Thinking About Men

Over the twenty- five plus years I have worked with men in therapy I have come to some realizations and generalizations about who men are and what makes them that way.

In the course of therapy, we address the families they grew up in and the influence they had on the men they have become. As we are doing that I have become aware of other men, groups of men in the room, so to speak.

At times I start to imagine the Serengeti plain at sunset, with those flat topped trees glowing in the near horizontal rays of the setting sun. Sometimes it is plains of the American mid-west or ice flows in Alaska. 

It is not just the landscapes that inhabit my imagination it is the primitive people I can see out of the corner of my mind’s eye.

3 men traversing a path

They are the hunters of their tribes traveling in small groups. Hunting parties made up largely of men. I am guessing there were women who engaged in hunting (see Clan of the Cave Bears) but for this writing I will make them male groups. 

They move silently across the landscape in search of prey to kill and feed their families. This is the part I imagine while working with men in therapy.  Their purposeful silence is also the thing that drives their women partners crazy: “Why don’t you say something!” or “What is going on in there?” are some of the phrases that come to mind.

The things that made us successful as a species starting over 100,000 thousand years ago are today the qualities that make men such a difficult mystery to their female partners or perhaps male partners.

Here is the list of hunter qualities that helped us survive. Think about men today as you read these:

  • Stealthiness: The ability to move quietly and without drawing attention
  • Silence: Speaking little or only as it is necessary. 
  • Group cooperation: An enjoyment of and desire to work together towards a common goal. In modern terms think of the military, sports or business ventures
  • Stoicism: The endurance of pain or hardship without displaying feeling and without complaint. 
  • Singlemindedness: An ability to follow animal herds for days on end and to sit motionless, scanning the horizon waiting for something to move.

Put all of these traits together and add in the physical energy of boys in school that contributes to their inability to sit still. And add in some ADHD qualities of intense focus and you will have the desirable qualities for the hunters in the tribe.

If there are women readers out there I can understand your consternation with male behaviors. The silences, mono syllabic responses, the singlemindedness that makes it so hard to connect is frustrating in the extreme.

And for the men reading this it may help explain to them the intensity of the thrill derived from watching sports, joining buddies for a beer or immersing themselves in video games.

These propensities can be used as excuses for not listening, connecting and being in relationship. That is not the purpose of this blog. We can override these propensities and learn new things to create greater happiness for our families and ourselves.

So next time you are getting ready to watch a game check in with your loved one and see if they would like to join you. Better yet see what they would like to do and even if it is a stretch for you (shopping, visiting family) and make it a conversation about what the two of you will do that day.

Men, make a choice to speak more with your beloved, especially about what you are feeling that day. Holding hands on the couch and taking time to check in after work or before bed is an important way to stay connected in our everyday life.

You can find out more on men's counseling here.