Hopefully, at this point, it’s apparent that these four elements are interlinked and will most likely not exist in mutual exclusivity. That ought to give a glimpse of the required level of continuous self-awareness that a man needs to not only define, understand and play their role, but to also be able to continuously reassess if there are changes that need to be made in order to be better and do better. It is by no means a small task for any person to undertake and some simply end up failing or are not even aware that they need to do this. Some are fully aware of it but feel hopeless or intimidated to embark on the journey while some fear what they might find in there. At this point, even inaction is an action one takes at the crossroad. Irrespective of the direction one takes from this point on, it becomes a lifelong dance between self and others. You are constantly trying to know more about yourself while others want you to teach them who you are and want to teach you to be who they need you to be. Not many pause to understand your turmoil nor ask themselves if they are adding any value of significance to your journey amidst the turmoil. Instead, many are quick to point fingers and flag your flaws with little to no understanding of where they emanate from. This stings when it comes from those you expected guidance and support from, those you confided in even when you didn’t want answers from them, those you have opened up to and let in to help them understand who and where you are in your life.
It starts from as early as childhood in trying to establish a social circle within family or school, but it becomes glaringly visible once we start dating. We often approach girls with a vague level of attraction that we do not fully understand ourselves and we shape it largely based on what we hear/see/read around us while trying to match it to what we feel, which in itself is a new foreign dimension to us. We start juggling the appearance of being in charge as if we know what we are doing and actually trying to learn and figure out what the hell is going on. To some extent, it is commonly expected that a boy will take the lead and it’s ok for a girl to be naive/clueless and look at the boy for direction despite the general assumption that girls mature faster than boys.
This creates pressure from the onset, and we take it on to save face. Instead of seeking guidance, we end up falling for the wrong advice fuelled by misconceptions, pride, ego and experiences of others who are none the wiser. Either this becomes our flaw for a long time to come or we create so much of a mess that it ends up tainting who we are perceived as. We leave broken hearts, promises and bitter souls in our wake. It also sets in motion the cycle of living up to expectations even at the expense of our own true identity. We acclimatize like a frog swimming in a slowly heating up pot of water until we are boiled alive trying to stay afloat. Not much time is reserved to self while trying to live up to expectations and it is in this journey many men either reach breaking point or break the cycle. By the time we have grown from boys and girls dating to young men and women trying to build something together, we have multitudes of moving pieces at play and as part of human nature, we are bound to drop some pieces along the way and not all of them will be fixable.
We go looking for partners convinced we know what we want, but frankly, we are not even sure if we truly know yet who we are, let alone who we need to be or who we need in our lives. Just like everyone else, we learn as we go along and get thrown off along the way by discoveries we were not prepared for and our own blindspots. Personally, I don’t know anybody of any gender who can say with their hand over their heart that they had themselves completely figured out before involving anyone else into their lives. I don’t know what sets the expectations expressed and displayed by women in relationships. They expect us to be their refuge, protector, provider, safe space, guiding hand and make their dreams come true. It could be society, upbringing, media or even us who created this with promises and appearances. Whatever the source is, remains of less relevance compared to the juggling act that is created. Even though it helps to understand where it comes from in order for us to understand why our beloveds think and feel the way they do, acknowledgment of the expectation is more important than its source. This needs mature, candid and tactful communication in understanding each other to establish if the expectations are reasonable and realistic.
It’s part of getting to know each other beyond the surface and determining compatibility. It is also a time when differences rear their ugly heads and require maturity in establishing if as a couple, we are able to face adversity together and complement each other or combat each other. It’s normal to have difference but to build together, we need to at least share similar fundamentals as a foundation to afford us the opportunity to build together. Without that, the bigger picture will always remain compromised. The trap is pushing and pulling as individuals rather than as a partnership. As men, we already have our individual crossroads to deal with and now we have to deal with our joint crossroads as a couple while helping women with their individual ones and helping them understand where we need their help with ours. The dance of life, swirling and twirling like a cluster of leaves caught in a breeze.
As men, we need to be aware of this as we navigate through our crossroads and as we pull others into our journey. We need to be deliberate about our quest to find and define ourselves prior to getting deeply entrenched into a journey of building women we want to build a future with. We need to practice self-awareness and situational understanding into our daily being. We are not perfect and mostly likely, never will be but we owe it to ourselves to strive to be better. In parallel, we need women to understand this and not assume nor impose the pressure on us to have it all figured out and covered.
We are human beings with flaws before anything else. Yes, I am a man but I’m human!!! This is in no way aimed at excusing anything, but to flag that we as men are just like everyone else on a journey of self-understanding and discovery while we are expected to have it all figured out. The truth is just as challenging and daunting to us as it is to anyone else, obviously said with a generous amount of generalization.
Photographer: Adrian MacDonalds