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The paradox of manhood

Aaron S. Bayley

I always believed (and still believe) that being a man meant being powerful, assertive, dignified, courageous, and virile. These characteristics are indoctrinated in boys through parents, schools, religious institutions, and the media, but most of us--myself included--accept them as being true. After all, what man yearns to be an impotent, wishy-washy coward?

The James Bond version of masculinity--that of a charismatic, athletic, well-dressed and perfectly coiffed gentleman with exquisite taste, skilled in the art of diplomacy, and an expert seducer of women--while an idealized caricature, is something that many heterosexual men strive to be, whether they're willing to admit it or not. James Bond embodies the confidence, leadership, and problem-solving qualities of the alpha male, which is why he always gets the girl.

Being single gives me the freedom to pursue many of the things I like to do: play my guitar for hours, read books for hours, exercise seven days a week, write music, and draw pictures. I've seen what happens to men when they get married: the hobbies die, the beer belly rises, and the predictable, sedentary life of sitting on the couch at night watching Netflix becomes the conventional norm. The thrill of the chase is but a distant memory, which is why so many men cheat on their spouses. Marriage, I thought, is where your passions, hobbies, friendships and freedoms go to die. It's hard to feel like James Bond when you're changing diapers at 1:00 in the morning. 

But the day I turned 30, I found myself wanting a child. And to have a child you needed a woman. When boys are teenagers, they see girls as sexual conquests. Men continue to think this way well into old age; even the more sensitive amongst us are driven by the irrepressible libido. The male sex drive is a powerful compulsion that fuels a spectrum of emotions ranging from lust to jealousy. So for me, being a man now meant taking that sex drive and focusing on the very noble act of procreation. It meant building a family, raising children with values and teaching them to make good choices in life.

But best of all, marriage doesn't mean the end of manhood, especially if manhood is interpreted as being assertive, courageous, gentlemanly, athletic, charismatic, and virile. A man can be assertive when he is teaching his children the difference between right and wrong; he can be courageous when he faces setbacks or must deal with family tragedy; a man can be gentlemanly by keeping the romantic fires burning with small acts of thoughtfulness, by never failing to be spontaneous, and by supporting his partner (whether a a woman or a man) emotionally, physically, spiritually, and intellectually. 

Married life doesn't have to be boring and monotonous. And it isn't the death knell to manhood. Marriage doesn't mean that a man loses the excitement of being a heterosexual male. For example, imagine that a married man (or a man with a girlfriend) makes plans to watch a football game at a bar with his friends. Now, imagine that somehow the man and his friends find out that not only are there no female waitresses working at the bar, but there will be no female customers on that particular day. Guess what? The boys are going to find another place to watch the game. That doesn't mean that the man would cheat on his wife or girlfriend; it means that the man craves a social situation which validates his manhood. Likewise, imagine a married woman (or a woman with a boyfriend) makes plans to go to a downtown club with her besties. Now, imagine that somehow the girls find out that there will be absolutely no men at the club. You can bet that the women will be making plans to attend another club. Again, this doesn't mean that women are sluts that would cheat on their partners. It means that women seek social situations which validate their womanhood; they need to feel attractive. Flirting is harmless if the relationship between a couple is solid. 

But where does marriage fit into the complex domain of manhood? Is the point of being a man to drive around in a nice car, dress well, and chase women, or is it to settle down in a monogamous relationship and start a family? One of the most attractive things about being a bachelor is the art of seduction, the power struggle game that men and women play with each other in which neither one is willing to cede control. Whichever path a man choses, he must constantly confront the paradox of is own existence.

The definition of being a man isn't based on some outdated stereotype, as tempting as it is to believe. It's  based on building relationships based on honesty, integrity, and mutual respect. At some point the go-it-alone, gunslinger mentality of a man's youth must be replaced by a more mature philosophy of what being a man is really all about.


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