What Men Secretly Want: Emotional Intimacy
With Andrew Reiner
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you’re listening to The Love, Happiness, and Success podcast.
That’s a beautiful song called “Nowhere To Hide” by the singer-songwriter, Daniel Robinson. I chose it for us today because it is an excellent example of a man being incredibly emotionally transparent, and honest, and vulnerable. And that is what we’re talking about today on the podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. I am the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. I’m a licensed marriage and family therapist. I’m a licensed psychologist. I am a licensed—no wait—board certified life coach.
And I mentioned that as the stepping stone to say, I have many years of experience in working with couples, and individuals around matters of the heart, personal growth, helping people figure out what they want, figuring out how to be more connected, and have happier, more satisfying relationships. And I don’t know that I have ever had a single client who was either a man or in a relationship with a man where it wasn’t necessary to talk about some point. The fact that men are just as emotionally alive as women are.
Men have a very rich and real inner life, and they crave emotional intimacy and connection, and to be known, and understood, and accepted, and loved on a very deep level, just the same way that women do. And fascinatingly, but understandably, that idea is not immediately apparent to a lot of people. That is something that we need to cultivate together in our work in either a couples counselling or individual coaching to help men, and the people who love men really develop the kind of healthy satisfying relationships, and even life that they want and deserve.
Too often, men starting as very, very young boys, toddlers are socialized out of having feelings of being vulnerable, of having emotional needs or attachment needs. And so that part of themselves can get pushed away. In a recent podcast, we talked at length about shadow sides, and this is kind of an extension of that topic, but specifically around what happens to men as a result of that kind of socialization and how it’s so necessary to help men get reconnected with how they really feel on a deep level in order to help have more satisfying relationships, and also just more connected to themselves so that they really can use all of their emotional guidance as well as their ideas about who they are and what they need to be happy.
And I am so incredibly thrilled today to be speaking to a real expert on this subject. My guest today is Andrew Reiner. You may have seen his work recently in the New York Times. He is the author of such provocatively titled articles as It’s Not Only Women Who Want More Intimacy in Relationships. He has another amazing article about teaching men how to be emotionally honest. And he is the author of a new book called Better Boys, Better Men: The New Masculinity That Creates Greater Courage and Emotional Resiliency.
And in addition to that, he is a professor at Towson University. He teaches writing, as well as men’s issues. His work has been featured all over the place, the Chicago Tribune and PR the CBC, and he’s here today to share his wisdom and insights with us. So, Andrew, thank you so much for coming here today to speak with me and my listeners about the emotional life of men.
Andrew Reiner: I’m really grateful for the invitation to be on your podcast. I really appreciate the fact that so much of the focus of the work you do is on intimacy because it’s such an important part of my own life.
Dr. Lisa: Mine as well, and I so appreciate you. You bringing this up and sharing lessons, and you know what, maybe we can just jump right in and talk a little bit more about that because one of my first questions for you, if it’s okay to ask, was really to learn a little bit more around, where the idea and kind of drive to write this book came from? Because I got the sense that it was very much related to a personal journey, and I’m curious to know what that is if it’s okay.
Andrew: Oh, of course. Yeah, of course. So, but as I said, I’m really grateful for the opportunity to be on here and really honored. So thank you.
Dr. Lisa: Thank you.
Andrew: You’re welcome. So my own journey has been, yeah, you’re absolutely right. It’s been extremely personal. And really, it started for me, unfortunately, with well as it does in situations like this very often with kind of a—with a trauma. And so, when I was about seven or eight years old, I got into a really brutal fistfight with a neighborhood kid. And, it was just, it was unlike anything in our neighborhood that kids had ever seen before, and it really became a spectacle. Typically, in our neighborhood, we, it was the kind of neighborhood where fights ended, after a couple minutes, you got the animosity out of your system, the frustration, and you went back to playing together.
This was a brutal, brutal fight. I remember a lot of the details of this fight because it was traumatizing. We were both really young. And he just, even when I would get up to run away from the fight, he would track me down, and he would just keep hitting me. So, I was just, I mean, it was just a bludgeoning fight, not the kind of fight you typically expect seven and eight-year-old boys or kids do it, adore. So what happened was, that alone was hard enough.
But what happened was, later in the afternoon, I got home, and I heard my brother, my oldest brother was talking to my mother about this fight that everybody in the neighborhood was talking about it. And so I expected my brother, five years older than me, who I guess would have been 12 or 13, at the time, to be talking about, in some shape, or form, how he was going to support me in this—stick up for me, whatever it was, he was telling my mother what a coward I was, and what a black sheep in the family I was, and well I was basically, a loser, and all these things.
And my mother really didn’t say anything. And that was the beginning of what became basically a smear campaign. By my brother for decades, in my family after that, I was always considered, he always made a point of shaming me as much as he could about being a coward, and it all started with this fight.
