Aging piles on changes that need to be met with gradual (and sometimes dramatic) changes in our approach to life. We need to begin the process of letting go of youthful ideas and pursuits. We need to turn inward to examine our life choices. We need to change our diets to reflect different metabolic needs. We need to change our exercise regimes to be more restorative and less depleting.
What is demanded of us, then, is a redefinition of ourselves within the context of our personal lives, and our culture. More problematically, aging forces us to redefine ourselves to ourselves. We need to do the painful work of dispelling our own delusions about who we are. The funny (read tragic) part is that we are often the last to know.
Men are fierce protectors of our egos, which do not allow us to see or show weakness or admit the diminution of our skills or status. What might be painfully obvious to everyone around us we often refuse to admit to ourselves. This is the emotional and psychological impact of Manopause.
I had this revelation when I was being playful... okay, I was flirting, with a young woman who works the counter at the local coffee shop. She, I realized (because I am incredibly astute and emotionally aware) did not find me at all attractive. This should not come as a surprise to a 47-year-old man. She is at least half my age, and much closer in age to my teenage son than to me. It occurred to me that when I was her age, perhaps 23, people my age seemed ancient!
I’m sure young women in service jobs, or any job, have oodles of stories to tell about gross older men being inappropriate with them – not that I was being disrespectful or insinuating that our interaction should be anything other than the transactional process of buying a cup of coffee. The disconnect I experienced, though, was one of imagining myself as the handsome young man of my 20s, who might have turned her head back in the day. But the dude she saw in front of her looked like her dad.
Some older gents never lose that flirtatious side. At some point, it can become cute again, as long as it doesn’t stray into lasciviousness. I have seen younger women accept it and even play into it. This must be standard for waitresses, who make their bread and butter on tips and know how to deal with all types of weird male behavior.
For the most part, I think it is high time men of a certain age come to terms with their new status as “elder statesmen” and drop the game. We are in a new era of feminine awareness and empowerment, and men have to wake up and contribute to the rising consciousness. These are our sisters and our daughters. Respect them for the autonomous beings they are, with their own ideas and agency.
That is not to say there isn’t a place for gendered roles and the biologically hardwired signals that we send and receive as sexual beings. We just need to be conscious of our biologically triggered thoughts, feelings, and emotions and be mindful of how to handle them when we experience them.
Our society victimizes young men (and consequently women of all ages) by teaching us to disconnect our bodies from our emotions: “Man-up! Don’t be a pussy!” As a result, we decouple our own emotional sensitivity from the feelings and agency of others, especially women, who become viewed as objects of desire and conquest, without the burden of attaching a mind and a spirit to those bodies.
This is a violent process; it abuses not only women but the male psyche as well. Men are discouraged from connecting with ourselves emotionally and, at the same time, encouraged to appraise the female bodies around us as parts and pieces, like fruit in a market. This is the legacy of our cultural evolution, the vestiges of deep biological and sociological programming rearing its ugly head.
We need not be slaves to our biology or our history. We have minds as well as bodies, and we need to use our minds to make choices about how we present and represent ourselves. The things that we’ve become, the ways we identify ourselves in the world, start to matter less. The solid ground of meaning has shifted beneath our feet. We also start to take on things, that require a different set of skills.
My best buddy and I have been processing these emerging truths together. He recently said to me, “I’ve become overwhelmed with what I’ve taken on and overwhelmed with what I’m losing, with what I’m letting go of. I’ve taken on some huge responsibilities – a family, a mortgage, a place in an institution where a lot of people depend on me. To make room for these things, other things have to give way, things I really care about such as friendships, creativity, spontaneity.”
When you’re young, the universe pours energy into you. You’re a vessel of potential. As you age, you need to work, hard, just to maintain what you have. At some point, it slips away anyway. The trick is to train for longevity – to prepare yourself to still have some vigor, flexibility, and, hopefully, also a little bit of money when you’re 80.
The hardest part of this transition is coming to terms with the fact that you have limitations. You have to accept that you don’t have unlimited energy anymore. Instead, you need to attune yourself to the energy you have to work with.
By the time we’re 40, most of us have come to an understanding of who we are, psychologically, sexually, physically, and emotionally. We have some understanding of our place in society. We may not be happy with it, but we are no longer pubescent teens discovering these things about ourselves for the first time.
Men have fragile egos. (Big secret REVEALED!) The male ego balances precariously on a delicate structure of our imagined status (where we think we belong in the social pecking order) and our actual status, which is an ever shifting social construct. Status is dependent on what others think, believe, feel, and understand about us.
A man may believe himself to be strong, good looking, and powerful and have those images of himself reinforced in a certain social milieu – let’s say at the gym, for example. That same man, put into a different context where different traits are valued more highly – say at a mathematics conference at M.I.T. – may find himself in the uncomfortable position of not getting the attention he’s used to. His status is dependent on each social situation in which he finds himself.
As we age, it becomes difficult to maintain strength and good looks due to our body’s natural aging processes. Men who spent a good deal of time and energy investing in those aspects of youth that bring one power, prowess, and status may have to work that much harder to redefine themselves when nature starts to take it away.
So basically, aging sucks. But it’s better than the alternative.
Check out Volume 1 (“Manopause: Yep, It’s a Thing. Sorry, Dude.”) and stay tuned for Volume 3, in which I leave you feeling enlightened and enjoying a deep sense of spiritual harmony that will last til the end of your days.