Friday, August 26, 2011

What a Man has to Offer, Part 2

This is not my usual attempt at an extensive, cohesive expose with carefully chosen words and hyper-sensitive phrasing. This is me attempting to articulate the things I look for in relationship, the things that I find valuable in relationship, the things that I hope men might want to offer.  Inspired by a random conversation (where you can read about the first 3 qualities) and a smattering of dating experiences (as well as one 8-year marriage), here is the next installment of my perspective on What a Man has to Offer:

4. Adulthood (& Playfulness)

Speaking of innate attractiveness, a man who has accepted responsibility for his life is pretty hot. I'm talking about some of the basic tasks of being an adult, like how to manage his time and his space, the ability to go grocery shopping and do laundry and accomplish at least some basic cooking techniques, and endeavoring to do and create the things that he wants in life instead of waiting for someone else to do it for him.  A man who doesn't see himself as being half a person waiting for the other half to come do the things necessary for him to be an adult offers the possibility for adult relationship.

Newsflash: Women don't like to be nags, but often times they are ...invited... into that role by a man who acts like a child.  Just sayin'.

I sincerely think that part of what it means to be an adult is NOT expecting someone else to do it for you.  That's not to say that one doesn't have limitations, weaknesses, particular gifts, graces, and preferences; that's not to say that one should not look for a complimentary partner.  But as soon as a man moves into a position of putting off life-tasks and making them someone else's responsibility, he stops offering relationship and starts looking for someone to "fill a role."  This is just as true of women as it is of men, and in both cases, it's pretty unattractive.

On the flip side of being an adult, when I studied male temperament and personality theory in college, one author presented the notion that every man has a little boy aspect to his personality.  He has boyish energies and boyish delights and boyish playfulness.  I think a man who learns how to invite and initiate play in his grown up relationships offers more than he will ever know - joy, fun, personhood, laughter, respite, and repair - just to name a few.

5. A Defined Sense of Self & Good Boundaries

It is a gift to know what a man is thinking, what his values are, what he wants in his life.  It can actually be inviting and comforting to know what a man doesn't want, what he has questions about, what causes him angst.  It is a pleasure to be in a relationship with a man who has deemed himself worthy enough to know who he is, or at least to engage in the process of knowing, and who is learning how to offer [communicate] that in honoring, life-giving ways.  It is also extremely attractive when a man has the self respect to know how to take care of himself, drawing lines to steward his heart, mind, and energy.

In an unusual example, I had a friend with whom I went on a couple dates.  As he learned about my story, at a very appropriate time and in an incredibly respectful way, he shared some things with me very honestly and specifically about his own struggles, temptations, and past.  He shared because he had faced his own demons, if you will, and taken responsibility for them.  They weren't eradicated, but he owned them and owned who he wanted to be.  He was actively engaged in the process of accepting and respecting himself even as he fought his own battles to be a man.  Even though some of his struggles were similar to those that destroyed my marriage, I only ever felt respected and protected by this man. We were able to develop a friendship as a result, a friendship that meant, when it came time for him to share his story with another woman he began to date, he asked me for my feedback and advice.  He had heard me communicate my respect for his story but he had felt rejected so many times before, he was wondering if he should take the risk with her.  My answer: YES!  You, your story, your gifts and your struggles, are of infinite value to a woman who is healthy and real.  Hiding your story or who you are because you're afraid you won't get a particular kind of response or relationship, men, is ugly, dishonest, and manipulative.  But a man who has taken 'a fearless and searching moral inventory,' if you will, does not hide from himself or others, and offers something of infinite value in relationship: Intimacy - with a REAL person.

A man who knows himself also knows (or is endeavoring to discover) the lines he needs to draw to honor and protect himself and relationship. What woman doesn't want honor and a sense of being protected in relationship - or the knowledge that her relationship is being guarded even when she's not aware?

