Bants, Bants, Bants



A colleague of mine, let’s call her Naomi (she’s not called Naomi), called me a “sensitive soul”  last week.  It wasn’t in response to witnessing England’s World Cup dreams falter and die, but a light bulb did go off in my head.  I talked in a previous post of how I was on the lookout for my next writing topics.  Well, here was one, delivered on an imaginary plate.  Time to get out the old knife and fork, and take a bite, so to speak.

I get told that I’m a sensitive guy occasionally – ironically this doesn’t upset me.  A very good friend of mine, let’s call him Dan (he is called Dan. Gotcha), called me out on it a few years ago.  I can’t remember his exact words, but it was a suggestion that I was looking for something a bit different in life to most of us.  I practice yoga, I meditate, I like long walks on my own, and now I write a blog about my feelings and experiences.  In retrospect it’s probably a fair assessment.  I also like to watch and play sport, have drinks with the lads, drive my car, and chase women (are we still allowed to say ‘chase women’?).  It’s all about balance…

“Men don’t have to be anything. You just have to be you. Fuck defining that.”

– David Greenwald, 2016

An individual’s level of sensitivity is a subjective matter.  I’ve definitely been called insensitive more than I have the opposite, namely by ex-girlfriends, and my mother. What is the acceptable baseline level of sensitivity for a man?  What is too much?  What is too little?  Are the levels the same for women?  Who gets to decide?  Does it matter?  “What does it all mean, Basil?”

I think sensitivity often gets lumped into the same basket as weakness, and that’s a shame.  In the distant past, before we industrialised the world and started living inside concrete blocks, the tribe members who were the most ‘sensitive’ would be responsible for keeping us safe.  They would be the ones trusted to alert us to threats, hunt our food, navigate our nomadic movements, judge weather patterns, heal our ailments, etc.  Shamans are called ‘hocus pocus’ scam artists nowadays, but in indigenous society they were revered.

It’s somewhat indicative of the society we now live in.  It seems to me that we have increasingly placed more value on the masculine within our world.  Yin and Yang – both energies are important.  In the second paragraph I made a ‘jokey’ comment about balance in my own life, but laughs aside, it’s very relevant.  The destruction of the natural environment, globalisation, Deep Water Horizon, war, London’s knife crime epidemic, 60 million Chinese children being left behind in rural China whilst their parents go to the cities in search of factory work, keeping up with the Joneses, the rat race, the Syrian refugee crisis, investment banker bonuses, plastic choking the sea, 5L V8s, drink driving.  It’s all a result of the overwhelming dominance of masculine energy in our (let’s be honest) fucked up society.

Disagree?  Look at the comparisons of how we remunerate and prioritise those in  occupations which develop and heal our fellow humans (mothers, nurses, teachers, etc), compared to how we reward those who make cold, hard cash.  Cold hard cash – couldn’t sound less feminine if it tried.

I’m no expert in the ancient energies, so I pulled the following from this website to describe the difference for me:

The feminine is creative, nurturing, passionate, connected to nature, wild, enchanting, in flow, and loves to connect. This is why most women (who are embracing their feminine) could talk for hours on end for no reason other than to connect. 

The masculine is still, calm, integrous, certain of itself, great at problem-solving, determined,  and absolutely goal-oriented. Masculine energy is more focused on purpose. That’s why men often need to have a purpose for a conversation, a trip to the shops, and most especially for their lives.

If a man (or a woman with a more dominant masculine energy) does not have a clue what his life purpose is, he will be restless and unable to commit to anyone other than himself until he knows his purpose.

Every human being has a mix of both energies and a healthy balance and use  of each is essential for a fulfilling life.

As I read the below, it opened a spiral of dialogue in my own head, mainly focused around the question – is this me?

If a man (or a woman with a more dominant masculine energy) does not have a clue what his life purpose is, he will be restless and unable to commit to anyone other than himself until he knows his purpose.

Woah. Deep. ‘Triggering’.  I’ll come back to this.

Writing an essay without a plan is a fun, liberating experience, but it’s also kinda hard.  I keep having to dive back and re-read what I’ve written to try to establish where to go next.  Meanwhile it keeps getting longer and longer.  I understand now why my English teachers used to bleat on about the importance of creating a plan before answering an exam essay question.  With that in mind, back to the topic.  The real topic (hint: it’s not banter).

