Tag Archives: The Good Men Project

The Day After Valentine’s Day

I’ve really enjoyed this back and forth with Tom Matlack of the Good Men Project.  I hope you will pass along his positive energy and the way that he champions men and holds them to their best selves.  Here’s is the last in our series.  Hope you enjoy.  yrs. Laura

In the last of a five-part series on love and relationships, Tom Matlack and author Laura Munson debate the question: Do men and women mean the same thing when they say ‘I love you’?

MUNSON: I have to believe that the notion and experience of love are not gender-specific, nor are they culture-specific. I wrote a book about what happened when my husband told me he didn’t love me anymore and wasn’t sure he ever did. I didn’t believe him and chose to give him room to work through and heal from what I believed was a crisis of self brought on by sudden career failure. And he did heal—and we’re still together. I am deeply grateful for that. Some marriages are meant to end. I didn’t feel that ours was—and it turned out that he didn’t either.

I have heard from people around the world, married and unmarried, men and women, gay and straight, responding with gratitude for my book’s message, which is one of personal responsibility in crisis—one of non-reaction and a commitment to finding the freedom of the moment, no matter what’s going on in your life and no matter the outcome of the ordeal. In an interview with a reporter from Tel Aviv, I asked, “I wonder how Israelis will respond to this message.” She paused and said, “I don’t care where you’re from or what religion you are or what social group, the words ‘I don’t love you’ are universally ones we fear and dread.”

I have found that to be true, so I believe that the reverse of those words is just as universal. We long for the words “I love you,” whether we are women or men. We long for the fulfillment and intimacy of relationships. But that “I love you,” in order to be authentic, has to start with the person who is expressing that emotion. That “I love you” has to begin within. If you don’t love yourself, however are you to love me?

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MATLACK: I’m with you on the ideal of love being universal, across gender lines. But the way we get to that ideal is different, requiring that we overcome gender-specific obstacles. I have no idea if it is genetic or learned, but little girls and little boys grow up with very different conceptions of what romantic love is all about. I grant that there are as many different variations on the theme as there are human beings, but in general, women see love as a thing at the center of their existence and men see it as something to be conquered, dealt with, and at worst lied about. Your husband’s story, like my own, points to the difficulty guys have just being honest with others and ourselves when it comes to love.

When we’re young, a guy saying he loves a woman might just mean he wants to sleep with her. My sense, though I only have secondhand reports on this, is that young women generally perceive that, for guys, sex is an expression of love—rather than the other way around.

Guys eventually warm to the idea that there might be just one woman out there that will meet all their needs—but the word love still scares us. I have heard it too many times to count: guys think that if they fall in love and commit, they are giving up options for other women.

But it isn’t about the sex or about the lack of freedom, it’s about the fear of looking ourselves in the mirror and feeling disconnected to the guy staring back at us. I don’t think guys cheat because they think it’s a good idea to sleep around on their wives and kids. Inability to commit isn’t the cause of infidelity; it’s a product of fear and self-loathing. As you suggest, you can’t hate yourself and love someone else.

Some guys never get there. But by the time we reach 46—which is where both my wife and I are now—we have the emotional maturity to see the true and lasting benefits of love and commitment. Guys eventually catch up with the smarter and more mature gender, to see ourselves worthy and capable of giving (and receiving) love without doubt.

Guys like me know we are lucky to cuddle in bed with the perfect woman—in other words, one who has seen the good, the bad, and the very ugly, and stuck around despite it all. And when we say we are “in love,” it is with an equal conviction to that of our female counterparts.

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MUNSON: I find it so true and so unfortunate that the words I love you are so loaded—manipulation, transference, co-dependence being some of it. I agree that emotional maturity comes with age and long-term relationships. I always tell my teenage daughter that people are not capable of being equal loving partners until they are much older—and to focus on her female friendships. I didn’t make that choice when I was younger, and spent most of my time with longterm boyfriends. While I don’t regret those relationships, I do wish I’d skipped the adolescent drama and focused on nurturing friendships instead. When I said I love you back then, it was very different than the I love you I offer now to my husband of 20 years. That I love you is loaded in a different way. It means Thank you, I respect you, I believe in you, I believe in us.

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Tom Matlack and Laura Munson debate other questions about modern love:

Why do young women and older men get along so well?

Are stay-at-home dads macho?

How important is physical appearance to longterm fidelity?

What’s more important to a good marriage—great sex or fighting fair?

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The Hefner Effect

In the third of a five-part series on love and relationships, Tom Matlack and author Laura Munson debate the question: Why do young women and older men get along so well?

MUNSON: I was raised by an “old man.” My father was 50 and gray when I was born. He used words like “davenport,” “filling station,” and “ice box.” His mother was born in the 1800s and she lived in a nursing home in her last years, where we visited her every night. My father would pass by the rooms and look in and say, “That man used to be the CEO of Sears and Roebuck. It’s hell to get old.” But I noticed that those old men loved me. In fact, as my father aged, his friends would occupy my dance card, as it were, at a multi-generational gathering. And I obliged. I wasn’t scared of their liver spots, canes, and quivering voices. I knew that it was hell to get old, and I was happy to walk arm-in-arm with them through the door, or to get them a plate of food so they wouldn’t have to get up off the “davenport.”

