The Sensitive Man

“Real men don’t cry.”

Popular culture at large demands a sort of detached, impenetrable strength from its men. It applauds the “productive, confident, courageous, fierce and hard-working”—those admirable qualities tied to masculinity. Women get pegged with “delicate, sensitive, tender, emotional”, etc. Accepted psychology tells us men are task-oriented; women are relationship-oriented. There are general exceptions to the rules, but by and large, these are the patterns we see and the stereotypes we live within.

I have had a few stray conversations here and there, read an occasion article that lets me know this is not always the case, thankfully. I might be late to the party as culture expands its views on gender personality stereotypes, but in my experience, the change is happening way too slowly. I’m realizing that I’ve been drowning under the weight of these generalizations. I’m not saying I want to wear dresses (though, honestly, in the summer, that seems like it would be SO much cooler than pants… Scottish kilts anyone?), but I want to be able to be myself without feeling ashamed for having emotions, etc.

Too Sensitive

The other day, someone innocently joked that I was too sensitive, after I had apologized for something I shouldn’t have bothered apologizing for. No one had any idea, but it felt like getting kicked in the groin.

“You’re too sensitive.”

It rings with such a tone of accusation and contempt for me. I had to keep functioning, like I know how to do, but those 3 words continued to eat at me. Crafty little bastard of a phrase. If I let myself feel hurt by it, I made the accusation true. If I steeled myself against the sting, it required disengaging and choosing to bury my feelings and thoughts, slowly disappearing inside. Felt like a lose-lose situation. I think I’ve been caught in that tension for years. A girl said that to me a long time ago and it’s been haunting my life ever since. I didn’t realize it until now.

And the problem with that, and the way our culture views masculinity, is that I’ve had to hide the fact that I’ve been hurting, that I’m emotional and sensitive. That’s not “manly”. Writing this post, which I understand in theory as brave and vulnerable, feels like some sort of death sentence. Of exposing myself as weak and vulnerable. I know Brené Brown says “Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage”, but it doesn’t feel courageous. It feels wimpy. Like I’m telling you to be careful with me, because I’m fragile. But that’s why I’m writing this, putting my chips all in, to hopefully begin to disarm those lies, heal the buried pain, and live more fully.

Confession

I am sensitive.

I have a lot of emotions that I don’t let show, because I’ve been ashamed to. I rely too heavily on my odd sense of humor to deflect attention and keep things comfortably on the surface, even though as an introvert, surfacey conversations drain me quickly. Small sacrifice to pay to keep from being labeled a sensitive baby, right? Unfortunately, wrong. Very wrong. I’ve been missing out on deeper friendships, honest conversations and opportunities for real compassion, because I was too afraid I’d be accused of being too sensitive. I don’t want to do that anymore.

I cry during movies and TV shows! When no one’s around, mind you. That’s because I’ve been too afraid of being “too sensitive”.

So here’s to stepping into the way I’m wired. Here’s to accepting myself, being kind to myself as Anne Lamott says. There will be a lot of uncomfortable blog posts soon, where I talk about my feelings, anxiety, depression, etc. It will probably get messy, but… I think life wasn’t meant to lived in fear.

Let’s watch a movie together. I’ll pick the movie; you bring the tissues. I’m going to need them.