Dr. Lisa: That’s terrible, I’m just like personally, I am so sorry that you live through that because that’s awful, and especially in your family. I mean, that, of all the places.
Andrew: Yeah, well, thank you. I appreciate that. So, but the point of it was—was that that began a campaign for me. And of course, I didn’t know it at the time. But first, it began with, as so often happens with boys and men finding ways to kind of, to overcome, and to redeem yourself from the shame. And so it often happens, boys and young men, because of the lack of awareness, look for ways to prove themselves in ways that other boys and men are going to find acceptable. So for me, that was—I leaned into fighting. I fought constantly, as a young boy after that. Got into lots of fights.
And I didn’t realize it, but I was basically trying to redeem myself. And at some point, I think it was in sixth grade, I just stopped. I just realized it became really clear to me that this idea of being in fistfights was, even though I was also getting hurt, it was painful to me to be hurting other kids, other boys over such really trivial things. And it was a huge wake-up call. I mean, I actually remember this specific fight, and it was in sixth grade. And so, after that, my awareness, once I stopped fighting, everything just kind of shifted. And so because of that, I was no longer trying to prove myself through fighting. There was just kind of an awareness where I suddenly became, in junior high, really cognizant of the ways that boys just really brutalize each other.
Dr. Lisa: Okay, but can we just pause for one second? I mean, that just the fact that you are such a self-aware 12-year-old and also like, and I just have to ask, so there were clearly all these messages coming at you from your brother, and other societal factors around, what it meant to be a male, and all of these kind of pressures to be fighting, and aggressive. But yet you had all this empathy and the self-awareness around, “I don’t want to hurt people,” and I’m getting cultural messages that don’t feel congruent for me. I’m just like, amazed as a therapist, I have to tell you, like…
Dr. Lisa: …where did that come from? At that age, it’s amazing.
Andrew: Well, I mean, as you know, as a therapist, what often happens with people who have endured traumas at a young age, is that there’s this kind of part and parcel with that is there’s an awareness, a consciousness where it’s raising, that occurs, and you can’t really qualify it, you can’t, I’m sorry, you can’t quantify it, and it just kind of—it occurs. And what often happens with boys and men is it goes one of two ways. The most common way is that boys and boys will start to, if there is any kind of consciousness-raising, they’ll often suppress that. And they’ll say, “Well, the path of least resistance is being accepted.” And so the way to do that is to swallow back the things that other boys and men are telling me—are getting in the way for me to have my man card stamped. The other way that it can go is you go the path that I took. And you kind of, for me, it was very much still fighting, even though I wasn’t getting into fistfights anymore, it was still holding on to a fierceness, a sense of kind of like that, the fear of feeling of like I still want to be a warrior, but I’m going to put everything I have into it to fight against this. So that’s really what was going on.
Dr. Lisa: That’s amazing.
Andrew: That’s what was going on. I refused. It was just a matter of refusing to back down. And I carry that with me well into adulthood, refusing to back down and also starting to pick apart the things about masculine identity that I saw were just hurting and harming other boys. It wasn’t just me. I mean, I was just sitting back in junior high, just watching, and just taking note of all this, and just thinking I’ve got to find other ways to push back against this. And so that consciousness after I stopped physically fighting, really started to kind of take off, and it really just burgeoned in junior high. And it wasn’t something that I was writing about. It wasn’t something I was talking about; but it was something I was observing. And I was just trying to figure out ways that I could kind of push back against it.
Dr. Lisa: Thank you. I mean, one thing that comes up, as I’m sure you can imagine, over and over again, is this—men who have not been exposed to those ideas, or have had a champion saying, wait, there’s more, it doesn’t have to be this way, and they don’t know that there are options, and so they really kind of fold and acquiesce to these messages about it’s not okay to have emotions—it’s certainly not okay to have vulnerable emotions. The only acceptable emotions there are for a man is happiness and anger. And what this creates is such a constriction that it becomes very difficult to have the emotional intelligence skills that are necessary to have high-quality relationships later in life.
And it’s incredibly damaging on so many levels, both relationally but also in terms of their own psyche. And just to think that you have been a champion for changing this is hats off to you. I mean, I can only imagine how many people you must have come into contact with over the years in your various roles as a teacher and as a writer who have heard this different message and maybe taking it on board—men who have taken it on board as a kind of counter to this toxic masculinity narrative that takes so many good, nice, decent men down.
Andrew: It does. Yeah, it does. And it’s—what often happens is, what I was doing was very much typical for a lot of boys and men, so for me, it was finding outlets for my emotional life through girls and then eventually women, right? I’m sure you see that a lot in your own practices. It’s leaning into the place where you can feel safe with your emotional life, and that was in the research in my book, I mean, just endlessly, boys in high school, talking about the friendships they have with girls. Not surprisingly, because those are the places where they have that safe space.
