The tender man – a woman’s observations
The tender man – a woman’s observations
When I met the man who was to be my husband, what struck me most profoundly about him was his degree of open tenderness, a tenderness that I had rarely encountered before, in men, or in women.
At this time in my life, I was more familiar with meeting a carefully managed front, a façade of sorts, to be slowly chipped away at by familiarity and the development of trust over time. For most men, the ‘front’ was themed on a degree of toughness, capability, and a sense of being able to ‘go-it-alone’. The process of developing a relationship meant a little insecurity revealed here, a little vulnerability revealed there – a slow striptease of the vestments a man feels he must adorn himself with to get through life to at long last show the real nature of the man that was always present underneath the garments. This ‘slow reveal’ only occurs in the man willing to reveal himself at all. Sadly, some are not. They learn to clothe themselves in toughness, capability, and resolute independence at age 3(?), age 7(?) . . . whatever age it happens to be, and die wrapped tight in those same ill-fitting clothes, only with more layers added to deal with the hurts that are inevitable in this realm we call ‘human life’.
I had met tender men before. It was not very often, but never as openly tender as this one. Men of such an obvious quality were vanishingly rare. In the school, university and work settings, virtually all I ever met was the very carefully guarded front; the portrayal of a man who knew what he was about and what he was doing. Not a moment of doubt revealed in a dangerous world. This sort of bravado was something that I recoiled from, as crafted as it was to portray confidence in a world of uncertainty. As much as I hated it then and felt insecure in its presence, I now have a better grasp on why men feel they need to do this. When we live in a world that seems to value only superficiality and performance, why would we do anything else than give it what it is demanding of us? This is the simplest path through a hostile landscape. The loss to men, for adopting the front to satisfy the world, is rarely calculated, although suicide numbers, rates of alcohol and drug abuse and ever-increasing rates of heart disease in men hint at it.
Angus (the man I so simply and gracefully fell in love with) had no front. There was no façade. There was no meting out of information in a carefully calculated flow, each drop precisely measured to ensure no chinks would be observed in the armour prematurely. There he was in all of his radiance and purity, his face beaming and open, transparent – if not utterly to the core, it was very close.
We sat together in a tea shop over our unmatching, delicate, vintage porcelain cups. He was enchanted by them as he was with the young ladies who served us. If the reader mistakes this by imagining some sort of poorly executed act of ‘niceness’ or ‘cuteness’ to win me over, then you need to think again. Genuine delight poured out of him, revealed through the beaming smile, and unwavering and unguarded eyes. As we took our first walk together in the park, we talked about ‘everything’ – not directly about science, religion, space and politics, but how we felt about them, and their importance to humanity. The details of the words have evaporated with time, but never has the real thing that struck me so unforgettably – this man’s tenderness. Close to the end of our first date, he touched my shoulder. The touch melted any residue of caution I usually carried into all social situations, my own front of carefully managed reserve. No attempt was made at a kiss. That would happen at the inevitable second date.
What is the most natural response of a woman (or another man, depending on their sexual orientation) to a man displaying such a level of tenderness, so transparently, and so immediately? I ask this in complete innocence, because such a level of unmanaged rawness is just so rare to encounter. Women claim to seek sensitive men, but I am not so sure this is true, at least until a woman familiarises herself with and starts to deeply embrace her own sensitivity. And not many women seem to be doing this with the sort of whole-hearted joy that cares not for what a controlling world requests of them.
Most of us women hold our guarded caution close over our hearts, as though by tightly managing the love we express, we can stop ourselves being hurt by life. Perhaps the rates of heart disease in women (still our predominating killer) suggest that our strategy is not working so well for us. Nor for the men in our lives.
In the 1980s there emerged the phenomenon of the Sensitive New-Age Guy (SNAG). This man was allegedly the answer to women’s dreams. He was caring, he cleaned, he wore pink, and he cried. A genital bearing Ken to the Barbie of all womankind. The movement failed, but not dramatically. It just sort of disappeared from sight, becoming a comical relic of the era, along with shoulder pads, elaborately blow dried unisex hairdos and overblown blush on cheeks. This was in no doubt related to its falsity. It was a failed marketing approach to an unmet niche – men were asked to try another strategy to meet a need that they were told existed. What they and many women discovered was that women don’t really want a man who cries and is fussier about the house than they are.
The metrosexual emerged in the 1990s and 2000s. This movement was less about sensitivity than it was about appearances – SNAG sans the tears and fussing, with skinny, carefully ripped jeans, great leather jackets and immaculately trimmed beards.
The horror of these attempts to give women what someone thought they wanted, was that they added another layer to the male front, another level of fakeness to carefully cultivate and manage.Not only did the man have to meet the request to toughen up, delivered around age 4 or 5 when he is told not to cry, either directly by words or more insidiously by cold disapproval, to meet the world’s hardness with his own, now he had to layer it up with this creation of faux gentleness, faux sensitivity, faux care. His actual sensitivity was less than unimportant in this campaign, it was an irrelevancy. His innate tenderness (no matter how long abandoned) and its genuine re-emergence had nothing to do with meeting this crafted image – dreamed up by who exactly? And for what purpose?
