The Male Vulnerability Myth
Why without strength, vulnerability in men leads to chaos.
By all accounts, the house we’re in is supposed to be completely devoid of humans. Hell, this is Southampton in the dead of winter—the entire town is supposed to be empty.
I’m spending the weekend with my secret lover, Jackie, on a dark street, on an even darker night. If there was ever a setup for some full-stop horror movie, this is it. The couple on a getaway from the city on a snowy night way out in the middle of nowhere. “What was that? I don’t know. Let’s split up and investigate it alone.” That kind of shit.
Thus, when the boom of a door being kicked in one room over explodes in our ears, we both freeze, intuitively knowing that should not happen under any explainable circumstances.
This was not good.
I look at my date, her eyes the size of saucers, her mouth hanging open as terror grips her hundred-and-five-pound frame. The color drains from her face as she looks toward the hallway from which the sound came, unwelcomed.
Not good at all. Either an extraordinary set of freakish circumstances has happened—or someone is now in the house with us. I grab her, wrapping her in my arms and whispering, “I think someone’s in here. Please, just hold me.”
“WHAT? Hold you?”
“Yes,” I reply as the tears flow down my face. “I’m so overwhelmed with work right now, and I feel the strain of my age on my body. I’m still heartbroken over my ex-wife leaving me and am terrified of committing myself to someone again and risking getting hurt. You know, I’m just not sure my heart can take another beating like that. It’s all so confusing. And sometimes—sometimes even after posting about honor, integrity, and health on Instagram—I eat a movie theater sized bag of Swedish Fish and masturbate into a furry mitten. I just need to be seen and heard.”
“WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?”
The look in Jackie’s eyes screams back at me.
“This is what women
want right?” I say
in shock. “I keep
reading that real men
and I’m a real man.”
Yeah, that didn’t
Not a chance.
Before Jackie could get a word out, I had her phone in her hand and a twelve-inch steak knife in my own. I narrowed my eyes, put my heart chakra on a shelf, and a made the unequivocal decision that if someone was in the house they had just lost all their human rights. I’d help set up the GoFundMe if they had a family—but right then, it was time to go hunting.
THERE’S A TIME TO
There’s a time and place for vulnerability. I’ve shared the most intimate moments of my life with partners and the public. I’ve written about my personal challenges with addiction, abuse, and loss. That experience of sharing is freeing, healing, and awful.
Vulnerability is a good thing. It is also the new emotional “black”— especially for men. I hear it every day and read it twice as often: “Men need to be more vulnerable. We need more vulnerable men.” And, as mentioned above, the phrase that makes me want to punch both myself and the speaker in face most often: “Real men are vulnerable.”
Or, at least I disagree with the statement as it’s written. Any time you read or hear the phrase “Real men XYZ,” you have my permission to ignore whoever is trying to shame you into believing what they believe. All men are real men. Even the un-vulnerable ones.
I say I disagree with how the statement “Real men are vulnerable” is written because I believe it’s incomplete. We don’t need more vulnerable men or men who are willing to be vulnerable. What we need are men who have a foundation of strength and the ability to be vulnerable at the right time.
Was the possible break-in scenario the right time for me to vulnerable?
Is that what women want?
Is that what men want?
Is that what you would want as a man?
What if there was something in between the closed-off strong man and the overly sensitive new age guy? Something that let you honor who you are, that works for you as a man, and that still lets you grow in the areas where there’s a ton of room to build intimacy and connection with your partner, yourself, and everyone in your inner circle.
That’s what we’re talking about here.
“Show me strength without love and I’ll show you a tyrant. Show me love without strength and I’ll show you a victim.” —Traver Boehm
Yes, I quoted myself. Yes, that’s also one of my own favorite quotations. I think the word “love” can be replaced with “vulnerability.” And the word “victim” can be replaced with “total fucking train wreck.”
Strength in this scenario does not mean, “How much you can bench, bro?” The kind of strength I’m talking about speaks to your ability to know who you are and that you can hold your shit together in the face of chaos. That kind of strength.
