287. When Boys Express Feelings

I used to be a boy, and boy, it took a long time to come to terms with some of the stuff boys had to grow up with. A good friend of mine (who also used to be a boy) read my article called “When Friends Argue” and asked me why he doesn’t remember experiencing all the trauma he sees his daughters experiencing – traumas about who likes whom, who doesn’t like whom any more, and all that.
I told him that we boys weren’t supposed to think or talk about those difficulties we had with our friends. We were supposed to somehow be above all that. If someone didn’t like us, or did at first and then changed, we were supposed to ignore whatever pain we felt about it, and go on about the business of life.
I do remember the pain, though. It didn’t ruin my life, as it didn’t ruin the lives of the children who were allowed to show it (back then, mostly girls). But the boy who was my best friend in second and third grade stopped being my best friend in fourth grade. Another boy moved into the house next door to him and became his new best friend. And I had to search for another best friend, or not have one.
Years later, I wrote a song about the trauma, but in order to make it sound more believable, I changed the characters to girls. In my experience, girls were the ones who could express their feelings. And since I had strong feelings, and wanted to be able to express them and be heard, most of my good friends (after third grade) were girls. Only recently have I developed strong friendships with men.
At first, my friendships with people of my gender were saturated with jokes. But gradually, I learned that some of the serious stuff I’d previously discussed only with women were okay to talk about with men. Some of my male friends had faced difficulties similar to what I had faced, and had been affected in similar ways.
I hope things have changed, and I know they have for some boys. But I also know things have stayed the same for too many. For every father who encourages his son to express his feelings, there’s at least one who tells his son not to. There’s a certain point in the average boy’s life when he learns that he’s supposed to stifle his tender feelings, his vulnerability, his sensitivity. But it’s not healthy to stifle all that. It causes psychological problems, and probably some physical problems, too. So let’s cut it out, guys. Okay?

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