"To preserve the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied must be your constant care."


Sunday, May 12, 2019

Are Women Fed Up With Men Who Have No Friends?

Brother Nathan Rolofson sent me link to an article today out of - of all places - Harper's Bazaar. The title alone ought to pique the interest of any Mason with even a half-hearted interest in encouraging this fraternity: Men Have No Friends and Women Bear the Burden, written by Melanie Hamlett, a self-described American comic currently living in Europe. As you can imagine, since it's in what is essentially a modern women's fashion magazine, it's steeped in the trendy INGSOC newspeak of the #MeToo and #TimesUp era, and peers at men as though we are all some odd sub-continental alien species that "woke womyn" are ill-prepared to deal with in any other way but being liberated from their relationships: it's riddled with anecdotes of women who got fed up with the neediness of their men, and just left or divorced them as their solution. 

Atta girl. Hear them roar.

It's almost strictly anecdotal, so take her piece for what it's worth, since she was mostly fishing in her limited circle of friends for stories about coping with men. Admittedly, sometimes you have to dig a little to strike a small nugget of gold, and that's what is buried in this. In keeping with the current zeitgeist brought on by the non-stop, gloomy weltschmerz (for you fans of German pop-psychology nomenclature), the bulk of this piece is full of the trendy blather over "toxic masculinity" as filtered through the eyes of exasperated wives, girlfriends and exes, who are complaining that men just don't seem to have anyone other than their bedmates to talk to about their deepest feelings and emotions. Some women have taken to calling men "emotional gold-diggers." And they're frankly sick of it. "Get out of the house and make a damn friend!" seems to be the overriding plea of a growing number of women everywhere. "Go bother someone else with your personal struggles, I'm tired."

To wit:
“Men drain the emotional life out of women,” says the 41-year-old, who lives in Nashville, Tennessee. “I love ‘em, but good lord, they’ve become the bane of my existence.” Johnson admits she enables her brothers by saying yes all the time—partly out of guilt, but also partly because she loves being needed—“to feel important,” Johnson explains. “It’s a catch 22, eventually it becomes too much and I end up exhausted and resentful.”
Like Johnson, most of the women I spoke to for this piece believe that their ego and self-worth are often wrapped up in being a man’s crutch. But the older women get, the less willing they seem to be a man’s everything—not only because we become more confident, wise, and, well, tired with age, but because our responsibilities pile up with each passing year. All the retired women I know are busier than ever, taking care of spouses, ailing friends, grandchildren, and parents, then doing some volunteering on the side. Meanwhile, things only get worse for women’s aging partners.
“Men don’t usually put the effort into maintaining friendships once they’re married,” Johnson says. “The guys at work are the only people other than me that my husband even talks to, so when some of these men retire, they expect their wives to be their source of entertainment and even get jealous that they have a life.” Johnson jokes that women her mom’s age seem to be waiting for their husbands to die so they can finally start their life. “I’ll get a call saying so-and-so kicked the bucket and sure enough, his widow is on a cruise around the world a week later with her girlfriends.”

But unlike women in our mothers’ generation, Gen X’ers and millennials are starting to hold their partners accountable—or they’re simply leaving...
The problem no one faces anymore is that, as single parent (usually mothers only) households and families with only one single child in them, become the majority of family units, children are losing the simple skills of the most basic inter-personal relationships that families and especially siblings used to teach and pass on. Research shows that current teenagers have even lost the ability to read facial expressions accurately, much less deal rationally with the basics of face to face communication. The suicide rate among teens today is up a terrifying 70% just since 2007 when the first iPhone hit the market.

