“Patriarchy is the expression of the immature masculine. It is the expression of Boy psychology, and, in part, the shadow—or crazy—side of masculinity. It expresses the stunted masculine, fixated at immature levels.” ~ Robert Moore & Doug Gillette
Seventy eggs, packs of bacon, and multiple types of beer filled the fridge. On the counter lay handles of liquor and energy drinks. The dining table was lined with snacks galore: chips, Cheese-its, popcorn, Oreos, Doritos, and dozens of Fireball nips.
I’ve been to many bachelor parties, and it’s not surprising that health is never a priority. Yet this time, things felt different, or at least they should have. Most of the men present were fathers approaching forty. Everyone was married, had highly respectable careers, and lived in nice homes across the US.
It was clear that this weekend wouldn’t be a free-for-all of strip clubs. We no longer had the beer guzzling metabolism of our twenties or the naivete of our youth. But if not late-night revelry, what would it be? Accepting that we were older and in a much different place in life seemed to be in tension with what this weekend was supposed to be all about.
The expectations, unspoken and unexamined, were looming over each of us. We were supposed to act as if we were decades younger back in college. The story we were unconsciously telling ourselves was that honoring a man’s last single days was to be full of drinking and debauchery.
We didn’t come here to be emotionally vulnerable and eat salads. We came together to get rowdy.
The question on my mind is whether there is space in our current paradigm of masculinity to do both?
* As grown men, do we have to revert to childish ways of interacting?
* Do we have to reduce ourselves to the lowest common denominator of health and wellness to have fun together?
* Are there not other ways of being together that better fit our present realities as mature, adults?
Still more questions drifted through my mind:
* Can we take a responsible approach to caring for our body and still make room to party?
* Can we find a balance between celebrating our friend’s last days of being single without making marriage out to be a ball and chain?
* Can we eat salads together and still be “manly enough”?
I believe we can do all of these things, but first we need to unravel some deeply held social norms about how men are supposed to interact together in groups.
The Undiscussed Rules of Bachelor Parties
The unspoken rule of bachelor parties is that there are no rules. Go wild. Get f*cked up. Have as much fun as possible because you’re about to lose all your freedom. Or at least that’s how the story goes.
But where did this story come from?
How did all of us guys end up with this template of bachelor parties as a drug-fueled escape from responsibility?
What’s more, how did we end up with this notion of marriage as impending shackles or the stereotype of men running away from long-term relationships?
Watching older generations go through their failed marriages and broken relationships?
Probably all of the above and more.
The stereotypes of men acting like boys is a sad reflection of our present reality. We have strayed from the mythic stories of men as responsible, powerful actors in the world and settled on a version of manhood that seems woefully incomplete.
Perhaps the most noteworthy archetype framing masculinity is that of a hero’s journey. It is the quintessential growing-up quest where men discover their strength through adventure and adversity. Endless movies from Star Wars to Harry Potter rift upon this classic template of human development.
Yet what is notably missing from all these sagas is the hero as a family man, caring for himself and his world responsibly as an adult. We are obsessed with heroic journeys and completely unenthusiastic about domestic life.
I get one makes for a much better motion picture, but it is this void in our present mythology that leaves men hanging on boyish and incomplete ideas of what it means to be a mature man. How does the hero turned father integrate into society, build a family, connect with other men, and take responsibility for doing good in the world?
If the hero’s journey is the fundamental process by which a boy becomes a man, the question of how to actually enact manhood remains.
This void is exacerbated when groups of men come together. The expectation is that of unhealthy behavior. The bachelor party is just one manifestation of this—groups of men acting like teenage boys… hedonistic, rebellious, and immature.
Yet the world doesn’t need more rowdy teenagers. It needs strong, healthy men. Men, it’s time we grow the f*ck up. The problem as I see it, is that we don’t know how.
No Models, No Vision, No Manhood
When I look around for good templates on how to spend time together, all I see is sports, fraternities, and bachelor parties. There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these, but as the only models for men to exist together, they leave a lot to be desired.
Sports teams and bachelor parties may be suitable for the single twenty-something, but where are the role models for men trying to be a good husband or trying to make ends meet?
I want more meaning and depth than our current cultural templates afford. I want to hang out with other men in a way that calls upon our higher qualities, not our lower ones.
Yet I fear that the little boy in me so badly wants to be accepted by the other guys that I will continue to squeeze myself into outdated beliefs and unhealthy ideals that have me ripping shots of fireball just feel accepted—the policing of the proverbial “man box.”
As men we must deconstruct this box and give ourselves permission to act differently. This includes
* Learning to have drink without being irresponsible to our body, our friends, or our partners.
* Learning to talk about our feelings as much as we talk about football.
* Allowing ourselves to strive professionally without feeling like our self-worth is dependent on our ability to provide.
* Feeling comfortable sharing our struggles with other men, so we don’t unconsciously accept that suffering alone is an inevitable part of being a man.
Creating New Templates for Men to Be Together
Loneliness is an epidemic. And for men, the feeling that you’ve got to “man up” and deal with all of life’s challenges on your own is a legacy of patriarchy that needs to be released.
We need each other. More importantly, we need to learn how to be together in a relationship without feeling like beer and sports are the only way.
Can you imagine a world where men hang out and actually come out stronger, healthier, and more sound in mind and body?
I can. It’s not only possible, it is necessary.
I can imagine the eye rolling among some guys. “That’s why there’s men’s groups. Don’t take away my bachelor parties or Sunday football.”
To be clear, I’m not at all against bachelor parties. The “wild and free” mindset makes sense as a time-bounded final hurrah.
I’m not advocating for less fun. I’m advocating for more opportunities for men (and women) to gather in a way that challenges the scripts and roles that have kept us prisoners to immature ways of interacting.
The current social pressure not only makes it difficult for men to be emotionally available, it also squashes so many of the joyful parts of our inner child—the playfulness, adventure, and energy of boyhood. It’s keeping us from our embodied selves.
But we need to grow and integrate that into new rites of passage that allow men to avoid blindly accepting patriarchal norms.
I don’t want to have to hide my softer, more vulnerable parts. I believe we can discuss how our social conditioning as men impacts our body and mind alongside discussing our fantasy picks and favorite cars. There’s room for it all if we can let go of outdated notions about how men can spend time together.
If we can help each other evolve into a more integrated expression of what it means to be a healthy man, everyone will benefit—the boys who are coming of age, the men who are struggling to find their place in the world, and the partners who deserve men that are nurturing and generative, not hostile and destructive.
Learning to be a better man, together.