I was 20 when I found out my parents had split up.
Two and a half years later, I have no harsh feelings towards her and have loving relationships with both of them. But immediately after their breakup, I was a mess.
I was crying in my car. I was crying in my bed. I cried when I picked up cold meat at the supermarket.
Despite my very public distress, I did my best to look stoic when around people I knew. I didn’t tell my closest male friend and former college roommate, Tim, about my parents’ split for weeks. Instead, I joked about the latest sports news like nothing had happened.
I’ve always seen my sensitivity as one of my greatest weaknesses.
At my high school Outside of Vancouver, British Columbia, boys were the most popular with quick jokes, often about other boys. I was someone who passed the fringes of social circles, wanted to be part of the group, but desperately didn’t want to attract attention that would ridicule me.
In 11th grade I started counseling for anxiety and depression. My therapy sessions took place right after school and were at odds with my routine homeward journey with two of my male friends.
Instead of telling them I was looking for help, I made excuses – a doctor or dentist appointment – to explain why I couldn’t come to them. After all, I had a habit of simply saying I had an “appointment”.
Years later, when I found out about my parents’ separation, I also tried to confide in my roommate.
Why was that Why was I still so afraid to open up to other men my age after the counseling?
Although research has shown that maintaining friendships leads to healthier lives in old age, men often struggle to have face-to-face conversations and keep friends.
In a 2020 study of more than 46,000 participants from 237 countries and territories led by researchers from the UK, young men living in “individualistic” societies, cultures that place more emphasis on self-reliance than on a collectivist mindset like The United States or the United Kingdom were more likely to report loneliness than the elderly or women.
In 2015, Dr. John Ogrodniczuk, the director of the University of British Columbia’s psychotherapy program, an online program called HeadsUpGuys that helps men manage depression. To understand why men are struggling to seek mental health help, the organization developed an online survey to identify stressors that can contribute to depression.
Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, loneliness was high on her list of stressors for men. According to Dr. Ogrodniczuk, the pandemic has only made men feel more isolated.
Why are men possibly more lonely than women – both during normal times and during the pandemic? After speaking with experts in the field of psychology, they reiterated that it may have to do with hesitation about being vulnerable, which can come at the expense of intimacy in relationships.
Holding on to my feelings contributed to the demise of my first (and only) romantic relationship. When I got into college I was aware of the party as I never went to parties in high school. I was also nervous about living alone, and I was unsure about studying creative writing, an area that seemed impractical compared to the science and math degrees that most of my friends were pursuing.
Instead of telling my ex-girlfriend about these fears, I consistently shut her out when she tried to help me cope until we broke up.
Niobe Way, professor of developmental psychology at New York University, believes boys are conditioned to view emotional vulnerability as weakness. When they grow up, boys are told that men should suppress and hide their feelings. “It’s a tragedy,” said Dr. Way in a phone interview.
In 2005, when Dr. Way grappling with their crumbling marriage, she decided to pretend everything was fine in front of her 5-year-old son, Raphael.
When she greeted Raphael one day after work with an ear-to-ear grin, he asked: “Mom, why would you smile when you are sad?” Way because it demonstrated Raphael’s appreciation of both her real internal state and her performative external behavior.
“Boys begin to be remarkably emotionally smart and attuned in the first decade,” said Dr. Way.
According to Dr. Unfortunately, when boys are socialized to become men, boys learn to avoid giving up difficult emotions, especially towards other men.
In high school, I played basketball with Ben Wezeman. We both played on the university team, an arena I never felt comfortable in, shared my fears for fear of losing my starting place in the line-up and appearing mentally weak in front of my teammates. I was a year older than Ben and we rarely talked. Years later, I found that Ben, like me, silently battled depression and social anxiety in high school.
Last year I noticed he was starting a GoFundMe and planning to run at least three miles every day for a year to raise money for breast cancer research after his mother was diagnosed in 2019. I met him for the first time since high school last summer and wrote about his running streak, but we didn’t talk about our shared mental health issues in adolescence.
In January, Mr Wezeman posted a manic episode on his Instagram that ended his running goal and caused him to spend nine days in a hospital. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
When I read his message, I turned to him again to finally discuss our mutual fears.
“I was afraid what would happen if I told a friend. Wouldn’t you want to be friends with me anymore? “He told me in a phone interview days after posting his post.
It was only after receiving positive comments and direct messages from strangers on his Instagram post that he felt comfortable discussing his weaknesses with friends – and encouraging other young men to do the same.
“There will always be people in someone’s life who care,” he said. “You may just not know. So we have to talk about it. “
Four years after the end of the only romantic relationship in my life, I’ve found that all relationships require a certain level of vulnerability.
I remember finally telling my roommate about my parents’ split. One evening, in one breath, I discussed their breakup and my pain. It felt like a weight was being taken off my chest.
After believing for years that “real men” were suppressing their feelings, I felt extremely relieved and comforted when he listened and showed empathy.
It strengthened our relationship. Sharing this intimate detail was key to making him my closest friend and why we still chat regularly.
In my conversation with Dr. Way, she emphasized how boys – like their son – have the emotional acumen at a young age to understand when someone is feeling sad.
These emotions need to be encouraged and not altered by cultural stereotypes and perceptions of masculinity. She says boys and men have the ability to understand emotions, their feelings are just waiting to be appreciated.
“This is not a depressing story,” said Dr. Way.
Josh Kozelj is a writer and lives in Victoria, British Columbia. He is a senior at the University of Victoria studying creative writing.