On Being a Man

by Brian on May 6, 2012 in Masculinity

One of the things I’ve pondered most in my adult life is not just what it means to be a well functioning human being, but what it means to be a man.

People are equal in the sense that we are entitled to equally fair treatment and equal freedoms, but we are not the same. It’s impossible to just be a “human,” you are also inescapably a man or woman.

There’s a social context for what people think gender roles are and there’s also a biological context that influences you beneath the surface. As a man, both the social and biological components are constantly impacting your sense of self-esteem, self worth, and masculinity.

For a lot of the decisions you make and the way you act, you might not have to look far to find some notion of “being a man” as a major factor driving you.

Your long term happiness may even depend on how well you are able to execute on what you either consciously or unconsciously believe that a man should be and do. But then, what should a man be and do?

Wuss Man, Macho Man, and Mature Man

Healthy masculine balance includes the power to have compassion, make wise decisions, destroy your enemies, be socially savvy, and admit it when you’re wrong. Most importantly, a mature man can tell the difference between the right time to do each of these.

There are generally two different directions you can fall off of masculine balance. I’ll call these “wuss man” and “macho man.”

Wuss man falls off in the over-sensitive direction, and he can show up in several different ways. Wuss man tries to appease everyone he knows (while secretly hating many of them), and tries to avoid conflict at all cost. He may even over-sympathize with the plight of others, sometimes at the cost of he and his own. Rather than fight a battle, wuss man just moves on looking for a better situation for himself. He has the inability to put his balls on the line when he should–and he may not even know it.

I have actually felt a twinge of wuss man lately. I got into a car accident. It couldn’t have more obviously been the other person’s fault–they were driving across 4 lanes of traffic in one shot to make a u-turn. However, as we were exchanging information the other driver gave me the impression of someone who probably didn’t have a lot of money and might experience some hardship if her insurance rates went up and she had to pay for any damages. My sympathy went out to her, almost more so than I felt concern for my own damages. Part of me wanted to drop the whole matter right there.

However, while I don’t think there’s anything wrong with feeling empathy for others, I do believe that others are responsible for their actions. The other driver was clearly someone who was dangerous on the road and ought to be paying higher insurance costs and making right any damages she caused. Failure to pursue insurance claims and seek payments for damages would have an impact on me and my ability to provide for my wife and future kids.

Macho man falls off in the direction of arrogance and being excessively competitive. Macho man has an obsession with “respect” and is ready to throw down at any moment if there’s even the slightest perception of disrespect. Macho man tries to prove he is the “alpha” in every social situation. He has a hard time understanding other people’s feelings and mistakenly believes that in order to be liked and respected as a man that he must act in dangerous and impulsive ways.

Macho man often shows up when someone challenges our manliness and we suddenly feel compelled to show them how much of a man we are by doing something dangerous and stupid.

A man should absolutely have the ability to defend and take care of himself and his loved ones. But he must also have the ability to tell others how he expects to be treated in a mature way without launching into a fist fight or verbal pissing contest.

As men, we don’t always get it right. The mature masculine man does his best to make the right decisions at the right time, and takes responsibility to correct the situation when he misses the mark.

Why We Fall Off Masculine Balance

Many different reasons cause us to fall off of healthy masculine balance. Some of it is cultural. White American males born after the late ‘70s or so in particular tend to fall off in the direction of wuss man. We grew up in the post-women’s lib and post Civil Rights era of political correctness. Popular culture taught us that many of our inherent aggressive impulses were bad. Not only did women want sensitive men, but if we were to get along in society at all we had to be careful not to step on anyone’s toes.

While I can’t personally speak to it, I’ve been told that Mexican-American men tend to fall off in the macho man direction. There is strong family and cultural pressure to be a man and show strength at all times.

Our social groups also influence us. If you were a jock on the football team, when you fall off it’s more likely to be on the macho man side. If you were on the Academic Decathlon team, you are more likely to fall off on the wuss man side.


I feel that the single most important thing for feeling worthy as a man is integrity.

I think all men have a sense of what this means, and it goes beyond just doing the right thing. It’s also about staying true to what you believe in. Doing what you say you’re going to do. Speaking up when someone else is talking badly about something you think is important. Telling yourself and others the truth about where you stand.

I think where we most often let ourselves down is when someone else is talking bad about something or someone we like and we pretend to agree so that the person we are talking to will like us. Being a man means having the courage to support what you believe in–whether it is popular or not.

Integrity is also about allowing yourself to be who you are with no apologies. Everything else flows from being in integrity with yourself.

Craziness to Kill

This is your inner animal. The part of you that gets juiced up enough to put yourself in harm’s way.

It enables you to go to war against your enemies and kill Bambi to feed your family.

I think this is the hardest part of yourself to talk about as a man. It’s even more taboo than sex, politically uncorrect, and a little bit frightening for people to hear about it. Many people think you’re a bad, crazy person just for bringing it up. Unfortunately, this means we are often cut off from really being able to deal with this part of ourselves in a mature way.

Part of being a man means being able to acknowledge this part of yourself. Not grudgingly, or necessarily even enthusiastically, but welcomingly as a part of you that serves to keep you safe and your family fed. Like sex, the craziness to kill is another part of life that has an appropriate time and place.

