I'm thirty... can I be a man now?

Usually when I mention my friend Austin the Actor on here, it is either to disagree with something he has said, or to make fun of him. That's a good thing, I think, because if there is one thing Austin needs in his life it's a barrier against the tidal wave of self esteem that I have come to believe he might not, after all, be faking. Nonetheless, despite the usual "friend-service" he provides of calling me an idiot when I'm being an idiot and punching me in the stomach when I do inadvisable things because of my current (emotionally vulnerable) state, he does also help me out from time to time with a word of wisdom. Like, for example, what he said to me yesterday at lunch.

In the late morning I had met up with Austin at his church, Renovatus. As usual when we get together, I was early and he was late, so I spent my wait time reviewing the eligible-looking young ladies who were arriving for the purpose of identifying potential candidates for the position of future-wife for my tardy friend, who was one of the primary motivating factors behind my previous post on arranged marriage. For a lot of the same reasons as me, he's into the idea right now.

When Austin finally showed up and we'd settled into a couple of seats towards the back of the old movie theater in which Renovatus meets, I told him what I'd been up to and he asked me if I'd had any luck. "Well," I muttered, pointing to a beautiful brunette sitting across the aisle and a row ahead of us, "there's that nice-looking single mom over there."

"How do you know she's a single mom?" Austin asked.

"Well, I saw her drop off a kid at the nursery, and she's not wearing a wedding ring."

"Hmm," he said, probably mulling over his stance on single moms. A little while later, he elbowed me and said, "Either singlemom is looking for someone, or she is seriously checking you out."

I looked. She was very, very seriously checking me out. Repeatedly.

"You know what happens next, right?" Austin asked, grinning wickedly.


"Next, the pastor tells everybody to stand up and spread the love around."

He was right, too, and as the beautiful singlemom made an expectant half-step towards me, Austin pushed me out of the row, towards the back of the theater, and around the back row of seats to the other side, because I don't need that kind of trouble and it's Austin's job, after all, to protect me in my current (emotionally vulnerable) state.

Later at lunch, we were re-hashing the moment and I was saying how weird her being attracted to me was because Austin, after all, is the one who is the tall and broad-shouldered hunk of man-meat-woman-bait.

"I've never really thought of myself as being physically attractive to women," I said to Austin, "and that hasn't really happened to me before - I mean, where a beautiful woman who didn't know me at all made it blatantly obvious that she'd like to. Maybe it has something to do with confidence... I've gotten a lot more confident in the past year as I've shucked off a lot of my fears, and people are attracted to confidence. I mean, I had a girlfriend in college and I got married, so I know that those two women, at least, were attracted to me at the outset. Usually, however, when someone acted as though they were interested, I just ignored it or didn't believe it was real until it became way too obvious to interpret in any other way. And then I just thought..."

I paused, and Austin finished my sentence,

"...that there was something wrong with them."

"Yeah, whatever," I said, and continued babbling, ignoring his comment, until a few seconds later it hit me... he was right. "What did you say?" I asked.

"I said that you wondered what was wrong with them."

BAM. The skies opened and a shaft of light hit the oily sheen on the garlic knot I was about to stuff into my mouth. It was just so true. No matter how well I knew that men and women are freakin' designed to be drawn to each other like moths to - well, to other moths - I always kind of doubted if this principle applied to me and the women I found attractive. Because just look at me, right? Sure, I had the symmetrical features that our culture calls "boyish good looks," but what was more important was that I was this skinny, decidedly unmanly chap with knees that knocked and a weird torso-to-legs ratio that made it look like I shrunk about six inches every time I sat down (Seriously, ask me to sit down for you sometime - it will blow your mind. I'm way taller than you, we sit down, and boo-yah-ka-shah, we're the same height!). Plus, I was always such a baby face. There was no way anyone could think of me as a man at all... let alone an attractive one... Right?!? I certainly didn't.

Austin's comment made me realize how weirdly out-of-touch with reality I had been, because it illuminated for me the great lengths I'd gone to to ignore the perfect Aristotelian Logic of the situation:

Premise One, Peoples are at odd intervals attracted to other Peoples.
Premise Two, I am a People, and am at odd intervals attracted to other Peoples.
Ergo, we come to the Conclusion that it stands to reason that other Peoples are also sometimes attracted to me.

But long before I took Philosophy 101 at University, I had come to the very fear-driven conclusion that this wasn't possible. So when people - and not just women, but men as well - acted as though I was an interesting person they might want to get to know, I usually just concluded that there was something wrong with them. Or that they were faking it, out of pity. Or that I had performed some trick (like painting really well or something) that had momentarily caught their fancy.

I then proceeded, on a subconscious level, to try to root out what it was that was wrong with them. I suppose I did this because I wanted to discover that it wasn't a character flaw that made them interested in me. The problem with the whole thing, however, was that when you go looking for flaws in people, you're going to find them. Human beings are absolutely amazing, but they are also profoundly problematic.

In the big, weird, mysterious mess that is human motivation, my desperation to get people to love me drove me to consistently undermine pretty much every relationship I ever had - friend or lover or whatever. People don't particularly like it when you constantly hone in on their mistakes and weaknesses.

I guess you could say that I'm done with this.

I have begun to learn to face my own problems. In open admission of failure (Hey! Lookey here at me! I screwed up my life!) I have found freedom and grace. I have learned to laugh at my foibles and even, in some small ways, to begin to love them as a part of the glorious mish-mash of attributes that is me. This, in turn, has freed me to love the foibles in others, and to overlook these flaws as I begin to be overwhelmed by the fact that people are all absolutely, mind-blowingly amazing. Without the constant, paralyzing fear that if others really knew me, they wouldn't love me, I have begun to learn that I can open myself, honestly, to love them. Instead of being a Grand Inquisitor, rooting out whatever flaws I suspect must have led them to love me, I can appreciate their love - and their lovableness as well. I can begin, in short, to live.

I have not been fixed. I still have regular weak moments where I think, "hmm... random beautiful person I don't know wants to talk to me. I should talk to them - just a tiny bit - to dig out a little more proof that I'm lovable." But these are not the moments that I dwell in, because they are not necessary. I already have wonderful people in my life whom I love - with whom I have shared beautiful letters, laughter, tears and fleeting glimpses of wonder.

Although I still feel sometimes that I am waiting, now, to sink into a dismal sea, far more often I live with joy in my moments, believing that whether I see it or not, the sun shines brightly above the damp, gray fog. It may be that in this "living in my moments," I am finding what it means to be a man.


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