In both instances, real sensitivity was nowhere to be seen, genuine tenderness, actual vulnerability, an anathema. Women were revolted by the falsity, and let us be honest, we were actually threatened by the possibility that our own carefully crafted insensitivity would be exposed, should a genuinely sensitive man emerge to woo us or be our friend. At this time, the men featured in advertising campaigns returned to the old school brutality – lots of bulging muscles, body hair and sweat. Ah. That’s better, we can all settle down and get on with the grand deception that keeps us from ever really getting to see the beauty underneath the surface of the man – and the woman.
Inextricably bound we are to each other by essence, no matter how hard the social commentators attempt to conceal the fact.
As is almost always the case in the way humanity chronically mismanages its real assets, the genuinely tender man, now inextricably bound to the pathetic fraud, was suppressed for a few more turns of this earth around the Sun. Was that the real purpose of the whole charade?
In meeting my husband, what I wondered at was how he had survived so intact, so normal, so openly beautiful in this brutal world. The truth is that he was intact and was not at the same time. There was absolutely nothing odd about this man, nothing discordant or jarring – how can there be when the inside matches the outside, and what you feel and know to be true is what you get. Simultaneously, he experienced horrific levels of anxiety that would frequently cripple him, making his life vastly more difficult than it ever needed to be. He bore the scars of trauma from his childhood and youth. He had been hurt in the workplace, subjected to bullying and the sort of abuse that is the sad normal in this world of ours. Rather than doing what most do and shutting down behind the accepted model of ‘how to be a man’, he stayed open and developed the anxiety that crushed him, the anxiety that allowed him to repeatedly downgrade himself, question his value and significance in the world.
I witnessed people around him and how they would either respond with delight at his warmth and delicacy, or they would recoil, either looking down on him or tearing into him as though he posed a threat to their existence.
The ones who received him with such joy were either people who were at home to their own tenderness, or those who were developing it in themselves. The former deeply confirmed the truth he held in his life, the latter would soak him up like sunshine, inspired and filled with the joy that it is not so hard to show the world the beauty of your deepest core.
Those who were triggered by Angus, were not in fact triggered by him, rather by the call of their own deeply buried and long forgotten tenderness – a call made in response to this open body of tenderness moving in its wholly unguarded state. As such, his presence did pose a threat to their existence. The entire fabrication they called their life, empty of the qualities of the essence, such as the transparency and tenderness, was revealed for the fake it was in his clear blue eyes and pure demeanour. Watching people shred him was like witnessing an attack on a small child – unnecessary, brutal and a complete attack upon their own purity and beauty.
What Angus revealed to me, both in his beautiful tenderness and his anxiety, is that we as a world believe that we are not yet ready for the full disclosure of the qualities of our essence. The fact is that we are more than ready at a bodily level – as suggested by our rates of physical ill health, most especially the heart disease that no awareness campaigns, exercise programs, dietary advice and medication (as important and valuable as they are) can properly stop from emerging. We cannot live so hard and brutal when our bodies – no different to when we were 2, 3 or 4 years old – are made of cells and tissues that are nothing less than tender and delicate. Treat them otherwise, live hard to meet only the lies with more lies, and the body will inform you in no uncertain terms, of the travesty.
Mentally, we cling to alleged safety, gifted to us in the form of wretched models of malehood and femalehood. We carve out the personae, ignoring not only the bodily consequences but the emotional anguish. At least Angus’s anxiety was beautifully raw and honest, not hiding from itself behind layers of fake coping in a fake world. This made him open to healing and to receive confirmation of his spectacular grace in a world starved of such beauty.
When we will be ready to let go of the fraud is unknowable. How much more suffering will we need, to awaken ourselves to the truth that what we are is incalculably beautiful?
We are so vastly grander than the fraudulent models of man and woman that have been thrust upon us – and we have so undiscerningly said ‘yes’ to. The reasons for our wholesale ‘yes’ suddenly make no sense when the blood vessels of our heart agonisingly block, or when every surface-based thing we fought so hard to win is either lost or reveals the emptiness of itself as our older eyes see through the miasma of promises.
Angus reveals that it is possible for a man to be a manly man and a tender man. He is as drop dead sexy when holding a newly hatched chick as he is when building a cupboard and adjusting its doors. They are actually one and the same thing. For him to live it in the fullness of its unapologetic joy is a step that beckons to him, as it does to all men. To let go of the façades that promised you safety and delivered nothing but devastation and insecurity, to be what you are within, what you always were – that is the beckoning call. Even if it is almost inaudible in the clamour of life, this call is inescapable. If the women around you are challenged, let them be, for they have their own beckoning call to attend to – to become the grace and delicacy of sacredness on earth.
Do we continue to hold back on each other, for another eternity? Do we continue to live to the tyranny of lies? Or do we make the step back into our true nature, with its tenderness and inseparable grace? Having surrendered some of my own falsehood in the grace of Angus’s way in life, having received more of what I am in the purity of his gaze, these are the questions for our most heartfelt contemplation.