Within the space of a single week, my husband and my lover each told me something that made the gears of my mind turn. Almost word for word, they both said, “I know how much you love me by the way you touch me.”
I’m not sure I can express how powerful those words have been, except to say that they gave me reason to reflect on the needs of men in general, and how often they likely go unmet.
Over the course of my life, I’ve come to see that beneath the steely layer of socially-programmed “Mad Men” machismo, beat the hearts of gentle beasts who long for tenderness, encouragement and nurturing just as much as any woman, but who are constrained and discouraged by cultural conventions to express such needs and desires openly.
Men carry a heavy burden in Western society. They are expected to be the rock, the bread-winner, the provider, the enforcer, the protector and hero; the ones who keep their shit together when everything around them is falling apart. They’re taught from a very young age not to show fear, doubt, or weakness, if they want to be respected.
The longer I’ve lived, the more I’ve come to appreciate the toll all these expectations take, and how, consequently, even perceived failure (e.g., loss of a job due to lay-offs) can be devastating to a man’s sense of self-worth.
I admit that we women tend to view men as they are culturally cast, and so, as girlfriends and wives in particular, we take their emotional needs for granted. We forget to cast our eyes upward and offer our gratitude for what the men in our lives do for us, how hard they work, and how many sacrifices they make. We forget that they feel doubt, and need our encouragement, acceptance, and understanding. It becomes easy for us to dismiss our husbands’ need for intimacy behind closed doors as nothing more than a desire for pleasure; and therefore treat sex as if it’s a chore that stays at the bottom of our to-do list. We fail to realize how invalidating our disinterest in sex can be to the men who love us.
I wish I had some advice to give, but I’ll be honest…I didn’t grasp these things about men until circumstances forced me to watch my husband struggle, and uphold his entire family, through a tragic loss.
So, instead, I would simply like to say, to all of you…working multiple jobs to make ends meet; playing catch in the yard with your kids; making a late-night run to the store for Tampax, Pampers, or chocolate ice cream; leaving the last slice of apple pie for your wife (even though it is your favorite!); and all the many big and little things you do for the ones you love…