By: Marwa Rakha
“Big boys don’t cry”, “Take it like a man”….. We all grew up, men and women, believing that men are a feelingless gender. Boys are sissies if they show fear, pain or heaven forbid the most-taboo expression of all: crying! Men grow up aligning themselves with those norms in order to fit in. They fear if they show a more vulnerable side, it will overshadow their other masculine traits.
When it comes to relationships, feelings are the very thing that create closeness and connection, and achieve a deeper intimacy. When a man doesn’t share his feelings with his partner, this can have a dramatic impact on the relationship quality and lead to all sorts of confusion and conflict. We reached out to our Relationship Expert, Marwa Rakha, to help us crack the code of men’s feelings.
Putting norms and society beliefs aside, is it true that men and women process emotions differently?
Emotions are emotions; take a baby, for example, when a baby is hungry, he/she cries. When a toddler is sad, he/she cries. When a child is scared, he/she cries. Also, when they are happy, excited, or surprised, they express their feelings.
Just looking at children assures us that they were born with the ability to experience and express the same set of feelings.
After birth, parents start dictating the differences between girls and boys; pink for girls and blue for boys, houses and dolls for girls, cars and Meccano for boys, long hair, dresses, earrings are for girls, short hair and checkered shirts are for boys, tears are for girls and boys should just bite their lips.
This early conditioning teaches boys to deny their true feelings and desires; deny the desire to become a hairdresser, a chef, a tailor, a nurse, or a stay-at-home dad. They are also forced to deny emotional and physical pain.
It gets worse when boys get denied the hugs, kisses, and loving physical contact that girls are allowed. Then they are forbidden to kiss, caress, or stay in the arms of their mothers – even as young as 6, 7, or 9.
By the time that boy is a pre-teen, or a teen, he has already mastered denying his emotional and physical needs of love and intimacy. He puts on the “rough machine” mask every morning and faces the world.
By the time he is in his twenties or thirties, he no longer needs to put on the mask – the mask becomes him, and he becomes the mask.
The worst part is yet to come! Girls grow up absorbing all of the above; hence, as they are growing up, they make fun of, shun, reject, and friend-zone any boy/guy who is expressive, communicative, gentle, loving, and has no issues with crying.
As for processing emotions, male and female brains truly work differently but it is not a Mars or Venus type of thing; it is more of a wide spectrum of different shades of masculinity and femininity that are available for both men and women – we all have masculine and feminine sides.
One’s position on the spectrum also changes over time; a woman can start off on the very feminine side, and over time and with experience, her masculine side takes over – thus leaving her in a different position on the spectrum.
How important is sharing emotions in a relationship? Can the lack of it doom a relationship?
Ideally speaking, the answer to this question is: Yes, sharing emotions is crucial to the success of a relationship.
Realistically speaking, some women are not ready to deal with a man who could eloquently and elaborately express his feeling. They find him boring, womanly, and, in a way, less masculine.
Other women are starved for mutual communication of affection; they are deprived of deep meaningful conversations. These women suffer anxiety attacks, depression phases and sexual frustration.
The men and women in both types of relations mentioned above, are unhappy. They are a misfit. The only way to avoid such miserable relationships is to choose the right partner from the beginning. Choose the partner you feel connected to the most. Choose the level of communication and expression that you are both comfortable with. Choose the person that brings out the best in you.
How to help a man show and express his emotions?
If a man is ever to let his guard down, take off his “rough machine” mask, and express his emotions, he needs to feel secure and safe. This can never happen with a judgmental woman, in a relationship plagued with power struggles, or at a time when the man is not ready for reconnecting with his feminine side.