Sunday, August 26, 2007

The State of Male

I have been reading that book about Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin, “Team of Rivals”. Well, something struck a chord with me as I was reading.

Take this passage, written from one Senator to another: "your friendship crowds (my heart) producing a kind of girlish impatience which one can neither dispose of nor comfortably endure...every day and almost every hour since (leaving) I have suffered a womanish longing to see you. But all this is too ridiculous for the subject matter of a letter between two grave Senators and I'll leave unsaid three fourths of what I have been dreaming on since I left."

You would most likely never hear a heterosexual male speak or write to another heterosexual male in the 21st century in that fashion. Why? You tell me. Is it:

1. A newly ingrained, pervasive fear of intimacy
2. Concern for the appearance of their manhood with men and women
3. Fear of being labeled homosexual
4. Fear of their professed non-sexual love for another man being blasted on Jerry Springer by their significant other
5. A simple, natural progression of genetics
6. Fear of being the joke of the neighborhood when everyone finds out, which you know they will
7. Fear of being rejected by the other person

That letter was written only 150 years ago. Two generations. Could we have mutated that much in so little time? Maybe. Maybe not. So, it is genetics or fear or both?

Genetics gave us Gandhi and Adolf Hitler. Also allowed us to walk upright and have opposable thumbs, to be self aware and think outside our reality. It also produced cancer and AIDS. So is the "how 'bout those Bears?" males of the 21st century a good thing or a bad thing?

Is it fear? Well, fear is a universal. From animals to man. Fear is a probably the biggest motivator next to procreation. Fear has an incredible hold over people, from the sublime to the obvious. Since we now know what we can have, we also know what we can lose.

My friend Anne suggests that perhaps because these men sustained so many losses – the death of wives, children, parents -- they did not fear expressing their love for the people in their lives.

Maybe that has mutated into a 21st century fear of expressing yourself exactly for that reason. Why open your heart only to have them leave or reject you – or post your personal correspondence on the internet? Perhaps those men 150 years ago weren’t afraid of the pain of life – knew it was gonna happen one way or another – and why not just say what you want to say. You’re going to survive or not. Typhoid or tuberculosis killed at random – a simple cut could become infected and deadly. A sore throat could mean rheumatic fever and a shortened life span. I guess in the face of all that, saying “I love you” to your fellow man isn’t such a scary thing.

Of course, I could be full of shit, and men write to men like this all the time. And just like those gents 150 years ago, don't expect a Doris Kearns Goodwin to publish their intimate thoughts and letters for all to see and have some future blogger try to read more into it than is really there.



Anonymous said...

This reminds me of a story I heard about the Trumans. Lots of Harry's letters to Bess exist for historians, but it seems she seldom responded. Not so, said their daughter. One winter the former President came upon Bess burning her letters in the fireplace. "Bess, stop," said Harry. "Think of history." "I have," said Bess, as she kept the firing going with her personal correspondence.


colleen said...

It does make me wonder if he was perhaps bi-sexual because it is so foreign to how men would talk today.

I saw a wonderful video over the weekend that portrayed a male friendship that was warm and intimate, in that one man physically cared for another. Robert Redford and Morgan Freeman in An Unfinished Life. I loved it.

Nicole said...

I can't say I blame Bess. I hesitate to think what future generations would think of our current style of correspondence without the context that comes of living in this generation. Then again, how can they understand the context without having something to reference? It is a tricky question, and not one I can answer.