I’m at a four-way stop sign, and it’s my turn to go. I begin to move into the intersection, when the car to my left goes out of turn, passing in front of me and then driving away. I’m a relaxed driver and I’m generally pretty slow to anger, but something inside of me snaps, and suddenly the shrink is the one needing a couch.
Why am I so angry? He missed me by a mile—it wasn’t even close. I’ve heard people suggest road rage is due to how much is at stake while driving: life or death. But the truth is, I know what I’m really angry about:
He didn’t even look at me.
If you ask ten men, “Which is worse, someone who totals your car and is profusely apologetic to you, or someone who causes a near miss but drives away as if you didn’t even exist?” nine out of ten will tell you the latter angers them more.
The other one is probably lying.
When it comes to the human need for attention and connection, there’s no difference between men and women. None. The only real difference is women are encouraged to embrace these needs, and men are humiliated for having them. So we stay quiet.
Until we don’t.
The Safety of Masculinity
The dictionary defines masculinity as “having qualities traditionally ascribed to men, such as strength and boldness.” We raise our boys to be masculine—to be strong and bold—and it leaves little room for them to be human. When a boy is learning to be masculine, he is learning to suppress his weakness, his vulnerability, his desire for connection and belonging. He is learning to suppress who he really is.
Is it any wonder then that when the sexes gather, women face each other, while men face away from one another? Women go out for coffee. They sit across from each other at tables and look each other in the eye. When men get together, they watch a ball game or play golf—they’ll look at anything except each other. Women sit in circles. Men sit at bars.
So when the need for attention or belonging finally wells up within a man, he feels ashamed for having it. He feels weak and soft. He feels “emasculated.” So he buries it and tries to earn attention without asking for it, through competition and achievement. And that does work.
For a while.
Then, around mid-life, we finally burn out or blow up. Because we’re tired of our kids getting all the attention. Or we’re jealous of our wife’s friend who always get the best of the woman we love. Or we get depressed, because secretly feeling invisible for decades will takes its toll.
Thus the anger. It’s the invulnerable way to demand attention. It’s the safe way to beg for connection. It’s the only “masculine” way to ask for what we need.
The Definition of a Man
In his book, Father Fiction, Donald Miller describes a talk he gave to a group of high school guys about manhood:
“The group looked at me anxiously, some of them knowing, intrinsically, that whatever I said, they would be up for the job, and some of them, quite honestly, looked at me knowing whatever I said would exclude them.
‘God’s definition of a real man…’ I said, motioning for them to write it down.
‘…is…’ I continued.
‘…a person…’ and I paused dramatically, waiting for everybody to catch up.
‘…with…’ I said, pausing again, preparing the room for the last line, the ultimate qualifier of a man…
‘…a person with…’ I repeated, waiting again until every eye was looking at me, and then I let the cat out of the bag.
As it turns out, manhood has nothing to do with masculinity—nothing to do with strength and boldness—and everything to do with biology. And once we’ve cleared that up, we are free to embrace and reveal the whole truth of who we are as men.
The Freedom of Emasculation
Here’s the big secret about a man’s heart: it isn’t a masculine heart; it’s a human heart.
It’s a human heart in a body that happens to have a penis on it, so it works the same as any human heart: it needs attention and connection, it’s weak and vulnerable, it feels pain and it suffers. Most of what we call masculinity is really just a facade we’ve created to keep our vulnerable hearts hidden away.
Which means for men to become fully human again, we have to be emasculated. Emasculation is defined in this way: “to deprive of strength, to weaken, to soften.” Emasculation doesn’t destroy our manhood; it restores our humanity.
It softens us up.
It gives us permission to have needs and weakness.
It frees us up to shed our armor—to move throughout the world unburdened by our layers of protection.
It frees us up to ask for attention in vulnerable ways, without sabotaging the very connection we so deeply desire.
It frees us up to look at each other. Face to face. Eye contact. Seeing and being seen.
And it frees us up to drive. So when someone nearly misses us on the road, instead of lashing out, we are free to reach out. Free to call up someone we love and to say, “I’m feeling unseen. Want to get a cup of coffee? At a table? Facing each other?”
In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.
Connect with Kelly
Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.