And a lot of men, of course, as you probably know, I’m sure they take that into adulthood. And you can see that the writing on the wall, the problems with that is that it becomes, men learn to still look at their emotional lives, and their emotional awareness is something as being feminine. And so the feminine is the safe place that they can put that into, we are very much at a place, and this is more true. I think with younger men today, where there is a reckoning, where these younger men are trying to find ways to reconnect, or I should say, connect with boys with young men, and they’re trying to push back against that. We’re not there yet. I mean, we’re definitely not there yet. But they are the ones who really kind of leading the charge with that.
When I sat in men’s groups throughout my research, often it was the younger men that were leading the charge, and then you might have the older men, who eventually, after a lot of his inner resistance, would start to let their guard down, because they felt like, “Okay, so these guys are making it safe, where I can do this.”
And one of the best examples of that was in a prison up in Massachusetts, and that was a really great experience because there were these younger inmates, younger men sitting in this giant circle in this program called Jericho Circle Project. And they were the ones that were really kind of, you could just tell they were really setting the tone. And they were the ones who are learning, they were still learning, but didn’t come easily to them, but they were more willing to see the value in this process. And then the older men would follow suit.
Dr. Lisa: That’s a need. The older men learning from the younger ones and thinking about just generational differences, and I just, had a thought that probably the women’s movement, and feminism and so many of the other social justice movements that have become stronger over the last few decades are now finally able to go back into the fire and maybe assist the men who came of age prior to some of those messages and who maybe hadn’t had the benefit of those ideas and those kinds of nurturing relationships prior to now. That’s amazing that…
Dr. Lisa: … that’s happening.
Andrew: It is, and you bring up an interesting point about that, Lisa, because one of the things that came up in the research—it was actually a bit counter to that—there are women and I found it’s a lot of older women. When I say older, I mean, more middle-aged and older, who I think are showing a lot more empathy, and encouraging men to kind of create the space, actually, and I find this in the course I teach at the university where I teach, called “The Changing Face of Masculinity.”
A lot of younger women really resist and really aren’t crazy about the idea of men because they feel like, “Here are men trying to suck the oxygen out of the conversation again, here are men saying” or “Oh, we need a safe space to talk.” And “Here are men trying to say that we are the ones who need a little bit more empathy and a little bit more understanding.” And understandably, a lot of them are very resistant to this, and they get—some of them get just downright indignant. And that’s it’s something that it’s an interesting dynamic, it’s that what’s happening today, I think, with younger, a lot of younger feminists is that it’s kind of a turf war for them. And you see this on college campuses, where there have been men’s groups.
Dr. Lisa: That’s interesting. I didn’t know that.
Andrew: There’s been a lot of resistance to, for instance, when there’ve been a few groups, young men who have gone to like this, ESGA, the student governments and said, we’d like to be funded to have a safe space too, and they’ve met with a lot of resistance. There was a—what school is it? I can’t remember which it was, one university, I think it was University of Massachusetts and in the States, and there was a school in Canada, in British Columbia, where the young men who were trying to form this met with a lot of resistance from, unfortunately, a lot of female faculty members and from a lot of younger feminists.
So it’s a little more complex than that, it’s, of course we know that when you teach men and encourage men to get in touch with their emotions beyond the happiness and the anger, we know that only good, generative emotions and changes in the way that they think and see the world better, arise from that. And then, of course, all women and girls are going to benefit from that, too. But we’re not there yet where I feel like we’re really not there yet in the conversation, to be honest.
Dr. Lisa: Well, and this is really interesting, and something that I had honestly not considered until speaking with you about it. But, and I don’t know if this is the conclusion that you came to, but it’s almost like, this group of men, who, by many standards have all of this privilege that they have been exercising for millennia and using that sometimes unfair ways that now there’s this sort of push back against men as having the opportunity to develop themselves in the same way.
Like, you have all of this privilege, you don’t deserve to have this kind of safe space, you don’t need it in the same way that we do, which is maybe unintentionally creating a consequence of not having the type of growth environment that would allow men to develop the kind of empathy, and self-awareness, that is the antidote to that unconscious privilege. Is that kind of the gist of it? Or did you just discover something else?
Andrew: No, I think, Lisa, I think you really summed it up very well. It’s the idea that, as you said, for millennia, men have had the privilege, oh my God, I mean, historically, when have they not? Right? And then all of a sudden, that we’re in this new kind of paradigm, there’s this new epoch that we’re in. And so, and I completely understand a lot of the frustration, and the anger, and the resentment.
