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Breaking News: Men are Afraid of Being Vulnerable

male and female mannequins

This morning I read an article by Steven Kalas about my favorite topic: the bizarrest place in the world – the male brain.

Specifically, I’m fascinated by men in relationships – the way they hate emotions but need their mom, need to be validated but are so adorably sensitive beneath it all, their obsession with sex but complete inability to see their wife/girlfriend/whatever as a sexual creature…. it’s completely beyond me.

So this article in particular was based on the premise that, supposedly, vulnerability is man’s kryptonite. Not “man” in the “diction of patriarchal humanity” sense, but literally, those with XY chromosomes. Those with testes. Those that are not women.

Now first of all, men, I just have to say it: women don’t like being vulnerable either. NO ONE LIKES TO OPEN THEMSELVES UP TO SEXUAL, EMOTIONAL, and/or ‘OTHER-TYPES-THAT-I-DON’T-KNOW-HOW-TO-IDENTIFY’ REJECTION.

I’m sorry, but it had to be said.

Now, as long as we have that on the table, I’m happy to engage this male intimacy dilemma. It’s actually quite sweet. As Kalas explained,

“… Let me share a “man secret” with women: Few things are more savage, terrifying and painful to a modern man with a narcissistic wound (uh, that would be every man I know) than the criticism of the woman he loves. The agony of failing her. The awareness that he is not her hero. This pain is compounded if the criticism comes in the form of the Dark Feminine — belittling, humiliating, complaining, accusing. You guessed it, bitching.

Now, the moral of that story is not, in fact, that women should never criticize men. Because we’ll never grow up unless you have good boundaries, and good boundaries include at least occasional criticism. No, the moral of the story is, ladies, you’d better know what you’re up against.

Because we will rarely tell you how painful it is for us.

Yes, great love affairs regularly require naked emotional honesty, and because they do, naked emotional vulnerability. But the preferred language of modern men feeling great vulnerability with a woman is almost never tears, and rarely first words.

It’s withdrawal. Nobody can flat disappear in a relationship faster than a man. Oh, I didn’t say break up. I said disappear. With his wedding ring still on. Standing right there next to you in the kitchen. You can still see him. Maybe even hear him breathing and talking. But he’s not there. Men don’t require a cave to disappear into the Man Cave.”

Kalas was impressively open about emotions and the barriers ahead of men who refuse to identify them. As he explained (rather profoundly, I might add),

“The problems arise when men use their analytical ways not to understand their emotions, but to deny and ignore them. Because, there is something equally important about being willing to feel feelings. To be overjoyed. To be in love. To be enraged. To be sad. To be afraid. To feel every bit of the remorse rightly his. Uncensored access to emotional reality is equally an indicator of maturity.”

Just throwing this out there, but everyone says women are crazy and stuff (well, people tell me I’m crazy and I’m a woman and this is my blog, so, yeah…)… but it’s also common knowledge that we mature quicker than males. So maybe, just an idea, we learn to feel, accept and identify our feelings at a younger age. I’ve argued before (and since I can’t ever be a guy I’ll never really be able to prove it, but it’s a theory) that women have an advantage in the emotion-learning part of life because of the whole menstruation (slash monthly cycle from hell) thing which ABSOLUTELY forces you to feel your feelings.

Christiane Northrup, an expert on women’s health, calls the PMS hormone cocktail a “truth serum.” Not only with others, but with ourselves. If something’s been bothering you just under the surface, PMS will make it suddenly the only thing you can think about. You will feel all of the pain, hurt, whatever, that you had been hiding. Trust me, there will be no escape. Ok, so there’s the female reality. We are forced to face our feelings, and with exposure and acceptance we learn to understand them. We notice patterns. We know when things get really, really bad that eventually we will be OK again. We learn to trust the feelings and allow them to exist, but over time we also know when they are irrational. We gain strength and confidence in our ability to feel, and when things go wrong – our ability to heal. Yes, it’s an exhausting road, but I don’t think we would give up our highs and lows for anything.

This post is about men, though, so bear with me – I’m bringing it back to them, and I do have a point.

I don’t understand the way men relate to intimacy and emotions because I am not a man (I know, this blog is too profound for words sometimes). But I want to understand it, because heterosexual relationships (I’m not discriminating, it’s just my focus since I am heterosexual…) need a male in them. And I have a boyfriend, who is a male. And I love him, so I hope that he can be vulnerable with me. Essentially, I don’t know how to help this whole situation, but, I suppose the first thing to do is try to understand. Then, I really do hope that through understanding I can remember to be kind and do my best to help the men I love (you know, like my dad and brother and boyfriend – not multiple boyfriends. Just clarifying) be themselves and open up.

