I belong to a men’s group—there, I said it, out loud and in public. Yes: my name is Dennis H. and I admit I am powerless over friendship.
The group I belong to is called the Men’s Study Club, and it was founded back in the early 1900s by a cadre of attorneys who were working together to make sure that Eastern Washington interests were represented in Olympia.
We meet once a month to present and discuss ideas that can range from immigration to apples to constitutional law. We’re a diverse bunch—two doctors, a professional photographer, a farmer, among others—although we tend to lean to the left, politically.
The format hasn’t changed much in the 100 years the organization has been around: one person presents a paper on a topic of general interest, another person prepares a formal response, then we go around the room and all 20 or so of us present our thoughts on the subject.
The papers can range from the personal to the professional. In the five years I’ve been attending, the group has inched more toward the subjective side of things, versus the objective, a move I welcome, since it gives me a chance to glimpse deeper into the lives of my fellow study-clubbers.
One thing hasn’t changed: whatever the topic, we’re encouraged to go past a mere recitation of facts, and to delve into deeper territory. Yes, we . . . well, we . . . gulp . . . talk about our feelings. Occasionally, we get into a depth of emotion that I rarely get into with my other male friends.
For me, this is what makes Study Club special. In my professional life—I’m an editor, as well as a writer—I often work with other men, and we seldom get past the “howzitgoing?” level of discourse. It’s hard to open up, to be vulnerable, when most of the culture is reinforcing the notion that men simply don’t have emotions, and if they do, well, it’s best just to shut up about it.
For the most part, we men are to blame for this ridiculous idea. We pass these messages along to each other—tough it out, big boys don’t cry—as we grow up, and we never quite get out of the habit. Here’s a question for you, guys: how’s that working out for ya?
I grew up in the industrial Midwest, where stoic toughness is about the only acceptable role for a man. Of course, I learned quite early on that men have emotions, or at least one emotion: anger, for the most part, was the only acceptable emotion for a Milwaukee man. Tenderness? Nope. Caring, a regard for the feelings of others? Not so much. In fact, nothing will draw the derision of other men faster than showing a softer side. Life is short and cruel, the unspoken message said; if you show any tenderness, you’re likely to be crushed by an uncaring world. Best to stiff-upper-lip it, and do your crying in private, if at all.
Of course, this is all hogwash. Men feel things as deeply as women do—pain, yes, but also joy, and everything in between. But unlike women, we’re taught to suppress our expression of these feelings, with the result that many of us are rolling bundles of pent-up emotion, which tends to get expressed as anger, the only “acceptable” emotion, in some men’s worldview.
At Study Club, our emotions are expected to come to the fore, and to be allied with our thoughts. This seemingly simple idea is actually revolutionary, in our society, and it’s the reason I look forward to the first Wednesday of every month.
In a technological society, thoughts are given precedence over emotions. Ideas matter more than feelings. Of course, the truth is, our thoughts and our feelings interpenetrate each other, which is as it should be. We do ourselves a disservice when we think—and feel—otherwise.
So once a month, I get to hang out with a great group of guys, and open up about what’s going on in my life, and listen to what’s happening with them. It’s one of the best things I can do for myself, and I recommend it to anyone—male or female. As numerous studies have shown, having close, intimate friends is good for our hearts, and good for our health.