Issue 31

Men Don't Cry


                Men are natural liars.  We are crippled in our ability to express ourselves at an early age (“Aw, that couldn’t have hurt”) and thus have learned to bury our feelings where no one can find them, including ourselves.  This crushing of the male emotional organs goes far beyond not being able to say “I love you,” affecting everything from how we dance to our ability to say what we really think about a sappy movie.

                Recently, I found out that my friend Paul’s girlfriend moved back to Louisiana to be with her family.  She went on a trip to visit them and called a week later to say she wasn’t coming back.  The thought of what I would say to my friend paralyzed me.  I couldn’t even imagine the impossible task he faced of figuring out what to say to his girlfriend.

                As men, we just aren’t prepared for these kinds of emotional challenges.  The schoolyard taught us humility when we were the last one to be picked for the team and it taught us to be tough every time the bully beat us up, but it gave us no training whatsoever for when the words “I love you” fail.

                I think a lot about what Paul must be going through.  I want to tell him that everything will work out.  But a part of me, deeply hidden, is terrified.  I want him to find happiness, I truly do, but I can’t help thinking it won’t come without personal cost to me.  I really like Paul and it’s taken four years to start to get to know him.  Now it looks like just when we’re becoming real friends that he might be moving away to be with her.  The practical side of me is disappointed that suddenly all of that time spent getting to know him will be for nothing.  The crippled, neglected, undernourished emotional side of me is thankful for the friendship we have had and is willing and even grateful to pay that personal cost for his happiness.

                So what do I say to him?  Men, as a species, have learned that opening their mouths tends to get them into trouble.  Yet, if I don’t say something, then I’ve shown that I don’t care.  As I dial the phone, I think of all the things I want to say, that my heart is breaking for him, that I’ll miss him when he moves, that I love him.  All stuff I can’t say.  The phone seems to ring and ring, and then Lady Luck smiles on me: I get his answering machine. Intimacy between men is bad enough without it being direct.  Beep.  “I just heard,” I say.  Pause.  Long pause.  Embarrassingly long pause.  “I wanted you to know I was thinking of you.”

                I hang up the phone in a panic.  Did I cross the line?  Did I go too far?  What if he doesn’t understand?

                Sometimes I get the feeling that women think being emotionally crippled means that we men can’t have emotions.  The truth is that we couldn’t obsess on our feelings with such detail and finesse if we weren’t actually hyper-emotional.  Sometimes I wish that I could just come out and cry, putting out all of my feelings like cards on a table.  Instead I have to spend incredible energy and passion figuring out how to mask my passion.

                By the time I see Paul the next day I am a complete wreck.  In my mind I have replayed our conversation – the one on the answering machine – over and over again.  Does he understand how much I’m going to miss him when he leaves, that I feel like crying about it right now?  “I got your message,” he says.  Pause.  Long pause.  “Thanks.”

                He does understand.  I smile with pride that once again male communication has come through with an efficiency that is stunning, that in less than twenty words we have shared our deepest feelings.


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