Ken Solin is a men's activist and author, most recently, of "Act Like A Man." The book's title is a play on the directive thrown at men from the time they're boys. "It's hard to get men and their emotions in the same room at the same time," says Solin. "And it's harder for men to connect to their feelings than it is for women. Women start talking to each other when they're little girls. Men compete." The result is a disconnect between men's hearts and minds and an emotional gridlock with women.
"Act Like a Man" delves into this complex turf and profiles eight different men in a men's group, their often painful life stories, and their struggles to move beyond their personal issues and roadblocks with the help of other men. Solin's raw and honest account of his own life is woven into a mix that covers a lot of ground, from love, sex, marriage, divorce, fatherhood and friendship to violence, abuse, even death.
For the last 20 years, Solin has committed himself to helping men reconnect to what he calls their "absolute truths." I recently spoke with him from his home in Northern California.
You are a king of men's groups.
I've been doing this for 20 years. Some guys can't get past their egos, but the overwhelming majority of men love doing this because it changes their lives. Every single woman I've ever met who is a wife or a girlfriend of a guy who went into one of these men's groups, they all said the same thing: their relationships improved markedly. It was a huge change, and the change had to do with inclusion of emotional dialogue.
Do men feel safer sharing their emotional truths with men rather than with women?
Oh absolutely. I don't think there's any guy in America who doesn't know that if he gets on the same emotional playing field with a woman, he's going to be at an enormous disadvantage, because women are much more skilled at holding up their end of an emotional dialogue. When men sit with other men, they start to understand that there's nothing unique about their situation. And they can hear, on an emotional level, how men have handled things. There's a great sense of healing that begins.
I was a rage-aholic guy my whole life, into my early 40s. All of my relationships with women ended for the most part within three to six months. I didn't have any close men friends, because who wants to be close to guy like that? I had no control over my anger. I didn't even know why I was so angry because I'd stuffed that boyhood story so deep that I put it out of my head. And that's what men do with their pain. They stuff it down in that special place that men reserve for pain. They think that if they stuff it down, it goes away. Men have to understand that it never goes away. It affects your life every single day, whether it's anger or inability to connect with other men or raise your children. Most of this goes back to the pain that we've stuffed.
In many cases, men's groups are more powerful than traditional therapy, because therapists don't share their own process. Men need help from other men. They need to hear experiential information from other guys. I think a woman who takes on a project like that is in an impossible situation.
Women often believe that they can change men and they take men on as projects.
It's a fool's errand. People change because they're ready to or they want to.
Why do many men have few close men friends?
The biggest issue for men -- and the reason they have so few men friends -- has to do with trust and fear. They don't trust each other. Trust and fear go together for men like peanut butter and jelly. They don't trust other men because they fear that other men are better looking, have more money, a better education, better jobs, better looking girlfriends, bigger dicks -- you name it. Guys are always worried that other guys will see them in a diminished light.
Another problem is that these days, a lot of guys are unemployed. This brings up the issue of net worth and self-worth. When a guy loses his job, his self-worth completely disappears, because his entire sense of self-worth is in his wallet. My work helps men understand that if you're a good man -- if you support your wife's or girlfriend's hopes and dreams, if you're a good father and really involved in your kids lives, if you're doing some kind of community service, if you're a good friend to other people -- that's where your self-worth will come from as a man, not from your wallet.
Tell me more about why you chose the book title 'Act Like A Man'?
A boy is told to suck it up and act like a man when he's physically or emotionally injured. No more crying, be a man. And as grown men, we're still sucking up our physical and emotional pain. But it doesn't work any better for men that it did for boys. The screaming woman on the cover symbolizes women's frustrations with men and their relationship behavior.
Most men would never ever say the things they say to men in front of women. It would inhibit their ability to be open and honest. Men speak from their heads and not their hearts, which doesn't work in relationships. When a man expresses his feelings, he's expressing his absolute truth. That's what women seem to most want from men. And it's not about being overly emotional. It's about becoming emotionally aware and in control of one's emotions. That's what's important. Men can teach each other that. It takes enormous courage to sit down with other guys and talk about your life and what's not working. What's wimpy is when you inflict your issues on other people because you just don't have the courage to work on changing your behavior.
If a woman wants a guy to share how he's feeling, she has to be prepared to hear his absolute truth, which may not be what she wants to hear. You need to honor men who are willing to do that. Men are absolutely capable of holding up their end of the emotional dialogue in a relationship. But if a woman comes back at him and attacks him for it, it's going to be the last conversation they'll ever have.
You talk about men who are lone wolves. Why should women be wary of them?
Because a woman will become that guy's entire social universe. And that's a heavy burden for any woman to carry. The second reason is that lots of loners have trust issues with other men and women. Dealing with a guy's trust issues puts another layer of burden on women.
Why do many men immediately look for another relationship on the coattails of a failed one?
Many men don't take the time to figure out what went wrong in their previous relationship. What could they have done differently? That's why men's groups are so powerful. Men who've been divorced can share on an emotional level what worked and what didn't work, and help another guys going through a divorce. Also a lot of men don't understand the difference between being alone and being lonely. So yes, they tend to remarry at an alarmingly high rate after divorce. And their second marriages tend to fail at a higher rate their first marriages, and their third marriages fail at a higher rate then their first or their second marriages.
Is there a common refrain you hear among women about men?
Women often ask me what's the most important thing to look for in a guy when you're starting to date. I always tell them the same thing -- to ask him the most important question: Does he have any close male friends? If he doesn't, you've got a problem. You may have a boyfriend, but you'll have a boyfriend with a problem.
Men's groups are a huge help and they're free. They don't have to cost a dime. There are no more excuses, particularly for the guy who says he can't afford therapy. There's no excuse for dysfunctional male behavior. If a woman who meets a guy who's damaged and he's willing to talk and be open, it's not the end of the world. The end of the world is when she meets a guy who's damaged who has no ability or interest or talking about his issues.
What's your next big goal?
My goal is to get every man in America to start talking to other men.