Be Bold! Dating Advice For Insecure Young Men

https://i1.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/a2/Be_Bold_coffee_mug.jpg/256px-Be_Bold_coffee_mug.jpg

“What does she see in him?” Both men and women ask this question when they see a man of unremarkable appearance with a strikingly attractive woman. Sometimes the quality is money, sometimes status, sometimes a good sense of humor.  Perhaps it is great charm, a good heart, or a rare temperamental match. The explanation can be found in a resemblance to a father or mother figure, as well. But what is often unseen is perhaps more important than any of these qualities: boldness.

A man who has confidence and acts boldly will find a companion, period. He may be a boor or a clod; he may be self-involved, dishonest, or have poor personal hygiene. Unfortunately, there will be some companionable soul who responds well to his strength, confidence, and persistence despite all these negatives. A young man should not let this person’s coarseness obscure the fact that such brutes still have something to teach him: prospective mates will admire your willingness to take the lead, to act, and to attack problems in a seemingly fearless display of self-assertion.

Scientists suggest that a tendency for women to be attracted to strong men is the evolutionary product of prehistoric life, when a woman needed a male’s protection and ability to carve out a living, especially when the female was pregnant or the children were small. That didn’t make such men “nice,” but it did make them essential. The good news in 2012 is that you needn’t and shouldn’t be some version of a caveman in order to find a way to a woman’s heart; and that women can do quite well without a man.

Even today, however, the boldest men are the types who keep knocking on a door until the door sunders under the assault; or display the cleverness to find another path to their goal when the door fails to give way. They can be admirable in their ingenuity, less so in their bullheadedness. Not every woman will appreciate those who behave as if they were cartoon caricatures of a “macho-man”, but a few will succumb to them. They might not be well-liked, but their relentlessness, their strength of will, their “not to be denied” single-mindedness doesn’t require a standing ovation. And that indifference to the admiration of others is by itself a quality that produces a quantity of admiration, at least from a few potential companions.

The take-away? Show some persistence. Expect some rejection. The strongest men aren’t impervious to the injury that comes from being set aside, but it doesn’t cause them to abandon hope. Some confident women will be won-over by a man’s constancy and pluck. Others will see it as obtuse — not “getting it” — or  stalker-like. Don’t be a stalker, but do show that you can take a punch without breaking down or running away.

Some men accept that they won’t win all the females they pursue, but take the regrettable attitude that “a woman is like a bus — if you don’t catch this one there will be another one along in 10 minutes.” Callous? Yes. Offensive? I think so. But — and this is the point — it is an approach to dating from which an insecure man can learn, while avoiding what is most reprehensible in these alpha males. To put it another way, don’t treat every lass as if your life would be incomplete without her after knowing her for only two weeks.

To succeed with women one needn’t be like the overconfident souls who are too full of their own self-importance and who too easily objectify women — the men who think that one female is easily replaced by another. Yet the shy, hesitant man should not assume that his many good qualities will be sufficient by themselves. Thoughtfulness, intelligence, the ability to make a good living, and perhaps even good looks can be insufficient without the addition of confidence, decisiveness, authority, and the capacity to take some chances. Lacking these, celibacy is more likely than celebration with a co-ed.

“Faint heart never won fair lady” or so the old saying tells us. A man must craft the hardiness required to take a blow, get up off the floor, and come back for more. His personal sensitivity and fragility can disadvantage him if taken too far, however good may be his heart. Cleverness and decency might not overcome a lack of will — of will power: the quality that makes one person a winner and another a loser, even though the loser might have better ideas and be a finer human being. A man who is too hesitant or expects the woman to make decisions for him risks not finding a mate, while the more decisive man will.

As I have written elsewhere, insecure young men need to ask themselves some questions: do you routinely efface yourself and place yourself at a disadvantage — letting others go first, speak first — reluctant to raise your hand? Do you hesitate to take your turn? Are you extremely self-sacrificing? Insecurity can make you wait and wait until the opportunity before you is behind you. Excessive deference displays little regard for yourself, even if some amount of it is often a sign of good breeding and consideration for others.