6. Partnership

Arguably, culturally defined and generally accepted gender roles can serve a significant purpose in that they help people know how to act in socially acceptable ways as they grow up.  They can provide a foundation from which to explore the world, self, and relationship.  They can be a diving board for identity development and they can also facilitate the development of partnerships when people do not know how to engage in that process more intentionally.  It may be easier for me to partner with someone who has the same cultural expectations about the roles we will take in relationship with one another because it means we have to talk about it less and it doesn't require a lot of skills in exploring what our values mean to each of us.  It could free us up to do other things.  It can make things more intuitive and maybe require a lot less work.  And I sincerely think that the nature of creating partnership is overlooked in this innate and sometimes unexamined process.

So I will use a couple word pictures to describe the value of what a man has to offer related to the creation of a partnership...

If a man were to go into business with another man, he probably wouldn't expect someone else to tell him exactly what roles they each would take or how much each should invest.  No, upon determining that they could go into business together, they would probably endeavor to find out how much it would cost and evaluate how much each could put down.  Maybe one guy has the tools and the other guy has the money.  Maybe one guy has administrative skills and the other guy people skills.  Maybe they find that they're both good at all of it and they just work really well together on the job.

A man offers the possibility for the most dynamic, most effective cooperation when he brings this perspective of co-creation and partnership into relationship.  It's like the contrast between the old-school way of doing church: You teach Sunday School because Sunday School teachers are needed. Contrast this to singing on the Worship Team because God has given you a passion for music and a heart for creative adoration of the Creator.  It's not that the former is bad.  Sometimes we have to work, we have to do things that are not our preference, we have to fill a role.  This is part of being an adult and functioning in the real world (that isn't set up to cater to our individuality, by the way).  But how much more do you have to offer, how much more free do you become, in the second scenario?

A man who is interested in getting to know the person on the other side of the relationship, who asks questions for the purpose of finding out what can be created together, offers a once in a lifetime opportunity.  A man who is willing to ask and to learn offers himself and others the chance to be more than  they can be by themselves.

*     *     *

Adulthood, playfulness, definition, boundaries, and partnership ... I guess I technically sneaked a few more into this second batch than I let on.  I am also keenly aware that life and relationship would probably be a lot  better (and a lot easier on men) if women practiced these things as well.  In other words, women have a lot to offer in these areas, too, but again, it seems like men feel a greater resonance with other values.  Maybe they feel like there are gifts that women can offer but don't.  Maybe women don't understand how valuable some things are to men.  Either way, I find myself wondering as I compose my last list ... What does a woman have to offer?  How would a woman answer that question as opposed to a man?  Perhaps that is a topic for another blog.  Until then, stay tuned for the final three ... or four ... ideas about just what a man has to offer relationship.

Coming soon to a blog near you.

Near this one.

Here, actually.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

What a Man has to Offer, Part 1

“Men want to feel useful.”  

It was a side comment in an ongoing discussion about masculinity and femininity, gender roles and Christianity.  I think it was an attempt to describe why some men, particularly more “conservative” Christian men, feel intimidated or threatened by anything that sounds like women’s lib.

Though the statement offered a tremendous amount of insight into and opportunity to understand the person who said it, it did not clarify for me anything that seemed to be innately - or uniquely - masculine.  However, in a roundabout way, it did get me to thinking about men, usefulness, and differing values between the sexes.

Honestly, what does a man have to offer in relationship?  

It makes sense that traits or characteristics that are esteemed by men may be very different than those women value in relationship.  Interestingly, however, some of the most valuable things I think a man has to offer do not seem to be entirely unique to men.  In other words, the things I find myself appreciating most about men (relationally) are not things that I would describe as distinctly masculine traits, nor are they qualities that only men can offer.  But, for whatever reason, they are strangely meaningful, powerful, and desirable in the masculine context - or perhaps they just feel and mean something a little different coming from men.  It might even be that men and women are on different pages about how meaningful certain qualities are, so it is particularly valuable when a man offers certain things.  Whatever the dynamic, here are some initial thoughts in what I see as being a 3-part series on

