What It Really Means to Be a Man

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How exactly do you define a modern man?

In the early 2000s, the push was for men to “embrace their feminine sides” by using more hair products, getting pedicures, and embracing other traditionally-feminine behaviors. It led to the rise of the metrosexual movement, and the popular phrase, “Real men wear pink,” which strongly implied that wearing a feminine color like pink actually made men more masculine.

A few years later, the pendulum swung in the opposite direction, with men attempting to embrace what they considered the manlier side of masculinity. They took up pipe smoking and wood carving, grew beards and mustaches, wore flannel, and went on weekend mountain retreats. They were new men who respected women and weren’t hung up on traditional gender roles but who still had plenty of masculine features and hobbies.

As far as trends go, I’m definitely much more comfortable sitting around a campfire in the woods than I am getting my eyebrows waxed, but as modern men try to figure out what it means to be men, I believe both trends miss the mark. The problem is not that there’s anything wrong with embracing your feminine side or cultivating a list of masculine hobbies. It’s that we’re discussing the wrong thing.

Whether men are being told to be more like women or to be less like women, all that does is continue to play masculinity against femininity in an attempt to define manhood based on surface behaviors. At its core, though, being a man isn’t about being more masculine or feminine – it’s about no longer being a child.

A child shows up expecting other people to take care of him, and when something doesn’t go his way, he assumes it’s someone else’s fault. A man, however, is an active participant in his own life, taking responsibility and not shying away from making tough decisions.

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Making that transition, however, isn’t always easy, especially without someone else to help you along the way. Heck, it wasn’t until I was nearly 21 that I realized that taking an active role in my life was even an option. Eventually, though, I got fed up with feeling stuck. I had no idea how I was going to teach myself how to do things like make friends, attract women, and generally become happy, but as far as I was concerned, even if I failed, it couldn’t hurt to try.

What followed was several tumultuous years and me getting a lot of things wrong at first, but after a while, I started to get the hang of it, and it’s been incredibly freeing.

Since then, when I talk to guys who are concerned or confused about masculinity and being a man, what I find is that usually, they’re resisting taking an active role in their own lives. It would be risky to put themselves out there and risk failure, so they shy away from it.

Playing by the rules is the safe way to go, but the rules today aren’t quite as clear as they used to be. That means we have more freedom than we used to, but it’s also scary. Without clearly defined rules, you could mess up and do something wrong. Unfortunately, society would still love us to believe that men are never allowed to mess up or do something wrong.

Rejecting some vague set of rules that’s meant to keep a nonexistent “them” happy is incredibly freeing, though. If wearing a pink shirt is really what you want to do, then wear your pink shirt. If what you really want to do is grow a bushy beard, then go for it. Not everybody is going to like it, but there isn’t a single choice you can make that will keep everybody happy, so you might as well stop making that your goal.

At the same time, though, there are much bigger decisions in life than what to wear, how to groom your facial hair, and what to eat for lunch.

If you make a mistake, whether it’s on the job or at home, you need to take responsibility and fix it. If you say you’re going to do something, you need to stick to your word. If you want to have a good relationship with your spouse and kids, you’re going to have to limit how much time you spend at work. That might not mean making as much money or advancing as far in your career as you would have liked, but if family time is your priority, you have to stand behind that decision.

Ultimately, being a man is about growing up and taking responsibility for yourself. If you value something, make it a priority. If you want something to change, work on changing it. If getting what you want is hard and requires making sacrifices, do it anyways.

If you want to be a man, you don’t need a pre-defined role to fill or somebody else’s list of rules to follow. All you need is to be an adult.

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