Of course, there isn’t (or should not be) shame in being an insecure young man. I dare say, most young men start out as insecure. But if you accept your position as a second-class citizen, shy away from challenges; let other, lesser males get to the front of the dating queue again and again, then at some point you have earned your loneliness. If you think that you must first make more money, get your degree, build your body, learn more about the social graces — all that is fine. Do learn what you can. But you still need the hard experience of actual contact with women; and you will probably have to practice a more assertive stance before you have perfected or achieved all the rest. The strength of your will grows with the use of your will, just as a muscle grows with proper exercise.

Take things (and women) on. Show initiative. Many of the fairer sex are waiting for a man to do this, not wishing to carry a relationship on their shoulders alone. They are probably scarier to you than reality justifies. More than a few lack certainty about what they want in a companion until a man offers a relationship-vision that is acceptable; persuades the female not by florid oratory, but by the radiation of personal strength and conviction.

There is a quality of robustness in this that needn’t and shouldn’t be abusive. Lead and there will be followers. Even better, show that you have strength and find a companion who matches you and with whom you can have a co-equal relationship. Look inside and find your ambition, your courage, your unconquerable determination to master your relationship fears and boost your confidence. Get therapy if that is what will assist you to become the person you wish to be — to get beyond awkwardness and social anxiety.

I am not suggesting that you be a brute. But you must be a man, young man.

For a few instructive personal examples of what I’m talking about that don’t have to do with the pursuit of women, see He Who Hesitates is (Sometimes) Lost.

The above photograph is a Be Bold Wikipedia coffee mug, taken on October 4, 2010 by LiAnna Davis and sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

What It Means To Be a Man: Reflections on the Ides of March

https://i1.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/fc/Jules_cesar.jpg/500px-Jules_cesar.jpg

We hear the expression frequently—“Be a man!” Usually when we are small and usually directed to males. In the context of an admonishment, it typically means to “be tough,” show little emotion, be stoic, have courage, avoid whining.

But, when you are a little older and more thoughtful you might come up with a different definition. The German word “Mensch” (“man” or “human being”) provides us with a starting point.

You will recall that Friedrich Nietsche gave us the idea of an “Übermensch” or “superman.” Not someone who “leaps tall buildings in a single bound,” but a superior creature to whom a new set of life rules applies. Indeed, the Übermensch creates a set of values, discarding those that belong to a world that he rejects and a god that he thinks to be dead.

Goethe, the great German poet, scientist, and philosopher of an earlier time, had something quite different to say about man in his poem The Divine:

Let man be noble,
merciful and good;
For that alone
Distinguishes him
From all the living
Beings we know…

In Yiddish, a language that has German roots, to be a “mensch” means to be decent, forthright, strong, honorable, and dependable. Someone to be leaned on and counted on. A person of principle, with both a good heart and a good head. A fellow to be reckoned with; a companionable individual of integrity, unafraid of self-assertion.

But there is a different version of “being a man” in the popular culture. In my mind, it is associated with the likes of Clint Eastwood and John Wayne, as portrayed in the numerous “Western” movie roles they took on; on the political front, George W. Bush probably is a rough equivalent.

This “man’s man” is a tough, intimidating, austere, cocky, unrepentant, decisive, and unflinching he-man who never complains or cries out in pain. A guy like this doesn’t look back. He is the opposite of the “Alan Alda,” version of what it means to be a man, which emphasizes a kind, empathic, more sensitive side of human possibility.

The popular vision of a man is someone who is more into solving problems than dealing with feelings, someone who is “logical,” someone more in touch with his head than his heart. When a woman opens herself to him with an injury, he is prone to offering a solution or trying to “fix” things rather than patiently listening and holding her hand.

This rock-solid, heroic figure is the strong-silent type, uncomfortable with public (and sometimes event private) emotion, and a person of few words; certainly not one given to eloquent speech. He is much more inclined toward action than talk. The “John Wayne” version of a man is well described in the closing lines of Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound:

To suffer woes which Hope thinks infinite;
To forgive wrongs darker than death or night;
To defy Power, which seems omnipotent;
To love, and bear; to hope till Hope creates
From its own wreck the thing it contemplates;
Neither to change, nor falter, nor repent;
This, like thy glory, Titan, is to be
Good, great and joyous, beautiful and free;
This is alone Life, Joy, Empire, and Victory.

In any discussion of manhood, one must also inevitably give a nod to “manhood” as it is understood in every day speech; that is, male sexuality. It takes a few forms.

One is simply the ability to be commanding and sexually appealing, to be an experienced and confident lover. Another is the capacity to perform sexually. The problem that follows from this, of course, has to do with the pressure to perform, the anticipated evaluation of that performance, and sometimes the failure to perform.

