Some years back, I was run over by a car and spent a long time recuperating. As my physical condition improved, my mental state deteriorated. And what was my brilliant strategy for handling this? Don’t tell anybody.
This worked fine with people who didn’t see me but anyone who caught a glimpse of the hollow-eyed wreck curled in the foetal position on the bed could probably guess that something was up. Nevertheless I remained determined not to discuss it. Discussion meant acknowledgement and acknowledgement meant my despair was real. A man in despair is vulnerable. And a vulnerable man is of no use when you’re hunting down bison and slaughtering them to feed the tribe.
Yes, this is how a reasonably bright, well-educated, depressed man was thinking in a post-feminist world where women and men can do the same work and it’s intellectually okay to express vulnerability. My wife was willing and able to carry the workload and she did. Did I express gratitude and relief while I took time to recuperate? No. I beat myself up. Feelings of shame and inadequacy about my unmanly ability to dust myself off and get back on my feet only made matters worse.
The more shame I felt, the more debilitated I became.
The more shame I felt, the more debilitated I became. The more debilitated I became, the more shame I felt. Eventually my kind and clever wife dragged me to a shrink who helped me break the cycle.
But still I didn’t tell anyone about my troubles. In my never-ending scramble to ‘keep up appearances’ I achieved exactly the opposite of what I intended. I exhausted myself pretending to be capable of doing things that I was not, and in the end made myself less capable.
Why couldn’t I just say, “Count me out of the bison hunt for a bit. I’m staying in the cave for a while”? Was it simply manly pride? Ego? Maybe, but I’m beginning to suspect there’s some hard-wiring involved, some primal imperative that we haven’t evolved from yet. I certainly don’t think that men have developed the complex emotional tools that women have.
I recently observed my wife meeting another highly educated, powerful woman in a professional capacity. They opened with a discussion on how they loved each other’s shoes. As they engaged in a discussion on comfort vs. style (that old chestnut!), it occurred to me that blokes would never have this discussion, certainly not in a professional capacity. It also occurred to me that this was a brilliant way to lubricate their interaction, and that it wasn’t a huge leap from “I love your shoes” to, “Thanks I brought them because I was feeling a bit low” to, “Oh, why were you feeling low?”
Women are a whole lot better at nattering
So my theory is this: Because women are a whole lot better at nattering, they are more skilled at exposing their feelings, which gives them a greater capacity to cut off emotional catastrophes at the pass. Feelings are less likely to be bottled-up and therefore less likely to implode in black-dog black holes or explode in unseemly displays.
There’s an old story about a bloke eating dinner with his wife. Half way through the main course, he says, out of the blue, “You ruined my life, you bitch”. She says, “I beg your pardon?” He says, “Sorry, I meant to say ‘pass the salt’”.
So where do we go from here? What’s the next great evolutionary step towards the emotional liberation of men? I suspect it’s mastering the art of a good natter. And here’s my challenge to any bloke reading this article: Next time you see your best mate down at the pub, sure, offer your analysis of last night’s footy game, but at some point let your eyes wander to the floor, take a long manly swig of your beer, then lower your voice an octave (think Russell Crowe in Gladiator) and say to your compadre, “Oh, I love your shoes.”
Mark Lamprell has worked in film and television for many years. He co-wrote the film Babe: Pig in the City and just released his first novel The Full Ridiculous.