According to a survey of random Americans, which asked, “What makes a man a man,” 31% responded “strength,” 7% said “arm strength,” 24% said “leadership,” and the rest responded with a similar variant (“has physical strength,” “can fix things”). The survey, informally conducted by Esquire, really leaves only one thing to be said: What?
While we’re somewhat in the nice-guy-metrosexual-Ryan-Gosling-is-the-new-ladykiller generation, many men still view masculinity in pretty black-and-white terms. And the terms are kind of ridiculous. The “Do you even lift, bro?” meme is a joke, but only sort of. After all, arm strength apparently defines masculinity to one out of every thirteen people, and the notion that barbecuing, woodworking and hunting comprise manliness are still ingrained in the male psyche.
There’s nothing really wrong with this exactly, but we’re an evolved species, so the way to a woman’s heart or to personal fulfillment is no longer through brute strength and the ability to carve a turkey with a knife you fashioned out of spare wood (although I guess that’s pretty cool).
So in addition to working on your biceps and turkey-carving techniques, bone up on the skills that will help you charm, attract and accomplish. There will be times when you need to open a jar and all that arm strength will come in handy. But, in the meantime, reassessing what it really means to be a 21st-century man might be a better bet.
1. Understand the Difference Between Being a Man and Being a D-Bag
It’s a surprisingly thin line. Take the idea of strength training, for example. It’s manly, even gentlemanly, to hit the gym a few times a week in order to stay fit, build up some strength, and become a better athlete. It becomes douche-y, however, when you become a protein shake aficionado and see working out as a) the most important thing in your day and b) as a direct route to getting with women. This applies to all sorts of daily activities, but the realm of sports and eating are the most classic battlegrounds (good job, you eat a lot of bacon, please tell us more). The best way to walk the tightrope across this treacherous chasm is by being secure with who you are. If you’re not a hyper-masculine dude, no worries. The numbers on your weights don’t decide your masculinity.
2. Have A Signature Dish to Cook
The days of the hunter-gatherer are gone which means bringing home food – any food – isn’t going to cut it anymore. Have a go-to dish, whether it’s something as simple as pesto chicken pasta or as complex as coq au vin in your repertoire. That way, you can whip it up while when you’re the dinner party host or on a stay-in date. Keep a bottle of accessible red wine (perhaps a Pinot Noir or Malbec) somewhere around the place to. Lord knows you’d have to offer a Budweiser with your mushroom risotto and send the whole thing to hell.
3. Be the Leader of Your Friend Group
This one might seem a little rude or overly aggressive, but respect breeds respect. If women, coworkers, even other men, see that you’re the go-to guy in your friend group, they’ll be drawn to you for both the security and popularity you can provide. It may sound a little too “middle school,” but social capital is among the most powerful forms of currency. Plan nights out, make the necessary phone calls and texts, and be a generally approachable, kind guy. Perhaps it’s a slight bit of work, but like most long-term endeavors, it will pay off.
4. Know How to Lose an Afternoon
Oh you’re really busy and constantly stressed? You must important. C’mon now, nobody likes that guy. The coolest men maintain a balance of self-seriousness and capacity for a little play. Adrenaline seekers may go for skydiving or the shooting range, but the ability to push your quotidian worries aside for a little reading, writing, painting – whatever you like to do when you’re not on the clock — is as important as any. Having no life outside of work isn’t going to charm anyone but those interested purely in your career success, which means you’ll only be popular with the other work-obsessed zombies and any nearby gold diggers. Don’t be a gold digger guy yet. You’re not nearly old enough for that.
5. Learn How to Speak Money
You’re going to want to have some money to fall back on if life presents a large speed bump. So too you’ll be desiring some cash when you’re looking to buy your first house, car, or a respectable rock for that wedding ring. Put away at least ten percent from your pre-tax paycheck and see that nest egg slowly grow. While you’re at it, learn about basic investments. Creating a diverse portfolio as early as possible is a sinfully easy way to earn money. Not everyone is in a position to start saving and investing, but once a job comes your way, whether it’s as an “ice cream scooping artist” or hedge fund manager, it’s best for some of that money to be tucked away for a rainy day. This is the twenty-first century too after all, so money-managing technology like Mint.com are simple ways to track your spending and earning.
6. Create Something for the Long-Term
Be it a business or a book, create something and see it through to the end. You don’t have to find great financial success as a result, but the act of creating something that will forever have your name attached to it lends purpose and deep satisfaction. In our age, so much of creation isn’t really satisfying. Rather than working away on longer-term projects, we expend our creativity on writing short things like a clever Facebook status or Twitter post. None of this affords the same kind of big-time satisfaction as completing a project you’ve really invested yourself in. So find your niche, identify your skillset, and start outlining for that long-term project.
7. Read Hemingway, Nabokov and Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald was the original Ryan Gosling. Sensitive, smart, and always working on that hair part. Although he and Hemingway allegedly compared… baguettes… in a café bathroom and his wife, Zelda Sayre, complained about his inability to sexually please her, there’s still much to be learned from this man’s insight on women. After all, he was so good at understanding women in his own life that he used them to create some of literature’s most dynamite female characters, like Daisy Buchanan and Rosalind Connage (based on Ginerva King and Zelda, respectively). Nabokov’s Lolita is likewise a must, and Hemingway’s sparse prose of war and death are as serious — and manly — as they come.
8. Learn How to Tie a Tie
You’re going to need to know how to do it sometime, even if it’s just for the occasional wedding. Be self-sufficient and get that half-Windsor knotted.
9. Look Good
Individualism is crafted in a variety of ways, but the easiest way to cultivate it — and the way noticed most quickly by everyone else – is through personal style. The word “style” unfortunately conjures images of department store catalogues and fedoras, but it needn’t have to. We men have it pretty easy. Clean, simple, and well-tailored are pretty much the only fashion tenants we have to pay attention to. Pick a shirt, pick your trousers, and try your best to match your belt to your shoes. Skip the ostentatious “flair.” No need to be a walking TGI Fridays.
10. Master the Three C’s: Charisma, Conversation and Charm
Charisma isn’t something that anyone inherently has. It’s something that’s given you by those who respect you and what you have to say. Earn this charisma not by talking everyone’s ear off but by listening and contributing thoughts both clever and deep. Eye contact, name repetition, and a genuine interest in others can get you surprisingly far.
11. Be Interesting and Interested
Be well-read, able to quote when appropriate and discuss when others are interested. Be well-traveled and have a variety of stories on hand. Be generous, able to see that no matter your situation there are always those who are worse off than you. Be fit, for the ability to take care of yourself is indicative of how you’ll take care of others. Be kind. Be engaging. Be decisive and be pensive. Know how to take care of yourself. If you’re feeling less than intelligent, read a book. If you’re feeling less than attractive, hit the gym. If you’re feeling less than inspired, study the lives of those you most respect. I’ve always thought that if one had to choose between wealth and interestingness, you’d have to be brainless to pick the former. There’s nothing manly about a guy who leads a dull life.