Toxic Masculinity and The Inauthentic Male
I consistently find myself falling into the trap of evaluating other men based on the usual, and outdated, concept of manhood. Automatically, I negatively judge men who aren’t outgoing, are intimidated by beautiful women, and who simply lack confidence. And by doing so, I perpetuate the stereotype of toxic masculinity, inadvertently contributing to the seemingly never-ending hindrance of emotional, male expression.
As is, I’m sure, known by now, I’ve been on several dating apps for years, hoping to establish some semblance of substance over that same period. When I began using them, I presented more of my natural traits than I did in my final year of online dating; I was comedic, somewhat shy, and tried a bit too hard to entertain. As each girl fell by the wayside, I was left wondering what I did and where I went wrong. So, I did the only thing a confused young, American male would do: I sought out the advice of online self-help gurus, particularly those who specialized in romance. Some of them offered genuinely great advice, some of which I still use with my clients, on alleviating the effects of rejection; but, most offered tips on how to become, or more accurately, pretend to be, something most people aren’t: confident.
As I delved deeper into those advice columns, I learned that I had to become something other than who I was; this, apparently, was my only shot at romance. The purpose of each article was to demonstrate how one could effectively eliminate any hint of authenticity for the creation of a self-absorbed, cocksure, stoic man; in essence, they were self-help guides on getting the women you wanted by transforming yourself into the man whom they wanted you to be. Think about the 90s hit sitcom, Family Matters, and try to recall the episodes toward the end of the series, in which the protagonist, Steve Urkel, metamorphosed into Stefan Urquelle, changing from the kind-hearted but misunderstood intellectual into a mindless phantasm who existed for the sole purpose of serving the fantasy of some insecure, shallow girl. That, in a nutshell, is exactly what modern dating, especially online dating, is comprised of: shallow women in search of their ideal lovers, and men who capitulate to their desires.
What made me so sad about that show was how much effort Steve placed into becoming someone else, a false persona of an individual whom he was convinced represented the best possible version of himself. He became so consumed by his need for female validation that he sacrificed his identity, his very nature, for the chance to hear Laura say, “I love you, too.” If we wish to widen our perspective of, and further comprehend, toxic masculinity, we must acknowledge the ubiquity of this tale, especially as it pertains to boys and even men. In our relationships, we, often, aren’t looking for genuine connections, as we’re seeking out partners who embody stereotypical ideals; this goes for both women and men. While some women dream about their A&F male model ideals, men tend to shun women who deviate, even slightly, from stereotypical femininity. Then, we ask ourselves why it is that so many are so lonely.
As my dating life progressed, I tried my hardest to manifest desirable traits, becoming my own version of Stefan Urquelle; but, I hated every minute of it. Some may ask, “Well, what’s the big deal? No one gets hurt. People are just having fun.” And, in some sense, I’d agree; but, I would argue that truth and authenticity get hurt, and that intimacy dies with them. Although there are some great self-help articles, those which help others become better parents, better friends, and even better lovers, I’ve learned to stay away from those which purport to transform you into the optimal male, an inauthentic puppet who disingenuously follows a script in order to get laid.
I still don’t know, and can’t be sure of, what women want, but I know what I do: I want to be known and accepted for who I am, and that means that I’ll have to stay away from women like Laura Winslow, at least the Laura of younger years. In the show, Steve eventually realized that Laura’s validation wasn’t worth the price of his identity; and through that revelation, Laura came to admire the authentic individual whom Steve truly was: self-acceptance begets acceptance from others, and vice versa. I no longer use dating apps because I grew tired of their shallow nature.
Throughout the majority of my life, I was trying to become an ideal man who oozed masculinity; but, now, more than anything, I just want to be myself. And, that self is sometimes confident, and sometimes not. But, I’ve learned to accept and prefer my self-doubt, as it’s helped me as much as, maybe even more so than, it’s hurt. I’ve used it to learn more and examine my actions, turning myself into a better man in the process; my self-doubt has definitely helped me more than any article espousing the steps for getting dates. These days, what’s most important to me is being who I really am, and holding onto my doubt as a catalyst for introspection. I recognize the fact that this will likely eliminate a slew of potential partners, but I find solace in knowing that they wouldn’t be good matches for me anyway. So, just as Steve decided to toss Stefan into the trash bin of time, I’ve resolved to work on chiseling away at my inauthentic self; my version of Stefan Urquelle will never see the light of day again.
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