Strength of character, strength of presence, and the strength to stay grounded in the face of turmoil are what I’m speaking of. Sure, the work you do in the gym can feed into these characteristics, but don’t kid yourself that weights alone will build them.
When vulnerability has the foundation of strength underneath it, then vulnerability also has the ability to express itself in beautiful ways. This foundation of strength protects honesty from being tarnished by the self-protection and deceptive hand waving of shame through which it has to be filtered without it.
Does that make sense? When our shame is dictating our actions, we act in ways to protect ourselves from being truly seen. When strength is there to hold that shame in check, we can be authentic.
Strength also provides the container within which vulnerability can live without fear of giving way to emotional annihilation, a common fear with men who are unfamiliar with the scope of their feelings and, on some level, believe the uncontrollable nature of their feelings can only end in death.
Anything that is out of our control is terrifying, not because we fear it’s going to inevitably end with a winning lottery ticket and a new Porsche but because fear tells us it’s going to kill us. Yes, even our own emotions.
While that may not seem logical, emotions don’t live in the world of logic. So, our rational thoughts about them are useless. It’s like trying to explain an orgasm with an Excel spreadsheet.
To hear a full interview I did on this subject with Amber Hawken, list HERE:
Vulnerability without strength is the petulant toddler who vomits out any and all feelings at any and all times. Strength without vulnerability is that same toddler as the bully on the playground, taking what he wants and lost to his own humanity.
What if we replaced the word “vulnerability” with the word “honesty”? How would that change your perception?
The new age movement and social media emotional capital have corrupted the word “vulnerability.” It’s now a marketing catchphrase and is strategically placed in Facebook posts to both draw in viewers and excuse the content producer from any responsibility if what you read or see isn’t to your liking.
How can you possibly not click on something that reads, “New video up. I get super vulnerable in this one.” How can you possibly tell the star of that video that his/her opinion is complete nonsense when that opinion was surrounded by a protective layer of tears or a personal story that may tug on the heartstrings?
as manufactured today
as it is misunderstood
when asked for in men.
Did Jackie want me to be vulnerable when she thought someone might be in the house with the intention of raping and slowly torturing her over the course of several days? No. She wanted me to express my masculine biology, pent-up rage, and physical talents in the least vulnerable of ways. She wanted me to attack and protect at all costs.
Granted, this situation was more extreme than when we were driving home the next day and she asked me how I felt about my parent’s failing health. There, she wanted honesty. (And, by the way, honesty isn’t, “I’m good.”)
Honesty is just that—the real truth of the matter. Truth that is inherently paired with the risk of being hurt by sharing it. Truth that exposes the fact that I am confused, upset, and scared about my parents’ future. Truth about who I am as a person.
Vulnerability means taking a risk. It’s asking a girl out and planning the whole damn date. It’s not lying to her that you like peas just because she does. It’s risking that she’s not going to like what you planned or who you are. It’s knowing all of that—and doing it anyway.
That takes and builds strength. It takes and builds courage. And both take practice.
Are we alone in the house? With my head down, eyes focused, and knife pointing straight ahead, I make my way toward the sound in the next room. The cold air against my lead hand lets me know a door is open to the outside, contrasting heavily with the heat pounding through my veins as my heart rate shoots up with each forward step.
I round the corner at full speed—only to find a set of double doors poorly shut by the housekeeper the day before had met a gust of wind and blown open.
Thankfully, Jackie and I are safe. I check the entire house two more times just to be sure. (That Freddy Kruger guy is crafty.)
Twenty minutes later, logs pop and crackle in the fire, and steaks sizzle on the grill. We eat, lounge, and vulnerably laugh at how shit-scared we both were while enjoying a great weekend together.
Vulnerability is one of the key components to intimacy, as well as the glue that binds together any great relationship. Temper it, hold it, and let it be pure with a solid foundation of strength—and you can’t lose.
Here’s to open hearts, belly laughs, and sharp knives.
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