But then, the other part of that is that if we want men to change, if we want boys and young men and even middle-aged men to potentially had that changed, all the privilege that they’ve had so far has not really encouraged or fostered a healthy masculinity, that’s the thing. That’s the crux of it. Everything that they’ve had so far has been ways of wearing and embracing power, that hasn’t always been on to use that word, again, generative, in terms of benefiting everybody else. It’s been a very one-dimensional approach to power. So, all of that privilege doesn’t really mean anything for these guys, who many of them are clueless about their deeper emotional lives.
And so it’s true, absolutely, absolutely men have completely controlled and embraced all the privilege. And now that they suddenly are seeing the ascent more of girls and women, they’re not understanding why. And I think to some extent, some of the younger women aren’t really understand why that, all that privilege, really didn’t mean anything in terms of them becoming the men we want and need them to be. If they still were looking at their privilege in a way that was very one dimensional, and that wasn’t really emotionally healthy for everyone, including themselves.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah.
Andrew: So that where that disconnect, I think, is coming in.
Dr. Lisa: No, that’s good, going back to that idea that racism, sexism really does impact everyone whether or not they know it. And it’s interesting to hear you talk about that, but the privilege sort of, like, was a trap in some ways. As we’re talking, though, I’m also realizing that you and I just slid so naturally into like this fascinating conversation.
Dr. Lisa: Probably, it would be worth going back a little bit just to also provide an overview of your work and of your research. And so you were talking about how, from a young age, you kind of developed this the sense of mission and purpose around pushing back of some of these cultural forces related to what it means to be a man, and so you have a book coming out, quick plug, Better Boys, Better Men: The New Masculinity That Creates Greater Courage and Emotional Resiliency is coming out.
And can you talk a little bit about some of the questions that you had in mind, some of the topics that you wanted to write about? And you mentioned several times, like your research process, and I’m so curious to know more about what specifically you were exploring and what you learned through that research. And of course, this will be very high-level compared to the depth and nuance that you go to in your book, but what was the high-level story of your research in the process?
Andrew: Yeah, sure. No, great question. So, let me start off with some of the questions, some of the questions because I, like, I can tell you’re a fan of questions.
Dr. Lisa: I am such a nerd, card-carrying, yes. So I love the questions.
Andrew: Absolutely. That’s how we learn; we learn through curiosity. Right? Okay, so some of the questions for me were, of course, the big one, what does it mean to be a man? Right? What does it mean to be a man anymore, when we’re trapped? When some of us are really doing hard work to really kind of push back against that? What is it? When so, what does it mean to be a man? And if we’re trying to change that script, what are the parameters? Does that mean that there are no parameters? Even if we could—best case scenario, change that script? Are there still parameters? Or should they be taken off? Right? Should we just say that, just like that, we don’t say be a real woman, right? Thank God, we don’t, I mean, just like, we don’t say that, even if we take away that limiting script, of what it means to “be a real man,” where do we go from there? What does that look like?
And so do we still have to have limitations, because one of the things I discovered throughout my research with both men and women—not just with boys, and men—but men, and women, and girls, too, is that the vast minority of people really feel that completely taking away all those constraints of masculinity that we’re familiar with—and comfortable with—by the way, completely, taking those away, still leaves a lot of people and a lot of very progressive-minded people a little bit uncomfortable.
And so, because one of the things I would hear, for instance, when I would interview some young women at the college level, for instance, was, I want guys to be able to experience more ranges of their emotion, guys shouldn’t be stuck with just, and one of the thing that they always said was always anger. And then it’s okay, so what does it look like? How do you feel if a guy gets really weepy in front of you?
And I did this, one of the things I did was I did kind of a survey in a lot of the classes I taught semester in, semester out. And it came down to about 90 or 92% of them said, “That they were very uncomfortable with guys crying in front of them.” Ranging from “it just didn’t seem right” to “they just didn’t know how to respond.” And so, of course, that’s just not crying, right? Crying is just the window of vulnerability. It’s just a manifestation of that. And so that’s still something that a lot of women are so uncomfortable with.
And I mean, this is something that my wife and I, I’ve had to work with her on, in our relationship. Because there have been a lot of times, I could very clearly tell she wasn’t comfortable with my own vulnerability. So it’s something that I think that’s a good example of ways that we’re—that we’re not completely there yet. To say that, “No, sorry, there still are some expectations that were that we still have for you”—even if you can, for instance, be more entitled to like—wrong word they’re entitled—but even if we’re going to give you access and encourage you to to get access to the deeper range of your emotions, there are still thresholds that we haven’t really crossed yet. There still are some limitations.
Dr. Lisa: So interesting, but again, that like that women to have received these messages about who men should be, what’s okay, what’s not okay, that are really also limiting the depth, and the quality of their relationships in heterosexual relationships. It’s so fascinating because, especially as a couples counselor, I have so many women saying, but I just want to feel more emotionally connected—but don’t cry. Don’t like, actually show how you feel.
