The Problem With ‘Letting A Man Be A Man’
“Let a man be a man.” That’s the advice I got recently from a male friend. We’d been talking about my dating life and we got around to who pays on the first date, fully aware that “date” can mean many things but basically I was talking about a first meet — a quick coffee or a drink, maybe even a bite if there’s a “there” there and you may want to extend things.
Because I’m a modern woman and someone who doesn’t believe in traditional gender roles, I always say I’ll pay my half on the first meet date and often offer to pay the entire bill — and frequently do.
Don’t do that, he said. “Let a man be a man.”
As soon as those words left his lips, I started to think about all the times recently that men I’ve been on dates with have told me how much they appreciated that I not only offered but also actually made the effort — reaching for my wallet, taking out my credit card, etc. — to pay my half. Sometimes they agreed to my paying half, other times they sais they wanted to get it. But always they said they appreciated the offer because other women they’d met didn’t generally do that; they expected him to pay. Not one man felt slighted or taken aback or indicated in any way that he felt emasculated or that I was too forward or unladylike. And in my recent romantic relationships, I always paid my half unless I was being treated or I did the treating because that’s what we wanted to do at the time.
I told him that, but he still insisted that I should let a man be a man.
Which man is ‘the’ man?
It was a few days later when I thought, wait — what man are we talking about? Is there just one kind of a man? Are all men his kind of men, men who believe they should pay for a woman and thus be a man? Or are there other kinds of men, men who are real men (whatever that means) who also are modern men (whatever that means) and who are flexible when it comes to what defines a man or a woman?
I was struggling.
I’m mom to two young men who at times have felt a bit disgruntled that their feminist girlfriends or dates expected them to pay for everything, even when they were financially struggling college students or in precarious job situations, and rarely offered to chip in — even for a tank of gas because they always drove, etc.
So, yes , I’m getting a bit stuck on what let a man be a man means.
With the rise of the #MeToo movement and the focus on mass shootings — all at the hands of men — there have been lots of articles and discussions exploring masculinity (sometimes dubbed toxic masculinity) and questions about what’s wrong with men noways (hello, President Trump?). It’s a crisis, many say. Boys are being left behind, many say (I agree). Parents are wondering how to raise sweet boys in an era of angry men. My boys aren’t angry men; a lot of the young men I know are not angry young men. Nor are they gamer bros or misogynistic frat boys. They are … sweet.
And still we hear, let a man be a man.
What does that mean?
Defining a ‘good’ man
I am reminded of the time I wrote a tongue-in-cheek article for HuffPost that quickly went viral and that led to a “conversation” with the then-head of the Good Men Project, Tom Matlack (well, he gave me questions to answer but I couldn’t ask any of my own so — is that really a conversation?) who asked me, “How do you define ‘good’ as it relates to manhood?” I honestly don’t know why we would have a different definition of “good” for men or women, so I answered:
Good isn’t a male or female thing. So I’d rather define what it is to be human — kind; loving; compassionate; empathetic; self-aware; honest; respects him/herself and others; generous of spirit; realizes he/she is part of a much bigger picture; takes responsibility for his/her actions, and has a moral compass. That’s so incredibly sexy it’s beyond “good.” Bonus points if it comes with a great face and bod.
So, getting back to my friend’s advice, to let a man be a man, I guess the definition of “a man” probably needs to be agreed to by the people in the relationship. Because it’s only going to work well if those in in the relationship like and appreciate what that definition is. Ditto for whatever let a woman be a woman means (except we don’t hear that too often, do we?)
I know the kind of woman I am and the kind of woman I want to be appreciated for. It probably means I’m going to carry my load in a romantic relationship, and whatever man I’m with is going to have to be good with that. What about you?
Want to learn how to agree what being a “real man” and “real woman” means in your relationship? (Of course you do!) Then read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). You can support your local indie bookstore or order it on Amazon.