Crucial Minutia
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Ethan Todras-Whitehill
Punch-for-Punch: Don’t Listen To Darth Vader—Your Feelings Lie
2 Comments | posted April 02nd, 2007 at 11:27 am by Ethan Todras-Whitehill

empirestrikesback.jpg“Luke, I am your father,” Darth Vader informed Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back. “Search your feelings—you know it be true.”

For men, I would argue, feelings are a pretty piss-poor place to find truth.

After my scarring spring break trip to Cancun freshman year of college, I started dating a girl, H. The whole thing nearly fell apart because I followed Vader’s advice and trusted my feelings.

H and I had a pretty up-and-down time for a little while in the spring and early summer. I was in New York for the summer, and she in Boston. We worked through most of the troubles (which was pretty much my being an ass—I’m not going into it to protect her privacy), but then one visit in August, a switch just flipped. Before, my feelings for her had shifted daily like a swing. I held my words and affection in check figuring that to do otherwise would be unfair to both of us. But that week, I swung firmly into the affectionate camp, and I let her know how I felt. This was it; we were going to be together, make a go of it.

Then of course, when I got home to New York, I swung back. But not just back—like a child who gets a really good push, as far as I went towards feeling affectionate and committed, I went equally far towards distaste and disgust. The thought of her sickened me—literally clenched my stomach. Trusting that this oscillation was my heart’s way of telling me that this was not the girl for me, I broke it off with H.

*     *     *

When Harry Met SallyLook, it’s not exactly controversial if I say that guys have a hard time understanding their feelings. It’s such an ingrained part of our cultural language of relationships that it has become not just a plot point, but a hackneyed plot point of romantic comedies. Consider the only romantic comedy that a guy has any business watching without a girl: When Harry Met Sally. The friendship between Sally (Meg Ryan) and Harry (Billy Crystal) is going just swimmingly until the two of them sleep together. Afterwards, Sally is as happy as a clam, while Harry just can’t wait to get out of there. Over the next few weeks, he tries to go back to their friendship as it was, but she can’t. Something’s shifted for her; she’s fallen in love with Harry, and she knows it. But where’s Harry? Still calling Sally for a “backup date” on New Year’s. Unable to open himself up emotionally, to be aware of even his own feelings of her (presumably because of the traumatic experience of being dumped by his ex-wife). Finally, at the end of the movie, he realizes he wants to spend the rest of his life with Meg Ryan, and seeks her out to tell her that. That’s it. That’s the major sticking point. He loved her but didn’t know it.

To go slightly more psychological, consider male aggression. Because of the competitive, dog-eat-dog culture of adolescent males, boys learn not to show vulnerability, sadness, etc—any emotion that is perceived as weak. That leaves them alone with anger, which William Pollack, a Harvard adolescent psychologist, calls “the OK Male Emotion” in Real Boys:

Unfortunately, it is through anger—the final common pathway for a boy’s strong feelings, what Professor Don Long at Washington University has called an “emotional funnel”—that most boys express their vulnerability and powerlessness…The more tender feelings seem too shameful to show and thus boys turn to anger.

What begins as hiding tender emotions from the rest of the world becomes a hiding of those same emotions from yourself. Eventually, boys aren’t actively hiding their vulnerability from the rest of the world anymore; subconsciously, hidden from their own awareness, they are turning that fear around, and projecting it onto others with their fists and venom-laced words as anger.

*     *     *

And so it was with me and H. I was scared, plain and simple. I’d never been in a relationship before, never been so emotionally vulnerable with someone. I was untrained in how to deal with my tender emotions, so I pushed my fear of intimacy into that “emotional funnel” where it came out as disgust. By the time I figured this out, I had almost lost H. Thankfully, she gave me another chance, and our relationship ran another few years. While ultimately unsuccessful, I would have missed out on a great deal if I hadn’t gone through it.

And my feelings? My disgust? I’ve learned to tune it out. It doesn’t come up very often anymore, but when I feel myself acting angrily towards my girlfriend, or pulling away from her, I ignore myself until it passes, noticing the circumstances that triggered the response. I’ve searched my feelings; I know they be false.

This entry was posted on Monday, April 2nd, 2007 at 11:27 am and is filed under Relationships, Movies, Gender. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

There are currently 2 responses

  1. I gotta tell ya– from one who’s been on the other side of this emotional see-saw– it’s best to tell the truth. And i don’t mean the details of every swing one way or the other… but about fears and/or the circumstances that trigger certain responses.

    Couldn’t tuning feelings out lead to another stereotypical “man’s man” behavior of acting tough by bottling up emotions?

    April 2nd, 2007 | 3:48 pm
  2. […] written a couple of times about how guys are disconnected from their feelings, so I won’t go into it again here. […]

    June 25th, 2007 | 11:37 am

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