Once you get past all of the cheerleading for psychiatrists and therapy sessions, the author manages to eventually veer into the real truth about men and friendships and places in which they don't have to be on their guard over every peep out of their mouths: getting together in small, private groups of men.
So what, then, is a man to do when he needs honest, unbiased support from someone other than his partner, but is unwilling or unable to try therapy? Some American men have found a powerful solution: men’s support groups.
After several failed relationships, Scott Shepherd realized that despite being an empathetic, self-aware guy, he was still missing a key element to his emotional health: a few good (woke-ish) men. 
Previously, Shepherd leaned heavily on women for emotional intimacy because—shocker—that’s who he felt safest with. The problem was, he became dependent on the women he opened up to and kept repeating the cycle. “I saw it really was me that’s the problem. It didn't matter who the girl was, the same issues just kept coming up,” admits the Portland, Oregon-based outdoor adventure leader. “These old patterns are pretty deep. I needed support and intimacy that wasn’t tied up into one relationship.” So Shepherd turned to the internet, downloaded a men’s group manual, and invited a few guy friends who he knew would be receptive. He capped the membership at eight and set up a structure with very clear boundaries; the most important being what’s talked about in men’s group stays in men’s group. 
Each meeting starts with a five-minute meditation, followed by discussions on everything from how to deal with difficulties in romantic relationships to talking through problems at work. Shepherd describes it as “pretty powerful” to sit in a group of men as one or more of them breaks down crying. “It’s healthy not only for the men being so vulnerable, but for the ones sitting there bearing witness to it—holding this safe space for him to cry in,” he explains. “As a man, you’re not taught to listen, just get busy trying to fix things; you can’t cry, only get mad. This group changed that. They’re starting to see that embracing these things we’ve rejected out of fear of being called ‘gay’ or ‘a pussy’ are actually huge acts of courage.” 
Ol' Shepherd could have saved himself a whole lot of time, effort and trouble in his attempt to reinvent something that's been around for a couple of centuries: a fraternal lodge, like the Freemasons.
At first, Shepherd thought his men’s group would be a place to unload on someone other than a woman, but it’s become more than that—something he believes all men truly want and need, but can’t admit it. “In our culture, men have always found ways to be near each other, but it’s never been centered around feelings,” he explains. “Men are taught the remedy to heartbreak is to get drunk with your buddies, objectify women, and go out and get laid; to basically distance yourself from your feelings and channel them into an aggressive outlet. We use sports as an excuse to bump up against each other, so desperate we are for human touch and intimacy. But this kind of closeness is based in camaraderie and aggression, not vulnerability and trust. The former is very surface level and not nearly as satisfying as the latter.” 
And guess what? Hanging out with his men's group - you know, like Brother Masons - made him a better husband, partner, father.
Shepherd has learned there’s some things you process with a partner, but other things that are much healthier to process outside the relationship. Instead of running away, or making extreme statements like, “I’m afraid this isn’t working,” he’s learned it’s best to first talk with healthy, honest men to get clarity, and then come back and say, Here’s what I’m struggling with.
My friend Stephen, who asked me to omit his last name to protect the privacy of his family, actually credits joining a men’s group with helping him find the necessary tools to ensure a healthy marriage. “It’s changed my life and secured the stability of my family,” he admits. Stephen’s men’s group, which focuses on everything from setting and achieving goals to redefining masculinity itself, is a larger, more organized version of Shepherd’s, with self-governed chapters all over the world. But like Shepherd’s, it prides itself on privacy—the group doesn’t have a website and ushers in new members by word of mouth. “I can take down my façade and get real about what I’m scared of, or what I’m sad, self-conscious or mad about, all without judgement or fear that it will get out of our confidential circle,” says Stephen of his group. “We deliver the truth and difficult feedback even if it might not be well-received.”
In other words, it's private. You have to ask to join. You can be yourself and no one will hate you for it, or get their feelings hurt. You find out most everybody else in the room shares your thoughts. You learn from each other, things like manners and emulating other men you come to admire. You feel needed, but not crushed by that responsibility. You feel better after the meeting. You want to go back again. You look forward to it. 
Not only has the group taught him alternative ways to be a man, husband, and father, it has given Stephen a space to think about what kind of man he wants to be. “Until I did this work, I didn’t know there was anything but the singular default definition of manhood,” he explains, adding that he’s now a better listener, is more generous with his affections, and has realized the importance of “being present.” Stephen checks in with his group weekly, sometimes even daily over text, depending on how much support he needs to stay on track with his goals. “We’re actually strongest when we lean on each other and do it together,” Stephen says. Knowing that other men have problems, no matter how it looks on the outside, makes him feel less alone, he says, and less ashamed.