Andrew: Right. I hate to plug a piece of this…But I just did this piece to New York Times, and it was about…
Dr. Lisa: Yes.
Andrew: …men, there are men out there.
Dr. Lisa: My husband is one of them.
Andrew: There you go, who want more emotional intimacy, and one of the things that other researchers have found, and I mentioned this in the piece, and is that a lot of women do say, yeah I want this from you because they haven’t gotten at all that kind of emotional connection, that intimacy that they want, and what a lot of the research has shown, and then I even spoke anecdotally, to a therapist who works a lot with men, and he echoed the same thing, he said, “A lot of my male clients, I get them to the point where they will finally open up with their female romantic partners,” and then often it’s met with the women appreciated first, but then if the men keep going there, it’s, “Wow, I didn’t realize you were this needy.” So it’s and so that kind of thing—that’s what I think a lot of men are up against, and there’s been other research on that speaks to this as well.
Brené Brown comes to mind in her book, Daring Greatly, right, the great Brené Brown. And she has a great passage about that, about how women are constantly begging men to be more open to create this intimacy with me. And then when men really do cross that threshold and give them—feel safe, a lot of women recoil. And so that’s what—I think that that is to give you an example, with the research I found, it really does speak to that. It’s the idea that there are still ways that we still are uncomfortable with men redefining what this healthy masculinity looks like. I’m not saying it always. But I’m saying there still are some ways that we’re still kind of holding each other back.
Dr. Lisa: But what a wonderful question, though, to be posing to women to say, “How do you react when your male partner expresses these vulnerable feelings to you?” Because that might be a point of self-awareness and growth around if I do want more emotional intimacy in my relationship, what am I doing to support it on the other side?
And I have to ask, just to have balance here, has your research extended to same-sex couples, like I’m wondering around male couples? Were there two male partners, are these dynamics still in place? Or does it feel almost more emotionally safe, potentially, for males who have done this type of growth work? I guess this is a very awkward way of trying to frame the question that should be much easier, but I’m wondering if it feels emotionally safer for men to be partnered with a man when it comes to these expressions of emotional vulnerability? Or is it sort of the same kind of dynamic that happens no matter if it’s heterosexual or homosexual relationship?
Andrew: Yeah, no, that’s a great question. I haven’t done as much extensive research in gay relationships. But when I would speak with gay men, a lot of them did. And just in anecdotally, in conversations I was having with gay friends, there still are, for a lot of gay men, there’s still, I should say, there still is a lot of resistance, in terms of that feeling of wanting to open up, of wanting to feel really safe. In fact, it’s interesting, in some ways I feel this way, and I think it’s true, I think it’s true for hetero men, and for gay men, I feel like we have actually kind of, I don’t know if evolved is the right word. But I feel like we have, in many ways, the masculinity that we have right now, or what some of us are really working to kind of unravel, is more hyper-masculine than it was in the past.
Anybody who’s lived through the 70s in the 80s would know that the kind of progress that was being made, as the women’s movement was really kind of hitting its stride with that second wave of feminism. There was a lot more encouragement for a different kind of masculinity with boys and men. And so there was kind of a much more sensitive kind of masculinity. That was much more—was becoming more acceptable then.
Dr. Lisa: The encounter groups of the 1970s. And yes, like hairy men hugging each other, I get
Andrew: But it’s interesting, if you look at for instance, if you listen to music from the 70s, if you watch TV shows, and watch movies from the 70s, I’ve kind of gone back, and just to kind of immerse myself in some of that stuff is like guys is different. And today, for younger men, especially, there’s this real kind of polarity that they’re trying to straddle, where on the one hand there’s huge degrees of body dysmorphia, with younger men, huge degrees of and it’s all—I, in the book, I even say it’s caricature-ish, it’s cartoonish, because all the guys, and this is true of a lot of gay men too.
This is really inflated, buffed upper bodies. And, I mean, they’re, it’s like, that’s really kind of the norm. It’s the limitations that women have had for God knows how many hundreds of thousands of years with body image. And this is really the first time that you’ve got men really kind of succumbing to this one dimensional image of what they should look like, as men. And so that’s an example of, but and, then you look at, like, the popular culture they’re consuming. I mean, there’s still a lot of hyper-masculinity, for instance, in rap. You look at the action hero movies that are really, really big with younger guys. They are completely one-dimensional.
Dr. Lisa: No crying.
Andrew: That’s right. The only place that you see any really, kind of, nuance in the heroes, in these action movies, is there’s a little bit of, kind of, complexity in their morality, and the morality they’re wrestling with. But when you look at the messages these guys send, they’re swaggering, they’re cocksure, they’ve got these powers that other guys would love to have. They don’t second guess themselves. They’re not really emotionally. You rarely see any kind of outpouring of anything other than anger from revenge or constantly in combative action. I mean, it’s real; it’s very hyper-masculine. You said the kinds of things when you asked about questions.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah.
