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Creating Satisfying Interpersonal Relationships

Updated: Jul 26, 2022

Positive Masculinity Contributor - Jacob Aimonetti

Positive Masculinity Member, Caregiver for the Developmentally Disabled

Before attending Positive Masculinity, I found it very hard to talk about my feelings at all. If I did, it was through the lens of anger – one of the only emotions that I felt that I could share with others as a man. For example, when talking about my experience in high school, I used to focus on how much I hated everyone, how dumb they were, how immature children were, instead of really talking about why I was upset. I only thought they were dumb, immature, and disliked them because they rejected me. They made me feel small, defective, and lonely. I wasn’t really expressing my true emotions because that would have required me to be vulnerable and open up to others around me. It was scary for me. One of the things that I was consistently made fun of while growing up was being too sensitive. I learned to hide it, and/or express myself through anger. People didn’t make fun of me for being angry. They feared me. When I was sad and cried, they would laugh at me. I found that fear was preferable.

As I grew and matured, I learned that anger was also an unacceptable way to express myself. I learned to hide my anger until I could safely vent it to those I felt comfortable with. I didn’t actually feel like venting was helping. It was a temporary release that didn’t address the true issues I was dealing with. It did not help me connect with others or validate my emotions. In fact, my overwhelming negativity and anger often caused others to distance themselves from me. One day, my father called me and started telling me about this group he was a part of called “Positive Masculinity.” I was intrigued. Growing up, I got a lot of conflicting messages about what it meant to be a man and was eager to finally have a counterpoint to toxic masculinity. The first meeting was an experience unlike any other that I had been a part of before. It felt strange, almost surreal to me. Men all talking about their feelings, no judgment, no anger, no humor to mask it, just men being vulnerable. I barely talked during the first few meetings I attended. I really wanted to engage with the group but was still grappling with the programming of toxic masculinity and my own past experiences that told me sharing myself with others would be a mistake.

There was one particular meeting we had where Mac talked about how difficult it is to be vulnerable and how important it is. He explained that vulnerability builds trust, fosters intimacy, and encourages others to be vulnerable in return. I wanted that. I desperately craved deeper social relationships where my feelings could be validated. I wanted to show others my true self, but it was intimidating. The first two people I started being vulnerable with were my father and brother. With my dad, progress was steady and he led by example. He shared his feelings and struggles with me and in return, I reciprocated. It felt nice. Before joining Positive Masculinity and sharing this experience with my father, we at most talked 3-10 times a year. We always struggled to find anything to talk about or to have a conversation of meaning. When we talked it just felt awkward and stilted. One night, I came home from work and was an emotional wreck. One of my clients had attacked and injured me in an extremely painful way. I was angry, scared that I was permanently injured, and very sad about what had transpired. I did something I never would have considered doing before. I called my father and willingly let someone hear me cry. He answered. It was late and I was bawling so hard that he could barely understand me. That was the first time in 14 years I let another man witness me cry. He just listened and let me get it out, all the while comforting me and letting me know that he was there for me. It was cathartic. It was what I wished I’d had since childhood. I felt more loved and cared for by my dad at that moment than I had ever before. Since that day, my dad and I have continued to grow our relationship.

We talk regularly these days about many varied subjects. We share our struggles, our triumphs, and our aggravations. We express what makes us happy and occasionally we have spirited debates about sensitive topics. Having seen how much being vulnerable improved my relationship with my dad, I resolved to try my best to be vulnerable and open with more people in my life.

My brother and I had about as good a relationship as two men mired in toxic masculinity could. We had been friends and confidants for a few years; however, we oftentimes weren't as open or honest about our emotions as we could be. Most of our emotional conversations involved venting and providing emotional support in the limited way that we knew. One day, it struck me how ridiculous it was that I could not tell my brother that I loved him or even give him a hug. The thought of doing so left me nervous, afraid of rejection, and tongue-tied. My first step was to start saying I love you and offering hugs when appropriate. It felt awkward and foreign at first. I was afraid my brother would reject my affection – truly a silly baseless fear – but with persistence, we have grown to the point where we regularly express our love for each other. Over time, we began talking about more and more serious topics and sharing more of ourselves, our insecurities, our fears, and our struggles. Eventually, we grew comfortable enough with each other that I felt okay crying in front of my brother and opening up to him about how much my chronic pain bothers me. They were words and feelings I had never vocalized before and like my father he quietly listened and did his best to validate my emotions. My brother and I now talk, support, and encourage one another on a daily basis.

Having these two meaningful and supportive relationships has made an incredible impact on my emotional health. I realized that I want more relationships like this. Not just for my own benefit. I want to be there for other men who are struggling. I want to help show them that their emotions are valid, worth sharing, and that they don’t have to suffer alone, in silence. Unfortunately, it isn’t as easy as telling someone that you are safe to confide in. These days, I try to model for other men in my life what I have learned. I am vulnerable, I am honest about my emotions, I offer support, and I listen when needed. Not everyone reciprocates but most slowly start opening up and, in some cases, it jump-starts their own growth. These days, I am not afraid to speak up in our monthly Positive Masculinity meetings, but sometimes I still hardly speak at all. It isn’t fear that stops me. It is recognizing that others need to feel heard and supported. I tell every man I know about the movement and encourage them to join. Many are not ready but that’s ok. In my own little social biome, I am already starting to see the change. I’m excited to see where this movement goes and how it will help men. I hope you are too. Please don’t be afraid to reach out and connect, your emotions are valid and so are you.

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