I Wish He Had Come with Instructions: The Woman's Guide to a Man's Brain - Mike Bechtle (2016)
Part V. How He Grows
When I was a kid, I loved to color.
Mostly I had coloring books, but I also just loved making stuff up on plain paper. I had a round, red-and-white tin box with a tight-fitting lid where I kept my crayons. Most of them were stubs with the labels torn off because they had been used so often. The ones in the best shape were mostly black, brown, and white—the colors I didn’t use very often.
It was fun, but I always felt a bit limited in my creativity. When you only have a few colors, you can’t create with a lot of variety.
One Christmas, my parents bought me a huge box of crayons. It was a flip-top Crayola box with at least one hundred different crayons. They lined up in their box in four different layers, all standing side-by-side as if to say, “Pick me! Pick me!”
I thought I was in heaven. Suddenly, I saw potential. With that many colors, I felt like I had options I had never seen before. I could make a whole new kind of picture with my new variety of choices.
A man’s unique characteristics are like crayons. So are a woman’s. In a lot of relationships, a couple spends their time comparing crayons to see who has the best ones. They’ll argue about their opinions, trying to decide which color is best.
When that happens, they both have a lot of crayons but they don’t share. If they can learn how to share, they both get to use an unlimited number of colors. Working together, they have the potential to create masterpieces.
It’s easy to assume that men don’t grow much. He is the person he will always be. When he’s left alone, there’s some truth to that.
But when he’s in a dynamic relationship with a woman he cares about, he can grow into a person no one could have predicted. This section details that growth and the unique circumstances that build the seedbed that makes it happen.
Mostly, it happens when a man is in a growing relationship with a woman. Her influence and partnership provide the potential for a masterpiece.
Chapter 12. The Lone Ranger in Relationships
“Real men don’t eat quiche.”
That slogan became popular in 1982 through a book by the same name. A number of other phrases spun off over the months that followed.
“Real men don’t cry.”
“Real men don’t call other men ‘just to talk.’”
“Real men don’t eat fish at a steakhouse.”
“Real men don’t let a woman barbecue.”
“Real men don’t dust anything.”
“Real men don’t knit.”
It was a reaction to the expansion of what was called the “Women’s Movement,” as women began to search for equality with men in pay, opportunity, political clout, and social standing. Up to that time, men were traditionally seen as leaders and women were seen as followers. Now, there was a quest for fairness.
Most men had a lot of self-assurance around those traditional roles and didn’t know how to respond to this new paradigm. It reminded them of having a “boys only” treehouse when they were kids—and now the girls wanted to come in and decorate. Men were afraid of where that might lead. If women wanted to become more like men, men might be expected to become more like women.
This was outside their realm of thinking, and they weren’t sure how to respond. With their simple, single-focus brains, they didn’t know how to counter this new perspective without sounding like jerks. So they did the only thing they knew how to do: they came up with clever phrases to repeat (such as the ones above), challenging other men not to give up their masculinity.
Suddenly, men felt threatened. They loved their women but they also loved their role of protector and provider. They sensed that there was something right about not treating women like second-class citizens, but they felt pressure from society and the media to become less of a man in order to make that happen.
Instead of women rising to match the social level of men, equality seemed to mean that men had to come down and meet them halfway. To a man, it felt like women wanted to become more like men, and men were supposed to become more like women.
Nobody said that made sense, but that’s how men saw it. It felt like relational socialism, where wealthy people had to share their wealth with poor people so everyone was equal.
As mentioned in chapter 1, the real problem was the terminology. “Equality” is different from “equal,” and the terms were getting mixed up. “Equal” is when two things are exactly alike. In general, most things about men and women are alike. Our bodies all have skeletons, circulatory systems, hearts, and brains. But there are obvious differences in our reproductive systems. There are also general differences in our brains—how they’re designed, how they work, and the hormonal differences that take place.
