There is an art to manliness which is affect. I don’t really have a problem with the cultivation of affectations so long as they are thoroughgoing. After a time, the recently acquired affectation becomes a way of being, and adds to the depth of one’s character. Forms come with meanings, and should be thought about along meaningful lines. Smoking a pipe for the mere image of it, for example, would be no good. There are rituals, commitments, and artisanal considerations to weigh before display can properly be carried out. Such things being observed, the image of it conveys a seriousness of character and thoughtfulness that merely smoking would not. Not that I should go out of my way to promote smoking, heaven forefend, but if that’s your cup of tea, may you observe the appropriate ceremony.
On the topic of affectations that belie meanings, one of the most prevalent, and least edifying, is the tendency of Western males to pretend to stoicism, if not mechanism, in their personal relations with other men. Many of us are fortunate to count among our number one, two, or more genuine male friends. These men, with whom we would entrust our fortunes in love and money, are our dearest companions beyond spousal considerations of whatever persuasion. Yet how often do we tell them? How often do we emote, not theatrically, but sincerely, in their direction? What do we fear would be the result? The truth is that many men fight shy of their own feelings, and presume the same of others. In a vicious circle of machismo – the least manly quality, by the way – we bid to outdo one another in the hardness of our countenances, while consuming ever more alcohol and spiralling downwards into the much vaunted, but overrated, ‘cave’ of primal masculinity. Robert Bly and his ilk are welcome to abscond to their dark, dank, dismal corners and grunt together, but I see no reason to turn my back on the light. Male bonding might be found in ritual violence, but I somehow think there is a sweeter, lighter way. Just for once, be honest with yourself and tell your best mate what you think of him.
You don’t have to tell him you love him if that freaks you out. But my guess is that whatever you say, if it’s heartfelt, won’t be ungraciously received. It would be a hard man indeed who would not soften in the face of true feeling. Beat down the least helpful, least thoughtful of your affectations – the need to seem tough – and be true to the nature of the friendships you value. Who knows, you might start to affect emotion more often and, if you give it due consideration, it might lead you to an altogether better place.
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