Men don’t cry. Or should they? About being a man and mental health

by Nathalie Herzog-Petropaki & Danai Rossalidis

What does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to be masculine enough? In these times, it seems more urgent than ever to ask ourselves this question and to rethink and change the definition of masculinity. That’s why, in the spirit of today’s International Men’s Day, we want to throw all stereotypes and norms around masculinity overboard. It’s time to create a space for a discussion about men’s mental health and what it has to do with feminism.

So, what does it mean to be a man? 

When we think of a “man”, the image of the classic stereotype comes to mind: a tall, strong and confident person, who drinks beer while arguing about football or politics. We think of the charismatic movie hero who rescues the girl from everything and everybody. And we think of the powerful macho, who smokes cigars in a suit and plays the leading role in every series.

But are really all men like this? Of course, they are not. But our society has formed rules and definitions on how a man should be and what masculinity means. Men are therefore forced to live up to this standard, because there is nothing worse than not being “man enough”. 

Defining “masculinity” at all, implies a binary gender distinction in our society. This means that everything that is not masculine is automatically considered feminine. This gender separation is based on a binary way of thinking that is deeply anchored in everyone’s mind. When we think of the origins of binary thinking, numerous images come to mind: Adam and Eve, Yin and Yang or the myth of the spherical humans from Plato’s Symposium. As a common feature, they are all pairs of opposites that form a unity. In line with this reasoning, one thing (in this case masculinity) can only be identified by its distinction from the other (in this case femininity). Therefore, the man is reduced to his “masculine” characteristics and deprived of all “female” traits.

What does this mean for men’s mental health?

Since society tells us that feminine is the opposite of masculine men must either reject embodying any of these feminine qualities or face rejection within society itself. Clearly, they face a conflict between how they should be and how they actually are. In psychological terms this is called a cognitive dissonance, meaning an unpleasant feeling, a mental discomfort that comes from holding two conflicting beliefs, values or attitudes. People have a tendency to fight against this inconsistency, between what they believe and how they behave, to reduce this discomfort and restore balance. In other words, one can say that men are publicly playing their social role,.whilst on the inside much more is going on under the surface. 

Men’s mental health is affected by the high pressure to meet societal expectations of what a man is supposed to be. Since society expects men to do everything on their own, they are less likely to express their emotions, ask for help or reach out to someone. And all that just because of the fear of being not “man enough”. For example, men are told not to cry and be strong, which leads to them often suppressing their emotions. This is a form of emotion regulation, which is not bad if you do it once or twice but if you are consistently suppressing your emotions, this will immediately influence your mental wellbeing in form of stress, depression or substance abuse. This all leads to the fact that men have poorer health habits than women and a higher suicide rate.

As we all know the stigma around mental health issues and psychotherapy is still very present in society.  This is true particularly for men, because first they are faced with being considered “less of a man” if they need someone’s help and secondly, because they often struggle to express their emotions.

Additionally, men tend to have competitive relationships with other men. It doesn’t matter if it is a family member, friend or a work colleague. Competition and trying to be better than others leaves no space to talk about insecurities and struggles. But this circle of not talking about your feelings is actually very easy to break. It just needs one man to speak out about his struggles or ask a friend for help. The others will immediately understand that they are not the only ones with insecurities and struggles. They will feel less alone and see that others also find it exhausting too to be “man enough” all the time. We need to give men space and room to express themselves and urgently normalize it in our society. 

The man” doesn’t exist 

Lastly, it is not realistic to think that there is only one right form of masculinity. Many studies have shown that only a few men fit this social form of masculinity. However, one of the biggest problems remains that most boys are still raised to think that this type of masculinity is the only right one. This kind of socialization of boys in patriarchal societies is defined as “toxic masculinity” and harms boys and men the most. We all know the phrase “Boys will be boys”. This phrase often justifies everything some men do and is still used way too often. It is time to stop justifying all questionable behavior, because in the end, boys will be what society as a whole teaches them to be

It is up to us to break all stigma around what it means to be a man. Being a man should become a fluid concept that can take on many different forms. We owe this not only to ourselves but also to our future sons and daughters. That is why we would like to continue the discussion about masculinity and mental health until each and every one of us dares to be an active part of it. It is essential that men begin to open up to each other. All it takes is one man, to be brave enough and stand up for other men and hopefully change competitive locker room talks into meaningful conversations. 

All it takes is one man, one single domino piece to tip everything over.

PS:

And yes, we know we are two women writing this article on men and that the reaction to it might be different if it would come from a man’s point of view. So, we’re leaving it up to our male readers to be brave enough to tell us and others what they think, to send this article to another man and be the change!

Digital Love: Why digitalization and dating don’t go together

by Danai Rossalidis

Tinder, Bumble, Grindr, Lovoo or Badoo have long since become part of our everyday vocabulary. Finding love, romance, sex, adventure or any kind of togetherness online is no longer anything new. Dating in the digital sphere has become part of our normality. In times of digitalization and technologization, it seems easier than ever to find the “perfect match”. But why then is the majority of the young population still single? And why do we find online dating more difficult and frustrating than ever?

