Turns out it’s not a crisis, sort of.
For a lot of us guys, this phenomenon is part of a timeline that goes something like this:
- Go to college, party, chase girls, feel like a man, talk about all the money we’ll make when we graduate and get a real job
- Get a real job, usually sitting behind a desk, making more money than we had in college, comparing our salary/material gains to everyone else’s
- Get married, have kids
- Struggle with drinking, porn, infidelity, etc., and/or
- get a Harley, fast car, take up a new and somewhat dangerous sport, etc.
By the time the affair/Harley comes out, we’ve gained a ton of weight, we’re battling depression, and we don’t look nearly as man-like as we used to. But, like grandma’s pool-chalk eye shadow, it’s not how you look, it’s how you think you look. I always thought the old, fat guy in the Camaro looked kind of stupid, and desperate.
Now I understand.
MLC’s don’t happen because of our age, and they don’t appear out of thin air. The desires/passions/whatever have always been there – maybe since day 1. We just stuffed ’em for awhile – usually out of some cultural expectation to become a quieter, more predictable, docile version of ourselves. But the older and more confident we become, the less sense it makes to keep repressing what’s inside.
Who knows where this desire came from. It might be cultural, or maybe it comes from ages of building log cabins, fending off the bad guys, tilling the fields, and generally being needed/relied upon for our strength. Might be both. Maybe, in time, as men continue to evolve into God-knows-what, it’ll all wear off.
But for now, rest assured ladies, it’s real.
And it’s a difficult desire to live with. We love our wives. We love our kids. We want to do a good job at work. And at the same time we want to go out and do some crazy shit. For some of us it’s too late. We’ve decided to “get over it,” act like it’s not there, “grow up,” etc. Psychotherapeutical professionals call this “repression,” and it’s a dangerous thing. If we ignore it, mock it, act like it’s not real, or tell ourselves “I’m over it,” it’ll find another way to express itself – and it won’t be pretty.
Don’t be surprised if you find your docile, predictable husband sneaking around behind your back with a bottle of whiskey, a huge bag of chips, and hundreds of porn sites in his browsing history.
Affairs? Men don’t have them because they love sex with a stranger. They’re trying desperately to connect with a desire that everyone told them they’d grown out of .
I’m not advocating affairs, dishonesty, alcoholism, etc. All of the unhealthy ways that we deal with our desire for man-likeness are simply a testimony to how strong it is. This is a powerful thing we’re all trying to navigate
About a month ago I took my first boxing lesson. I found a guy who trains real fighters, but also does private lessons for the rest of us. At first I was ashamed to tell people what I was doing. Emotionally mature men in their 50’s don’t learn how to fight. It’s wrong. Silly.
After one hour with this guy I realized how un-wrong it is. Better than therapy. I looked like a complete fool, trying to throw punches, jump rope, move the way I’m supposed to, general awkwardness, etc., but it was one of the best hours of my life.
It’s also $75.00 a pop, which is something I can’t do with any frequency. Turns out there are multiple guys in my church who’ve done some fighting, so we’re talking about getting a group together where we hang out, drink whiskey, and hit each other.
I know. “Grow up,” right?
Three years ago, at the encouragement of my wife, I started going to Costa Rica once a year to try and learn how to surf. I’ve wanted to do this my entire life, but $$, time, and energy always got in the way. Next week I’ll board a plane with my brother, meet up with a friend in Tamarindo, and get better than I was last year.
When I return, I’ll be a different “man.” I won’t be tempted to drink too much, or engage in all the other unhealthy expressions of MLC’s. I’ll be happy with my life, content with the way things are, and generally have a good feeling about myself – for about 2 weeks – then that weird, unsettled, clamped-down feeling will creep in again.
I’m still learning what it’s like to live with this desire in a way that honors my commitments, my values, my relationships – most of all my wife and kids. Ironically, when I’m letting this thing off it’s chain in a healthy way, I’m much more the man everyone wants me to be – a better father, a better husband.
But I’m also rowdy. My kids love it, everyone else hopes I’ll grow out of it.
I have a picture of my grandfather in his 60’s with his shirt off, swinging from the rafters of a picnic pavilion with one hand, a beer in the other, his wife standing next to him with her trademark look of disapproval. He always said, “a real man is one, who in manhood, retains the heart of a child.”
So let’s raise a glass to the overweight bald guy on his $50,000.00 Harley, cruisin’ I-70 in a leather vest, convinced that he’s part of a gang. Make fun of him if you’d like, but maybe he’s a ton smarter than the guy hanging out in the garage shootin’ whiskey by himself, dreaming of a different life, hoping to God that his wife doesn’t find out.