Is today’s man more sensitive than his 20th century counterpart? More independent? More invested in marriage and relationships or less? We asked an expert.
Greg Holmes is a clinical psychologist, practicing for more than thirty years in Traverse City. He has a bachelor’s degree and doctorate from Michigan State University, and a master’s from Central Michigan University. He’s seen many changes in the “state of man,” from gender roles to economic roles to parenting roles. And, he’s seen some things that will never change.
EXPRESS: What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in 30 years of practice?
HOLMES: There are so many socioeconomic changes now that really challenge us in our thinking: What is a man? A man’s identity, traditionally, has been so wrapped up in what he does as a provider, that with these cultural shifts - more women in the workplace, equality in the workplace - that is difficult for some men to adjust to. (Or) because of education, the woman is able to go outside the home and make more money than the man. They’ve had to adjust to that, they both have to adjust to that.
EXPRESS: How many men do you see in your practice?
HOLMES: Many more women percentage-wise seek counseling than men. National average is 2 to 1, but it’s actually higher than that. About two-thirds of people who seek psychotherapy are women. In my practice it’s 60 to 70 percent women. The men who come in, half of them are “encouraged” by a woman to get help for a problem. Most of what brings them in, from what I see, is relationship issues.
EXPRESS: What are the issues?
HOLMES: In general, women tend to ... internalize too much, whereas men can, or tend to, externalize too much. So you can imagine a relationship between someone who internalizes and blames themselves, right?
And someone who externalizes and tends to blame other people or situations. You can imagine how that would play out.
EXPRESS: Is that nature or nurture?
HOLMES: First of all, we come out of the box different, genetically. And then gender wise, there are differences. And then there are cultural differences. And men are, in general, more hesitant to admit to any problem.
We’re encouraged to do that. Men, as boys, are encouraged … to be “a man,” you know, “Step up and be a man.” Do we ever hear, “Be a woman”?
EXPRESS: What are men’s biggest fears today? HOLMES: I go along with John Steinbeck on this. He said our greatest fear isn’t death. Our greatest fear is rejection. For men and women, our greatest fear is that we’ll be rejected.
EXPRESS: How about their greatest joys?
HOLMES: You know, it’s different for every person but there is, available to men — and women — a lot of joys, a lot of simple pleasures. We’re told in our culture that the road to happiness is you have to make a lot of money and buy a lot of things and that doesn’t create happiness at all. So we spend a lot of our time engaged in activities that don’t really bring us joy. If we can slow down, be simple, take a look at what we really need, what really brings us joy and happiness, that would be a great thing.
EXPRESS: How do we have successful relationships?
HOLMES: The key to a successful relationship is to understand that it is impossible to argue a need or a feeling. I watch people do that, I hear about people doing that, I’ve heard about people doing that for 30 years. An easy way for people to understand, for people to get it is, if you say you’re cold, who’s to say you’re not cold, who’s to say you’re hot? If you say you need something, who’s to say you don’t need that? It goes nowhere.
This goes back to differences. The key to a successful relationship is to acknowledge, understand and respect differences, whether it’s between two people, two countries, two religions or whatever.
The other key…is honesty. Who’s the biggest enemy men have? Themselves. Until they square up with themselves, they will never have what they could have in other relationships. They can blame other people all day long, they can blame the driver ahead of them that’s too slow, the person who didn’t get their order right in a restaurant or their boss or their wife or their kids, but until they square up with themselves, things just aren’t going to change.
EXPRESS: Any tips for fathers raising their kids?
HOLMES: The big one is time, spending time with your children. And I don’t mean quality time. That’s a phrase we’ve invented to assuage our guilt. I mean quantity. And spend it with them in a way that they would like to spend it with you and being curious about your child.
EXPRESS: How can you find a soulmate?
HOLMES: For men and women, during our 20s, we’re really still developing our own identity. That’s why they call the 20s the “tryout 20s.” Another thing is, there are a lot of assumptions people make about what marriage is going to be like. There are things that are rarely talked about, the specifics: Money, religion, in-laws, how they’re going to raise their kids. The devil is in the details. It’s a difficult gig, even when you talk about it. It’s an impossible gig when you don’t.
EXPRESS: Final words?
HOLMES: I went to a retreat a few years ago and the Zen master said, “Imagine you’re in a spaceship, just floating through space. Now imagine something goes terribly wrong. You try and try but you realize you can’t fix it. You won’t be able to go home. At that point, you might pray for a miracle and what would that miracle be? That you’d be on Earth again, that you could touch your wife, your daughter, your son. That miracle exists now, but we don’t realize that it’s a miracle