Andrew: I wanted to ask guys, well, on the one hand, you say that you do once in a while, I’d like to talk to a male friend, although most of them would talk to girls. But on the other hand, how do you kind of how do you reckon that idea with wanting to kind of change that with feeling beholden to this kind of action hero? You know, thos?
Dr. Lisa: Yeah.
Andrew: So these are the kind of things the nuanced kind of thing, just because I, one of the things I was at the outset that I was really—it was very important to me, is that I not cover all the terrain, the kind of same old, same old terrain that a lot of books have already come. I mean, even if this was ten years ago, I would have felt the exact same way. I absolutely, positively wanted to get to the crux and the contradictions, and the complexity of what this masculinity thing is today.
And so I also wanted to look at this idea of fatherhood for some men—what does it mean to be a father? Because that ties in with the idea of, what does it mean to be a man today? And I feel like these are conversations that do need to be talked about. Because it’s not just all, it’s not just theory? I don’t even get into theory in the book. It’s all about questions that a lot of us wrestle with. They keep us awake at night, that stresses us out, that makes us feel uncomfortable. I wanted to really lean into the kinds of questions and the kinds of issues that we wrestle with these boys and men that really affect all of us.
Dr. Lisa: Well, let’s talk about that part for a second. And this is just so interesting. And you bring up that there’s this like, hyper-masculine ethos that is more present in the culture in recent years that I also hadn’t thought of before, which is very interesting. And I could see that, and you say that there is this sort of internal struggle in many men and boys around how to be connected, be whole and also sort of meet the overt or covert expectations, right? That are being given to them about, who they should be. I’m curious to know how you have seen this impact men and boys in terms of their relationships, in terms of their personal development. I mean, you mentioned body dysmorphia, which is a huge thing. But like, particularly when it comes to relationships, how does this show up? For men and boys.
Andrew: So a lot of them are still—they—initially when I would talk with them, a lot of them would say, and this was true for boys in high school, this is true for young men, even in the men’s groups, a lot of them would say things like, “Well I do have a friend that I can talk with, I do have a friend that I can tell things to,” and almost always the kinds of things that they were sharing, were almost always things that invited and led to advice.
And so, they were looking for, they were very solution still, as a lot of guys are as they think they need to be very solution-based. And so what they were always looking for were practical steps. They were looking for basically, somebody that to basically fill the role of what we tend to think of in a very stupid, stereotypical way is kind of like a father they were looking for another father. And this was true for a lot of high school-aged guys I spoke with, and it was even true for guys who are a little bit older and men’s groups. And so they might share that, for instance, “Oh I really cared about this girl.” And that’s great that they would even share that with another guy. And then instead of it really getting to the point where there would be this kind of support, what it became was, “What should I do?” And the other guy being all too happy to step in to say, “This is what I think you need to do.”
And this was true for guys even in—even sometimes in the men’s groups, and what was lacking so often was exactly what they still would do, when they would be with girls who are friends, which is saying, “I feel awful”, and wanting that other person, in this case, who is always a female, to say things like, “It’s okay, or “It’s gonna be okay,” or basically the metaphorical equivalent of crying on their shoulder. And the guys were not doing that. They were still looking for practical ways to find solutions to the problems even, they would even look for ways in the emotional relationship ends, they were still looking for solutions, but they weren’t giving each other the emotional support that they really need. And a lot of it, Oh, go ahead.
Dr. Lisa: I was going to say it sounds like in there that that is what they really not just needed, but also wanted, and we’re kind of craving was just that that safe place to just be, without having their feelings, “fixed,” that it was okay for them, is that it?
Andrew: Yeah, to lapse into that old dynamic of guys feeling like they’ve got to be the fixers all the time, completely fits into that. And it’s the idea that there’s a really deep subtext here, Lisa. And the subtext beneath a lot of this dynamic is that when boys and men are in the company of other boys and men, excuse me, that is not a place where they’re supposed to be, the full degree of their humanity is supposed to be present, and it’s supposed to be encouraged and supported.
That’s the subtext; it’s the idea that you’ve got to embrace the other parts of your humanity and save it when you can be with a female because that’s the domain of the—that still is the domain of the female—the feminine is emotional literacy. It’s having the depths of your humanity embraced and accepted. And so, that’s really the deeper subtext there.
And there’s so much there in terms of the way guys are taught to relate to each other at a very young age. One of the things that I’ve always—one of the things I wanted to explore, you asked, what I would explore at the outset, in the book? One of the many things was the role of competition because we don’t talk about that a lot in this culture.
