
- Only men that are good at fighting other men, are good hunters and are good at sports are good men.
- A woman’s worth is based on how many men she can please and how many men find her attractive
- To be attractive to men women need to super slim with big breasts and use a lot of makeup
- To please men, women need to be highly sexually skilled and be a virgin with no knowledge of sex.
- If you have sex prior to marriage, or even express interest or desire for sex you are slut which no man will like
- If any man calls you a slut, you instantly become a totally worthless outcast from society
This of course is even more toxic and more nonsense than what the guys are getting. Because of how ubiquitous and persistent this messaging is most people are buying into it and getting really screwed up in the process, so we have a lot of work to undo the damage this messaging has cause. Anyway I digress.
All this led to me having no meaningful connection to girls, other than my sisters, until I was like 20. Well there was a girl next door that I have vague recollections hanging out with a few times, but I don’t remember if that was anything and I’m pretty sure if it was it impact of the bullying killed it.
My first platonic relationship with a girl (besides my sister of course) came while I was attending English as a second language school in England the summer of the year that I turned 20. While I would have like to take that relationship further, I had no idea how to express that in healthy ways or even how to operate in healthy ways in a romantic relationship. In hindsight I wonder if my desires were authentic or subconscious impact of the “you must have sex with all pretty girls” messaging.
I believe it was a blessing in disguise that it never became anything more, as I doubt I would have gone to the US to study and have the amazing career I’ve had if I had been in relationship early on.
I continued to have platonic relationship with women in my 20’s, unable to take it any further. When I was 29, I had my first kiss and I married that girl few months later. She had a young daughter from previous marriage which I tried my best to be a good stepdad to. Since I had no idea how to relate to women my own age in a healthy way I had even less of a clue how to relate to a young girl as a father figure. I probably screwed up all over the place and likely failed miserably relating and interacting with her in a healthy father-daughter way, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.
I fear that she saw me, and remembers me, as an annoying creep and did not see how much I cared for her and was trying my best to do what was best for her. Oh well, such is life, I guess. But I digress.
One thing that I have learned since then is that just because I have no personal need for privacy, does not mean that privacy is pointless, useless, etc., nor that everyone shares my view on that. Also there is nothing wrong with people that crave privacy. I know this now, but I did not realize this during my first marriage.
That married lasted about 7 years and then I filed for divorce as I was starting to see just how toxic the relationship was. The separation and divorce were as toxic as the relationship, filled with lawyers and nastiness that spanned over couple of years.
I have not seen or heard from my ex-wife or her daughter since the day I moved out. I tried to reach out once via email, offering to re-establish connection but heard nothing back. I would love to at least learn how they’ve been doing for the last 20 years but I realize that because of how things ended they probably have zero interest in communicating with me.
For me, while it took a few years, I have long gotten over the hurt from that relationship. I do realize that since I was the one to terminate our relationship, they probably had a whole lot more hurt to process and may not be over it yet. I did my best to avoid any intentional hurt and focus on honest and clean break. Was I successful in that endeavor? I cannot be the judge of that.
At this stage in my late 30s I was starting to realize just how toxic the patriarchy was but was still struggling with breaking free from its grip and how to relate with women in a healthy and romantic manner. What I struggled with the most was being around all these beautiful women and not making sexual advances against them. It turns out that the toxic masculinity patriarchal messaging on “If you find a girl pretty you are required to try to have sex with her otherwise you are a severely broken men” really messed with my subconscious. For the longest time I struggled with trying to understand what was wrong with me for not being able to make sexual advances against all those gorgeous women in my life.
What took me the longest to sink in was that I was in fact not required to make sexual advances against every woman I found attractive, and I was in fact more of a man, not less, by respecting their boundaries. There was in fact nothing wrong with me for not being interested in sex with a gorgeous woman with whom I had no sexual chemistry with. It took me well into my 40s to realize that it is in fact very normal and healthy to be just friend with a woman you find stunningly beautiful.
Learning that, finding someone attractive and being sexually attractive to someone are two totally different things, was a huge milestone in my journey.
Over the last couple of decades I’ve had many romantic relationships with varying duration. The longest one was with a woman I ended up getting married to after knowing her for six months and divorcing amicably after about four years. We are still in touch and communicate regularly.
Someone once asked me what I’ve learned from two failed marriages. My answer is right in line with my revelation about difference between attractive and attracted. It comes down to the following points:
- Marriage is not an obligation. If you start to think “we should get married or break up”, break up is the right choice not marriage. That is of course assuming that you can’t keep status quo.
- Having fun together for months, means you are good friends. It does not mean you are in love and need to get married
- Don’t confuse attention with love.
- Marriage to make her happy, is a dangerous mine field. It might work and you might get your happily ever after, or it all could blow up in your face.
I have made many female friends over the years, some I’ve lost touch with over the years, others I’m still in touch. I have only made one male friend (that isn’t a relative) in my life and I am still in contact with him.
I have not been able to make a lasting connection to any other guy. Who knows exactly why that is, although there is a good chance toxic masculinity is at play there. All I know is I connect much better with women than men.
I’m also here to declare that I am wholeheartedly disagree with a sentiment from “When Harry met Sally”, which says that men and women cannot be friends. My opinion and experience that you can absolutely be friends. Also just because some of those friendships later grow into a romantic relationship does not contradict that. Just like acquaintances grow into friendship and then into close friendship, they can also grow into romantic partnership. Just because some do does not imply that all have to.
At this stage in my live I have learned that open, honest, and direct communication is the key and foundation to all healthy relationships, and consent is critical to healthy interactions.
I also believe that we all should discard all notions that are pressed upon us as to what makes a proper man or women or person. We should all get to define who we are in our terms and not be bound by some ancient and toxic definition by narrow minded and controlling society.
Everyone should get to decide how they are addressed; this includes titles, pronouns, and names.
We should be minimizing labels and boxes overall as I see them provide little to no value to society overall, except for purpose of control. Labels specifying what your sexual attraction is (gay, lesbian, heterosexual, etc) or what sort of relationship you have with someone (friend, friend with benefit, boyfriend, girlfriend) what do they accomplish outside of context of control, shaming etc.? I say none.
I say the world would be better off if we stop label everything. Person A is a relationship with Person B. Why is that relationship defined by what the gender of each person is and whether there is sex, romance, love, etc. involved. Isn’t it sufficient to just say that they are in a relationship, why does it matter to anyone outside of that relationship what sort of relationship it is?
I believe that every relationship has some sort of love, there are a many different types of love and if the people involved want to declare what sort of love, they have for the other person by all means do, but we as society should neither assume nor demand that they put a label on it.
In this spirit my approach to relationship now when I meet someone new, is to start off as to what society would like to label as platonic friends and see how that develops. I don’t put any expectation or pressure on that relationship, and I don’t classify it based on what activities we engage in. All labels, classifications, etc., should be verbally agreed upon by the parties involved and not pressed on them by society or assumed in any way.
That’s it for session of my ranting and rambling 😀