What a Man has to Offer

1. His Word

Words are powerful.  Perhaps it is true that women in particular want to know that they can trust a man's word, but when we feel like we can count on and invest in the things that men say, that their word is meaningful and substantive, it is freaking Pirate's Gold to us. Seriously, it is like buried treasure in the back yard, and we are die-hard treasure-hunters.  Any adventurer worth her salt is constantly asking things like:  Does he do what he says he will do?  If he has to renegotiate, does he do it with self respect AND respect for others?  Does he value the agreements, commitments and promises he offers others as much as he values doing his own thing and pleasing himself?  Is his yes, yes?  His no, no?  Is he flippant, sarcastic, or a dreamer to the point that those around him can’t take what he says seriously or don’t feel like they can trust what he says?  Do his actions and his words match?

If men want women (or anyone else, for that matter) to respect them, it necessitates that they pay attention to their words; what they say (and therefore what they do about what they say) matters.

2. Sexual Energy and Integrity

A man’s testosterone is a gift - when it is coupled with honor, character, and emotional maturity.  Sexual energy offered in the form of initiative, pursuit, healthy tenacity, curiosity, care for self and others is needed, wanted, desirable, invaluable.  Sexual character that is the integration of sexuality, physiology, emotion, intellect, spirituality, and values - personal, cultural, corporate, relational - is a prize.  Seriously, we're talking the World Cup.  It revs our engines.  It gets our blood going.  It's exciting; it's energizing; it's inspiring.

Let's take the example of Christian men who are proud of their virginity but who have neglected their own social development or are often just as riddled with lust, selfishness, and the objectification of women as the more sexually experienced.  Virginity isn’t the prize; it’s character, integrity, and maturity that turns our heads.  The sex act itself is like the bow - values and the motivation from which they spring are the gift.

Because men are often raised with different cultural (sexual) paradigms, and frankly, because of biochemical differences in the brain, I think men can really overlook the power they possess within the context of their sexuality.  In fact, I wonder what would happen if men didn't see their sexuality as being, oh, I don't know, a burden, isolating, out of control, or even solely personal - their prerogative for self gratification and pleasure.  I see a man's sexuality as something like the power of creativity.  A painter paints partially for himself, for his own expression, but an artist's work is meant to be seen, given, if you will, heard, experienced.  It is designed to impact the world, to touch and impact others.  Sexuality and sexual integrity is bigger than the sex act and I  firmly believe it is meant to be that kind of creative-force gift, offered in and to community.  A man's sexuality can be a source of power and edification in relationship - and frankly, should be.  If passion is energy then sexuality is a nuclear power source, and it is a power that can be hoarded, squandered, ill-stewarded to the point of destruction, or offered to bring electricity to relationship.

I know, I might get a little carried away on the word pictures and metaphors, but get used to it because there's more to come.

The point is, a man who asks himself what he is doing with his sexuality, who takes ownership of it and its expression, is a man who has a lot to offer.

3. Work Ethic

Let me say with some conviction that a man who isn’t afraid to work hard - whether that be in the form of physical exertion or the sacrifice of time, talent, intellect, and passion - offers some of the most valuable aspects of his personhood: His uniqueness, his will, his effort ... his strength.  Just think about the nature of strength: It has to be developed over time, honed, mastered, coupled with wisdom and discernment.  Hard work and strength are synonymous.  Perhaps that is why, on a visceral level, whether he works hard to accomplish something concrete, to contribute to a greater good, to be self-sacrificial, or to improve a relationship, there is something innately attractive about a man who doesn't shy away from hard work.  It is one way he offers his strength.  And it can be particularly valuable when it is applied to relationship itself.

*     *     *

Again, these are my initial reflections based largely on the things that I find valuable and why.  Other concepts like "A Defined Sense of Self," "Curiosity," and even "Personal Care and Hygiene" are floating around in my head as possible additions to the list, but I honestly don't know how this will end.  What would you include?  What do YOU cherish, value, prize?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A Post Father's Day Post

I am really grateful for men.