We are such a hyper-competitive culture. And the way that boys and men are taught to relate to each other at very young age centers around different levels of different ways of being in competition with each other. And that and so, a lot of the points of an interview would say, “Well, no, here’s a good example of us not being competitive because we help each other.” And it’s a, you do, you do give each other practical advice, but it’s about ways of still distancing that from your deeper emotional life.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah.
Andrew: If you could take away that other layer, the fear that you’re going to be judged, which is a form of competition. If you could take away that fear of being judged, and rejected, all speaks to forms of competition, then we’re getting somewhere.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah, what a powerful message that even in cooperative behaviors, that the goal is still some variation of winning, which means sort of coming out victorious, as opposed to leaning in to the reality that they’re experiencing and figuring out how to understand that and even be okay with that.
Dr. Lisa: That’s also wonderful.
Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. That really, yeah, that was really something competition that I really wanted to get into. Because it’s not something that there’s been a lot of, there’s been a lot written or talked about, and even when I kind of pushed this to some editors, I’ve worked with the different publications, they’ve been kind of cool in the idea because there’s this real resistance in our culture, to question or challenge, the idea that maybe the form of competition we have is really not that healthy?
Dr. Lisa: Uh-huh.
Andrew: I mean, the only time we really ever start to question, the way that we compete in this culture, is when things get too far too fast. We look for instances at levels of like toxic competition in sports, for instance, and we’ll look at the ways that boys and men as examples, in certain kinds of sports, like NFL football, sometimes NHL hockey, or maybe we’ll look at guys who are in high school. And I read about this in the book a lot about the kind of toxicity of the culture of, I’m sorry, I’m like drawing a blank here. But it’s within sports of hazing, within…
Dr. Lisa: Oh, yeah, I can totally see.
Andrew: So much of that is rural sexual assault, and at the high school age, and so until it gets that bad, it gets really off the rails, we don’t question the ways that we compete. So much about the messages about how we compete is now not about winning as much as it is about dominating. When you take it to that next level, you ratchet it up to dominating—that invites a lot of really toxic behavior.
Dr. Lisa: Oh, yeah.
Andrew: And so this is the kind of thing that the more that we kind of lean towards a dominating culture. It’s hard to, kind of, challenge that, unless we can say, “Oh, yeah, well, Sure. Absolutely. We’re against the sexual assault, hazing.” No, we’re against guys in football hitting each other really hard just to like take the other player to the game. Sure, we’re against that. But when we look at this in a relational level and the ways that we relate to each other, that ethos is still, to some extent going to influence the way that we relate to each other. And so it makes it even harder for guys, when they’re kind of raised in this culture of dominating, which is pretty much very much part of our zeitgeist now.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah.
Andrew: How could that not trickle into the way that you see yourself as a guy in the way that you can relate?
Dr. Lisa: Yes, in your intimate relationships…
Dr. Lisa: …in your parenting relationships…
Dr. Lisa: …in your work relationships. So there is so much here, and clearly, you’ve just spent so much very thoughtful and productive time and energy into developing these ideas. And so I would encourage everyone to read Andrew Reiner’s book, which is Better Boys, Better Men: The New Masculinity That Creates Greater Courage and Emotional Resiliency.
And also, check out his piece in The New York Times provocatively entitled, It’s Not Only Women Who Want More Intimacy in Relationships. So there’s a couple of resources where you can dive deep into Andrew’s ideas. But I’m also wondering, and I hope this isn’t too much putting you on the spot. But in the few minutes that we have left, would you mind sharing a couple of ideas with my listeners around if you want to, either as a man develop the kinds of—like not just emotional awareness, but self-compassion, we’re talking about. What are some first steps might you do with that?
And for the partners of men, what are some ways that you can shift your thinking or way of interacting that kind of see and value the emotional life of men that may too often go unseen or unmet in a relationship? I know those are two giant things. We could probably talk for many hours about that.
Andrew: Yeah. I know.
Dr. Lisa: Places for people to be doing that kind of growth work in addition, of course, reading your article in your book.
Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. So one of the things that guys can do out there and out in the world, in their lives, is I think it would go a long way if men could learn to reach out in really small ways to other men. That is something that we do not encourage in this culture. Of course, men do that. Men may do that with their friends, with their intimates. But it doesn’t mean you’ve got to necessarily go up and hug a strange guy. But it means, for instance, if you’re in a grocery store, and you see a guy accidentally knock over a bunch of cans…
Dr. Lisa: Yeah.
Andrew: …go over and say, “Hey can I give you a hand?”
Dr. Lisa: Uh-huh.
Andrew: That’s not the kind of the guy—most guys will probably say, “No, I got it, I got it, I don’t need help with this.” If you see a guy drop something, if you see a guy with his arms full coming out of the liquor store, the beer or wine store hold the door open. And it’s true that a lot of guys who are uncomfortable with their own masculine identity would probably feel comfortable for that. But it’s a way of kind of doing a very kind of harmless, very un-invasive thing, where you can start to feel like, you’re reaching out to other guys in ways that are, again, very un-invasive. But you’re taking small but really powerful steps.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah. I see you, yeah.
