“Why do men like boobs?”
This of course is one of those trick questions that women ask men, and a step up from the infamous does-this-make-me-look-fat question. The man being questioned is a wise man, however, and after pausing to think, said, “Well, I suppose it’s because it’s something women have that we don’t.”
That got me to thinking about the old adage, “Opposites attract.” Generally speaking, I think women are attracted to strength in men. It could be physical strength, yes, but it could also be strength of emotion, or intellect, or of a particular skill. Again, I’m speaking generally.
Maybe this isn’t such good news for men if you’ve read any of Brene Brown’s research on this issue. Essentially, she observes that women have many roles in which we might fail – employee, mother, wife, daughter, friend, volunteer, supermodel – and we make ourselves batty trying to fulfill all those expectations. Men have just one area in which to succeed or fail, however, and that is strength. Even with their spouse, they never feel permitted to fall off that white horse.
What does this say about a typical marriage? It says that men never feel completely safe because they are never permitted (by society, not just their spouse) to show weakness, and this is compounded by the fact that most women are attracted to strength (in whatever form) in men.
I want to suggest a solution for that by discussing strength just a bit more. Here is something I’ve casually observed in the great stories we tell, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction:
A great man affirms the women in his life.
I once got a job where my hourly salary was quite a bit more than I expected it to be. I saw my parents later that week and said, “I’m getting paid an exorbitant amount to do what I love!” My father looked at me with disbelief and said, “But you’re worth it.” He couldn’t understand why I thought any amount would be too much.
He made a connection where I did not. He saw me more completely than I saw myself. A great man – in any type of relationship – affirms the women in his life as complete individuals, and stops them when they try to define themselves against other people or other standards.
That’s a different kind of strength than we normally imagine when we think of strength. It’s a lasting strength. I might be attracted to physical, emotional, and/or intellectual strength, but those things fail at some point. Bodies get sick. Emotions change depending on many factors. People make bad decisions. But an unceasing propensity for affirmation, regardless of other conditions, is a powerful gift men can give to the women in their lives.
Now I’ll come full circle: Women, you can do this, too. If a man can’t be vulnerable or intimate with his wife, he probably won’t find it from anyone else (at least, in a healthy sense). You are joined with your spouse, yes – but you are still an individual, and so is he. Strengthening each other by affirming the completeness of the other as an individual is a primary source of strength in a marriage — maybe the source of strength in a marriage.
People will always fail you, no matter how hard they try. Women, we will never experience true intimacy until the men in our lives know we are not dependent on them for our identities. Please note, I’m talking about personal identity, and not comfort, or joy, or any of the other experiences we long to share with another in our lives. I’m talking instead about men knowing if they fail, our fundamental valuing of them does not change.
Use strength to affirm each other. That means declaring the worth of the other as a human being, not as an employee, or spouse, or parent, or whatever, even though those things are important. And men, affirmation means something special coming from you versus coming from our mothers/girlfriends/sisters, although those people are important. When you affirm the women in your life, you share with them your strength in a lasting way, and you create a relationship where vulnerability is safe.