“You’re too bloody sensitive”

No one has ever said this to me, or at least said it to my face, but I am guilty of saying it before… Shortly after I had upset the recipient of my accusation.

Sensitivity is person-specific.  We all have different tolerance levels, formed, and to an extent, ‘locked-in’, by our cumulative life experience.  Take me (and most other men educated in Britain) as an example; I went to an all-boys secondary school, populated by relatively smart lads.  I spent 7 years at school between the ages of 11 to 18 having the piss ripped out of me, and learning how to throw those insults right back.  Getting in the first jab is the best form of defence, however.  Comebacks are harder to come by.  Unless you’re Jimmy Carr.  Or my mate Steve.

Boys are not ‘nice’ in that sense, but that’s the way a lot of us are configured; being amicably horrible is our way of bonding.  This experience desensitises us to being insulted.  Just like a boxer becomes desensitised to being punched, or a sniper becomes accustomed to shooting at people from a distance.  I’ve got to be careful about generalising here, let me be clear: I’m not saying the girls aren’t equally capable of being horrible to each other.  I have some girl mates who are far funnier/better at slinging insults than I am.  I would simply speculate that, typically, young girls don’t engage in the ‘sport’ quite to the extent that us lads do whilst we’re growing up (and grown up).

Banter’ has, however, gone full main stream of late, and women seem to be on board.  The ability to give as good as you get is revered.  I’ve noted that ‘Good banter’ is often listed as a requirement above all else for potential suitors in women’s dating app bios.  Instagram accounts showcasing the best in global ‘bantics’ are plentiful, TV shows are dedicated to it.

With good reason.  If you ‘get’ the jovial repartee, it’s a lot of fun.

But it’s a fine line: because of the subjective nature of sensitivity, we occasionally miscalculate the line, causing offence.  If we do, we can wind up being labelled rude, insensitive, cruel even.  Just ask Russell Brand and Jonathon Ross.  Beat up on somebody too much and you step into the world of bullying.  Be too nice, however, and you’ll be labelled needy, a push over, annoying, TOO SENSITIVE.  Knowing what is too much or too little is a key social skill we learn gradually as we grow up.  Becoming sensitive to the feelings of others – some are better at it than others.

This difference in the honed ability to give and take well-meaning insults, is one that I don’t hear being talked about very often.  However, it’s one I’ve experienced first hand.  It’s an issue of compatibility.  Looking in from the outside, the couples whose relationships always look the most solid to me, are the ones where they poke harmless fun at each other on a regular basis.   Personally I’ve never had a relationship like that, where it’s felt that ‘easy‘.

I recall a past relationship that was particularly affected by having very different tolerance levels for playful insults.  My girlfriend at the time was regularly upset by my jibes.  I was, at first, confused by the offence she often took, but once I started to understand our different tolerance levels, I adjusted my dialogue to avoid upsetting her.  Not before labelling her “too sensitive” a couple of times.

Error.  I’m all for being sensitive (there’s that word again) to other people’s feelings, but having to change to be with someone, or holding back part of who you are, is a tried and tested route to failure.  Took me a long time to work that one out.  I’ve been cautious about ‘falling’ into a relationship that didn’t tick the ‘easy’ box since that experience.

There’s a scene from the movie ‘The Last Kiss’ which has remained in my memory for some reason.  One of Zach Braff’s pals asks how he could cheat on his wife, Jacinda Barrett’s character, Jenna:

“How can you f*ck around on Jenna? She’s perfect. She’s beautiful. She’s like a guy. What more could you ask for?”

The ‘she’s like a guy comment’ is an interesting one.  Certainly it could be taken as sexist, but before we go throwing that term about, here’s what Zach’s character had to say about his wife earlier in the movie:

“Jenna and I met 3 years ago. She’s smart, she’s beautiful, she makes me laugh. If you absolutely have to become an adult and all that comes with it, this is the kind of woman you wanna do it with… right?”

This provides a bit of an insight into the thought process of the previous statement.  I guess the friend could have meant that Jenna was ‘like a guy’ in the sense that she farts a lot, leaves the toilet seat up, or some other bullshit gender stereotype, but I think it’s more likely he’s referring to her personality traits.  Maybe her ability to ‘banter’, I’m speculating. Form your own conclusions.