The age of Tinder and co.: where everything seems possible yet nothing is real

Be it the age of digitalization, global networks and pandemics, frustration with being alone or simply boredom with everyday life: many of us find ourselves facing the seemingly inevitable entry into the vast world of online dating. If online dating used to be laughed at, “swiping” for love has now become almost cult. What makes Tinder & co. so popular? Why do we keep catching ourselves pressing the red flame button in the silent hope for another “perfect match”, while the other 20/30 matches fizzle out in incoherent gibberish or vanish into thin air like ghosts?

The normal process of online dating is as follows: you match, text for a few hours or days and then meet for a coffee or drink. After that, there are two scenarios: in the first one, you have been fooled by the photos or the physical appearance of the person and now find yourself in front of someone with whom it just does not “vibe” at all. Then the date is brought to an end as quickly as possible in order to (hopefully) never meet the person again. In the second scenario, a certain “connection” is noticeable and a sympathy for the counterpart is present. Unfortunately, this is often hindered by the spasmodic pressure that it must be a date. If you are lucky this can be overcome and the date may end with a smile, a goodbye wave, even a kiss or a night together. What comes next is unfortunately not so pleasant. In that moment one of the other 20/30 matches has decided to respond and we are back to scenario one: someone “ghosts” the other and as fast as the flame ignited it is extinguished.

These apps promises an unlimited selection of possible partners and the possibility to find either your great love or the next adventure, on the go and at any time with just one swipe. The speed is fast, the selection large, and the responsibility small. So, it seems to be a perfect fit for the needs of our generation. But with the many possibilities these apps open for us, they also confront us with new, unfamiliar challenges. With a few exceptions where Cupid’s arrow actually hits, many are often left frustrated by rejection, disappointment and unmet expectations. What also negatively affects our dating experience is the insidious behaviour that online dating evokes in us. We are under constant pressure to keep someone’s attention due to the selection and pace, or we get bored quickly and don’t give anyone enough time. We want to give someone attention and win them over, but at the same time not seem “needy” in fear of not being cool enough. And we only let ourselves get involved with a person as far as we don’t run the risk of getting hurt. Furthermore, we never invest 100 per cent on a single person, always having at least one more up our sleeve in case it doesn’t work out with the first one.

At the same time, it’s very limited to really get to know or even like someone based on five to six photos and a few text messages. Online dating is still a bubble of impersonality, where we can be who they want, wear a mask and not really have to face anyone. Hiding behind the screen means never having to take responsibility for your actions.

Between a swipe, a match and a text, honesty, openness and real feelings are left on the sidelines.

Big Data meets Love: how do we fall in love in the future?

We are already in a time where our social behaviour lags behind technological advances. Cultural changes are slow and gradual. New dating apps, however, are popping up rapidly and in huge numbers. We find ourselves caught between new technologies and outdated norms. In an environment of unlimited possibilities and no guidebook, we often lose ourselves. Despite being acutely overwhelmed by digitalization and its consequences, we will have to deal for better or worse with further digital advances in the future. Some futuristic science fiction films and series such as “The One” show us what this could look like in terms of our dating behaviour.

In the series “The One”, through a genetic test people have the opportunity to find their “perfect match”, the one great love with whom they would like to spend the rest of their lives. What may sound completely suspicious and futuristic at first is not so far from our reality. A study by the zukunftsInstitut shows that in the future we will be able to get more and more suitable partner suggestions based on Big Data. This works based on more data collected about our usage behaviour not only online, but also in the physical world. This is then compared and matched with other users. These matching mechanisms based on our individual activities online and offline are called “behavioural matching”. At the same time, the amount of data is increasing enormously due to increasing networking, which leads to an improvement of matching algorithms and should lead us even closer to “the one”.

The film “Her”, on the other side, gives us another view of our possible dating behaviour in the future. In the film, the main character Theodore falls in love with “Samantha,” an operating system that has been adapted to him. He communicates with Samantha and experiences how quickly she learns about him and his social interactions. From then on, she becomes more and more human to him. Based on intense communication between the two, an intimate relationship between human and operating system develops. The film shows the direction in which technology and love can develop. It points out how an extreme technologization of our private lives and especially of our emotional world can lead to a distancing from reality.

How does one love today?

You can rant and rave about Tinder and co, but at the end of the day, we are all social beings who long for affection, tenderness, and human contact – and we do it via online dating. We cannot escape technological developments. Therefore, we need to change them according to our preferences and needs. Our dating behaviour should not be the bad product of their emergence. Much more, our personal behaviour needs to change. This does not have to mean deleting all apps in order to get to know someone in “real life” like “in the good old days”, even though that is of course also great. No, it means a more conscious approach to dating apps. This means being respectful, tolerant and open towards the other person. And most importantly being truthful to yourself and others about what you expect from dating. There is no golden rule on how to behave exactly. Dating expectations are individual and different for each person. Therefore, you should give every new acquaintance the chance to express themselves and respond to them honestly.

We have to be aware that behind every profile there is a person who has not yet given up hope of finding love. And what could be more beautiful than a person who believes in love? That’s why we need more honesty, mindfulness, the courage to express our feelings, and more “real life” in the digital sphere!