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Cathie, S. (1987). What does it mean to be a man?. Free Associations, 1(8):7-33.

(1987). Free Associations, 1(8):7-33

What does it mean to be a man?

Sean Cathie

One of the reasons that I really enjoyed leaving my boys' boarding school and going to university was that I could seek out and enjoy the company of women. Looking back, I can see that on the whole I preferred their company to that of men. There were some exceptions. One or two older men who, I can see now, were father figures for me, I turned to for their interest and warmth. There was also the marvellous and satisfying experience of belonging to a group of men friends. But on the whole I sought out the company of women. I sense that I did this because I wanted their emotional warmth and because I was uneasy with men who by comparison felt cold and critical.

When I married, I was seeking a prolonging of the warmth and closeness that I had always sought with women. To my disappointment, I discovered that difficulties would keep breaking in and spoiling things. Sometimes I was resentful of something; at others, my wife took issue with me. The closeness I had sought and cultivated then became uncomfortable. My commonest way of coping with this was to distance myself. It seemed to work when I was the one who was dissatisfied, but it certainly did not work when I tried to do the same in response to my wife's challenges. In fact the more rational or distant I was, the more angry she became with me. It helped when I responded with sympathetic feeling to her, but even so there was the danger, I felt, that in doing so my own needs or concerns would not be heard. Worse still was the fear that, in coming close to her by showing sympathy, I would somehow be taken over completely and there would be no ‘me’ to have needs or to try to get them met. So one of the things I have struggled for has been to find a way to articulate my resentments and to respond to the challenges from my wife. Painfully, I have discovered that closeness is not enough; there needs to be some distance between us too.

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