Discover more from An Ordinary Disaster
What we know of "love" often leaves out the truth, and how men can bring more truth to love
The Truth About Love: “The love that is trapped in men’s hearts is the most underutilized resource in the entire world.” — Lucas Krump
Early in my own life, what I felt most missing was the truth. Not some objective truth, but the simple truth of sharing and reflecting one’s experience in the world. My parents kept telling me that what they were saying was important while avoiding much of anything that actually felt meaningful. A lot of what they said just didn’t sound true, not because they were lying, but they weren’t getting to anything that felt real. All of what was left unsaid felt like a hole, like something missing—and it felt false.
By my early teens, I stopped trusting them. My mother’s empty sighs emptied out my insides, and I was left feeling the same way. I felt hollow. As for my father, we talked of the many things he loved to do—climbing and sailing and backpacking—but we had no language for ourselves. Once I reached puberty, I began to feel more and more angry with him for avoiding so much, and before long, we stopped speaking almost entirely.
Although I wasn’t aware of it in these terms then, I felt the lack of truth as a lack of love—and, now, as I look back, I’ve come to see truth as a form of love. Once upon a time, truth and love were so close that they formed an equivalency—the Word (that is, truth), and God, and love were all understood to be the same thing—but they have come apart. Truth went missing from love, and since then was it cut down, damaged, denied, and forgotten, and now we are all suffering its loss.
It’s very clear to me now that telling the truth in the form of openly sharing your own internal experience, or of what you see in someone else, is a form of love. Telling with honesty and courage feels like love. To tell is to name, to relate, to make order of, to communicate, to declare—it’s a creative act, very similar to how the act of loving is a “process of creation,” as Erich Fromm puts it.
Because I am a man, and also because I so badly wanted to receive more of my father’s true experience, I began to dig into why truth—and love—are spread so thin amongst men. What I found, and what I’ve come to believe, is that the two are deeply intertwined, and that as we went away from love, we went away from the truth as well.
In the pre-agricultural era, men were just as much a part of the activity and the love of their families and communities as anyone else. Connection with other members of the village, the tribe, the family was ever-present in daily life, and love grew from the roots of this simple togetherness. As we developed farming, and then industry, it was mostly men that left family life for outside work, and mostly men who lost access to the love of family in the process. As Mark Pittman writes, men became providers, “bringing things home to the family rather than living and working at home within the family.”
Agriculture also brought about the accumulation of material wealth, first of all in the form of stored crops, and the concept of property. As wealth led to recognition and power, wealth also led to a form of love that had its basis not in the connections of daily life, but in a financial bargain. We learned that we could trade love for money, and that more money might lead to more love. Terry Real calls this “The Icarus myth—that you have to leave connection, and leave your family to go off and fly into the heavens in order to be worthy of connection.”
And so it seemed to me. This is why, without anyone ever saying anything to me about it, I felt compelled to earn my own money starting at the age of eight, so I could be that provider. Picking up the check on my first date felt like freedom—and yet even then, as a boy of just eleven, I felt the weight of that exchange, and the path that was laid out in front of me—a lifetime of earning my way to love.
Over time, generations of men absent from the home, away at work and at war, unlearned love through simple lack of practice. Then, having gotten to the point where men didn’t have or know love, we explained the situation by teaching each other that men didn’t want or need love in the first place.
The view from the inside always seems real—that is, because we all live inside the experience of how things come to be, we often end up seeing what is actually the result of some prior cause as evidence of the true nature of something. In an ironic reversal that perpetuates patriarchal thinking by the same sort of teleological error that led Aristotle to conclude that women were somehow inferior ‘by nature’ because they were often dominated by men in the society in which he lived, men are still often judged to be uninterested in love and deficient in emotional capacity, not because that is true, but because men have been so alienated from love and emotion.
The circularity of Aristotle’s reasoning seems clear today—the fact that women were often dominated by men did put them in a subordinate position, but that no more makes women intrinsically inferior than a pan heated by a flame becomes a pan which is permanently hot in its very essence—but in the same circular logic, we developed stories about how men not only don’t need love, but are uninterested in, and even incapable of love. We told ourselves that by being away from home, men were showing that they didn’t want or need love, when the truth is that by going away from home, as was required of them, to earn a living—or by being taken away to war, to defend their families—men were unlearning what love is.
We told each other stories about how men are unwilling and unable to commit to love, and we cited men failing in love as evidence that men don’t want or care about love, when the simpler truth is that men fail at love so often not because we are men, but because we have been away from it for so long. These stories that seemed to explain why men could not love also served to soothe the sour loneliness of being separated from each other more and more as the centuries wore on. This is how culture works—we develop stories to explain what we see, and then those stories become part of what we seem to be seeing.
How many times in my twenties and thirties was I asked, “do you love her?” only to be faced with the simple truth that I simply did not know. It’s not that I knew the answer to be no, it’s that I didn’t have a point of reference for love itself that made any sense to me, from the inside. What I’d most often hear in response was something like ‘well, you’ll know when you feel it,’ but this left love an enigma that was simultaneously held out as a requirement for being fully human. After so many of my own failures—or, at least, attempts—at love, I began to believe that maybe I just wasn’t wired that way, and either that I couldn’t get to love simply because I am a man, or that I was poorly formed—a man who could not love. A bad man, as men who cannot love are so often characterized.
Love is held out as required to be good and whole, but also as unreachable—at least for many men—condemning us to remain less than human.
This is hurting us all.