We’re revisiting those differences because they’re the starting point for understanding men. In this chapter, we’ll talk about the reasons a man’s relationships look so different from a woman’s relationships. They impact all of his relationships—with himself, with other men, and with his woman.
The Sticking Points
Men aren’t anti-female. They just have trouble understanding how females think, and don’t know what to do with that. Most men haven’t taken a course called “Women 101.” They’ve spent their life having their most real conversations with other guys. (Ok, maybe with their mom too.)
Relating and communicating with a woman doesn’t come naturally to him. It comes through trial and error (mostly error). Here’s where it grows into a problem:
· He’s wired to look and feel competent, so he won’t ask for help (like not asking for driving directions).
· He won’t ask women for help in understanding them because it would come across as not being competent. So he pretends he understands and wonders why it doesn’t work out.
· He won’t ask men for help in understanding women because he doesn’t want to look incompetent in front of them, either. Since other men also don’t understand women, they just talk about how hard it is to understand them.
Your man is stuck. He doesn’t understand women and can’t ask anyone. So he ends up trying to figure them out by himself.
It’s not just women. Guys don’t spend a lot of time trying to figure other men out, either. They enjoy hanging out together, but it’s so they can do stuff without a lot of expectations. Their relationships are simple, and they don’t explore each other’s feelings deeply. They’ll watch sports together or talk about work. As long as it’s comfortable, they’re ok. If it gets tense and they feel like the other person has some issues, they’re not always driven to repair that relationship. Sometimes they just quietly move on. It’s no big deal.
When it comes to relationships, men are independent. He operates like the Lone Ranger, not needing anyone to show him how relationships work. (Ok, the Lone Ranger had his friend Tonto and his horse Silver, but that’s different.) For most of his life, that approach has served him pretty well. But when he comes into a relationship with a woman he deeply cares about, he can’t treat it the same way. He desperately wants to make the relationship work but he feels like he’s in a rowboat with no oars in the middle of the ocean.
So as a woman, what can you do? Later we’ll talk about some of the options for helping your man understand you in a way that works for him. For now, it’s just helpful to realize what’s going on in his head when it comes to relationships, and why they’re so tough for him.
He’s hardwired for self-sufficiency and needs to feel competent in his abilities. That wiring has been reinforced by his lifelong exposure to culture, media, and other men who say that real men need to just figure it out. His motives are great, but his toolkit is sparse.
From Boys to Men
There’s another characteristic of men that’s hardwired into his brain: the drive to make a difference, have a purpose, and do something that matters. This is huge. That’s why it’s so tough for a man when he loses his job; a lot of his identity comes from the contribution he makes at work. When that disappears, his self-confidence often suffers. He doubts himself when he’s not able to make that contribution, and that doubt leaks into every area of his life.
A woman might tell her boyfriend, “I don’t care if you make a lot of money. I love you for who you are.” That’s great, and he loves hearing it. But he cares about it, even if she doesn’t. To him, he gets paid for adding value. The more he makes, the more value he feels he’s adding. So he sees the money as a sign that he’s making a difference.
He might be worth millions but still want more. It’s not the money; it’s what the money represents. If he makes more, it means he’s contributing more. He’s fulfilling his purpose. He’s fulfilling one of the greatest needs a man has: making a difference.
Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Life wasn’t expected to hit the bestseller list. But as soon as it was published, it spread like wildfire. The last figures I saw indicated it had sold over thirty million copies and was the second most translated book in history (next to the Bible). In a market that tends to be dominated by female readers, the book found an audience with men as well. I’m guessing it was the title that attracted their attention. Deep inside, men want to have a purpose; it’s the driving factor in their life. No wonder so many men picked it up!
For a man, self-esteem is closely tied in to that sense of purpose. It follows that “purpose” becomes part of a man’s script from his earliest days.
Insisting on Independence
Put a boy on a playground, and he’s trying to find ways to stand out in the crowd through competition and comparison. As he develops his life skills, he’s anxious to try them out and see if he can be independent.
