Friday, February 7, 2014

Anxious Mail: How my best friends revealed the pressures of becoming a man

I could hear the tension in their voices as they teether on a tight rope towards manhood. At twenty, the little boys that I used to crack crude jokes with dissolved into two slightly taller, more assertive beings. The way they referred to their love lives or lack of provided a sliver of reassurance that they were that much closer to becoming a man. A sudden trace of concern in their voices over my own woeful journey into womanhood startled me. However, perhaps, the most defining moment was oddly the social antithesis of masculinity.

Send Me Your Anxiety and I'll Send You Mine

In becoming a man, they broke down in front of a woman.

The sun was high up in the sky and we sat, drinking our freshly ordered drinks and laughing at the absurdly long menu. We haven't done this in quite some time. Actually, we've never actually sat down and spoken so seriously ever, despite years of friendship. Gradually, I began the conversation. As the only girl in the group, I found comfort in showing my vulnerability first. Although my weakness is not as dangerous as theirs, somehow it continues to jeopardize my ever developing identity as a lady. The three of us are certain that I will be professionally and financially alright, but we weren't quite so sure how it would translate to my lacking romantic life. When it comes to these conversations, I always fail to distinguish the beginning and the end of each others' stories.

Sharing our quarterlife crisis meant having our issues bleed out across each others' pages. Soon, we talk about our careers. Seemingly, to become a man is to realize his responsibilities. Suddenly, wrinkles form on their foreheads, perhaps, a premonition of their future complexions. They wearily talk about their future plans, using their hands to gesture a loss of balance between passion and security. Together, we strove to figure out ways to prepare one another for the inevitable. Well aware that my best friends were meant to fill certain pairs of shoes, I could not help but see the greying in their hair and the shudder in their voices.

When one talks about gender assigned roles, one will surely move on to talk about families. Thinking about the future, when you're with a group of old friends is rarely advisable as it begs us to paint a stark contrast between "the good-old days" and "the future". Once, whilst in the car engulfed by the Jakarta traffic, we looked at each other and wondered, almost in unison, if this was the best years of our lives or if, even worse, the best years of our lives had already passed like an insignificant parade float. I felt cheated at that moment in time. I felt like I had not enjoyed enough midnight chats or alarmingly high caloric sweet treats to announce that the best days are over. Of course, that night we had one of the deepest conversations ever about it all and it made me feel perfectly fine with the possible reality that the best parts of life were gone, because I had these fantastic friends to spend (read: worry about) it with. So, if you do begin comparing the past, present and future amongst your good old chums, do note that if you go far enough, a sappy, highly complex conversation will be available at the end of the tunnel.

Come at me bro! Ready to create your very own nuclear family?
Coming back to the ramifications of being a twentysomething in an ever strict world. Though it might be hard to believe, I almost stopped complaining about gender equality on that fateful midday shindig, especially when I realized the weight that these soon-to-be men were hoisting on their shoulders. In a world where anxious women are more acceptable than anxious men, I often forget how terrifying men's lives are. The prospect of graduating, getting a job, becoming financially independent, getting married, and building a family is an undeniably awful wake up call. Perhaps, society, myself included, generally discounts the struggles that men face. After centuries of patriarchy, it seems that every man should be able to put food on the table. However, with rising female competition, statistically speaking, it is harder and harder for men to fulfill their roles in society.

Male anxiety does not have a name. In my opinion that is the most debilitating part of the whole issue. This gap in our vocabulary prevents us from openly talking about it. It is also a sign that we are far from accepting this idea that men are also vulnerable to the pressures of life. Perhaps, as a young woman who has tons of opinion on gender equality, be it the role of women in the workplace, or the balance in marriage and partnership, I think that we should make room for men to voice out their problems openly. Gender equality goes both ways, ladies and gentleman. Who are we to promote female employment, if we can't allow the men to expose their vulnerabilities?

"Everyone is under pressure," might appear to be a simple message to grasp, however, it is not a simple concept to accept. But, at the very least, we can send each other our anxious mails to realize that the world isn't as big as it seems to be.

*Author owns rights to display the photos above


  1. I become one who always believe that "people do not have to be strong". This thought also addresses to men. Men might cry, might be afraid of -even his future-, might want to get kisses and hugs... They need to be supported. Otherwise, people will forget to rely on the Almighty power above all :)
    Nice blog!

    1. Hi LittleAyie,

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. Quite frankly, the gender paradigm comes with its own sets of diverging histories. Yet, almost universally, men were "not allowed" to cry until a few years ago, when we finally embraced the "sensitive guy" and men who are able to freely express their emotions and vulnerability. Support is key, on the flip side, wouldn't it be grand to live in a world where men can openly cry without support? If they know that they can express themselves without the need for a hand to hold on to. This is, of course, just a thought! Thanks for your comment. I'm glad you enjoy the blog!