Keeping Your Distance: American Men Deal With Intimacy

Intimacy is a scarcity for American men –if by “intimacy” we mean revealing and sharing what is innermost about us. Few men live by this creed. Intimate connection becomes an abstraction, a nice idea, a frustrated lack. 

The typical American male can’t grasp intimacy, having precious little real experience of it. Just mentioning the word conjures pictures of sticky entanglements, caging commitments and emotional incompleteness. Yet without intimacy, he can’t experience real love, nurture or well-being –or sexual bliss. Without a vital, intimate foundation for living, he’ll lack self-understanding, detour natural kinship with Earth and other living beings, and delay healing. And without the presence of intimate men, American women will continue to be frustrated and lonely too.

American men come in all shapes and sizes, but have one thing in common: being socialized in a culture which treats them, ultimately, as what men’s advocate and author Warren Farrell has called “success objects.” As youngsters, our males are directed to be independent and to achieve results, to master their world as the way to win respect from one’s peers, love and approval from one’s parents, and later on, to win the love of a woman, get sexual and sensual needs met, and earn their children’s loyalty. A male’s worth and potential for well-being becomes a measure of what he can do and how well he does it, rather than by any innate, divine value in being. Thus, our fathers, sons, brothers, husbands, boyfriends and male buddies tend to be performance-oriented and suffer in mass, epidemic proportions what is glibly referred to as “performance anxiety.”

A vast majority of American males suffer a shame-based core, feeling inadequate to the colossal task of the continual self-proving job set up by our male mystique. When success becomes associated with competitiveness and non-compassionate attitudes, opportunities for emotionally close friendships with other men are sorely tried, as they compete with each other for the bounty. The culturally sanctioned ‘real man/hero’ hides emotions as he fights off competition and struggles for survival, power and control in a harsh world. He clings to his independence, to appear to be an expert and ‘right’ about things –and of course, be sexually potent at all times. This training makes him uniquely unfit for intimate relations, or even staying alive and well! It makes him super inhuman.

Inwardly, America’s men hide fear and vulnerable feelings –even from themselves, as they struggle alone, often feeling wholly responsible for the well-being of significant others. –a potentially lethal burden. Statistically, men die earlier than women, suffer more substance addictions, commit more suicides and homicides and are homeless more often. Their worries about rejection (being shown up for the inadequate, unlovable boys they secretly fear they are), fear of being humiliated by those most significant to them, prevent them from even talking about what they feel inside as they pursue their lonely paths more fiercely, have heart attacks, drop or fall out. The discrepancy felt between the masculine ideal of personal power and the actual experience of powerlessness creates enormous pressure. This pressure and the pain and anger it engenders can only be countered by a drastic change in awareness, and by creative opportunities for actual experiences of life as a primarily nourishing, fulfilling endeavor.

Men in America today, as an en-cultured population, are under-nurtured, emotionally isolated and restricted, sexually frustrated and unfulfilled, and generally stressed out. Performance anxiety, the number one killer of enjoyment, shows up regularly in the workplace and in bed. Sadly, so many men remain ashamed to come forward for help, as if the asking itself implies a failure. They especially loathe or are uneasy to talk to another man, and seemingly undermine their position in the male pecking order.

Fortunately, there are many ways for a man to foster intimate relationships and recover his pleasures and joy. He can seek professional counsel and care, read or listen to educational tapes, commune with nature, join or form support groups. Prayer and meditation work wonders. Courting honest, heartfelt communications will likewise support the physical, emotional, psychological, sexual, energetic and spiritual renewal he requires.

In addition to changes wrought in personal and familial arenas, inspired advocates may work communally and nationally for socioeconomic change to help shift our society away from killer work ethics, ‘dominator’ politics and the powerless and destruction engendered. Adopt life-affirming values as you rediscover and redefine “masculinity.” Learn patience and gentleness with your growth process. Believe all your steps count in the march toward everyone’s freedom to know an intimate, passionately engaged, fruitful life.

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