The Magic of Men’s Work

Developing Male Connection in the Age Of Loneliness

Photo Courtesy of Freepik

I clearly remember the question posed by my new therapist. “Would you be willing to join my men’s therapy group?” Honestly, and silently, I surmised I’d rather endure an old school root canal, food poisoning, or wrestle an alligator. Instead, I smiled sheepishly, gulped, and acquiesced. “If you think it would be helpful, I’ll do it.” 

And I did. For three-and-a-half years. 

Wow! What a ride! My men’s group therapy experience was nothing shy of transformational. Now, eight years later, after becoming a therapist myself, I’ve asked other men this same question knowing full well what they’re feeling inside.   

Who Wants to be Vulnerable?

Truth be told, filling the roster for a men’s group is a formidable a challenge. Why? Because men are deathly afraid of being vulnerable – especially with other men. Telling our deepest, darkest secrets one-on-one to a therapist in a hermetically sealed private room is hard enough. Spilling one’s guts in the company of other men? Fuhgeddaboudit! 

What we fail to understand is that vulnerability is not weakness. That interpretation is nothing more than unfounded societal misperception. Rather, it’s essential that men learn to become comfortable with their authentic selves – or they risk leading stoic, sad, unfulfilled, disconnected, and lonely lives. So, therapists like me do our best – against great odds – to sell men on the virtues of men’s work. And we almost have to coerce guys to “commit” to “the process.” Ah, now the “C” word. Commitment. Men don’t like that word either.

So, let me get this straight. You want me to commit to sitting in a group of men every week and talk about my fears, hurt, anger, sadness, shame, guilt, disappointments, frustrations, anger, and loneliness? Are you nuts?

You can see why it’s a tough sell.

The First Step is the Hardest

But eventually I wore down five of my individual clients and convinced them to join me and a newcomer in an in-person process group. Now, nine brave souls come to sit in our circle of relationship. I am elated and often inspired by their courage.     

In the first session, I asked the guys to each introduce themselves, share an abbreviated version of their “story,” and explain why they’re here. One of them promptly and succinctly defined a core tenet of men’s work. He observed that guys are lonely and thus, long for meaningful connection. Yes, that’s it exactly.  In one simple sentence this dude introduced a consensus of purpose for our work together.   

Later, another member sadly reflected on his wife’s infidelity and wondered aloud if his marriage was worth the effort. Tears flowed as someone anguished over a self-initiated breakup. Stoires of parent wounds, career stagnation, maladaptive coping mechanisms, self-doubt, and heavy baggage from the past followed. One guy even steeled himself to divulge that he and his wife have not had sex in almost a decade. That, my friend, is courage. Brass balls. His admission was not met with judgment or disdain or snickers but with deep levels of compassion. He was not ridiculed or shunned. He was embraced. He felt safe enough to take a risk and, voilà, a bond was forged. 

The Very Real Fear of Intimacy

Another word for the bond that developed is intimacy. And yes, that term scares the shit out of men. Too often we think of intimacy as a synonym for sex but it’s not. Intimacy is so much more. It’s about emotional connection, shared experience, intellectual compatibility, and spiritual equilibrium. Intimacy is simply a deep, emotional connection – a closeness that can make men feel uncomfortable. 

But this process that breeds intimacy isn’t as awkward as one might think. You see, the men that sit in the circle are strangers. They don’t know anyone else’s romantic partner, family members, friends, or colleagues. So, it’s safer for them to speak freely with no fear of consequence. They are empowered to say the words that have been festering inside of them. And they can emote, solicit feedback and second opinions, and seek support and guidance. 

The guys also quickly discover they’re not alone. They learn that other men have endured similar challenges and agonized over comparable thoughts and feelings. There is unanimity in men’s work. It helps guys learn how to process and effectively communicate their thoughts and feelings, thus becoming more skilled practitioners in the art of relationship. Group sessions become sort of like a dress rehearsal for the real world. 

And the work we do together is positively impacting the mindset, outlook, and emotional wellbeing of the participants. I see quantifiable progress in every single man, which makes me smile broadly. I resist saying, “I told you so,” but I told you so!         

So, go ahead fellas. Put on your big boy pants, grit your teeth, take a deep breath, and dive into men’s work, heart first. You’ll never be the same again. And that’s a good thing. The work could very well open your eyes to a more iridescent and vibrant life.  

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