Happy Father’s Day! Back in 2009, I wrote a piece called “What Do Men Want” - and it’s still appropriate today. Read on:
Last week, I wrote about the surprising fact that as women age they grow increasingly sadder — their happiness peaks at age 47 and goes downhill from there.
If you clicked over to Marcus Buckingham’s article, you may have seen a little graph that showed women’s slide into unhappiness over time. But juxtaposed against this female happiness drop-off, you may have noticed that, starting at age 47, a man starts getting happier.
What? Men get happier and women get sadder, starting at the same mid-life point? There has got to be something to figure out here, don’t you think?
Gurian has provided an apt analogy to understand the flow of men’s lives. He says that all men view themselves as warriors on a quest, and that the challenge at mid-life is to make the move from warrior to wise man. In my shorthand, a man must shift from being Luke Skywalker to becoming Obi Wan Kenobi.
When I think about Luke Skywalker, I think about a young man in a hurry. Impatient. Wants it now. Rash. Reckless. An anxious striver.
In contrast, who’s Obi Wan? Centered. Strong. Wise. Comfortable in his own skin. Peaceful. Happy.
OK, you’re thinking. Star Wars. Quest. Sure. Quest-schmest.
“If you are a woman, you may have noticed that your boyfriend or husband may talk in the evening about his accomplishments or inventions or the way he vanquished a business opponent. He is involved in realigning his sense of self-worth with what happened that day along the lines of the heroic intentions that he (or perhaps even you) projected for himself. You may notice it gives him pleasure and pride to review his accomplishments and potentials, whereas you may feel less of a need to review your own with your friends or even with him. As he provides you with details of his potency — his accomplishment and potential — a beautiful and mysterious thing is going on: he is bonding with you through the presentation of himself.” [What Could He Be Thinking? by Michael Gurian]
So a man is on a quest. When we think about quests, we tend to think big. The Holy Grail comes to mind, doesn’t it? But each man gets to designate his own Holy Grail — the only qualifier is that it has to feel big to the guy. One man’s life quest might be to produce an error-free P&L upon request. Another man may seek the cure for cancer. One might pursue the perfect model train set up. Another may strive to have his name on a building dedicated in his honor. One may want to post the highest score ever on Call of Duty 4.
Whatever it is, it’s the man’s motivator — and it’s really important.
Now, let me take a moment and speak directly to my sisters.
I believe strongly that what men want most from women is safety and deep acceptance. For much of his life, a man may have been told that he’s too smelly, or too dirty, or thinks about sex too much. He’s also told he needs to be in touch with his feelings, talk it out, feed the baby — while he’s being told to be strong, a lone wolf, and eat what he kills.
A man often gets the message that whatever he does, he’s gonna be wrong. Some how, some way, he’s wrong.
But when women provide a safe place for a man to be all the things he is, right and wrong, smelly and sexy, and give him deep acceptance of his quest, then men can fully relax, be authentic, be themselves… and be happy.
Because the old saw that men have the emotional life of rocks is just plain wrong.
“The main point is this: men are just as feelingful, just as relational, just as connected, just as dependent, just as needy, as women are. The idea that women are relational and men are rocks is just nonsense. I don’t believe that men are from Mars and women from Venus. I think we’re all from the same planet. What’s going on is that men had been coerced since boyhood to forego these relational qualities and skills and squeeze their sense of membership and self-esteem through performance. I believe that in this culture neither girls nor boys are taught healthy self-esteem. Girls are taught to filter their sense of self-worth through connection with others, and boys are taught to filter their sense of self-worth through performance. That’s a very vulnerable foundation for one’s sense of self-worth.” [Menweb.com Interview with Terry Real]
What do men want? After knowing them — by being their daughter, their sister, their wife, their friend, their girlfriend, their coach — I can say, men want to be men. They want to be recognized for the heroic things they do, and appreciated for their life’s quest. Regardless of scale.
And at age 47, a man might just feel accomplished. Financially, emotionally, physically. Men head into their peak earning years at age 50 — maybe that’s why they start to feel happier.
Their quest starts to pay off.
After all of those years of anxious striving and being wrong, finally they begin to be comfortable in their own skins. They know who they are and that what they want is OK and right.
If they’ve played their cards right, they’re Obi Wan.
And the Force is with them. Who wouldn’t be happy?