I worked with a man recently whose wife had insisted they attend couples counseling. In her mind there were a number of issues to be worked through and they weren’t communicating about them. No surprise, he didn’t feel the same way and thought everything was basically fine. At one point during the first session he became exasperated with his wife and asked, “Ugh, can’t you leave me alone and let me just be a guy?”
Many men feel this way, especially when it comes to interacting within their relationships and the idea of counseling in particular. It doesn’t seem like a “guy thing” to be worried about communication, emotions, or the need for counseling. I am accustomed to working with men who truly need counseling but are resistant. And I know how to work with them in ways they can relate to and make them comfortable getting help.
But this guy’s question, “Can’t I just be a guy?”, resonated with me in a different way.
How “Guys” Typically Work
When I asked him what he meant by “just being a guy”, he didn’t have a great answer. Basically, he said he didn’t like to talk, didn’t want to talk, and just wanted to ignore the problems he and his wife were facing. While this is a common “guy” sentiment, it really isn’t part of what defines being a guy.
Let’s first acknowledge that what it means to “be a man” or to “be a woman” is complicated. Uncountable words have been written, hours spent, and studies performed about how to define each sex.
That being said, there is no denying that men and women are different. This is not a better or worse thing, it’s just true. There are some fundamental differences rooted in biology and how each sex has learned to think, feel, and act. This doesn’t mean there aren’t varying degrees to these differences, just that they exist.
These differences mean that certain ways of thinking and communicating are also different. Women typically have a higher degree of emotional intelligence (EQ) than men and, therefore, tend to not only know themselves, but also to understand and read others better than men.
This ability to recognize their own emotions and emotions in others makes them more empathetic and more prone to communicating their feelings. This higher EQ, however, doesn’t often seem to get applied to the men in their lives and the way in which those men prefer to communicate and process their emotions.
Generally speaking, men are less aware of the nuances of their own emotions and of the emotions of others. Because they are less aware there is less for them to talk about. Men are also less inclined to look for the unspoken indicators of feelings.
Most men need things said directly and logically in order for them to respond. In other words, they aren’t mind readers. Sadly, many women fail to understand this and assume a man is being callus and insensitive when he’s just, well, being a “guy” and hasn’t realized that there’s anything wrong.
Guys also tend to take a “see a problem = fix a problem” approach to things, rather than a “see a problem, discuss a problem, untangle and analyze why the problem started, and then change the behavior that caused the problem” approach. And that’s if they recognize a problem at all.
Men and women often have different perceptions of what constitutes a problem. For instance, for some men having an affair is a problem, but recognizing other attractive women isn’t. While for most women both of these things are likely to be considered problems.
Because of how men have learned to think and act, they also can tend to be singularly focused as well. So, when there is a task that needs to be done or work is busy, that is where a man’s focus goes. Because women more naturally multi-task, they often don’t recognize that this myopic focus is a common “guy” thing and instead interpret it as evidence of problems in the relationship.
This can leave men feeling confused and frustrated, as though the women in their lives are seeing problems that don’t exist, which, as it turns out, they very well may be.
Healthy Guy Vs. Unhealthy Guy
Rather than asking what it means to be a guy, the better question to consider is what it means to be a healthy guy vs. an unhealthy guy.
What it means to be a man has been heavily influenced over the years by societal stereotypes. Men are still told in many direct and indirect ways they have to be strong, aggressive, stoic, and the caretakers of women. We all know by now that those characterizations are unfair and largely untrue.
Nonetheless, there are still many men who feel pressured, confused, and stifled by what they think it means to be a guy. This means that there are men who deny certain feelings, bury their sadness, and ignore things within them that need to be expressed. Doing this is very unhealthy and can lead to relationship problems, anger issues, depression, and medical problems, just to name a few.
It is far less important to adhere to social, family, or self-imposed stereotypes than it is to be healthy. In fact, I would argue that part of what it means to “be a guy” includes being unapologetically honest and expressive about how you feel.
Blurring The Guy Lines
Perhaps one of the most important parts of “being a guy” is to recognize that as long you are being honest with yourself and those around you, there is no right or wrong way to do it. Everyone’s definition can be slightly different because we are all different as individuals. This can be tough for men to wrap their minds around and also one of the reasons many men benefit from the guidance that comes from counseling.
So, it’s very possible that the “guy” lines need to blur for you too. And that’s perfectly fine. Understand that if you find yourself asking, “Can’t I just be a guy?”, what you really should be asking is, “Can’t I just be myself?” Of course, you’ll need to know what that means, too.
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Author: Dr. Kurt Smith
Dr. Kurt Smith is the Clinical Director of Guy Stuff Counseling & Coaching, a Northern California counseling practice that specializes in helping men and the women who love them. His expertise is in understanding men, their partners, and the unique relationship challenges couples face today. Dr. Kurt is a lover of dogs, sarcasm, everything outdoors, and helping those seeking to make their relationships better.