NOTE: I left my writers group over creative differences. They demanded “more emotion” in my writing, but when I gave them the following, they didn’t like it. Be careful what you wish for.
In 1992 John Grey told us “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.” This revelation did not surprise any man— most of them didn’t read the book in the first place—but it was a shock to most women. Yes, men and women are different but despite the latter’s fervent wishes to the contrary, we men are fairly simple creatures who don’t require endless analysis to understand.
Men learn quickly that women are mysterious, complex creatures but not much else. We know they have boobs. We know they possess that Holy Grail “down there,” our bumbling quest for which is eternal. And we know that saying the wrong thing however innocent will get us into a shitload of trouble. We also like to piss them off sometimes by doing something they expressly told us NOT to do, because it’s fun in an adolescent way. But we’ve reconciled never understanding the female psyche and moved on.
Women find men to be exasperating, lacking in self-awareness, and devoid of that most-coveted but rare attribute, “emotion.” That’s not entirely true. We understand and express a few emotions—anger, humor, sarcasm, lust, and the overwhelming joy that comes from vicariously crushing your buddy’s dreams in sudden-death overtime.
We bury our feelings in alcohol, drugs, work and manly pursuits like football, hunting and Call of Duty until ulcers or a heart attack grant us a reprieve from our stoicism. We don’t run naked through the forest howling at the moon, join drum circles, or pour our hearts out in embarrassing songs like “Sometimes When We Touch,” the sound of which still makes me cringe.
Men don’t want to get in touch with their inner child; we’d rather have had the opportunity to yank the little bastard out to warn him about the shit he’s gonna face in life. We do not want to wallow in, nor publicly express, the soul-searing pain most of us have experienced during our lives, having learned a long time ago that doing so invites the rebuke, “That sounds like a personal problem to me.” Or, as a woman I knew in college told me, “Nobody likes a downer,” a gut punch that said in no uncertain terms, “You’re on your own.”
In the 1980s, women said they wanted men to be like Alan Alda, comfortable with emotional intimacy. Not true! Women really wanted men who acknowledged women’s emotions, not men with their own matching set of emotional luggage. “How can you take care of me when you are sad/depressed/angry/scared/hopeless?” So, in order to successfully navigate the minefields of personal relationships, our innermost feelings stayed buried, taken out occasionally in front of a therapist for a hundred bucks an hour, or with a bartender for far less.
I spent the first forty-some years of my life wearing my emotions like a badge of desperation, an emotional train wreck. I look back on those times with a great deal of shame and humiliation. I may not live there anymore, but I remember the address. And the phone number.
All that changed when the pain of my affliction outweighed the stigma of acknowledging it and I sought absolution through Prozac, leveling out the highs and lows. I abandoned New Age music’s comforting vulnerability for jazz’s impenetrable complexity. I bade farewell to Bogie and Bergman, embracing the likes of Stallone and Stone. Disengaging from my emotional side made coping easier. I saved my soul but lost a part of me, for better or worse.
Writing may be therapeutic for many—in the past it has helped me—but I’ve achieved a balance I’m reluctant to disturb. I am neither Henry David Thoreau nor Nicholas Sparks. I do not want to “lead (a life) of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in (me).” I don’t want to resurrect demons previously banished or go back to the edge of the abyss. Mostly I don’t want the existential vulnerability of my previous life. I’ll walk down old paths carefully, breaching some walls while leaving others undisturbed, but in my own good time.
Yes, men and women are different. We have feelings but we’d rather die than admit it, so please stop asking us. Our inner child will thank you.