A further product of this collective going-away-from-love is the still-widely-held idea that what men really want is just sex, or that we want sex more than love. Thankfully we have truth-tellers such as bell hooks, who explains that to the contrary “men come to sex hoping that it will provide them with all the emotional satisfaction that would come from love”. In the meantime, we have been collectively deprived of love for so long, and so deeply, that we do that much more ardently desire its proxy in flesh. Here again we are in a bind—many men rarely dare admit to wanting sex, as that is often used as further proof that we don’t really want love, when in fact sex is only language that many of us have for love.
However widespread these untruths about men—that men don’t want or need love, and that men want sex more than love—we also know at some deeper level that they are untrue. The lack of love has led to a lack of truth, and we continue to tell ourselves lies about men, and about love.
The truth is that men want and need love as much as anyone else. We’ve lived with the legacy of exchanging work and money for love for so long that we’ve lost track of how intrinsically heart-breaking this bargain is. This history of love as a business has diminished and corrupted love, and left love split, and unwhole.
I think it’s possible that the gendered division that Jung articulated between logos and eros, between ’logic,’ mind, or truth and love, originated less from some sort of original syzygy between archetypal masculine or feminine qualities as from the time—roughly contemporaneous with that of Jung and his predecessors—that men left home to go to work, at which point our culture, of necessity, birthed the convenient back-formation that men love logic more than men love love. Our stories about ourselves often serve more to explain how we are at the time of the story-telling than how we got to be there.
It’s more than fair to say that we men do have to accept some responsibility for this dilemma. While patriarchy is a cultural system that we all had a hand in co-creating—women as well as men—we can’t deny that over time, men did take steps to secure their own advantage at the expense of others, and that this is certainly part of why we ended up with so little experience of love.
And yet, the tragic fact remains that many men still do not know much of what love is.
My own anguish was not just for the attention of my father, or for more of his guidance or advice, but for some transmission of his own experience as a man, and as a person. As Richard Rohr has said, “When positive masculine energy is not modeled from father to son, it creates a vacuum in the souls of men, and into that vacuum, demons pour.” Growing up this way, “The whole life is externalized, and the soul is not born.”
My soul was not born, and that vacuum came to be filled with darkness and depression. I know that emptiness, and although I did blame my father for it, for many years, I no longer hold him responsible. The father-hunger felt so widely in our culture is not so much a result of failure on the part of our individual fathers but because our culture failed our fathers, as it failed our fathers’ fathers. As it failed us all.
Clearly, to heal this disconnection, isolation and depression that so many of us feel, men need to learn to love.
However, there’s something critical missing from that imperative.
Men do need to learn to love. Just as much, and perhaps in the first place, love needs to learn from men.
Because love has been something that men have participated less in, we have not only received less love, we have contributed less to love. What we know as love is made more of how women and children have loved than how men love. For men, love can feel foreign, like a story we’ve heard many times but that comes from outside of us, and not from within us. Some of what we hear as “love” is hard to relate to. Some of what we hear as love can feel false. Some of the story of love is false.
At this point, men have been gone from love for so long that we cannot really conceive of what the love of men might be, or what a love that truly includes men would feel like.
Two things are certain: a love that includes more of the love of men would be larger, and more whole. And, for love to feel more true and more accessible to men, love must grow to include what men can bring to love.
For me, the first form of the love of men must be truth-telling. Certainly, not for men only, but because the untruths that we have all told each other for so long about men and love cleaved the original rift between men and love, truth seems to me the foundation of the love of men.
The words that we use in the world are the magic with which we spell ourselves into being, so that we may become real. If we do not learn to tell self-stories that ring true, then we learn to live in a false and empty world. Bell hooks writes that “Keeping males and females from telling the truth…is one way patriarchal culture is maintained. … It is in this way that patriarchy promotes insanity”—and truth is the only antidote to this collective cognitive dissonance.
When I began to tell my own stories truthfully, the old emptiness within me began to fill with something that feels like gold. I began to feel more love—for myself, for others, and in particular for my fellow men. After many years of not knowing what love was, and not knowing why or how I could not know, I have come to know that there’s nothing wrong with me, not as a man, and not as a person—it was just that I didn’t learn to tell the truth, and so, no wonder that I felt no connection to love.
The old language about men tends to focus on things like strength, protection, leadership, and getting things done, as opposed to, for example, presence, companionship, play, reflection, teaching, and touch. Men have been away from love for so long, many of the ways in which men love still remain unknown.
The truth is that love as we know it is beautiful, and it is incomplete. As beautiful as it is, we do not know the full beauty of what a more complete love looks like. Love can be something men come to with their full selves, and that grows from within. This is not to contrast the love of men with ‘feminine love’ but to say that a love that includes more of what men can bring to love would include ways of being that we simply haven’t seen enough of yet to know their colors, and shapes, and patterns.
As my friend Lucas Krump said to me recently, “The love that is trapped in men’s hearts is the most underutilized resource in the entire world.” The truth about love is that we do not yet know the truth about love. Beginning, then, with truth-telling, men must embrace love as ours too, so it may become something more complete, and true.
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You might enjoy some of my other writing and interviews on love, especially
as well as these fine book and podcasts that I reference in this essay itself ⬇️
Eric Fromm, The Art of Loving
Mark Pittman, Man Enough
Gerda Lerner, The Creation of Patriarchy
bell hooks, The Will To Change
Harry Wilmer, Practical Jung
John Wineland, From the Core
Richard Rohr in a podcast on “growing up men”
Terry Real and Kathy Caprino in a podcast on “Gender, power and relationships: the crushing effects of patriarchy.”
Questions for you
I’d love to hear what this brings up for you. What does love mean to you? What unique ways of being do men bring to love? Leave a comment below to join the conversation.
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