So, in an attempt to understand,

here are the things (that I can think of) that might influence this male intimacy/vulnerability


1. Social expectations- for some reason, we seem to think “vulnerability” and “emotions” are female terms. That doesn’t get us off to a good start, now does it?

2. Ben (aka “Full Embrace”), a wise male who wrote a couple posts with me, wrote about how men are less likely to seek out information about females and work on a relationship until there is a problem… well, maybe this relates to it all somehow;

Knowledge –> preparation

Being prepared for a situation –> confidence

Women are very relationship-oriented (raise it up for evolution! whoot whoot!) so we tend to spend a lot of time dealing with relationship issues. Case in point: I’m writing a post trying to understand the male brain. There is no reason for this – my boyfriend and I are doing well. Regardless, it’s just something I feel like I always need to learn more about. On the other hand, as much as I love my boyfriend, I can barely get him to read this blog, much less research women to enhance our intimacy and mutual-understanding. It isn’t a reflection of him, I’m with him largely because he’s one of the smartest, most patient/loving/understanding guys on the planet, but it paints a pretty clear picture of a difference between the sexes.

Maybe all of this time, energy, and research women do increases our confidence in relationships. Even when we’re wrong, we believe in ourselves as emotional creatures. We approach relationships the same way men approach football; even the wimpiest guys I know become complete know-it-alls after one beer. They watch ESPN, they embrace their competitive spirit, they get that testosterone flowing, and they suddenly have a LOT of opinions on plays, players, coaching, and referees. They do their research, they embrace the whole experience, and they’re able to feel confident in their opinions.

Well, this is what women do with relationships. We often feel like relationship gurus because of our immersion in this subject – romantic comedies, Sex and the City, Cosmo magazine, not to mention long talks with girlfriends (compare this to the hours you guys spend on basketball brackets or something)… and this gives us the confidence to deal with tricky things like intimacy and vulnerability. We want love the way men want to win the Superbowl. We strategize, we research, we care. We take it very, very seriously. Honestly guys, you should be flattered… in spite of everything, we adore you.

3. Female advantage: maturity + PMS (as outlined above)

Whenever you’re the underdog you’re less likely to want to go into battle. Needless to say, I don’t blame men for not wanting to go toe-to-toe with us on “feelings” talk. That said, practice does makes it easier (I promise). If you’re going to be a contender, you’re going to have to practice. Take my advice though: pick your team carefully (“hot” doesn’t necessarily = sensitive), and maybe do a little research. Just the fact that you’re reading this blog means that you must care at least a little… and reading my writing means you’re hearing how a woman thinks. That’s a perfect start :)

Clearly, I don’t have any answers, but I was reminded of some valuable lessons when I read that article this morning. Most importantly, I was reminded that I need to be kind, patient, and gentle, which can be hard …. especially when I’m emotional. But I do need to remember, and I do need to work on that all the time. For women, the lesson is that we need to take care of the men that love us and try to not be too hard on them. Although we can’t imagine why this is all such a struggle, it is, and they’re going through that for you. Appreciate it. In the words of Osho:

“Once a man loves a woman or a woman loves a man, demands immediately enter. The woman starts demanding that the man should be perfect, just because he loves her. As if he has committed a sin! Now he has to be perfect, now he has to drop all his limitations suddenly – just because of this woman. Now he cannot be human. Either he has to become superhuman or he has to become pseudo, false, a cheat. Naturally, to become superhuman is very difficult, so people become cheats. They start pretending and acting and playing games. In the name of love people are just playing games.

So the second thing to remember is: never demand perfection. You have no right to demand anything from anybody. If somebody loves you, be thankful, but don’t demand anything – because he has no obligation to love you. If somebody loves, it is a miracle. Be thrilled by the miracle.

But people are not thrilled. For small things they will destroy all possibilities of love. They are not interested much in love and the joy of it. They are more interested in other ego trips. Be concerned with your joy. Be utterly concerned with your joy, be only concerned with your joy. Everything else is non-essential.