Shame, Brené Brown found in her years of research, is the single biggest cause of toxic masculinity. Whereas women experience shame when they fail to meet unrealistic, conflicting expectations, men become consumed with shame for showing signs of weakness. Since vulnerability is, unfortunately, still perceived as a weakness instead of a strength, having hard conversations that involve vulnerability is something men often try to avoid. It’s for this reason that to yield positive results from men’s support groups, men must enter such groups with that very intention—not just to find buddies.
Something else these men discovered: bigger isn't better when it comes to a fraternal experience. Meaning, a place like a Masonic lodge loses its appeal when it gets too big and the individual members who attend regularly feel as though they are becoming more anonymous and less central to the group. And it's more than just some noisy backslapping drinking session talking about superficial stuff. It's about things that matter. 

Sound familiar (and if not, why not)? :
Whether they’re members of small groups like Shepherd’s or more mainstream groups like Stephen’s, the men I spoke to all agreed on one thing: that these groups made them better partners to the women in their lives. And it’s not just men saying this. I witnessed my friend Liz’s marriage strengthen after her husband, Randy, co-founded a men’s group with his best friend three years ago that offers a confidential, neutral space for men in their isolated New England town to share their fears without judgment.
“This isn’t him going to grab a beer with guys. He’s going to find psychological and emotional support from men who understand his problems,” Liz explains. “They’re not just getting together to have a bitch fest, gossip, or complain about their lives. They’re super intentional about what they’re talking about, why, and what’s important to them.”
Randy’s group, which caps membership to six people at any given time to build trust with each member, also adheres to strict confidentiality rules. “Whenever it’s time for the men’s group to meet at one of our houses, the wives clear out, toting their kids and babies behind so the guys can have a private space to do this important work,” says Liz, clarifying that her husband equally shares the burden of work at home—as do most the men in the group. The meetings are often held later in the evenings so that the men can first feed their children and put them to bed, and if Liz is busy on men’s group night, Randy will hire a babysitter. “He would never assume I’m free to take over and he never asks me to cancel my plans so he can go to men’s group.”

A group text chain enables the men to check in with other members between meetings, and for some of these men, this is their first truly authentic relationship with a peer. “It’s super liberating to make yourself vulnerable to a group like this,” says Randy, adding that he doesn’t need Liz to be his one and only anymore.

This is why I keep saying that Freemasonry and other fraternal group organizations and experiences are more needed right now, and into the foreseeable future than they've been in a century or more. Society needs us, whether they know it or not. We just need to remind them - and each other - why we're still so important.

After World War I when millions of Americans uprooted themselves and moved out of little towns and into huge, anonymous, faceless, industrialized cities, Freemasonry and the other groups like the Odd Fellows, Knights of Pythias and others swelled in size. Men were away from their extended families - sometimes VERY far away, and before instant communication far from home was possible. Their friends weren't there, either. Work in a factory or huge office (made possible for the first time by new high-rise construction techniques and artificial interior lighting) had little chance to make strong friendships. So the fraternal groups thrived - that's when we built our most enormous and significant Temple buildings all over the country. It was partially to advertise to the outside world, "We're right here for you. Come inside. This is your personal clubhouse. It's special. We're strong, we're a fortress and a sanctuary just for you. We'll be here when nothing else remains."

That same kind of anonymity is occurring all over again as we don't have big families to support us anymore, and fewer stable relationships with women have become the new normal. Just look at all of Ms. Hamlett's circle of acquaintances who all left their husbands or partners, just for what they said was exasperation and emotional exhaustion. Not child rearing or holding down multiple jobs or violence or abuse, just "I got tired of the neediness."

Watching new membership statistics is absolutely the wrong way to look at things, and the sooner our Masonic leaders understand that, the better they will be at leading us to tomorrow. KEEPING existing members enthusiastic and coming back and happy and satisfied with their local lodges is the number one priority we all need to have, because we are all salesmen for or against Freemasonry. And almost as important, in a really successful Masonic lodge, our wives and girlfriends see the changes in us and are happy and grateful, as long as we keep it all in perspective and don't get so carried away with our Masonry that we forget all else. That's when those messages about prudence and temperance become essential to take to heart.

If I'm reading all of these tea leaves correctly, you need to tell your circle of non-Masonic friends just how Freemasonry has changed your life. Not proselytizing about it - nobody likes a zealot hell-bent on selling them something them don't want. But when someone asks 'Just what do Masons do, anyway?' don't tell them what a Shriner is, or that 'We make good men better"™. Tell them what Freemasonry has done for you, your life, your family. And why you can't wait to come back.

Their wife might just thank you for it.

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