“The only way love can last a lifetime is if it’s unconditional. The truth is this: love is not determined by the one being loved but rather by the one choosing to love.”
Turns out everyone I know watched, greatly enjoyed and is still talking about those two Brené Brown videos in my last post! Predictably, I’m staying in that space too. And you know I’m going to write something about unconditional love, so sit tight and read on.
As a mother of two boys and a partner often guilty of expecting men to talk about problems pretty much the same way I do with my girlfriends, while accepting my help always…something’s been bothering me. Remember the husband and father at the book signing (in the Shame video) who declared that the women in his life would rather see him “die on his white horse than watch him fall”? I couldn’t get it out of my mind, because it’s not the first time I’ve seriously questioned the expectations women have of our sons and partners.
I realize that we still live in a culture messed up by patriarchal nonsense and more recent libertarian sentiments that have resurrected gender roles I had hoped were long ago left behind. But still, no woman I know, myself included, expects men to be on a white horse all the time. If anything, we plead for acceptance of vulnerability.
I don’t know about you, but nothing comes more naturally to me as a woman and mother than to reach out to anyone who is struggling with something. Of course I’m going to reach out that much more when I’m dealing with the people I love the most in my life. But…could it be that when women reach out to a man who struggles, at least part of the message men get is that we’re emphasizing their weakness by going out of our way to help? Could it be that our good intentions and nurturing instincts often end up shaming the men we love, so that instead of them being appreciative and accepting of our offer to help, they shut down and push us aside because they feel more shame than they can handle?
Last night I turned to a good friend for feedback, as he too watched the videos. His view is that men struggle a great deal with how to be perceived as desirable and strong while at the same time showing vulnerability without appearing weak. It’s not that men always equate vulnerability with weakness (although they often seem to), but that men believe if they appear too vulnerable, women will perceive them as weak, and no longer find them desirable.
Of course I argued it’s not true, that women love sensitive men. But then he brought up The Princess Bride, an example of where a man is vulnerable but also confident.
Aha…see, I am right, women find men who show vulnerability very desirable! Not so fast he said…the thing is, the guy in the movie always wins the swords fights. What would happen if he didn’t?
I had to step down and admit that perhaps while we DO want men to show and share their vulnerability, we also expect them to always rise and save the day, because that’s what “real” men are “supposed” to do. And the reason they’re “supposed” to do this is simply because it’s what we’ve been taught to take as a sign of a man’s strength, competence, and ultimate love for us.
This of course is a problem everyone shares…we all realize external expectations are not all we fear they are, but we know they exist on some level. Not knowing what exactly that level is, and given the wide range we need to consider, we start to manufacture some sort of story that makes sense in the moment, which then becomes mixed up with our own internal insecurities. And that’s when the whole vulnerability thing goes out the window…that’s when we start to numb and reach for that beer, muffin, or outright shut down.
It does seem that as difficult as this vulnerability thing is for women, men are even more stuck. If a woman can at least try to negotiate her way through expectations, for men, the very process of negotiating screams weakness. The question of “How can I survive this impoverished time without surrendering my pride?” comes to mind. It’s a question I found while looking at tarot card interpretations on aeclectictarot.net for the 5 of Pentacles, which some refer to as the “poverty” card.
It seems this is very much the question we all end up with, but perhaps men struggle with it that much more because unlike women, men risk being perceived as weak for merely asking it.
As a woman, I can say that when I have a problem, what I need is to be heard. Not helped, not advised but simply heard. This shows me that I’m enough. And I’m thinking that perhaps men need to be shown they are enough in a different way.
This is where unconditional love comes in…the enabler of vulnerability, which in turn is the birthplace of love and trust, which of course once more encourages vulnerability.
I know that many argue there is no such thing as unconditional love, because love always gets hopeful, enthusiastic and excited, looking to share and grow. But I assure you that I now know unconditional love exists. I know that no matter the circumstances or end result, there is a love that doesn’t bend or break. Even purposeless, unwanted and unseen…it stands. It can’t be taken back, it can’t be injured, it doesn’t age.
And how does it relate to men? Well, what I’ve seen works really well in my relationship with my boys, and particularly my teenage son, is letting them know they are loved unconditionally by showing them I am always there, always interested in what they have to say, always available…but also always trusting they will reach out on their own…thus remaining respectful of their space and timing.
In other words, as a mother, I’ve been learning not to push. And yes, it’s been very difficult for me, but in the end, rather than becoming some sort of confessor the boys must turn to in perceived weakness or defeat because of some problem, I transformed into someone the boys turn to with confidence and enthusiasm.
And so I’m thinking this is also the way it works best with grown-ups. To put it simply, women need men to listen. But since this is about what men might need, I will go ahead and say they need to be shown that we are there and see them, while we also take a step back with a smile of unconditional love that says:
“Nothing you become will disappoint me; I have no preconception that I’d like to see you be or do. I have no desire to forsee you, only to discover you. You can’t disappoint me.” ~ Mary Haskell
Indeed. For genuine connection in that necessary space of vulnerability, the message, I believe, should not come in the form of an intervention, rather, it needs to be a simple statement: You are enough and you are so loved.