Girls might mature earlier than boys, both physically and emotionally. However, boys are usually more anxious to throw off the shackles that tie them down and test their wings. They fight with their parents about restrictions, chafe at regulations at school, and push the limits with the law.
They want to be independent. They want to be adults. Why? It’s that inner drive to do something that matters, even if their motives aren’t obvious. As long as they’re still “a kid,” they’re restricted from making that contribution.
When boys graduate from high school, they feel free. But they haven’t grown up yet. It’s common for a bunch of guys to go on a “road trip,” where they hop in a car and drive with no destination. It’s symbolic of their newfound freedom. After a week or so, they run out of gas, money, or both—and have to call their parents for help.
They have the drive to become responsible adults, but they still want the freedom that comes with adolescence. They’ve been having fun, probably living at home, and see adult responsibilities as boring and restrictive. They want to grow up, but adulthood and a full-time job seem like a pretty beige lifestyle compared to the one they’ve been living. When they see it that way, it makes sense that they’re in no rush to get there.
When my son-in-law, Brian, graduated from college, he stood with us in the parking lot after the ceremony and had a moment of reality. “I don’t want to grow up,” he said. He was joking, but I’m sure it had a good helping of accuracy attached.
A lot of guys in that position still live at home, working at a job instead of pursuing a career. It prolongs their adolescence and postpones responsibility. But the longer they delay, the harder it gets. Their self-esteem suffers because they’re not making a difference. They’ve learned how to win at video games but not how to win at life.
Iron Sharpens Iron
Men are influenced by other men. Since they don’t ask for help, they observe others to learn how life works. If they’re postponing adulthood, it’s probable they’re watching other guys do the same thing. If they choose to grow up and be responsible, they’re probably copying the patterns of other men they respect.
Someone said that we become like the five people we hang out with the most. That’s especially true for men. They’re crafting their adult life by watching others craft theirs, and they do it by spending time with them.
It’s important that a woman recognizes the value that comes from her man’s male relationships. Those relationships are going to look totally different from hers, but they meet some of his basic needs that she can’t meet. He might adore her, but she can’t meet all his needs.
What happens when men get together? What do those relationships look like?
Men tend to be loyal to their friends.
A woman might wonder why he stays connected with an old high school buddy who seems like a total jerk. It usually comes from his sense of loyalty. They might not have much in common, but they’ve done life together at some point, so they keep some connection.
I have high school friends I haven’t seen for decades, but we still connect occasionally on Facebook. I know they’re totally different from who they were back then, and so am I. In many cases, we’ve taken paths that have drawn us apart, not together. But we shared a season together, and it was good.
Men are pretty straightforward in their conversations.
Most men say what they’re thinking and aren’t afraid to disagree with each other. He’s not that worried about how the other guy might feel or respond, because he knows they’ll both move past it when they’re done talking it out. If they can’t get past it, they simply find excuses to not stay connected.
Sure, there’s the introvert issue. A lot of men aren’t comfortable with confrontation, so they don’t say what they’re thinking. That doesn’t mean they don’t have an opinion. It simply means they’re choosy about whom they argue with. If it’s a relationship that’s important to them, they’ll find a way to express what they’re thinking.
Other times, avoiding confrontation means that he feels the relationship isn’t worth the energy to challenge it. He picks his battles, investing in the ones that mean the most to him.
Men don’t spend a lot of time talking about the women in their lives.
When men do talk about their women, it’s pretty cursory. They don’t do a play-by-play recap of a conversation they’ve had at home. A good man doesn’t want to put his woman in a bad light and have his friends think less of her, so he’ll protect her reputation. He might make a comment about being frustrated over something, but he won’t go into detail. He’s not looking for answers or advice, just a little support. When a friend says, “Yeah, I hear you. Sometimes it’s tough to know how to respond,” he knows he’s not alone.
A woman might talk with a trusted female friend about a tough conversation she had with her guy because it helps her sort out what she’s feeling. When men are in the same situation, they’ll talk about it for thirty seconds and then switch the topic to motor oil.
