Everyone knows that straight men are emotionally repressed. If we weren’t, ‘Mad Men’ would be a two hour miniseries on Lifetime that nobody watched and ‘The Sopranos’ would be a Ken Burns documentary about the excellent and communicative management style of the New Jersey underworld.
Nobody ever talks about this, but all that emotional repression is a net positive for our species. Or, it can be, for a while.
Testosterone is a hell of a drug, man.
Starting one morning when I was twelve or thirteen years old, and continuing for the rest of my life, my brain’s most immediate response to any stimulus is:
1) kill it
2) fuck it
3) eat it with your hands
Thirteen and fourteen are pretty tough years for guys because we are learning not to trust the constant swarm of chemicals in our bodies that is gearing us up to lead a Viking raid from horseback.
You learn to curb that shit pretty quickly that if you want to continue to earn your mother’s love and be allowed inside the house. Otherwise your family would just keep you in a shed in the backyard and throw chickens in there sometimes, like that one family in every zombie movie that’s in horrible denial about what’s really happened to their boy.
You know what they call guys who are fully in touch with their feelings and express them in real time the moment that they have them?
What’s initially a pretty solid social survival skill just kind of calcifies and turns into a habit after a while. A good habit in one context is a terrible habit when the context changes.
I’m starting to notice that the same impulse control mechanism that kept me and most of my friends out of jail in high school is now working against me.
Yesterday was a brutal day at work, just a beige blizzard of corporate stupid, and I had to come straight home and lie on the couch in my drawers and watch Superman cartoons.
My wife, my brand new wife of exactly two months, came home from the gym, glowing with exercise and beaming to see that for once I came home early instead of spending an evening trying to impress a bunch of schlubby misogynists at a dingy basement comedy show. She leans over and gives me a sweet kiss, then starts telling me about her day while she stretches on the floor, and a few minutes in says “you’re awful quiet. Is there something wrong?”
And this seriously came out of my mouth:
“Honey, I love you so much, but I am just done talking for the day. Tomorrow’s not looking that good either.”
This is supposed to be the honeymoon period in our marriage. I either ended it with that one, or the high point is actually pretty low.
I’m really envious that women are socialized to be allowed to cry. Now that I’m more or less an adult, I don’t see it as a weakness at all. It’s more of a powerful, efficient way to process all kinds of intense emotions, just clearing the cache, defragging the emotional hard drive and rebooting the whole machine in the process of a few minutes. And then you get to feel that full-body flood of brain drugs that really makes you feel like everything’s going to be all better.
Men cry the way that deadbeat landlords unclog a toilet. We wait until the whole system is backed up and overflowing, then grab the nearest object and MacGyver it into some kind of a tool, let the thing drain reeeeaaallll slow and then act surprised when the whole thing backs up again six months later.
We pretty much get to either Hulk out and flip a table like Tony Soprano or act like everything’s fine until we have a heart attack at 47. Then everyone says “how could this have happened?”
Part of the reason is because we’re still mad we were too scared to try out for that role in the high school musical.
My last big, real cry was in 2009. I was recovering from a sudden surgery to prevent rapidly spreading testicular cancer – they cut the offending testicle right out and threw it into a dumpster 24 hours after my diagnosis. My body had healed, but I was still pretty messed up inside.
I took the day off of work just to really feel my feelings. I was sitting in bed at 11 AM eating chocolate ice cream and watching ‘Cheers’ on my laptop. And man, something about the plaintive, sad hope in that theme song just got me. Halfway through the opening credits I was bawling, crying “I wanna go where everybody knows my name, too,” through a river of snotty, snotty tears.
I told my girlfriend (now wife) about it, and she said “Uh, that is familiar to me, but shouldn’t be to you. I think there’s something wrong with you, and you should really see your doctor.”
I went to see my doctor, and it turned out that I didn’t just have low testosterone. I had ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ levels of testosterone: none at all, and I was curious about hot yoga.
They literally jabbed me in the ass with a syringe and compressed the plunger, flooding my body with synthetic testosterone. Eight hours later I was drinking Old-Fashioneds with one hand and getting a high score at Big Buck Hunter with the other. I’m totally serious.
This is the one time in my life that I was perfectly entitled to a great big cry. I’d just lost a testicle to a potentially life-threatening disease. I was depressed and terrified, dealing with a certain amount of PTSD and trying to rebuild my physical health at the same time. It should come as a surprise to exactly nobody that I’d lose control of my emotions and let them come pouring out in the privacy of my own apartment.
What does it say about gender socialization that at the one time in my life when I should have been crying, my girlfriend looks at me and says “there’s something wrong with you, I think you need to go back to the doctor” …
… and she’s right?