I am really grateful for men like the one who described for me this week what leadership looks like to him after years of figuring it out for himself. He shared from the wealth of his experience about things he learned along the way.  In so doing, he offered insight and affirmation.  He didn't ridicule my experience, questions, challenges, or circumstances.  He also didn't try to fix me.  He talked to me as if I were a leader - because I am.  He talked to me as if I were an equal - because I am.

I am grateful for the man who was big enough to release me from his own ideals and paradigms that I might find God's plan and purpose.  That takes amazing strength and security.  He treated me like a human being, capable of knowing and following God, created uniquely for God's pleasure - because I am.  And I am also grateful for the man who endeavored to understand what it might be like for a woman to want so desperately to know that she was created for God's pleasure - and not man's - because it wasn't enough for him to just feel heard and understood himself.  He practiced mutuality as if it really were mutual - because it is.

I am grateful for the man who was so secure and well-defined that he sat me down one day and told me that he wanted to open doors for me when we were out together. Then he asked my permission to do so.  In fact, I am grateful for every man who has EVER asked my permission when it pertained to something that was mine.  And now that I think about it, I am grateful for every man who has asked. Period.  Asked questions. Shown genuine curiosity.  Demonstrated authentic interest and the desire to learn and know.  I have been treated as if I am valuable and worth knowing - because I am.

I am grateful for the men who aren't afraid to say, "I'm sorry," or "I was wrong"; for the ones who can admit when they've made a mistake and ask for forgiveness; for the ones who can accept their own weaknesses, failures, and limitations and name them as such without making it who they are.  They teach me that I am more than my brokenness - because I am.

I am grateful for the man who wrote a book on the relational spirit and the ways we close off, shut down, or shut out; for the man who wrote about his journey recognizing his own white, Euro-American, oppressive male culture; for the single dad who wrote about how fathers break their children.  I am grateful for the lay leader in my church who was willing to come to my home when my husband was caught in an affair and talk to the two of us in the midst of the devastation, in the midst of the chaos and insanity and mess.  

And one of the reasons why I am so grateful for these men is because I never had a father.  I never had a father to mentor me, to affirm my gifts or abilities or calling.  I never had a father to want what was best for me or to encourage me to live out of what I was created to be.  I never had a father to teach me how I should be treated, to advocate for me, or to ask me questions.  I never had a father to tell me that I was valuable or to embody values around relationship, emotion, communication, and assertiveness as a man.  Through these and many more men, God has been father to me.

So, thank you.  Thank you, men, for fighting the battles you have had to fight to be good leaders, to be secure individuals, to love sacrificially.  Thank you for whatever messages or obstacles or powers you have had to overcome to care, to get involved, to ask, to offer, to figure out how to be men when there isn't clarity on what that even means half the time.  Thank you for being human beings instead of stereotypes.  Thank you.  I am grateful.

That is all.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Beautiful Feminism

"Feminists are not a lonely tribe of women fenced off from the rest of society. Feminists read cookbooks and clip coupons from Sunday supplements. Feminists like to dance, flirt and wear high-heels, often doing all three at the same time. Feminists can like men--and enjoy the process of liking individual men for their own worth instead of valuing all men simply because they're male. Feminists enjoy and value the company of other women. Feminists don't wish they were men; they celebrate their womanhood."

"The point of feminism is not to alienate men, but for women to focus on our own concerns and needs, to establish our own values. These may or may not coincide with the already established values of our dominant culture, just as our concerns and needs may or may not fold neatly into a relationship. The point is to work on making decisions based on choices that are really choices instead of following a script--in other words, it means learning to laugh at what we find funny instead of just following along with the laugh track..."

From an adaptation of They Used to Call Me Snow White, But I Drifted ... read the full article here.

Gina Barreca, Ph.D.