Men today are starved for both acceptance and affection when they are young. We might get some love and compassion from our parents, but the moment we turn five, we are sent off to school to be minded by women who have only their own sense of duty to help them relate to us. There are a few great teachers out there, to be sure, and we are fortunate when we get them. But most teachers who taught men of our age worked with a mix of traditional urges to toughen us up, and a quasi-religious belief that boys had to be held back for girls to prosper.
And school trains us to struggle for approval of other people constantly. Please Teacher and you get good grades. Good grades mean presents and praise from Mom & Dad. bad grades mean grounding, punishment and withdrawal of love even in the average family. In one with violent parents it can be a lot worse.
At the same time, we are kept from forming deep bonds with other boys. Rampant modern homophobia, a culture that is slowly trying to crush roughhousing out, and an endless psychological machine churning out new ways to try and emasculate us “for the greater good,” left us with weak bonds all around. For most boys, there is no woman who loves us save mothers and sisters, and no man who loves us save our fathers and brothers…
…if we are lucky enough to see our fathers at all and get love from them. Robert Bly once pointed out that boys of our age never see what our fathers do. In the past a father was at home, working right in front of us, teaching us his craft. Today he goes off to a mysterious demon-haunted cloud far away called “work”, and then comes home tired, grumpy, and worn. It is hard for young men to imagine anything good or decent being done at work. Fathers become remote, and their mysterious “work” untrustworthy in their sons’ eyes.
The point being, that if you grew up in an average household in this culture and in this day and age, you probably never got the kind of affection that human beings need to be healthy. The average North American or Brit never quite has his needs met – he is undernourished because of nutritionally bankrupt food; he is dehydrated from drinking adulterated, alcoholic, diruetic or salt-laden beverages; he is suffocated by poisoned air and lazy breathing… those I think we all understand. But he is also starving for affection and touch. It is very common for men under 50 today to have built his life around filling that deficit.
Man is also starved for meaning. Again we see that except for us lucky few entrepreneurs and passionate career-men that work, is signing a third of the precious hours of your life to tedium and abuse; exhausting yourself to feed a family you rarely spend time with to pay for a home you are never in, and a car to keep coming back for more. After the horrors of WWII, our nations seem like armies of thieves desperate to grab what they can before it all burns down – how can you love a country that holds you down, robs you, and lies to your face? And God? Not all of us are blessed with an abundance of faith in an age of everyday miracles.
A man without meaning is mad, broken, and half-dead. So we look for meaning wherever we struggle the most. Carl Jung called it Modern Man’s search for Soul. Getting the water we need? Simple as turning the tap – there isn’t really a struggle there, just self neglect. Getting healthful food? Well some of us become foodies, but the fact is that no one is hungry, it’s just that we eat endless empty calories. Air? Well maybe you’re the asthmatic who becomes an environmentalist, but the ill effects of not breathing are almost invisible to us.
But affection… now there’s a need that we can get passionate about! Trying to feel loved, we can make that our meaning in life really easily. We can work damned hard to be as attractive as we can be. We can slave and wear ourselves thin at the modern torture chamber we call “the office” if we have a family to feed. We can cuddle and sook an shower gifts on our wife, and all of that makes us feel like there is something to life. Our families or our wives can become our purpose.
And then there’s Sex. Every cell in our body is primed and wired to want it bad. From the time we are old enough to want it, we are paraded with an endless symphony of stories, poems, gossip, and pornography that tell us that in Sex, we are totally accepted and loved. But it is all a smokescreen – a cultural myth made up by poets who were desperate to get laid.
Think about how many men today are obsessed with the blowjob – they want them so bad because they are the ultimate gesture of acceptance! You have a woman on her knees doing something that for her only leads to a sore jaw, a stiff neck, and an unpleasant taste totally for your pleasure. Because she wants you. How can any man not suddenly mistake Sex for the affection and love he’s been starving for all of his life.
For lots of men who are starved for affection and spending their life chasing it, it is easy to become obsessed with their family:
Your kids are the people who will love you unconditionally; if they are hurt, and being loved is one of the only things that gives your life meaning, then you are going to protect them as if your life depended on it – because it does.
And when sex doesn’t go right with your wife – well suddenly she is taking away the physical symbol: the only real thing other than the ring on your finger that lets you absolutely know that you are wanted loved and accepted by her. Men aren’t wired to just feel loved we need things and acts to see it. No sex means no love to us.
But it is a sucker’s game – this pinning your sense of meaning on being loved. Because you are building your identity – and pinning your happiness – on how other people respond towards you. It makes you shy and uneasy around people. Rejection can be devastating, and a sick child or an angry wife can leave you in utter misery. Conflict is a nightmare when your sense of self-worth is tied into what other people think of you. Every grudge or unkind word is like a knife through the heart.
If you can’t be happy unless someone else is happy, you’ll be sad, anxious, angry, and frustrated your whole life.
That’s why Men need a Mission. They need something that gives them a sense of purpose bigger than what other people think of them. They have to want to create a Legacy or make a Change in the world. That way they can be in control of their own happiness. If the kids are sick or the wife is shut down, a man with a Mission still has his Great Work to do. He can give them the love they need, and then turn back to making the world a better place and feel great because of it.
And the irony of it all is that a man with a Mission is extremely desirable and lovable. Men admire him and give him the sort of friendship he needs to get by. Women desire him because he has incredible value – he is driven, strong, and admired. And he doesn’t need them; Women love men who can live without them.