There are times when I am touched by what I read. It doesn't happen often enough, perhaps I don't read enough of what touches me. As a graduate student, the opportunity to read what comes to hand and catches my eye is rare. Over the past few days I have been blessed again and again by a book. When Women Were Birds is exquisite. For a man who cherishes the relationships that women have with one another, it is a gift. I have often romanticized women's connections with one another. I freely admit it. Although, in my process of putting those relationships on pedestals, I have come to understand what I idealize, what I find sacred and essential. I know that women can be mean and petty and shallow and manipulative in their dealings with one another, just as men can be. I also know that men can be tender and supportive, and love one another in a deep and profound way. I have been blessed to have some women in my life who have let me in. Who have allowed me to be in relationship with them in ways that most men are not allowed. We have done a great disservice to intimacy in our culture by sexualizing it. Sex can be intimate, without a doubt, and hopefully is often. But there are many paths to intimacy, and I believe the gate that guards the door is not sex, but vulnerability. This is why I feel there is a gender gap when it comes to true relationship. Most men often don't do intimacy well, especially with other men, but too often even with their female partners.
It's too scary. It's too...vulnerable.
One of the most powerful things about my work is the opportunity to model vulnerability, especially with male clients. It's hard to nail down what this means, exactly. I know what it's not. It's not weakness, it's not submissive, it's not disingenuous. It is perhaps simply the absence of a mask. The moment when you leave it all out there, and you're ok with the result, whatever that looks like. It's easier for me with some men than others, and sometimes we never get there, but that's the goal.
Intimacy is often one of the bravest things two humans can do together.
There's something about the therapeutic environment that allows this, maybe even demands it. Most men struggle with this, especially with other men, because we have been taught that it's not safe, and often it's not. What this means however, is that we have generations of men who have never been fully seen. Hundreds of millions of individuals who have never gotten feedback on who they truly are, because it's too scary to really put it out there. The result is a nation of men who are uncertain about themselves. Men who, when they feel "less than", put on more masks, get more violent, more angry, more abusive in a desperate attempt to prove that they are ok. All the while, they slip further from their goal.
Terry Tempest Williams' book brought all this around for me. Her writing woke voices I haven't heard in a while. Whispered between her words, were the voices of the women in my own life who made an impact. some by their kindness, some with their humor, some with their judgment. Voices of women that have loved me, supported me, been disappointed in me, and at times likely hated me.
But they all saw me.
And as Thoreau once famously wrote, that has made all the difference.