In old age, both the capacity and interest in such activity have been known to fall away, leaving it to the man and any companion or spouse to determine whether manhood should still be subject to judgment about anything to do with sex. Medicine is perhaps making such considerations irrelevant with the easy availability of Viagra, Cialis, and the like.

On the other hand, a failure of potency, that is, the ability to perform sexually coupled with an inability to foster children, remains a problem in the minds of most such men and one that still lacks a scientific work-around other than adoption or artificial insemination of the man’s wife by someone else, a solution that most males find decidedly abhorrent.

Finally, if you’d like a more Shakespearean commentary on the subject of being a man,  you must read Julius Caesar. Those of you who know the play are aware that Caesar is not the main character, even if he is the title character.

Rather, the story is about Brutus, Caesar’s friend and admirer, who is persuaded to believe that Caesar has become a tyrant and will visit evils upon the Roman people. Others among the conspirators have their own axes to grind against Caesar and seek personal gain by his overthrow. But Brutus agrees to the plot despite the fact that it is against his nature, only because he concludes that the assassination of Caesar is in the best interests of his fellow countrymen, in order to free the Republic from Caesar’s control.

As so often occurs in classical tragedy, the conflict between one’s public obligations and private loyalties is the undoing of the hero, in this case Brutus. And so, the famous murder happens in the Roman Senate on March 15th, 44 BC, 2054 years ago this week, after Caesar ignores the warning “Beware the Ides of March!” There is a fantastic movie rendition of the play starring James Mason as Brutus and a young Marlon Brandon as Marc Anthony, Caesar’s ally.

After Caesar’s death, Anthony is targeted for death by Brutus’s fellow conspirators, but Brutus stops them, allowing Anthony to speak to the people and eulogize the fallen Caesar, only to rally the Romans against the conspirators and ultimately, to defeat them in the ensuing civil war. It is Brutus’s essential humanity, decency, and sense of fairness (all qualities that contribute to “being a man”) that call him to let Anthony speak.

You will recall the words “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears…,” so persuasively rendered by Brando in the aforementioned film, that stir the Roman crowd against the conspirators. Had Brutus been less honorable, he would have avoided the risk that Anthony’s words might incite the rabble against them and perhaps even agreed with his co-conspirators to kill Anthony. And, as portrayed by Shakespeare, it is the decision to allow Marc Anthony to live, not the murder of Caesar, that is the proximate cause of Brutus’s downfall.

The play ends with Brutus dead, and Anthony reflecting on who Brutus was and why he was worthy. And, it is Anthony’s words that provide us with a final comment on what Shakespeare has already told us in the play about what it means to be a man.

Please note that the word “gentle,” as used by Shakespeare, means something approximating “true, cultured, and affable:”

This was the noblest Roman of them all:

All the conspirators save only he

Did that they did in envy of great Caesar;

He only, in a general honest thought

And common good to all, made one of them.

His life was gentle, and the elements

So mix’d in him that Nature might stand up

And say to all the world ‘This was a man!’

The bust of Julius Caesar above is to be found in the Musée Arles Antique. The image was created by Mcleclat and sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

Are You Too Emotional?

https://i1.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/7/7d/Frenchmanweeps1940.jpg/512px-Frenchmanweeps1940.jpg

You’ve heard it before — “You are too emotional!” Surely you heard it as a child, at least once. But, what does it mean? How do you know if it is true? What is the proper place of emotions in any life? And, if you are “too emotional,” what should you do about it?

First let us establish some ground rules. Emotion is necessary. Imagine a life without it. No  love, no families based on that love, no compassion, no empathy, no righteous anger. What would be left? A life of relating to others as objects, like chairs or tables, their only value in utility — the function that they perform; only reason would be left — cold computation of what to do and how to do it. No laughter, no tears, no gratitude, no passion.

If you agree with what I’ve just said, then it is clear that emotion has a place. It binds us to others, plays a part in letting us know when we have been injured, allows for the possibility of good relationships and a joy in living. It also creates an energy that is necessary for self-defense and for the pursuit of causes. Emotion motivates us and permits the creation of communities.

