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Masculinity Redefined

What’s so progressive about the sensitive, modern man? As a single, twentysomething male, lately I’ve felt bombarded with ads and magazines telling me what I “need”: I should be tough but sensitive. I should be caring and loving with nerves of steel (not to mention those abs …). I should be able to shrug off pain but cry at the sight of a daffodil.

I think our society has really screwed up the image of true masculinity. Is this the true image of a man? Is physical strength and emotional mush really that desirable of a combination? Is this who God wants me to be?

In my opinion, true masculinity is discovered through vulnerability—the vulnerability that comes with a man being able to open up and really talk to another male buddy, the ability to listen and learn.

In the Bible, we see a portrait of a guy who really knew what was up. Jesus had 12 men with Him and told them everything. He wasn’t afraid to be honest. This strong man, who was able to endure both fame and physical tests of endurance, was also willing to show His emotion to friends. The Bible even describes a time when this muscular carpenter guy (abs and all) would even cry with His buddies (John 11:33-35).

Two thousand years later, we’re so focused on “discovering ourselves” that we don’t let others know who we are. We can’t see the forest for the trees. I learn the most about who I am when I’m explaining myself to someone else. I can learn so much when I’m discussing my serious feelings and thoughts to a friend who actually knows me. Why did I break up with that girl? Will I ever get a job I like? Why did my brother have to go to war? I don’t think anyone can better help me understand myself than another guy who is willing to open up and talk about his life with me.

Only through releasing my fear of imperfection can I gain the humility I’m supposed to want. (Again, it is a process. Sometimes humility is the last thing on my list. “Achieving” seems so much more fun.) But only through true vulnerability can I build the depth in friendships that will impact my character.

I’m not talking about explaining my feelings and hopes over a cup of tea in a parlor. I’m talking about getting real with other guys when I’m helping them refinish their hardwood floors. I’m talking about using fatty foods and bad table manners as an excuse to spend some time with a guy just so I can finally share who I am, rather than who I feel like I’m supposed to be. Is everything going perfect in my life? No. So why do I need to prove how manly I am by hiding my imperfections? I’m not going to let down my macho guard with everyone I meet, but how am I supposed to be a real person if I can’t let my friends see that I have real problems?

Why don’t men get real with each other? Maybe it’s society’s fault. Maybe movies and TV shows have created a culture where the strong and silent type is key. But as a twentysomething Christian male, I’m supposed to be able to step out on my own and ignore the world’s urgings (I know, I know. Easier said than done, right?)

Or, maybe we’re scared of … lots of things. I know the following thought has run through my head when I’ve wanted to chat about something in my life: Maybe my buddy will think I’m ______. (Fill in the blank—imperfect, weak, soft, weird, gay, emotional, losing it, etc.)

But in my life, the individuals who have made the most impact on me have overcome that fear and trusted me with something about themselves. They started small. A little “slip” of the tongue about a bad break-up. A mention of how they screwed up their teen years. A comment about how their relationship with God was stuck in a rut and they seriously didn’t know how to get back on track—stuff I couldn’t tell by looking at their carefully constructed façade. But the breakdown of their own wall showed me ways that I could start to knock down my wall. Those first few swings of the hammer were rough on me. I felt uncomfortable shattering this image of myself that I had worked so hard at perfecting.

But, the façade is so fake. It is kind-of like the “Main Street” area at the entrances to any one of those famous theme parks. Sure, you think the small-scale town looks great, and you’re willing to buy into the illusion for a bit, but the whole time you know that no actual “town” activity is occurring. If you’ve ever had a five-day pass to Disneyland, you know what I mean. By the last couple days, you’re feeling like you’ve enjoyed the illusion of “The happiest place on Earth” for a while, but you’re pretty darn ready to return to the real world with all its faults. After dealing with a perfect façade for too long, the imperfections become endearing. Vulnerability is the key to sharing those imperfections. Aren’t you fed up with being fake in your own life? I want to be a real man, imperfections and all, who knows others and is known by other men.

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I don’t buy all that fake sensitive crap that Seventeen Magazine endorses. Puppies don’t give me warm fuzzies. Half the time babies smell like poop. I’m never going to develop a love for baking. And I’ve never seen a newborn that wasn’t ugly. But I know that a deep conversation about real issues with a couple guys is worth more than the superficial strong/mushy persona that Maxim or Men’s Health is trying to convince me that I need.

[Jonathan Bowman is a highly-caffeinated 24-year-old doing research on male friendship at Michigan State University. He is working on his first book.]

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