One of the most significant events of my life was a few years ago when I listened to a distant relative in his 80s talk about his wife of 60 years. She suffered from alzheimer’s disease and he had taken care of her for many years. Recently she had gone to live in an assisted living facility because she fell in their home and her care had become too much for her husband alone.
He told us about how he visited her every day, all day and fed her all three meals. While he was telling the story, he remained cheerful. With a sincere smile, he said, “It is such an amazing experience for me to be able to do this for her. Not a lot of people get the opportunity to go on this part of the journey with their love.” He said this with reverence and pleasure. To this day, the memory of the look of love on his face as he spoke of his wife brings me to tears.
Here was a man who after 60-plus years of marriage, cherished any and all time he spent with his wife. He viewed something that other people would have had a hard time coping with, as an honor and privilege. He was not at all resentful or grief-stricken. There was no hint of obligation or sadness in his voice.
That was the last time I saw him. Less than a year later, his wife passed away and he followed her shortly thereafter.
At the time, I had felt beat up by relationships and had recently gone through what I thought at the time was a really brutal breakup. I was way too bitter than made sense given the circumstances. Nonetheless, I was angry and felt wronged by not just one man but dramatically, all men. My belief in love had been shaken to the core.
I cringe at how bitter I was, but I had bought the idea that there were no good men out there. This didn’t make sense because I have a wonderful father who has been happily married to my mother for over 30 years, but nonetheless, I viewed my parents as some kind of anomaly. In my experience of relationships up until that point, relationships with men went well for a while, after which they got dicey and potentially heartbreaking. I didn’t feel like men were safe enough to put one’s faith and commitment into.
Luckily, all it takes is one moment to change your life. I was struck by the realization that I had vastly underestimated men and wasn’t giving them the kind of respect they deserved. I had never been struck by such a strong real life example of the kind of love I wanted before.
In order to get something, one must first come to the realization that it actually exists. It’s not rocket science, if you don’t believe it’s out there and actually attainable, why would you continue to try for it? If I wanted this kind of love, I was going to have to completely remodel perspective on men because the belief that men could act like this, had not hit my radar, until right in that moment.
If you are harboring negative attitudes about what men want and who they are, this likely causing you real problems with cultivating a strong, healthy relationship with one who deeply loves you.
1. Set aside your ideas of how men SHOULD act.
And watch what they actually do. Notice the 45,285,585,773 acts of kindness that men complete every day just within your view. Start noticing. Start appreciating. Start saying thank you. You will draw more of these experiences to you.
This weekend I went to a concert solo. A very drunk man came up to me and wanted to get very touchy. I said no, sternly and strongly, but before I had to do anything else, a gentleman who was there with his girlfriend, noticed, stopped what he was doing and went out of his way to distract the drunk man with no conflict or weirdness. He just stepped in without my prompting or requesting help in any way. The drunk man was sufficiently distracted and went away. I thanked the gentleman and he went about enjoying his evening with his girlfriend.
Later that night when the shuttle driver took me back to the parking lot, the driver not only took me directly to my car (he dropped everyone else at a shuttle stand) but waited until I was inside and had the engine started to make sure everything was okay. He didn’t have to do this, but I sure appreciated it.
Now, I could choose to focus on the drunk handsy guy and his part of the evening, but instead I felt protected and honored by a total strangers.
Focus on the positive experiences that are all around you and more will come into view. So often we don’t give men enough credit for their positive contributions. Any behavior that is not reinforced goes extinct. Do we want men’s kindness to go extinct? I certainly don’t. That’s why a strong dose of appreciation is in order.
2. Go out of your way to avoid generalizing your bad experiences to men as a whole.
It is critical that when you have a really bad experience with a man, like abuse, cheating or just a really awful relationship, that you don’t begin making emotional generalizations about men as a group. This can be particularly difficult if you had a bad childhood and/or a shaky relationship with your father.
Of the things on this list, this one has the most implications for your future. You must place the blame squarely on the shoulders of the man who actually cheated or abused you. Because you had a bad experience with one (or dozens, or hundreds) does not mean that all are to blame. If you need to heal, I 100% support you, but do the work to get to the point where you aren’t bitter. It will do your future relationships a world of good.
3. Stop dehumanizing men.
Men are not a nameless, faceless group. Men and women are complicated creatures that cannot be reduced to caricatures. When you rail against men as a group, you’re saying to the world, “Nope, I don’t want to be with one of these people.” This does not make it easy to attract one and fall in love.
4. Stop talking negatively about men as a group.
The man bashing has to stop. This includes joking to your girlfriends or the women at work in that “Ahh, men” way. If you have legitimately been wronged by a particular man or situation, it’s okay to get that figured out, but drop the generalizations and jokes.
5. Begin appreciating masculinity.
Aside from things like really listening and trying to understand the ones you already know, reading about men and what makes them tick is particularly helpful. I strongly recommend The Good Men Project when it comes to this. Check out this amazing article about how to do this with a man you’re already close to here.
6. Cultivate better non-sexual relationships with the men already in your life.
Get to know the men who already around you in a richer, more personal way. Find reasons to enjoy their company and talk to them. Really listen to what they have to say about the world.
7. Learn to speak up about what you want in a way that doesn’t firebomb the bridge.
Lots of the time we are tripped up when we treat men like they are a member of an opposing team AND they should already know what we want. I don’t know anyone who is an accurate mind reader, male or female. If you are unhappy, practice having rational discussions without blame or positioning yourself as a victim. Men (and your long suffering girlfriends) will thank you.
8. Recognize that you can be a feminist and love men at the same time.
Wanting equal rights for women doesn’t mean that you can’t appreciate masculinity. Cultivating an appreciation for the opposite sex doesn’t make you a traitor, nor does it require that you renounce feminism. I’m proud to be a feminist, but I still love men and deeply appreciate the amazing things they contribute.
Most of my favorite men are actually feminists. They want equal rights for everyone, but this doesn’t stop them from doing everyday kindnesses (ie. chivalry) because they are in fact kind people. Kindness is what you want! It should be on the top of your list!
Men have done and continue to do some really crappy things in the world, but this doesn’t change the fact that if you’re reading this, you probably want one to love. It really helps to drop the story that you are somehow sleeping with the enemy if you begin appreciating men.
If you are struggling with men pulling away from you, go here and let me help you.
Tell me what you think in the comments.