But, when you are called “too emotional,” the accuser usually isn’t referring to love or happiness or even anger. No, usually he means that you are too easily hurt. And, when you are young, especially if you are male, you are encouraged to “be a man” and live by the “athlete’s creed;” if you are hurt, in other words, rub some dirt on the injury and get back into the game. Don’t complain; that is for whiners and wimps and little kids.

Well, if you are an athlete, that is what you have to do. Think too much about the injury and you won’t be able  to perform. Moreover, if you even think too much about your past failure in the game, you won’t have the confidence and focus to be able to succeed in the remainder of the contest. So, under those circumstances, being “emotional” does, indeed, get in the way. Similarly, emotion interferes with necessary behavior in war-time or in other crises that require focus, indifference to pain, and steadfast action.

But how about situations that are less demanding and fraught with danger or competition?

For me at least, emotion has become, for the most part, a friend. I can be moved by the sadness of my patients and those in my life who I love. I do not consider it a weakness. It is simply a part of being the responsive, sensitive person I aspire to be. And I can be moved by music or drama, again to the point of a tear. Life seems richer, warmer, more eventful and worthwhile that way. I don’t feel the need to keep up a brave front, an appearance of having tamed my emotions.

No, I’m not often whipsawed by my feelings, but, in part, that is because I give them their place in things and don’t keep them all bottled-up, looking for a way to burst out of the container that I would otherwise have put them in. And, when it is required, I am prepared to seek solace from a few of those closest to me, just as I give solace to my patients and those I love.

True, being emotionally vulnerable means that you can be injured. But, don’t fool yourself, life will have its way with you whether you are deadened to feelings or not. By killing your emotions, you are probably only succeeding in limiting the fullness of your life while attempting to create an illusion of strength.

Put another way, it is only human to have emotions and best if you are comfortable with that fact almost all the time.

But, beware when the emotions have you!

At the extreme is a condition called Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, states that “the essential feature of BPD is a pervasive pattern of instability of interpersonal relationships, self-image, and affects (emotions), and marked impulsivity that begins by early adulthood and is present in a variety of contexts.” These folks are, unfortunately prone to “frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment,” instability, recklessness, suicidal behavior, rapid and intense mood changes, emptiness, and anger. They are the flesh-and-blood definition of what it means to be “too emotional.” And, not surprisingly, they are difficult to treat, although Dialectical Behavior Therapy is a treatment specifically designed to do so, and has demonstrated great promise with this patient group.

For those who are not categorized with this diagnostic label, how do you know if you are too emotional? Here are a few questions you might ask yourself:

1. Do people, not only family members, often tell you that you are too emotional?

2. In an over-heated moment do you tend to make impulsive decisions that you later regret?

3. Do you have many arguments and blow up easily?

4. Do friends and relatives have to handle you with kid gloves?

5. Do your emotions suck the life out of you, change easily and quickly, and generally whip you around?

6. Do you weep easily and often in the absence of major set-backs or great losses (I’m not talking about having a tear come to your eye here, but something more gut-wrenching)?

7. If you are in mid-life, are you no less emotional than you were in your teens? (Most of us become less volatile, more in-balance, over time).

If you’ve answered too many of these in the affirmative, you may want to seek counseling.

A last word or two. Life is challenging. We need to permit ourselves feelings and we need to express them, within limits, and to have a sympathetic soul there to bear witness and listen to us. Balance is the key most of the time. It may help to remember a portion of the “serenity prayer:”

God grant me the serenity

to accept things I cannot change;

courage to change the things I can;

and wisdom to know the difference.

If you do not “know the difference,” often enough and go to emotional extremes over the routine ups and downs of life, if even the small things seem too big, then it might be time to seek professional help. Not to kill your feelings, but to make sure that they don’t destroy your ability to have a good life.

You may find the following post of related interest: Vampires and Buried Feelings: The Therapy of Getting Over Your Hurt.

The above scene, Frenchman Weeps 1940, was used in the 1943 US Army propaganda film Divide and Conquer (Why We Fight #3) directed by Frank Capra. The photo shows “French people staring and waving at remaining troops of the French Army leaving metropolitan France at Toulon Harbour, 1940, to reach the French colonies in Africa where they will be organized as Free French Forces fighting on the Allied side, while France is taken over by the Nazis and the Petain regime collaborating with them.”

Wikimedia Source: Records of the Office of War Information, NARA. *Date: June 14, 1940 *L.

Surely, under the circumstances, this man’s emotions were quite appropriate.