Andrew: That’s right, where you can show, where you can practice, really experiment, practice ways to reaching out to other guys in ways that are small, but helpful. And I think, for a lot of guys, that is no small thing—holding open just a door for a guy. And there are some guys who are, have their own insecurities about their masculine identity. And they may say, “Dude, I can get my own door.” But it’s also about just doing this, as it’s a way of habituating and finding ways, to feel comfortable with reaching out to other guys.
If you see a guy upset, just walk by to say, “Hey, you, okay? Is there anything? Anything I can do? Are you doing okay, man?” Or just something like that. Because the thing that we often forget very conveniently, because it’s a lot harder to do things like that. The thing that we often forget is that even though a lot of guys won’t take the help, deep down, they appreciate it.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah.
Andrew: Everybody does. Everybody appreciates being cared for, especially by strangers; knowing that you—somebody else has your back out there is a really powerful thing to be out in public. And to know that even though you may not allow yourself to be helped, knowing that somebody else was there, it feels really, really powerful.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah.
Andrew: In terms of relationships, a lot of men can never practice assertive listening enough, really listening. And something, I think a lot of men a lot of us can really benefit from, myself included, is, as we are listening when we can tell if it’s something that, for instance, our partner, we can tell, it’s really important to them, is mirroring back and saying, “Okay, so what I think I hear you saying is this,” when it’s something, really, you can tell that it’s important to them. It doesn’t matter whether we think it’s important. It’s about listening and saying, “Okay, I can tell this matters to you so let me make sure I’ve got it right. This is what I think I hear you saying.” That small thing, I think, in terms of creating intimacy, is a door-opener.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah. It really is.
Andrew: It’s only going to help our relationships.
Dr. Lisa: And to piggyback on those ideas, I’m also going to remind all women within the sound of my voice that men are actually just as emotional, and in need of love and connection, and affection as you are, and that I think some women buy into this myth that men somehow feel differently or care differently, and that is not at all true. Many men have been socialized away from some of this, but it’s all still there. And I think that women have a responsibility to remember that, and see that, and attend to it just in the same way that they would like to be attended to.
Andrew: Absolutely. That’s a great point, Lisa, because, in terms of that, one of the things I mentioned in that article with, about men and intimacy is that all men struggle differently than women do. For instance, in relationships and when relationships end the difference that women work to have support networks so that they can have these emotional needs back. And men don’t do that, and they isolate themselves.
And so even though guys will cook, give us this very convincing front that a lot of times it’s very convenient because it makes it easy for us to say, “Okay, great, you take care of it.” And they’ll say, “I’m okay, I’ve got this,”—they don’t. They don’t because most men do not really have the chops and the network and the support networks they need to really kind of navigate the ups and downs of their most—of their relational lives.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah, that’s another great reminder, and because a lot of my work involves like breakup recovery, and divorce recovery, and that’s absolutely true is that men don’t have those support networks, and particularly when their primary person, that relationship ends, they can feel incredibly alone, and it is difficult to cultivate those kinds of supportive relationships with other men. I’ll also just add as a little tip: there are such things as men’s groups and supportive, kind of, therapeutic groups that are, by for, and about exactly that. And so that that may be another resource to look into potentially if you find yourself in that situation.
Andrew: You’re right. It’s a wonderful resource, and men’s groups are a burgeoning movement that is starting to get some traction, finally, and there are only a good things for men.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Such a fascinating conversation. I feel like we could just talk for hours and hours, but so instead, I’m just going to read your book again.
Andrew: Good. Thank you.
Dr. Lisa: The book is called Better Boys—wait, hold on, I lost it—Better boys, Better Men: The New Masculinity That Creates Greater Courage and Emotional Resiliency. And if my listeners wanted to find out more about you or your work or find the book, where should they go? Andrew?
Andrew: Actually, if you google me, “Andrew Reiner with New York Times,” there’s about six or seven articles about healthy masculinity. And I’ve got another one actually coming up about, the next one I’m doing for them, which is going to run I think in late November, is going to be on this topic we’ve been talking about, about the need for men. In addition to things like men’s groups, men need this deep in their friendships, deep emotional support networks; they need to learn to create.
Dr. Lisa: I love it.
Andrew: But that you could easily find just Google Andrew Reiner.
Dr. Lisa: Andrew Reiner, New York Times and I’ll be on the lookout.
Andrew: That would be, and hopefully in the next couple of weeks, my website at some point soon.
Dr. Lisa: Stay in touch with me. I’ll be sure to put a link to it and the podcast.
Andrew: Thank you. So I’ve really enjoyed this. Thank you so much.