Love as a natural function, as you breathe. And when you love a person, don’t start demanding; otherwise from the very beginning you are closing the doors. Don’t expect anything. If something comes your way, feel grateful. If nothing comes, there is no need for it to come, there is no necessity for it to come. You cannot expect it.”

For men, let this be a reminder that letting fear control you is a sign of weakness and immaturity. (Harsh, I know, but I’m saying it like that on purpose since I know nothing pisses men off more than being called weak… aren’t I tricky?)

In the future, if you work on and face this whole feelings/intimacy/openness thing you’re allowing yourself to fully and richly experience life… the crazy life that women are already living. See? Girls just want to have fun. I know, I know – there’s a lot of pain involved in feelings and attachment (need proof? Just see the rest about 2/3 of the other posts on this blog…)

But seriously – guys - here is a piece of wisdom:   Women are much more compassionate, gentle, and patient when we feel like we have a responsibility to nurture someone that loves us, trusts us, and is vulnerable. Call it our maternal instinct.

We also have a gift for understanding and dealing with emotions.

So, just an idea, but if perhaps you try and open to up to the woman you love/like/care about, you will not only evoke her maternal side (the opposite of her defensive/bitchy side - cha ching!) but you will have someone that understands emotions helping you to identify, understand, and work through yours.

After a little trust and a little time, I imagine you’ll become more and more confident in your ability to cope on your own… but at that point, why would you even want to? Life is better when we’re not going through it alone. But then again, that’s just a woman’s opinion.

Read the whole article here (it’s really great, actually): HUMAN MATTERS: Time for some ‘man secrets’ to help relationships


Thanks for reading!! xo Jen

5 Responses to Breaking News: Men are Afraid of Being Vulnerable

  1. Well written article and dense in content from Kalas. I’m not sure if I totally agree that men are afraid of being vulnerable as a flat statement. I think that men in general could be coined as this but of course there are the exceptions. I was lucky enough to be raised by a father who is an incredible athlete and a mother who is an amazing musician. Being able to play sports and go to symphonies enabled me to be well rounded. I’d say I open my heart too fast at the beginning of a relationship trusting women and having them take the more coarse road of a man and simply just not care. Of course having stated this on a website for eyes to see isn’t the most private of all things but it is what it is.
    I have found that there is a change going on in the relationships of men and women. Women working more diligently on their careers and themselves are losing many of the characteristics that have been so becoming to men and are instead being more brash and un-feminine. Men who could typically not feel are now dating women who don’t feel and the women who are out for one night stands seem to be on the rise much faster than the men. Because of this change in the tide of women and their psyche it has forced men to be more guarded than normal because instead of them thinking they can love and leave, more often than not they are the ones being left. Just food for thought in case you wonder why some men don’t want to be vulnerable…

  2. MsMorphosis says:

    You know, I think that’s a good response. At first I felt a little defensive, that women being more capable of one night stands and such still doesn’t change the general tide that we tend to be the ones left, but you know what – you might be right. I think the truth is, as with any generalization, it leaves a lot of room for tons of individual circumstances. I also think that a lot of insensitive men have jade women to the fact that a LOT of guys out there are kind and sensitive and even vulnerable- making us less sensitive and trusting in our ability to relate to them. Keep sticking up for the vulnerable guy and reminding us that you guys have feelings too – k? :)

  3. SP says:

    It is interesting the value judgements you make here. It is 4:30 in the morning so I don’t wish to dissect the whole thing and certainly you being female slants that perspective but you definitely assume that the female persona is the better of the two. I am the father of 5 girls and 1 boy and well before anyone hit puberty and menstruation was occurring, they were/are different animals relationally.

    • MsMorphosis says:

      This post is totally full of many, many value judgements. For the record, I love men. I adore men. I also think that men and women are different, and both bring different strengths to relationships. Obviously, every human being and relationship is different, and when we throw puberty and hormones and biology in the mix things get crazy. I was merely exploring the article and some of my different ideas/experiences on the topic. In many posts I am the first to acknowledge the irrationalities and weaknesses of myself as a woman and as a partner. This wasn’t meant to be a scientific profile of all men, or an absolute, or in any way a complete profile of all aspects of what it means to be a man. Also, as a father of 6, I’m sure you’re far more mature than many of the men I write about (when I wrote this post I was in undergrad at a major university), so of course it’s all a matter of circumstance. Your family is lucky to have a man that cares to explore and be open to these sorts of ideas, and I hope that you are able to put the post in perspective for what it is.

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