Dear Male Delivery,
My boyfriend is bad at communicating his feelings. Should I pry to get them out of him or let him be?
To start this article, I would first like to address that this is a great question. I say that because I feel that many girlfriends, friends of guys that are girls, etc. ask this question all of the time. Why do guys build a wall in front of their emotions? Why do they feel the need to harbor them and even ignore them?
I will first explain a theory of the cause before giving a prescriptive answer to the actual question.
Men and boys alike grow up in a hard culture of false masculinity perpetuated by the media through images of manhood. The images are shown in music, movies, and advertising, and reflect an attitude that is resilient to vulnerability and emotions, and sometimes even violent. Though I do believe that there is an appropriate virtue in being “manly” per se, I think the idea of this manliness is completely perverted through a skewed culture.
To put it simple, guys sometimes grow up in this “tough culture.” This is the stereotype that you are already imagining, one of which includes hiding our emotions, fighting in order to gain respect, and picking on each other to build ourselves up. It is a sad picture of how insecurity can adversely affect the way that we interact with each other. Emotions and feelings are seen as a sign of weakness. We are told to “suck it up” or “be a real man,” but have we lost the true definition of what it means to be one?
Is it even too crazy to suggest that this culture of “toughness” begets a culture of bullying? It is truly sad to think about.
As we grow up, we repress our feelings and it seems to only get worse since those emotions begin to grow and erupt and find themselves in vicious forms such as depression and exclusion.
I say these things in order to give you girls perspective about this wretched and senseless norm growing up as a boy. It is truly hard. Now, unfortunately, you have to face this stoic behavior and the constant disappointment of rarely being opened up to. Take heart, though. It won’t (or at least shouldn’t) have to last so long. Having a girlfriend is a guarantee that one day a guy will begin to pour out his emotions no matter how long it takes. The key is trust.
Do not think that sheltering our feelings, though, is a sign that we do not feel close enough to you yet. Keep in mind that we did grow up in the boy’s culture of which I spoke. Time, and even time with you, can begin to soften that barrier that we have put up to guard our hurting hearts.
Always make sure that anything he is feeling will never be too uncomfortable for you to handle. Provide that reassuring environment for him to talk about his feelings. Console enough so that he does not have to fear judgment or patronization against him for what he feels. Even though this sounds too obvious, it needs to be very apparent when wanting those feelings to come forth.
So, to choose one of the options that was presented in the original question, I would have to say “let him be.” Trust me, he is bound to open up. Therefore, do not feel down that he is not doing it quick enough for you.
Just scratch his back and assure him that it is totally ok for him to be vulnerable.
Your Real Live College Guy