Friday, October 19, 2007



This topic is intimately related to the issue of ‘men and church attendance.’ I sometimes hear women say that men are incapable of being in touch with, or sharing their feelings. I have two responses:


Many times, we men are just not having any feelings to be in touch with, or share. D.H. Lawrence said it well in the following poem:

To Women, As Far As I'm Concerned

The feelings I don't have I don't have.
The feelings I don't have, I won't say I have.
The feelings you say you have, you don't have.
The feelings you would like us both to have, we
neither of us have.
The feelings people ought to have, they never have.
If people say they've got feelings, you may be pretty
sure they haven't got them
So if you want either of us to feel anything at all
you'd better abandon all idea of feelings altogether.

I am very tempted to interpret the poem, but will follow Billy Collins advice when he says to leave the poem alone and let the reader wrestle with it. Collins says too many people tie a poem to the inquisitor’s chair and beat it with a rubber hose to make it talk.

The bottom line is that many times, we are simply just not having feelings, period.


When men do actually have feelings, they can and will share them openly if there is a worthy purpose, according to men. I have heard hundreds of grown men from diverse educational and socio-economic backgrounds share their emotions in ways few people ever will. I belong to a 12 Step Recovery program where you will typically find mostly males, always sharing some of the most shockingly honest and deep feelings.

So why do men do this in 12 Step meetings and not nearly as often in church, therapy or spiritual groups? The answer is that 12 Steps groups allow complete honesty with a clear, purposeful aim – to stay clean and sober. Churches, spiritual groups and therapy sessions typically have a ‘normalcy’ agenda – and people are expected to sound enlightened, healed, saved or spiritual.

Such spiritual or therapy groups don’t usually want gut-level honesty, but rather correct responses that cause the collective group to nod and smile warmly. The aim is to be nice, kind, unobtrusive, non-controversial, non-opinionated and to share the ‘right feelings.’ Men, however, associate real emotions with purpose and personal adventure; there must be an investment of the individual male mind and/or body. Very few men I know want to spend an hour or two sharing thoughts and feelings they don’t really have, or even consider in the course of a day. That’s why D.H. Lawrence wrote, “The feelings people ought to have, they never have.”

When men in 12 Step meetings weep, get angry, reveal secrets and shed their emotional skin like molting serpents, they do so to stay clean and sober, often with vulgarities and eruptions that cause many in the warm and fuzzy groups to feel uncomfortable. These men have a real goal. There is no ‘right answer,' and they are not interested in being normal or impressing anyone, especially women. Most men have been socialized by disapproving mothers, grandmothers, aunts, female teachers, girl peers and the culture in general to never make a woman feel uncomfortable or scared. Little boys are taught how to 'act' around females, so we grow up 'acting.' It always amazes me that so many women are shocked to find that the man they married is not the man they dated. These same women tell their sons how to 'act' around the girls. So we men gradually learn to put a lid on our true thoughts and feelings at the appropriate times. And since church and therpay are often filled with feminine values and female participants who want men to 'act right', most men would rather take the night off from acting and just be themselves.

The masculine psyche is artfully constructed to combine emotions with a high purpose; score a touch down, the male will yell “YES!” Hit a home run, steal a base or sink a three pointer at the buzzer to win the game and you will see men react emotionally. Catch a twenty pound salmon or shoot a four point buck deer and you'll see men respond. Similarly, battling an addiction or a foe threatening their loved ones in a time of war, you will see men actually having and expressing what males consider real feelings.

For most males, feelings are not what you have when you buy a new pair of shoes, hear about a couple getting engaged, or learn that someone just had a baby. These are everyday events. You might as well get emotional about waking up or going to the restroom. Even when men get angry and fight with one another, these are usually considered minor speed bumps that cause hardly a blip on the average male emotional radar screen. Such outbursts or moments of anger or elation are not really emotions. There is nothing to share, because there is nothing there. That’s why Lawrence wrote:

The feelings I don't have I don't have.
The feelings I don't have, I won't say I have.

Finally, yes, there are exceptions. There are some men who actually do experience feelings more as women do. There are always exceptions. And there are those rare females who are emotionally more like males - thank the gods for exceptions to prove the general rule. This phenomenon has nothing to do with gender superiority or gender handicaps. That being said, still our churches could learn from this; if we want more men participating, encourage real masculine feelings. Allow men to be honest, really honest. Let them give genuine feedback regarding the talk and church agenda. They are more interested in the adventure than the settlement that gets established after the adventure is over. If you expect males to check their masculine spirits at the door, they likely will just stay home and watch sports.

1 comment:

benhurjun said...

That is to be bluntly honest! Yeah. These feelings and emotions, we don't want to talk about them; not because we totally lack it; to my mind it's simply because they are not interesting enough to be talked about. And the women, that's all they want to talk about! Here's where the rift and confusion starts. But that's how it is and we just have to do what we have to do.