I’m going to go a bit ‘open and honest’ at this point.  The reason I’m single at 34 is that I haven’t found the girl who makes me want to become an adult and take on all that comes with adulthood.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had girlfriends – beautiful, smart and interesting women, but I’ve never felt able to properly relax and truly be myself with any of them.  A couple of women have featured where I did feel that, who I like to imagine I would have given up the bachelor life for, but for whatever reason it didn’t work out.  The ones that got away.

“For whatever reason”  

What. A. Cop. Out.

In the past 4 weeks I’ve been exploring myself, my past, my present, and my thought processes more than ever before – “for whatever reason” and blaming it on ‘humour compatibility’ may have been acceptable prior to this phase.  It is not anymore.

I hope I’ve held your interest until this point, because I think I know the reason.  I haven’t been happy.  I’ve been ok, not depressed, enjoying life for the most part, but not PROPERLY happy.  Not confident enough in myself.  You can’t win and be with someone, especially not the smart, confident, beautiful, funny, positive person we all want to have in our lives (i.e. Jacinda Barrett’s ‘Jenna’), not when there’s something not quite ‘on point’ with you.  This, I imagine, is why I’ve ended up flirting with love, in substandard relationships, drawn to people as equally lost as I was.  Relationships with an obvious end date.

Buckle your seat-belts, kids.

  1. Why haven’t I been happy?
  2. I haven’t been very well.
  3. Why haven’t I been very well?
  4. Because I have been abusing my body for 15+ years.
  5. Why have I been abusing my body?
  6. Because that’s what everyone does?
  7. Bullshit.
  8. Ok. It is kind of true, but ask me again.
  9. Why have I been abusing my body?
  10. Because I’ve had my eyes closed, being the person I think I should be based on what others think. Living life in fear.
  11. Why?

Bugger! What started out as an essay on banter has turned into this.

I’m not going to attempt to answer #11 now, but the quote I pulled from that website earlier in this post has been ringing in my ears ever since I pasted it into WordPress a couple of  hours weeks ago (yes, this one has been a long time in the making).  Does it come down to needing to find my purpose in life?  It sounds like such a cliche.

I found a quote on LinkedIn that feels very relevant to this blog:

Deciding what kind of man you want to be is the first step to becoming that kind of man. If you put this question out of your mind, with the hopes that you will eventually become the man that you want to be naturally, you will most likely never become the kind of man that you desire to become.

In my second post, I talked about how I was looking forward to creating a new version of me, with the old bits I like, and the new bits I’m identifying.  The blog is titled ‘Redesigning My Best Self’ for a reason.  If I already had the answer, I wouldn’t necessarily have the reason to be writing.  It seems to me that the current challenge is to come up with that blueprint, and then work out the steps to achieve it.  Those steps may take the rest of my life, and rightly so. Personal growth is not something you complete, it’s an ongoing process.

I grew up seeing very little of my Dad, but lots of my Mum and two younger sisters. As a result, I’ve always enjoyed talking and connecting with women and I have number of close, cherished female friends.  The result of my increased exposure to the fairer sex through my formative years, I think, is the appraisal my colleague recently made of me (which I started this post with).  I am a ‘sensitive soul’, because the women I have been close to in my life have shown me how.  I thank them for that. I do, however, wonder if it has resulted in an energy imbalance – am I embracing my masculine enough. Quite possibly not – I think I’ll do a post on this in the future.

For now though, I am a sensitive soul.  I think deeply, possibly too much, but I like this part of me, I see it as a strength.  It will not be consigned to the bin in the redesign process

Without goals, and plans to reach them, you are like a ship that has set sail with no destination.

– Fitzhugh Dodson

Footnote: This post is by far the hardest I’ve written to date.  I’ve re-shaped and re-worded it countless times over the past two weeks, trying to work out what message it is supposed to be conveying, and how best to communicate that without causing offence.  Even now, as I click ‘Publish’, I’m not convinced I have succeeded.  If I have failed, I apologise.  These are merely my opinions and thoughts, formed from exposures to information inputs throughout my life.  I am not pig-headed enough to think I know it all – I welcome being challenged and shown another way.  Drop me a message.

2 comments on “Bants, Bants, Bants”

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