Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Complex World of Male Friendship: All Is Not as it Seems

We all know that women connect with one another better than men connect with fellow men. I'm going to explore for a few days how men do attempt to connect and how one should understand the strange and complex rituals involved in male friendship. Today, I want to talk about the emotional lives of men.

To start off, I should note that men are not less emotional than women. Lots of us believe and perpetuate this popular myth. Well, this blog is just one tiny shot in the dark toward dispelling that myth. If you don't believe me, rent the PBS documentary Raising Cain (engrossing and compelling) or read the book that spawned it or a similar book, Real Boys. That should give you a good start to understanding the emotional lives of boys. You see, it's not that boys don't have emotions, it's that they express them in different ways than girls. Because women express their emotions more strongly and directly, we have made the cultural (global?) mistake of thinking that men have less emotions than women, when in fact some research suggest that men have stronger emotions than women.

Men express their emotions in ways that stamp their whole being, their entire self. There are certainly girls who leave home and chase danger on the street, but if you think about it hard for just a moment, you'll realize that there are far more boys on your average corner than there are girls. Whether you live in the North or South, city or country, rich or poor, you've seen young men sitting on the corner or talking in parked trucks. These men may look to you as if they're all rebel, pure spite, and in some cases they are, but in others, they're just lonely, hurting, wayward boys in search of something they can't quite find. They project an attitude of carelessness and mockery, but the fact that they are airing such grievances with their world publicly shows you that the attitude behind the mask is one of isolation, sadness, and needyness. They want you to see them, even if only for a moment. In the exchange of a fleeting glance with a passerby, there is community, togetherness, connection, if only for a second.

Girls call each other on the phone or get together or write letters when they are racked by angst. They become loud or weepy or volatile. Boys more often sulk, skulk, and creep away. When girls become emotional, they often release those feelings quickly, in a burst, with a flood of expression and talking and confession and relief. Boys more often shut up, and walk away, and hammer something, or pound a ball, or walk far, far away. The sexes have very different responses, but boys are no less emotional than girls. They simply express their emotions differently.

I'm not suggesting, of course, that the primary need boys (or girls) have is for companionship. That boy on the street corner is a wretched sinner in need of the grace of God in Christ, and he needs you to tell him about his sin and that grace. Out of a sinful heart and a sinful world, though, has come a great deal of pain and sorrow. If you look for these traits, you'll find them. That boy on the corner, or on the playground, or walking through the mall, is himself looking for something. He's confused, and turbulent, and guilty, and angry. We should not understand him as anything but this. We should reach out to him in kindness, show him Christian love, and share the gospel of grace with him. Remember, his sullen stare isn't really pushing you away. It's actually beckoning you close, and pleading with you for the hope only you--a Christian--can give.


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