Men don’t usually talk much about their feelings with other men.
Men don’t even spend a lot of time thinking about their own feelings, much less someone else’s. Women say, “What do you feel about that?” Men say, “What do you think about that?”
Awhile back, I had lunch with a friend who is a pastor of a large congregation, and he told me about a challenging situation he was sorting through with his board. I said, “So, how did that make you feel?” He looked at me blankly and said, “Feel? I don’t know. What do you think I am … a woman?”
That doesn’t mean men don’t have feelings. They just might not be aware of what their feelings are, so they resort to their auxiliary backup feelings. If they feel scared or sad or worried, they express it through a male-appropriate backup feeling like anger. In either case, they’re not driven to figure them out, and they definitely won’t be discussing them with other men.
Men look to other men as a safe place with no expectations.
When life gets hard, men gravitate to other men so they can face it together. They don’t have to explain what they’re thinking or feeling if they don’t want to, and there’s no judgment. Hanging out at a ball game with friends and talking about nothing important is great therapy for a man when life gets tough. He’s not escaping; he’s just recharging so he can reenter the battle of life.
I read once that when women are in a relationship, they tend to face each other (figuratively and literally). When men are in a relationship, they tend to stand side-by-side and face in one direction. From my own experience, I’ve found that to be pretty accurate. My friends don’t try to solve my problems for me. They’re willing to walk with me on that journey, and I don’t have to explain myself.
Explaining and figuring things out is a lot of work for a guy, so he’ll save his energy to do that with the one person who matters most to him—his woman.
Men face challenges together.
Even though men are independent, their loyalty allows them to work well as a team with other guys when they’re facing challenges. That’s why a sales force builds camaraderie when they’re striving for an important goal, or a team works well together on a sports field. It’s why soldiers build such a strong commitment to each other when they’re in battle.
When men are committed to a goal they consider to be worthwhile, they’ll do whatever is necessary to help each other succeed.
In business, people have often found great value in “mastermind groups.” It’s a small group of people who are committed to growth and success in a specific area, and they know they can reach higher levels of success together than alone. So they meet regularly for new ideas, motivation, and accountability. They challenge each other and provoke each other to dream big and reach levels of success they didn’t know were possible.
There’s real value in a small group of guys getting together to support each other in their relationships with their women. They know it’s not easy to be effective in male/female relationships, but they’re committed to making it work. Men need the input of other men to build their skills in relating to women. In fact, a healthy man probably has three types of men in his life:
· Someone older and wiser—a mentor who is a little further ahead on the journey
· Someone younger and less experienced he can mentor who is a little further behind on the journey
· Someone at a peer level he can share the journey with
If your man doesn’t have these relationships, he might be missing out on a valuable resource. You could encourage him with casual suggestions like these:
“Have you ever thought of grabbing coffee with (older, wiser man that he respects)?”
“You seem to connect well with (younger, less experienced man), especially since he’s on the same path you’ve been on. Have you ever thought of spending a little time with him, just to be a sounding board for him?”
“Who’s your best guy friend who motivates you to grow?”
Driven to Grow
I’ve had countless conversations over the years with men in their early thirties who are struggling with “growing up.” They’ve been lured by the media and friends into extending their adolescence as long as possible.
At that age, their inner drive to be a responsible adult begins to get stronger and stronger, and they become more and more dissatisfied with those old patterns. The longer they postpone it, the more their self-esteem is damaged because they’re not making the difference they were designed to make.
Men are hardwired for independence and competence. It doesn’t mean he wants to live his life separately from his woman. It means he can connect with her in a healthy way if he has a strong sense of wholeness. When he feels like he’s competent, he’s able to be the man his woman needs.
I recently spoke with a thirty-two-year-old who was enjoying his perpetual adolescence—but finally settled down, got serious about his career, and married the woman of his dreams. It changed everything for him. When I asked him what made such a difference, he summarized it well: “I just finally decided it was time to grow up.”