And let’s be honest—I knew that I was “giving an old guy a thrill.” I’d heard it in those exact words from plenty of them. They thanked me for things boys my age often missed: simple things like my smile, my thin ankles—and they meant it. As an adult, I wonder why that is. Is it that men never outgrow their need to feel important to a woman, and their own wives and contemporary lady friends have long soured on stoking their egos? Maybe so.

But why would a young girl oblige? What’s in it for her? I think it’s because I knew there was no threat of sex. No threat for a jealous episode with a girlfriend. I knew I didn’t have to prove myself. They liked my ankles and my smile and that was enough. It was a win-win. I watched that win-win all the way to my father’s deathbed, where he flirted with the nurses. I forgave him for it and so did they. Maybe it’s one of life’s secret agreements.

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MATLACK: I concede that true love is ageless, and that an outsider can never know what happens behind closed doors in a marriage. I would never comment on the success or failure of any particular couple, but the societal phenomenon of old guys and young women is worth talking about.

I sometimes think that marriage is like a boxing match. When the sparring partners are well matched, it goes on and on, with blood and guts on the canvas and beauty emerging from the violence of the engagement. When older men marry younger women, the partners have given up on the idea of going head-to-head with their peer in age and in power. The male and female roles are exaggerated into some kind of daddy-daughter dynamic that is somehow more comfortable than trying to slug it out with someone your own age.

When they give in to the Woody Allen “the-heart-wants-what-the-heart-wants” gravitational pull, both parties make a concession.

A younger woman embodies vitality and beauty—and the guy’s power, defined in its rawest form, becomes the central aphrodisiac. Everyone knows where they stand.

I can’t help but be saddened when I see this pattern over and over again among my friends and in the newspapers, because at bottom it points to our collective obsession with superficialities. We worship material wealth and youth. And boobs.

Money and power or teenage-model good looks don’t make anyone happy in the long term—contrary to the consistent message of popular culture.

At the extreme, both the old man and the young woman are stooping to a commercial transaction—prostituting themselves. She’s selling youth, beauty, and sex, and he’s buying it. Whether you’re sleeping with a guy for $100 or $100 million, it’s all the same. Both sides of the trade miss out on something more genuine than sex, and the kids miss out on having a dad—since most of these guys will be in retirement homes (or dead) by the time their children make it to college.

But maybe I am just being a prude. New research shows that this whole thing is about the survival of the race. The practice of older men chasing younger women may contribute to human longevity and the survival of the species.

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MUNSON: I find it interesting that when I read the question, I didn’t read the phrase “get along so well” as having to do with sex or marriage. I thought about it in terms of dynamic. I don’t have any friends who have fit into that societal stereotype, wherein the old man marries the young hot girl with the “boobs.” I think of that scenario as a myth some people might give in to, and I’m not that interested in it. I think we would do better as a society to start shifting away from these myths. I don’t even believe in the male “midlife crisis.” But I do believe that it’s sold to men, from the time they’re kids, that the prize is youth in women and wealth in men. And I do believe in the power of that lie. Let’s tell ourselves a different story, shall we?

Matlack:  Natasha Vargas-Cooper writes in her recent Atlantic article “Hard Core”:  “One of the most punishing realities women face when they reach sexual maturity is that their maturity is (at least to many men) unsexy.”

Yes, I think old men asking young women to dance is one thing– it’s cute and harmless– but that isn’t what’s really going on most of the time.  There is a sexual component.  There are countless old guys married to young women, and many more older men masturbating to images of young women on the web.  I don’t pretend to completely understand it, but I viscerally believe it is a sell out to true love and goodness on both sides.

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Read others in this series: “Great Sex or Fighting Fair?“ and “Looks and Longterm Fidelity.”

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Tom Matlack is the founder of the Good Men Project and one amazingly inspiring guy.  Check out what he has created!

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—Photo by Gizmo2469/photobucket

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Are Stay-at-Home Dads Macho?

This is the third in a five part series of discussions by Laura Munson and Tom Matlack of “The Good Men Project.”

