The Lonely American Man

19_Hidden BrainI’m exploring characters. Ones within me are varied: selfish, generous, angry, happy, judgmental, forgiving, and more. There’s a wide range of characters I can identify, and I suspect there are characters deep in the wings I’ve lost touch with; characters that exist for reasons I don’t even know. There’s no doubt it’s good some of them some stay away; I also suspect it would do me good for others to come out.

This podcast from Hidden Brain is, for me, an exploration into men and their characters. We encourage the existence of certain “male traits” within the men of our culture, and we disallow others.  The episode is an exploration of how some characters that are present in young boys—friendship, openness, sensitivity and friend-love—are often destroyed by the time boys become men. There’s a powerful “masculine” cultural tide in which children are raised, a tide that can be difficult to swim against. Parents are “worried” that their boys are “too sensitive,” a trait that flies in the face of “masculinity” in the U.S.

This episode explores the physical and mental health risks that these attitudes can have on the very boys who become men. What does it mean when men are not allowed a comforting hug from another man out of fear of being tagged gay, in a culture where that can still be a stigma. What are we doing to boys by crushing the tender characters that exist in them as children? And what are we doing to our culture?

The social isolation and loneliness that exists for many men has consequences, including increased suicide rates for middle-aged men and health problems.  Boys, who often have close friends when they’re children and in middle-school, have often lost those intimate friendships by the time they reach high-school; their youthful closeness and sharing replaced by adult-male toughness.

A question considered is: who can a person call in the middle of the night when they’re sick or afraid? It considers the idea that having a broad, social network is good for all people, and that, for many men, they often don’t have that. If a man is married, it’s often their wife they rely upon. For women, they often have multiple warm, close relationships they can turn to. If a marriage fails or a spouse dies, the man is often left on an island without a support group.

It feels to me as if we’ve written a drama for men that is limiting the emotional range their characters can have and the emotions that will be allowed on the stage of their life.

Which seems like such a shame; it’s like saying, here’s a piano with 88 keys, but only play the 30-keys in the middle. Sure, music can still be played; but it won’t be nearly as rich and full and deep as it would be if you used the full keyboard.


 

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