What We Expect of Ourselves
We expect too much of ourselves: that point cannot be argued. We expect ourselves to be as stoic as our fathers and grandfathers were yet many feel liberated (for want of a better word) that we are able to show our sensitive sides without doubts being cast on our manliness or our sexuality. A man must not cry… ever.
The above quote is as true for men as it is for women. There can simply come a point in your life when you have tried to be strong for too long and you just break down. I’ve been there twice in the last two or three years and through therapy, talking to friends and meeting people who have been in the same boat I am far more comfortable talking about mental health.
The liberation of women in some ways has liberated our opportunities too. How so? Now we are expected, encouraged and most importantly, we want to take a more active parenting role than simply being the family meal ticket. Fathers are no longer just the authoritarian figure who is seen in the morning before he goes to work, in the evenings when he gets back and the only time you spend time with him is one day at the weekend when you all go out for the day.
Yet despite these greater opportunities for self-expression we are still reluctant to talk about our problems, physical or mental because we are expected (or feel we are expected) always to put a brave face on. That’s the way our parents were/are, that’s the way our grandparents were and so we feel we must attempt to emulate the male patriarchs in our family in every way we possibly can. But society has other expectations and sometimes these are contradictory…
What Others Expect Of Us
I’m not apportioning blame here but there is, to a certain extent, an impossible level of expectation from some women. Mostly, I think magazines and media encourage women to have unrealistic expectations: you can have Mister Grey! If a man isn’t tall, dark, handsome and rich – if he lacks just one or those qualities – then cast him aside. Doesn’t look like George Clooney? Hang on in there because he’ll come along some day to snap you up. You can have anything and anyone so keep holding out for your idealised man.
Fortunately, most women who live in the real world are not like this but there are enough who live in the fantasy of expecting “Prince Charming to sweep her off her feet”. This is far too prevalent online dating but the important thing to remember is that if you talk to or date a girl like this is that it says more about her than it does about you. Her impossibly high expectations will only make her miserable in the long run. You should never have to justify your existence or change who you are for a woman who would likely never be happy anyway.
We are also expected to conform to an archetype that few men can really live up to: the so-called “strong silent” type is seen as something not just preferred but ultimately desirable. We are expected to bottle up our feelings to create an air of mystery that is supposed to be sexually attractive. But according to whom? Don’t a large proportion of relationships break down due to a lack of communication? How then can we maintain that “strong silent” is something beneficial for a man to be? And where is it coming from when most women seem to prefer men who are more open about their feelings to avoid relationships hitting the rocks?
It isn’t just women’s magazines either. Such media aimed at men promotes the idea that it is good to act like a dick, that arrogant is a good thing to be if you want to be seen as “the alpha male”. Not all of us can be or want to be like that and not all women want a man like that. One one hand we have the feminine side of the media wanting to create an archetypal “sensitive new age guy” and on the other, a male media that seem to suggest we should become more “retrosexual”. Both imply a one size fits all approach that doesn’t work in the real world.
The expectation of success is so drummed into us – we are nothing, worthless even, if we are not in a high-pressure and high wage role. If a woman is in a relationship with a man who has less earning potential than her, she is “marrying down” a term that I find insulting to men and to women in the modern age. Yet there is no term for it when it is the other way around.
What I am Vs What I’m Not
With all of these mixed messages – from the media and from women’s changing roles in society, it is no great surprise that so many men are suffering mental health problems as a result of feelings of inadequacy. Torn this way and that, it is easy to feel that you aren’t living up to society’s expectations about whether you have a six pack, whether you are tall enough, slim enough, rich enough, successful enough. This is an issue usually discussed about women yet it affects us just as much – perhaps we are better at hiding it or because we are expected to “suck it up” we don’t talk about it.
Believe me, I know how it feels to condemn yourself for not being enough. I’ve done it every year of my life and I sank into a pit when my marriage broke down. But now I’ve learnt to focus on what I am. It is not always easy; of course I still have my bad days but my self-punishments and self-condemnations are a fraction of what they once were. I would even go so far to say they are a rare occurrence. My biggest issue at the moment is whether I have the drive or the ability to make this self-employment thing work and whether I can ever make a success of myself. The thing I must remember though is that I am highly qualified and if it doesn’t work out, I have other options.
So again even when those negative thoughts slip in there, I usually counter it with a positive thought. The key is not to stop them happening, but to know how to react when they occur. Self-acceptance and acceptance that you are going to have those negative thoughts is all part and parcel of it. Accept that negative thoughts will occur and you have already won half the battle.