Boys Are Socially Illiterate? Niobe Way, a psychologist at New York University whose area of specialty is adolescent development, recently published a book entitled Deep Secrets: Boys’ Friendships and The Crisis of Connection. The book focuses on her research on male adolescent friendships, her experience as a high school guidance counselor and observations as the older sister of two brothers. The societal bias that males are less capable or programmed for deep friendships, that boys are socially illiterate, is challenged by Dr. Niobe’s book. Yet many women believe that their male partners and spouses are without the deeper feelings and needs for others that so impact their female minds and hearts.
The Tin Man: In my office hurt and angry women have poked at their husbands using searing and cruel language to describe what they see as an unfeeling person who moves through life encased in metal, impervious to pain, incapable of empathy. The Tin Man who is missing a heart. Yet, from my seat across the room, I see someone else, the boy in pain, who is covered in a cloak of defenses so that none of the heart shows through. Perhaps Dr. Way has nailed down some of the reasons why these fellows can’t openly walk the deeper walk of vulnerability, fearful least someone see the need, and the lost boy within. I have seen women who are good women act in heartless ways towards their husbands because the iron-clad defense of the non-emotional, no-needs male has been so convincing that their wives believe it. “He doesn’t feel.” Yet they use piercing instruments in the hopes that under the armor resides the feeling man with whom they fell in love years ago.
Sons and Husbands: In her book, Dr. Way describes her findings “that boys are experiencing a “crisis of connection” because they live in a culture where human needs and capacities are given a sex (female) and a sexuality (gay), and thus discouraged for those who are neither.” As a couples therapist, I place this information in the Coupledom format, where I see men who have few close friendships resist confiding personal concerns to peers, and are often lonely in their own homes because their culture demanded since adolescence that they pack away any evidence of emotional need, unless it is sexually condoned as “masculine”, meaning for most men, sex. Whether it be solely because we are a confused, homophobic country, which we are, or we are stuck on notions of male emotional stoicism as a source of security and safety, our sons and husbands are left without hearts they can openly hang from their chests, and needs for closeness with their male friends they can own in their social choices. Sad.
Alert To Mothers and Wives and Girlfriends: Think outside the box of stereotypes that society offers and think personally about the males in your lives. Read Dr. Way’s book; listen to your sons and husbands. Ask them questions and perhaps over time, you will find their warm hearts connect with your own. I know these men who appear “cold” and believe me, they are not unfeeling, invulnerable or incapable of empathy. Those feelings are rusted and immobile somewhere, and if oiled with a bit more understanding, may be permitted to come out from hiding. Then what a connection indeed for all. Share this post with them…and the book. And converse.
©Jill Edelman, M.S.W., L.C.S.W. 2011