For men, shame is most often manifest by feeling that we may be seen as weak. What was the most shameful thing you experienced in elementary school? Chances are that it involved being beaten up or bullied on the playground. I don’t know if that is cultural or in our DNA. Whatever the reason, men have a very deep need to be seen as strong and capable.
In my experience, women want men to be this way, and can be pretty hard on them when they seem otherwise. Where they might be empathetic and supportive to another woman, they often look at men showing the same emotion as weak. These dynamics can keep many men from sharing their doubts and worries. They worry that doing so will cause them to be seen as weak.
In our book, “Intentional Courtship,” I share a number of experiences where I felt weak or rejected—sometimes without rational reasons. I wrote about the experience of having my heart broken. I wrote about my own emotional pain and trauma, which was part of my journey. That was hard for me. But I didn’t want to give the world another work of Latter-day Saint idealism. I wanted to provide an honest book to help you feel understood in your own pain and disappointment and feel empowered to build a happy life. Let me pose the question: was it cowardly of me to share my own journey, mistakes, and emotional ups and downs? Or was it brave?
I believe emotionally mature people will say it is braver to share the things inside you than to keep them bottled up and pretend they don’t exist. In fact, I have had more people than I can count ask me how to deepen a relationship and progress after the initial phase of dating. Many tell me they get stuck and can’t seem to move forward after the first few dates.
There are lots of ideas in Intentional Courtship. However, progressing from casual dating to a serious relationship requires vulnerability. And that takes courage. The very word “vulnerability” indicates being vulnerable to being harmed in some way. I make myself vulnerable when I share the rejection I may have experienced in a former relationship and how I felt about it. I make myself vulnerable if I tell a dating partner that I love her, and risk her being unable to say it back or rejecting me because she feels unready for that kind of deep emotion. Is it weak or cowardly to say “I love you” first? No. It is brave and bold. And vulnerability is the way to create connection.
A person may appear very confident and “together” on the outside, which can be a cover for fear and pain. Many women are initially attracted to swagger and cockiness and then later proclaim that they were married to a narcissist. What is the solution to this problem? For both men and women, it is a more mature understanding of confidence.
A confident man is able to take emotional risks. This understanding of confidence is ironic, because it means that vulnerably showing your fear and lack of confidence is an act of confidence. But we all feel fear and pain. Those who can show it to another person are braver than those who don’t. As Brené Brown teaches, if you are a woman and you can sit with a man in true vulnerability and fear and not become fearful yourself, you have done amazing work. Being able to receive vulnerability and be vulnerable ourselves is dependent, in large part, on a shift in our thinking. It is having a deep understanding and belief that vulnerability is not weakness. It shows confidence.
I don’t suggest that taking emotional risks and making yourself vulnerable is easy. But it is the price of admission for stronger relationships and deeper connection. It is the key to progressing from casual dating to more serious commitment. It doesn’t come naturally to any of us, so it requires intention.
Folk singer Don McLean wrote:
“The book of Life is brief;
And once a page is read;
All but love is dead;
And that is my belief.”
In the final analysis, there is little room for ego in a place of love. And it is a choice. Friends, I hope you’ll come on this journey with me. It is not the easy path, but it is the most fulfilling. Be strong and of good courage and open your hearts to the greatest blessings of time and eternity.
About the Author
Jeff Teichert, and his wife Cathy Butler Teichert, are the founders of “Love in Later Years,” which ministers to Latter-day Saint single adults seeking peace, healing, and more joyful relationships. They are co-authors of the Amazon bestseller Intentional Courtship: A Mid-Singles Guide to Peace, Progress and Pairing Up in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Jeff and Cathy each spent nearly a decade in the mid-singles community and they use that experience to provide counsel and hope to mid-singles and later married couples through written articles, podcasts, and videos. Jeff and Cathy are both Advanced Certified Life Coaches and have university degrees in Family & Human Development. They are the parents of a blended family that includes four handsome sons, one lovely daughter-in-law, and a sweet baby granddaughter.
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