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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

Unobtanium


Last week I wrote that I hoped in the future to address the subject of emotional unavailability, something which I described as mythic. In many ways, emotional unavailability is like the element, Unobtanium, it sounds like something real but it’s pure fiction. While the phrase is one that could be applied to either women or men, most often we hear it being used by women to describe men who are not demonstrative. Sometimes this means men who are aloof and non-committal, other times it can mean men who are not openly affectionate, but however it is used, it describes a symptom not the cause.

In, Life, Love and Internet Dating, I confessed that one of the more surprising things I found in the online dating world—and it applies more broadly to most things about men, women, and relationships is that the so-called differences between the genders are not quite what they seem to be. That is, there are fewer differences than one might think. This is not to say that Men and Women are alike, thank goodness, they aren’t; but what we want and need in our relationships are not very far apart.

Ladies, I hope I am not shocking you when I say that men are every bit as emotional as you are. No, you say, not in my experience! Well that’s because you see us—and often we see ourselves through a very distorting lens. You see, we are just as complicated creatures as you, but our orientation as men puts us at a disadvantage on the emotional plane. For one thing, we are raised by in large to suppress emotions—because emotions are not –well manly. Of course, that is perfectly ridiculous; but think about how media portrays us. Men who show emotions--deep emotions, are held up as the exception while those with a stiff upper lip, a shrug it off and move- on attitude are the heroic if sometimes occasionally misunderstood paragons of manliness. As an audience, we know that underneath it all our aloof heroes are just a bag of sentimental mush inside but that’s part of the unstated conspiracy of how we come to see ourselves and how others see us.

So yes, we have learned consciously and otherwise that to display emotion is something we just don’t do. Now here is another shocker. Men are afraid of being hurt. No, really. What you may experience as aloofness, or inability to express our feelings, is sometimes a form of self-protection. What if we were to express our feelings and find out they were not reciprocated? Then what?

Let me say for the record that many—if not most men I know have real emotions, express them and are not afraid to show they do. Some of us cry at movies—get a catch in our throat when we think about heroic sacrifices other men have made, are not afraid to hug each other or say, I love you brother. Ok, not every man—but don’t for a moment think they don’t feel.

So, the next time you label someone as emotionally unavailable you might want to take a step back and ask why? In most cases I think you will find that there is a story, or several stories about that person that tell the tale of their discomfort with expressing themselves. Perhaps they need some re-assurance and patience to allow themselves to show what they truly feel—perhaps they need a model—someone who is ‘out there’ and willing to let others see him or her as they really are.

I saw such a man the other morning, at a restaurant eating breakfast with his young son. The boy was developmentally challenged. He had the body of a 5-year old and the behavior and social skills of a toddler. But to see this father with his son was to see God’s love for us, his children. As he cut up the food, cleaned the sippy cup that had fallen on the floor, and oh so patiently wiped the face of his son—this strapping, tattooed he-man, who for all the world could have posed as a biker or a gang banger, was just a loving Dad.

That is what love is about, isn’t it? Giving to another, caring for another, sacrificing for another? There is nothing un-manly (or unwomanly) about it—that is when we are at our best, when we act the way God made us to be—wearing our feelings proudly and openly.

Very rarely, there are unicorns-- people who appear to be without feelings. They are very few, very wounded and maybe even folks who cannot act in the world without causing harm and hurt. If you come across one, walk or if need be, run away. But these exceptions are thankfully rare. As for the rest, give them a chance. You might find something inside more precious even than Unobtanium, the soul of a human being.


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