Movember Man-isms Part 3: Social Health

Movember Days 19-24

Sometimes I have an easier time around women than men. I’d rather talk music, philosophy and health than sports, cars, or tools. Of course, these are just stereotypical interests of the genders, based on conventional views of gender identity. I like to think I’m neither stereotypical nor conventional in my thinking. I’ve been told, only by women, that I think like a woman. I presume this means that I’m not very confrontational or competitive, I’m gentle, and I’m sensitive. I can go with that.

The no boys club

I was at a BBQ party a few years ago, where I literally knew nobody there except for my now-wife, then-girlfriend. I found myself in the backyard, sitting in a circle of friendly strangers, a mix of men and women. One by one, the men left the chat and eventually I was the only guy left. I don’t remember exactly what we were talking about, but I do remember that a bunch of guys came back, and the women all left. The guys carried on about home renovations, as I recall, to which I had nothing to say. This is not to say stuff like this happens all the time, but in this instance it was spelled out pretty clear to me.

I recently got a Fitbit, naturally after my wife got one. I don’t use it to anywhere near its full capabilities, but it does help me keep on track with moving and getting my steps in. For Movember this year, I set a goal to walk 201 km in the month – there’s only a couple days left, and it looks like I got close, but not quite. The social part of Fitbit is your list of Fitbit Friends – people you know who also have Fitbits, and you can compare your progress against them and either get encouraged or discouraged.  Most of my Fitbit friends are women, and all of my active Fitbit friends are women. Does this mean that Fitbit is a girl thing and therefore I shouldn’t use one? No, of course not. I tried it, I like it, it works for me, and I rarely go a day without it now. That tells me it’s good for me, and that’s all that really matters.

I don’t want to suggest that I only hang out with women. Some of my best friends are men. Every week, I co-host a radio show with two other guys. I’m in a band with three other guys. The key here lies in the content; even with the guys, we’re generally not about sports, cars, or beer.

“Sister in my soul”

There’s a song by the Canadian band Rush called Animate, from their 1993 album Counterparts. The song talks about the presence of the female psyche in the male mind, based on the theories of renowned psychologist Carl Jung. If the verses and chorus didn’t spell it out clearly, the bridge of the song states it plainly:

My counterpart – my foolish heart
A man must learn to rule his tender part
A warming trend – a gentle friend
A man must build a fortress to defend

It’s the moment you believe that gender itself is largely a social and cultural construct that you give yourself permission to break the rules. We’re not wired to like sports, cars, and GI Joe; it’s society and upbringing that makes it feel that way. As with all my “man-isms” I think it’s better to discover your own path and decide for yourself what gives you joy.

Even in areas of stereotypical “man-ness” I tend to go soft. I used to play tennis, and I found the guys I played with hit really hard. It got to the point where I hurt my knee trying to return a particularly forceful stroke. For a short while, I was meeting a female co-worker after work for some casual tennis; in this context, I was the one hitting hard, but it turned out we were a good match for each other. Sure, it wasn’t as brutal as playing with the guys, but I got a good workout, had fun, and there was a greatly diminished chance of injury. I didn’t have anything to prove to anyone; I only wanted to play tennis casually for both fitness and fun.

I’ve been a drummer longer than anything else I do musically. It’s where I’m most comfortable, and what I do best. I’m totally a rock n’ roll guy, but my drumming is not aggressive or too heavy. I prefer to use nuance, creativity, and attention to detail rather than pound my way to oblivion. I carved out this space naturally, and it feels right. In fact, there’s no voice inside me telling me I need to hit harder because I’m a guy.

Thinking like me

Our culture prefers to put things into small boxes, and gender is no exception. To me, there’s no such thing as “thinking like a guy” or “thinking like a girl”; there’s only thinking and acting like me. Sometimes this is hard for us to accept. We’ve all been brought up to believe the stereotypes, both boys and girls.

For guys, we never learned to talk about our emotions. We’d rather bury them, especially if they’re negative. It takes not only unlearning but practice to move beyond this. I’ve still got much to learn, but I’m lucky that I have a loving wife who I can trust with my deepest, hardest emotions and support me when I’m feeling down. Moving forward, I hope that I can open up this kind of dialogue with my male friends as well. I did reach out to a few friends when I was going through a particularly rough time several years ago (divorce) and it was encouraging. It’s amazing what happens when people, whatever their gender, become more open and trusting with their feelings.

As part of my Movember 2017 plan, I’ll be blogging about four aspects of my man-isms throughout the month. I’m far from the stereotypical “guy” so the stuff I have to say is perhaps a little outside the norm. I’ll be sharing my thoughts and experiences with mental healthphysical health, social health, and sexual health.

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