My wife was an administrator at UCSB for ten years, so the news out of Isla Vista on Friday that a young man had murdered Veronika Weiss, Katie Cooper, Chris Martinez, Cheng Yuan Hong, George Chen, and Weihan Wang deeply affected us.
I’ve been reading the killer’s manifesto, various analyses such as Laurie Penny’s at the New Statesman , the “not all men” are like this response, #YesAllWomen, and the posts of friends. And I’ve been watching my daughter tumble and flip in the backyard on a beautiful weekend, and thinking about my hopes and fears for her, and I’ve felt compelled to speak and write, not to women, but to men:
Dude, you’re blowing it. In their sorrow and rage, the women in your life (even those ones you don’t know on Twitter, Facebook, etc.) are offering you the intimacy of some deep hurts, fears, and desires. Yes, intimacy. When you respond by writing or saying “Not all men…,” or “[insert fact here] you just wrote/said is wrong,” or “Men are victims too,” or offer up your own contempt or say or post a picture of what you’d like to do to women, you are missing the boat, sometimes the whole goddamn ocean.
Emotional intimacy is about feeling connected and safe, for me the words that go with that are “She’s with me,” and “I’m with her”. When my wife and I fight, we’re the opposite of intimate. Maybe we’re both slinging BS at one another, or maybe one of us is attacking and the other one is the more obvious wronged party. And that goes on and on until one of us tries to stop that cycle. The way that happens for me is that somehow I have the tiniest shred of awareness that this fight is either going to end in divorce or us getting better, and I know that I don’t want to listen to her, I want her to listen to *me*, and it is one of the hardest things in the world for me to change in that moment.
There’s this weird way I have to take as much of my hurt and rage as possible and put it on a shelf, it’s like trying to lift barbells with my heart and ribcage. The hurt and rage is still there, in me, it’s just not running the show (for now). What makes this even harder is that because of past experience, I know what’s coming next: I’m probably going to get hurt, and it might not even be my fault. I’m not fighting anymore, I’m doing my damnedest to listen, but my wife doesn’t know that yet. She’s not trusting me, and in that process may keep lashing out and say some things that feel like daggers right into my chest. And I have to take those fresh wounds and set those aside, and tune into my love for her, and listen and acknowledge her feelings, *her* sorrow and rage, and the fears underneath, until she is there with me. And then maybe I can own up to my own hurts and fears, and she can listen, or we can have the “reasonable” conversation I’d wanted to have, or maybe we start making out because the emotional intimacy leads to physical intimacy.
Sometimes it doesn’t go this way, sometimes I’m so far into my own emotional man-cave that she has to rescue me. Or I can’t stay in that listening space for long enough and I start spewing crap, and cycle of destruction starts again until one of us changes.
F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” I argue that a sign of maturity is an ability to hold seemingly opposing feelings at the same time, like love and anger, or the need to speak no matter what and the desire for connection.
Dude, when a woman tells you about her fear of being attacked, or raped, or her wish for men to be different, and you answer with anything that sounds like “But…”, or even worse “I want…” you’re not holding her in your heart. You’re holding your own hurt, or your dick, or both.
Men in our culture are brought up to take on suffering. Whether it’s being ready to die for our country, go down with the ship, or work a shitty job to provide for our families, we’re ready to be selfless in service to others. There’s honor in that, and skill, and strength.
I urge you to use that ability in a new way, to just shut up for awhile and listen to the women in your life. Hold that desire to interrupt, to tell her to “get over it”, to say what the “true” facts are, to tell her you’re not like that, or tell her how hot she is, no matter how much you have the urge to speak. You’ll get your chance to talk, sooner or later. When you listen and acknowledge what’s happening for the other person, they can change, and the emotional intimacy will then exist that you can share what’s happening for you, and you can be listened to.
It’s not easy, it’s like exercising muscles that have never been worked out and it can be painful and humbling. And the results are soooo worth it. If I hadn’t done this work, I’d still be in my man-cave, lonely, disconnected, and even hateful, I still go back there too often. Making the effort to connect can be hard, and it’s healing for all of us.