While at an Australia Day barbecue last week I sat down beside one of the men there. Until we began eating dinner the men and women were separated each talking about different things. When he sat down beside me he asked, “So how is the job search going for Michael?” I blinked at him a few times before coming to terms with the fact that he had been standing talking to my husband for at least an hour.
This made me think – why don’t some men talk to each other about the hard things? Any social gathering of men has a lot of laughs, a lot of male noises, a lot of backslapping and superficial chat about politics, sport or TV. But some men don’t talk about the things that really matter, really really matter. They don’t talk about the personal things – the job search, the divorce, the health problems or anything too serious.
A dear family member, when facing terrible marriage and money troubles only chose to talk about them to his brother with whom he was very close when it was well-beyond gone too far for assistance or peer support.
It’s concerning that some men feel their “troubles” or anything slightly emotional has to be a kept close to them.
Melbourne based clinical psychologist, Dr Erin Bower believes that this behaviour stems from their childhood and the way they were taught to behave. Dr Bower says, “As children, many men are told what not to do to handle stress according to traditional views of masculinity. But they often miss out on more practical teaching about ways to cope with emotions.”
If we think back to our own childhoods – boy or girl – we can remember hearing children (and some adults, too) taunting us with “don’t be a girl” or “boys don’t cry”. Dr Dower says that this “teaches boys that emotional vulnerability indicates weakness, so it should be avoided.”
If you consider a group of men that have been friends for say two to three years and if we asked them three key questions like;
- What are each other’s favourite movies?
- What are each other’s favourite foods?
- What are each other’s biggest worries?
The chances are that no one could accurately answer these questions. Men will talk about the superficial things but they won’t engage in discussion about themselves on a deeper level.
Beyond Blue released a report late in 2014 that found three quarters of men over the age of 50 have lost contact with their friends. Over 25% of these men cite their immediate family as the only people they spend time with for leisure.
It’s a sad and scary reality that men who have a circle of friends and men who have lost contact with friends are equally as isolated when it comes to the important, emotionally obstructive issues.
I’m sure that right now you are thinking of a man you know and care about – your husband, partner, brother, son or father. The fact that they don’t talk drives us insane on a regular basis… It shouldn’t be our job to tell the family and friends anything that matters. But to men, it is.
There’s a much more serious issue behind men not talking than simply laziness as we often accuse them of. Together we can help them by changing the stereotyped role of a “man”.
Encourage the men in your life to talk, encourage them to talk with their friends and always be there for them. And the next time your husband’s best friends asks you a personal question about him, put it right back on your husband to answer.
Tell us, do the men in your life not have enough meaningful conversations? Do you see this happening and does it annoy you too?