You cannot be right with yourself as man without being right with this part of you in a healthy way.

Being a Man with Other Men

I think we all have a deep yearning for camaraderie with other men. Our success in finding it depends on how we relate to ourselves as men. Your relationship with yourself as a man is often the same as your relationship with other men.

If you are a self-hating wuss man you will tend to view other men as dirty, stinky, dangerous creatures who are always either sitting around farting or causing trouble.

You hold the raw masculine animal inside yourself with suspicion and contempt. As something to be controlled in order to show your superiority to other men–albeit resentfully. When you see other men acting out on these impulses you secretly hate them, but even more secretly wish that you felt the same freedom to behave as they did without consequence.

The extreme wuss man has few male friends either by choice or by natural repulsion from other men.

If you are a macho man always looking out for “respect,” then you will tend to view other men as rivals, threats, or people to be knocked down a peg and put in their place–below you.

The macho man feels like he always has to be ready to knock heads. If another man crosses him, then he deserves what he got coming to him. While macho man feels powerful, he is also secretly scared and tired of the world constantly sending him new challengers. Being with other men is not as much an act of friendship as it is a performance to show off his status and how much of a man he really is.

Being a mature man is an entirely separate third path that is more than just balancing the shortcomings of the wuss man and the macho man.

The mature man loves himself as a man first. He values his intellect for the ability to make wise decisions, his emotions for the ability to relate to others, and his inner animal for the ability to eat, fight, and mate when needed.

A mature man’s love extends to other men–he can even talk about loving other men without going “ew, that’s gay.” He greets other men not as rivals or inferiors, but diplomatically as the king of one country would greet the king of another. He also freely acknowledges their intellect, emotions, and inner animal. He doesn’t even mind if they fart now and then.

One of the hardest things for me was coming to terms with the “craziness to kill” in other men.

Growing up, I was always somewhat terrified of what would happen if I broke the rules–even though nothing all that bad ever really happened to me. I took pride in, but always resented, my ability to subdue my inner animal. And I both resented and envied other men’s apparent lack of conscientiousness in following the rules even more.

The important thing is realizing that this primal part of you isn’t just your inner evil that wants to wreak havoc on the world. It’s the evolutionary part of you that gets you juiced up enough to take off into the wild to hunt an animal for lunch that might have equal chance of killing you, then upon arriving back home to brutally slaughter a man who wants to rape your wife and kill your children.

This part serves to protect other men and their loved ones, just as it serves to protect you and yours. You cannot really accept another man for who he is without also accepting this part of him and giving it the full respect it deserves.

Sometimes the inner animal misfires and we get angry or defensive. A mature man makes amends when he acts out of turn, and still holds the same love for other men when they do the same.

Being a Man with Women

Nothing has more of an impact on how masculine we feel as our relationships with women. The nature of this part of your life depends a lot on whether you are being wuss man, macho man, or mature man.

Wuss man actually feels more at ease around women than men. He tends to have more female friends than male friends. Women are clean, don’t fart as much, and feel much softer and more comfortable to be around than men.

That is, of course, except for when it comes to romantic relationships. Wuss man’s repressed inner animal cuts him off from healthy sexuality. He’s been misled by a false notion of what being a “sensitive man” means. Women he’s actually interested in sense that something isn’t right and find him creepy. He is completely frustrated by this because one of his main tactics is to try and appear as least threatening as possible.

Occasionally he might get close to a woman he’s interested in by “being friends.” He thinks that if he just hangs in there long enough eventually she’ll realize what an awesome guy he is and quit dating all those losers. However, it’s actually completely invisible to the woman that he is interested in her. She sees him as a “nice guy” who she is “just friends” with.

Macho man has a much easier time romantically with women–at least in the beginning. He appears confident which is attractive at first. However, things break down for macho man when it comes to longer relationships.

Sometimes macho man may not even want a relationship. He simply wants as many sexual conquests as possible, because this is just another way of proving to himself how manly he is.

Or other times his relationships break down because they are built on dysfunction. Healthy women realize that they’ve been duped and he’s actually macho man and not mature man. Unhealthy women may stick around, leading to family and relationship problems worthy of The Jerry Springer Show.

Perhaps the hardest part of being mature man is when it comes to women. Many attributes of men are actively under attack in America and much of the modern world–especially sexuality and the inner animal. Any time men express their sexuality in a natural way they are opening themselves to the risk of a sexual harassment suit or being arrested–and no, to be clear, this does not mean violence towards women.

However, this creates a fundamental problem. Women don’t just want to see your sexuality and inner animal, it is a fundamentally necessary part of them feeling attracted to you. While I can’t fully understand how it feels for women, channeling their words, they consciously or unconsciously seek the feeling of surrendering to a man sexually. As much as you want to be the aggressor, she wants to be the aggressed–again, not talking about violence towards women here.

A deeply ingrained part of her also wants a man who is capable of killing Bambi for lunch and destroying his enemies. This keeps her and her children safe and fed. When women say that they want a sensitive man, part of what they mean is that they want a man who unleashes his inner animal in the right places and not on her and the kids.

Mature man both unapologetically enjoys sex with women and enjoys them as friends and partners in life.

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