A “man’s man.” When I hear that expression, I think of Ernest Hemingway. Not of his literature, but his persona: the man who lives hard, the man who loves hard, the rugged man who can live off the land, who is unafraid to fight, who womanizes without apology.
For me, the epitome of a “man’s man” was my grandfather. He was dashing, the consummate storyteller, a performer, a ladies man, a hunter, a fisherman, a Marine who fought in the second World War and came home to live large, and to take up his place again as the head of his family.
A man’s man
Today, a “man’s man” might be interpreted in a variety of ways – possibly by the Hemingway Model, as I saw it play out authentically in my grandfather. Or, in contrast to more fluid gender roles in which men and women share the workplace and domestic tasks, as each suffers – at least in small measure – from choices we are happy to have, but that make our models of behavior more challenging.
Who does a young man emulate now?
Of course, I am dealing in stereotypes and generalizations. But there is underlying truth to both, especially as we seem to have dispensed with the Hemingway (or for that matter, James Bond) archetype… Or have we?
In searching for a definition of a man’s man today, my first thought relies on the superficial which, in itself, says a great deal. My image of manliness is based on appearance and charisma – George Clooney for example, with his smoldering looks, his cleft chin, the dash of humor and presumption of tenderness beneath the brash charm. Or perhaps you prefer the fictional Don Draper character – equally debonair as the wounded rake.
Today’s images of a man’s man offer up masculinity that is appealing to both men and women. Yet it continues to play out like so much myth. The man who is not quite attainable, the man who can be relied on in a pinch, the man who can never be “possessed.”
A woman’s woman
Is there even such an expression as a woman’s woman? What about a man’s woman?
When I search, I find only a few references. And yet I know myself to be a woman’s woman, loving and standing up for my women friends, fiercely. I respect them, I value them, I do not practice the competitiveness and cattiness that some women master. I need women in my life.
I also know myself to be a man’s woman. Desirous of a man’s company, the register of his voice, the sexual energy that sizzles between us. I am a fuller self when in a passionate relationship with a man.
Can a man’s man also adore women – deeply, and in a committed fashion? Can he do so without the sense of possession that veers into domination? Can he believe in her the way he believes in himself? Can a man’s man appreciate a woman’s woman – and love her?
A man’s woman
What of the woman who is strong and independent, who doesn’t isolate herself from women friends when she’s in love, but flourishes in the company of her man? And what does that say if she’s fine with the expression “her” man, and with his use of “my” woman?
Like the man’s man, with his appeal to women, is the successful man’s woman one who can never be fully possessed? Is this all nothing more than sexual gamesmanship? The perpetual pursuit?
Perhaps it is the approach of empty nest that has me musing on roles and relationships as I begin to visualize a different life. Perhaps it is the fact that time still remains with my younger son to influence his perception of women, even as he becomes more of a man each day. Perhaps it is maturing that enables me to consider “my” man and “my” woman not signs of possession, but possessives I’d like to hear again, endearing and sexy terms exchanged between lovers.
Perhaps it is because passionate partnership is more vital to some of us, and I grant that is not the case for all. My years in France inform my approach to relationships, to sexuality, to finding no contradiction in femininity and feminism. To what is possible, with less friction, with less rhetoric, without politics, even if these very possibilities were founded on politics, at least to some degree.
I have been fascinated by the discussion of “what makes a man tick,” and equally, tiptoeing around the issues of who wants what, needs what, feels what in a relationship.
And yet I still do not have the answers I seek.
Aging, gender, choices
I have also felt relief at openly exploring the issues of aging and relationship viability, though I’ve barely scratched the surface of our fears and our yearning, our culture that makes isolation more accessible than community, and not only as we grow older.
I also imagine contentment on one’s own is more likely when health, friends, and financial stability are not at risk. But this is an assumption on my part, or more accurately, a guess. For some, particularly those freed of an abusive relationship, single life must seem like nirvana.
Freedom following divorce
Following my own divorce, when it was finally behind me, I felt exhilarated – largely to be free of attorneys and legal papers and a sorrowful battlefield. And I floated on the air of those freeing winds – thrilled to have my name back, thrilled to live without criticism, thrilled at the option of meeting someone new, though I took my time stepping back into the world of dating. I waited until my house was in order.
Eventually, after making the usual dating rounds, that heady sense of freedom was replaced by the daily tedium of parenting, the drain of financial worries, the isolation that comes when there is no longer time or energy or money to escape, to pursue those bits of yourself that feel important.
Yet as the years pass, as I have again tasted the flavors of connection, I am more myself than ever. A woman’s woman – richer for those rare and extraordinary relationships with new women friends. A man’s woman, at my best when there is one special person in my world – for loving, for lovemaking, for all that is play, for all that is serious.
Living alone, solitude
For those women who are genuinely content on their own – I’m happy for them. I am not proposing a single definition of acceptable manhood or womanhood or how the sexes “should” relate, cohabit, or keep their own counsel. Nor is this about solitude, which is a state I am accustomed to and which neither bothers me nor defines me.
But being alone as a way of life – inside a marriage or beyond its borders – being emotionally alone when you would choose otherwise is a different matter.
I wonder how many men wish they could say the same. I am not speaking of marriage, especially for those of us who’ve been there, done that. But I am speaking of one person with whom to share intimacy, laughter, and sexuality.
I wake early as usual; I brew coffee in the kitchen, I begin my writing, I check on my son. I have been giving him enormous freedom of late; he has shown himself capable of increasing responsibility.
His arm is thrown over his face and his pallor is off. He tells me his head is throbbing and he is dizzy, and I drop everything – calmly entering the territory of mothering.
I ask for details, I feel his forehead, I fetch Excedrin, I prepare a wash cloth and everything else on the day’s agenda is set aside, at least, momentarily. I am the mother before all else; this is a place of certainty. Physical. Immediate. An unimpeachable role. And as my child sleeps, I re-emerge – the woman, the writer, the worker, the lover, the individual.
Does motherhood trump every other imperative? What does that do to relationship?
I still don’t know what makes a man tick. I am wandering in my own wilderness of wondering, trying to comprehend – so I may be a better mother, a better woman, and clearer – as I move ahead into a changing life.
Yet I know the sort of masculine energy I am drawn to; it is not the Hemingway model, though it includes confidence and competence, fortitude in ways that are not my own. It includes a man’s ability to recognize feminine energy in himself, the breadth of behaviors and feelings that are his, to bask in the femininity that I would offer him, and my own diverse selves.
As for femininity, it does not preclude opinions or strength, curiosity or questioning. Nor does it negate a capacity for independence. It need not be about pleasing others at our own expense.
Yet it is, for me, a pleasure in pleasing, in my own soft places, in my empathetic nature; it is my delight in a man’s smile, my desire for his touch and equally, for his appreciation – of who I am, and not only what I can do for him. And so, if I could, I would design myself a man’s man who is also a woman’s man. Does it exist? I am a woman’s woman who is also a man’s woman.
Are we afraid to speak these things because they strike us as politically incorrect, or more precisely, politically contradictory? Or are we simply afraid to make ourselves vulnerable?
You May Also Enjoy