Laura Munson:

Last year, my husband was suddenly unemployed, and after many years, I finally got a book published. I was working insane hours and touring the country on book promotion and he was making breakfast and bag lunches, driving kids from school, to music lessons, to sporting events. He gave me the greatest gift anyone could have given me at that time in my life: He kept our family life normalized. Sure, the kids now got chips in their lunches, and he opted out of organic milk. But I saw what really mattered, and it wasn’t a potato chip or a pesticide here or there. It was security. It was the kind of love that men seem best at giving — at least my man. It didn’t mean there was a lot of “I love you when you sit in a dark room and type all day” or “You look sexy in those flannel pajamas that you’ve worn for two weeks.” It was a quiet knowing that he had a role to fill, and he did it powerfully. It was a perfect swap, but we both believed it was temporary. That was the unspoken operative word. Because if someone had told us when we were courting that I’d one day be the breadwinner, and my husband was going to be a stay-at-home dad, we would have balked. At 20-something I wanted to pursue my career and have him pursue his. I wanted to re-convene at the end of the day and share food and conversation and maybe snuggle on the couch while we watched a movie. In my 30s I wanted to have children and we did. Then I wanted to stay at home and be a mother and write books while my babies slept, and I wanted him to work, and be fulfilled — and then I wanted that end-of-the-day meal and that conversation and that snuggle. Life went like that and we felt lucky. But in our 40s, things changed for a while and we are better for it. I’m not sure I know what “macho” means. But if it has to do with power, then being given the space and time to fulfill my career dreams is one of the most powerful gifts I’ve been given.

 

Tom Matlack, stay-at-home dad:

Not only are stay-at-home dads macho, but all dads who show up for their kids are macho. You can’t be a dad and wall yourself off from your child. Perhaps that was the way in prior generations, but one of the greatest changes for men today is the opportunity we have to engage and learn about ourselves through our relationship with our kids.

I spent 18 months at home with my young children just after getting divorced. I only had the kids part time and I found it amazingly hard when they weren’t around — and amazingly rewarding when they were.

The feeling of holding a child, especially my own, in the crook of my neck is as close to God as I have ever been. When my life was completely falling apart around me — at least in part because I’d been working so hard that I had completely forgotten that I was a father — spending time with my kids reminded me what was important and gave me a purpose.

Machismo is about confidence, swagger and knowing what is important. Dirty Harry is macho, not only for what he does, but how and why he does it. He’s a badass on a mission to right the wrongs of the world. Dads, particularly stay-at-home dads, are the same way. They take care of their kids with a purpose. Mothers have something essential to give their children, but what dads have to offer is no less important. For those of us who have finally, fully internalized that fact, there is nothing in our lives more important than our children — and no one who is going to tell us otherwise. We will dive through brick walls — and endure being called “sissies” — to care for our kids in a way that makes up for time lost in prior generations.

Fifty years ago, women were trying to figure out how to get out of the home and into the workplace while still being good moms and wives. For men in 2011, our primary challenge is to figure out how to be at home with our kids while still holding down a job. To those guys who stay home to raise their kids: You are lucky, macho men. The dad at the playground or at the “Mommy and Me” playgroup doesn’t have to cower over in the corner. He can stand tall and do his thing, playing with his kid in a manly way, because it is cool to be a dad.

Laura Munson:

I totally agree. I live in a town where most of the fathers I know are able to show up at their kids’ sporting events and play performances and music recitals, and even school parties because of the close proximity to their workplace — if they have a work place. Here, many of the men are out of work, and their wives are the breadwinners. I also live in a town that is full of Montana “macho” men who strut their stuff all over the ski hill, and in the mountains, hunting, fishing, climbing — “getting after it,” as they say. I asked my son to define this “it.” He said, “It is doing what you love.” In this sense, being with your kids as much as possible is just that.

MATLACK:

I agree with you here. I agree macho means power, but power with intention for good. Macho men are heroic men, whether in Westerns or sports or at home. One of the biggest changes in the gender geography, as you describe so well and as we explored at length in The Good Men Project is the transformation of men as seeing fatherhood not as some kind of obligation in addition to their jobs but as the central role they fulfill on the planet—-one that can be done with machismo. The dad at the playground, or at the mommy and me playgroup, doesn’t have to cower over in the corner as some kind of freak. He can stand tall and do his thing, playing with his kid in a manly way, because it is cool to be a dad.

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Tom Matlack and Laura Munson debate other questions about modern love:

How Important is physical appearance to long-term fidelity?

What’s more important to a good marriage — great sex or fighting fair?

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GOOD MEN PROJECT

http://www.goodmenbook.org/


Hey there!  I’m spreading the word today about this great new book called “The Good Men Project” that everybody should check out.  It was brainstormed by a Princeton grad from Boston who was enjoying success as a venture capitalist but felt that there was a large gap in the stories that are told in mainstream America:  men’s stories.  Especially about “good” men.  So he got a group of male writers together to write their stories, compiled them into a manuscript, went out to the publishers, and was denied at every turn.  “People read women’s stories,” they told him, “or stories villifying men.  That’s the market.”  But unwilling to give up, he self-published this book this fall, and is now hoping to get the word out.  My hope is that enough people will buy it that book publishers won’t be able to resist this great opportunity to blaze new trail on the subject of “good men.”  Please check out the attached file, plus the below link, and order this book and DVD!  (link gives that info)  Also, if you are so compelled, please forward this to your friends.  This book’s success will depend on word of mouth.  Great gifts for the holidays!  And such a great message.  There are so many great men out there.  I’m married to one of them. 
All my best–
Laura

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