When I hear the words "men" and "touchy-feely" in the same sentence, I cringe. My reaction to touchy-feely is entirely negative. It conjures up an out-of-control, ineffectual man, who emotes for show, but doesn't actually know how to express his true feelings. And that couldn't be farther from my notion of manhood.
Women may have inadvertently contributed to touchy-feely men when they suggested relationships might improve if men became more emotional. Not knowing what that actually meant, what followed were touchy-feely guys, a disaster for women and men alike. There are even weekend retreats sponsored by touchy-feely men, and one made Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show." His "reporter" Samantha Bee, treated them like fools. These touchy-feely guys were wimpy and unappealing, and falsely assumed they could improve their lives in a weekend. Acting out for no other reason than to demonstrate emotionality has nothing to do with emotionally empowered men who are completely aware of and in control of their emotions.
There's a lot of fear around men being emotional, largely because most guys have been raised to "suck up their pain and act like a man." However, guys who give in to this fear -- rather than facing and working through it -- are the ones who insist they don't want to be "touchy-feely" when challenged. Their fear is largely unwarranted, because there is enormous power in authentic emotional awareness and control.
There's a learning curve for a man to become emotionally present, which means being able to identify his actual feelings in the moment and remain in control. But a man who develops this skill stops inflicting his issues on those around him. He also becomes emotionally articulate, which means he can verbalize his wants and needs. Since poor communication is the downfall of many relationships, most guys perceive the value of honing their communication skills.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks to men becoming empowered is that many don't discern the difference between thoughts and feelings. Though some guys insist the difference is just semantics, it's not at all about semantics. The gap between thoughts and feelings is wide enough to drive an 18-wheeler through. What a guy thinks comes from his head and is his opinion. As such, it's open to debate by anyone else with an opinion -- which is everyone. On the other hand, what a man feels emanates from his heart, and is his absolute truth. No one can judge a man's emotional truth. Imagine telling someone you're feeling sad or angry, and their responding with, "no, you're not, or you shouldn't be."
I caution a woman who wants her man to share his feelings openly, that he must feel safe enough to know that what he shares will be honored and respected. Some men, including me, have had the painful experience of being betrayed or bashed by women after sharing what's in our hearts -- which, not surprisingly, makes us reluctant to open up again. Of course, the same goes for women who've been shut down emotionally by men. Respect means honoring what someone shares from his or her heart, without judgment or opinion.
Bottom line is, there's no substitute for emotional honesty, guys -- not only in relationships with women, but with everyone. It's about a man living in integrity with himself and the world. And honesty in relationships doesn't come in shades of gray -- you're either emotionally honest or you're not. The fallout a man may feel after sharing that level of honesty may or may not be appreciated, but both people in a relationship deserve to know where they stand with each other.
So, I'll say it again -- getting in touch with and in control of your feelings isn't touchy-feely. On the contrary, it can free you from outmoded ideas of manhood and help you hold up your end of an emotional dialogue and create true intimacy with a woman. It's the pathway to empowerment. Touchy-feely? Never!
(Check out "The Daily Show" video on touchy-feely men below.)