The Manipulation of Masculinity

by Jack Jajewski

[Editor’s Note: Prowl Magazine writer Jack Jajewski went on his own to find out how men feel about . . . well, feelings. Here is what he discovered.]

There is a distinct difference between being able to talk about your feelings, and being able to feel your feelings. There is a strong tendency for men to hold back.

For many men in romantic relationships, emotions are a taboo subject.

“I don’t really talk about my feelings. In fact, I try to pretend they don’t exist,” said junior peace studies major Keegan Ross.

For many college-aged men, there is an aversion to the complexity of romantic relationships, and even those who get fully involved may feel themselves holding back. The challenge of balancing the social expectations that many friend groups set for each other is difficult to overcome. Men seem to find themselves going against what they really want in order to protect their vulnerability and avoid seeming weak.

“I enjoy doing romantic things, but [I wonder] if it’s manly [or not]. Is it something you can talk to your friends about in the same conversation as 'Oh, I hooked up with this girl?' Definitely not,” said sophomore business major Greg MacArthur.

The idea that men cannot share their feelings is a prevalent but definitely outdated thought. Or at least it is a thought that is too simplified to be accurate anymore.

“Men are afraid of a lot of things, including being ashamed in relationships, being seen as weak, or being vilified for being ‘whipped’ in their friend groups,” said sophomore business major Connor Satterfield.

The reality is that the issues that men face with masculinity and vulnerability are much more complex than simply not being able to talk about feelings.

This complexity of emotions extends beyond heterosexual relationships. It is not merely an issue between a man and a woman; it becomes an issue of a man with himself. Seeming weak in front of anyone is something that men are taught to avoid at all costs, and can lead to feelings of shame and embarrassment.

“The reason why I would act like I didn’t care [in front of a woman] was because I didn’t want to seem like I was weak and show that she could manipulate me,” said junior business major Brad Smith.

The aversion to any sort of manipulation from their partner is another factor that influences the course of romantic relationships. Control is often associated with masculine behavior in our society, and therefore most men need to assert that behavoir in order to feel “manly”.

Many men are not opposed to sharing their feelings outside of romantic relationships. Some reference friends who are women as an outlet for sharing intimate emotions, and some even go as far as to say that they are comfortable enough with other male friends to share their feelings with them. However, the common theme was a much greater difficulty in sharing with romantic partners.

“You’re more vulnerable when you’re with them when it comes to every aspect of intimate dates and sexual intimacy. You don’t do that with friends, so you don’t really need to be weak around them,” Ross said. “But when it comes to romantic relationships, you are the most open, so [you] simultaneously have to be the most defensive.”

When men are forced to a space of vulnerability, the instinctive reaction for many is to close off. However, in situations with friends, the need to eliminate emotions might not be as strong because they are not showing weakness in such intimate ways.

The men that are able to show that vulnerable side at some point in the relationship feel even more reluctant to do so again if the relationship ever goes poorly. It's as if it takes so much effort to release the most intimate side of yourself that when that bridge is burned, rebuilding it can take tremendous amounts of time.

Another aspect is the social pressure from peers. Jokes including “What, are you whipped?” or about being a ball and chain are thrown casually around in male-only friend groups. This can lead to men not taking relationships as seriously as they might have otherwise, and not committing themselves emotionally in order to protect their social status. The ridicule that can come from being in love might not be worth the relationship, especially with the impending pain that could come from a break up.

The callousness that builds up among college-aged men is overpowering and impacts them for future relationships. The vulnerability becomes more difficult to access and impenetrable walls are built around hearts.

“I’ve created this numbness to loss. I get over girls real quick,” Smith said.

Once that state is reached in men, it is tough to break out of it. Some men could pinpoint the specific point where they no longer felt comfortable sharing feelings and emotions.

Unfortunately, many of the problems start early and life and manifest throughout the romantic relationships that men have. Finding a way to create opportunities for vulnerability without social repercussion earlier in young men’s lives could potentially limit future issues.

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