What does it mean to be a good man? I can only answer from the position of a woman. The debate spans from the personal to the political, the bedroom to the ballot box.
I have empathy for men. Ours is a culture of mixed messages of what it means to be a man: warrior and peacemaker, tenacious yet sensitive. Growing up, boys quickly learn that the athletes are rewarded more for physical prowess than the quiet, studious kid for good grades. Bullies abound and it can be more fight than flight, with too many on the sidelines. “Nice guys finish last” is what they hear. Avoid appearing weak.
As a society, how do we define strength in men? Is it their power to dominate, manipulate, succeed at any cost, be the master of the universe? Is it physical, political, social, economic? Or does a strong man know the difference between confidence and arrogance, between earning respect and demanding obedience, between being vulnerable and being weak, between taking responsibility and blaming others? That ambition with integrity and toughness with tenderness make better partners.
What defines a good man in a relationship? Is he someone connected to himself, the people he loves, and the world around him? The quality of a good partner that is often mentioned is emotional intelligence: the ability to be an independent thinker, abide by a strong moral compass, recognize your own emotions and those of others.
What about anger? There is a time for courage and righteousness and standing up for what you believe. But if the woman in your life is walking on eggshells because she doesn’t know what is going to set you off and you don’t even think you have an anger management issue, that is a real problem. Having to be right all the time comes at the cost of knowledge and growth and true love. What I hear from women who describe their own good man is that he makes them feel safe.
Being a gentleman is not old fashioned, it is timeless. Rules of chivalry are not about positioning women as weak, but showing respect. How you talk about women matters. When your words and actions align, so does trust.
For men, can you trust her enough to let her know what you are actually experiencing is grief or disappointment? Generations of men have kept silent on their painful experiences and that makes women feel left out and confused. It is a conundrum of rewarding the strong silent type but wanting to have a deeper understanding to develop a closer relationship.
This is not about taming the male spirit. The call to adventure is a beautiful thing and doesn’t necessarily mean leaving your family to move to Alaska. Adventurousness is stepping out of your comfort zone and expanding your horizon and learning new things. It’s about being physically and emotionally in the world and working your body and brain to explore its heights.
For women, know that we are also responsible for creating good men. What qualities do you reward? Do you say that boys will just be boys or do you hold them accountable? Do you toss aside the nice guy for the jerk who is a challenge? Are you willing to be vulnerable to share your truths and hopes and desires and also disappointments, and on the flip-side listen actively, compassionately, and without judgment to your man? Do you genuinely support him to be the best man he can be? And if he is not, and does not support you to be the best woman you can, are you willing to leave?
Let’s raise good men and praise good men and let them know that strength is ultimately strength of character.