Everybody needs a hobby, right? Rather than fawning over my stamp collection, I decided I’d like to do something I see as integral to the evolution of humanity. Any chance I get, I take it upon myself to offer men a space in which to be vulnerable. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon.
First, I had to learn how to be vulnerable myself. I used to fear being totally open with people in case they ended up judging me for it. I still have that fear, but more and more I’m choosing to set it aside and take that risk anyway. I know the value that potentially lies on the other side of vulnerability is worth so much more than protecting my ego from being bruised. It’s an ongoing process, but I feel very lucky to have realized the strength that lies in being totally open with where I’m at.
I always encourage men to open up about their feelings. Interacting with anyone, whether male or female, requires some level of real emotional connection. Men are usually more than happy to express “acceptable” emotions like happiness, excitement, playfulness, or even anger. But the more vulnerable emotions like sadness, shame, embarrassment, or disappointment are often completely repressed. As much as I can, I try to encourage those emotions to come out. That’s where real connections can begin.
Undermining toxic masculinity is something I’m passionate about. Feminism isn’t just for me—it’s for my male partners and friends too. One of my missions in life is to undermine the lessons that our patriarchal culture has taught us about what masculinity means. Most men I know have been brought up with some variation of the idea that “real men” don’t show weakness. This is total BS and I’m glad to be part of a movement that is breaking down these ideas of toxic masculinity.
I love to see men cry. This sounds a little intense, but let me explain. For me, seeing a man cry is an indicator that he’s not only in touch with his emotions, he’s also able to express them freely. Crying in front of someone else can be a really uncomfortable experience for many people, especially men, who’ve been taught that crying is a sign of weakness and weakness is a bad thing. To any man out there who’s cried in front of a friend or partner, I take my hat off to you.
It’s completely transformed my relationships. I’ve been in long-term relationships that left me wondering what my boyfriend was feeling a lot of the time. This was before I really learned the value of vulnerable communication and now how important vulnerability is in truly connecting to a partner. Since I really started practicing this with my partners, my romantic life has completely changed. I now feel so much trust, knowing that my partner and I can open up to each other without fear of repercussions.
A lot of my male friends feel like they can confide in me. I’ve forged a lot of really deep friendships this way because my male friends feel safe expressing themselves around me. I love to share real, vulnerable connections and many of my male friends consider me something of a confidante. I feel so lucky that they place that kind of trust in me, and it goes both ways. We’re vulnerable with each other and these friends have helped me through some very rough times just by being willing to listen to my emotional experiences. I’m so happy I can offer the same kind of love and support.
I sometimes use games to open up a safe space. Being vulnerable isn’t something most of us are ever taught to do—there are no textbooks, lessons, or exercises on opening up emotionally… except that there are. If you go looking for them (or, like me, are lucky enough to stumble upon them), you’ll find dozens of games designed to break down social barriers and get straight to the heart of things. Sometimes I’ll pull out one of these games in the midst of a normal hangout sesh just to encourage more vulnerability. People are almost always up for it and it can lead to some really deep and meaningful conversations. It’s a simple and non-threatening way to create vulnerability where before there was none.
Admittedly, it’s difficult at times. There are moments where I feel a little overwhelmed by it all. Maybe someone is in a really rough place and I don’t quite have the energy to give them the attention they deserve. Maybe I’m trying to offer a safe space and they respond with mockery or resistance because they’re completely unable to trust. Whatever it is, I try to remain open and patient. Above all, I know I need to look after myself before I’m able to be there for anyone else.
Overall, I’ve seen so many positive changes. Since I really began taking this seriously, I’ve seen so many previously stoic men open up emotionally to me. It’s an incredible gift to have that kind of trust from someone and my hope is that they’ll take these experiences and begin to trust more in general. Breaking down outdated expectations of manhood is a big task, but the only way to do that is step by step, one interaction at a time. Seeing change take place in the men I meet is so encouraging. It reminds me how important it is to keep making safe spaces for men to experience true vulnerability.
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