Life & Arts Opinion

Men, it's okay to show vulnerability

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Even if society tells you otherwise, it's perfectly fine to embrace your mates (Image via Pexels)

In a society that deems vulnerability as something that men shouldn't display, Brendan Foster breaks down why it's okay to give your mates a hug.

FOR SOME bilious blokes, there is an unwillingness to enter into any discussion about sadness, despair or hurt in the fear of their vulnerability becoming a punchline.

Or simply the fear of getting punched. 

So males will engage in a relentless game of masculine mutual mockery in a refusal to acknowledge the inherently normal feelings of loneliness, isolation and their disdain for brown leather sandals. 

Given men’s utilitarian view when it comes to communicating their foibles during moments of male enchantment, how do we emotionally brittle blokes deal with the dismantling of a friendship we love?

That is the premise of Martin McDonagh’s hauntingly beautiful and excruciatingly funny film, The Banshees of Inisherin. The British-Irish writer and director explores the deep complexity of male friendships which most of us chaps are terrified to admit exists.

McDonagh’s excavation into the complicated, convoluted and messy relations of male platonic companionship is ludicrously absurd and at times, infinitely cruel.

Colm (Brendan Gleeson) decides one day he no longer wants to be friends with his lifelong pal and drinking companion Padraic (Colin Farrell). Padraic is brutally crushed and spirals into an existential pit of self-doubt as he tries to comprehend why his best mate has “ghosted” him.

The futile attempts by Padraic to resurrect their ruptured dalliance have consequences that are both comical and grim.

So the movie got me thinking about whether the relationships with my lovable mates were that complex. Or does the complexity merely come from the fact we have all the communication skills of a squirrel?

My mates are intelligent, funny and self-deprecating, but that doesn’t mean we don’t load up on resentment, bitterness, jealousy and frustration. Without a doubt, they have made my life endlessly enriching and comforting despite the odd urge to smack them in the nose. And if one of them suddenly walloped me in my snout, there is a damn good chance I deserved it.

I also lean towards Jerry Seinfeld’s philosophy about friends: “I actually only have three friends, I really can’t handle any more.”

I’m just too neurotic and analytical to sustain a posse of pals.

I will admit I have enjoyed the company of certain gentlemen because I am fluent in the most sacred of all blokey communication: “sports talk”. My deep affection for cricket and the AFL would seem moronic to those allergic to sport.  

Although there is something in Italian scholar and literary giant Umberto Eco’s argument that sports chatter is ‘the maximum aberration of “phatic” speech’ and therefore, finally, the negation of all speech.

As beguiling as sports talk is, it can be boring.

I’m not implying there is a shallow superficiality to bat and ball banter but my diet also has a rich intake of books, movies and music.

And I suffer from that infliction that has befuddled us, humans, for the past couple of millennia: What the heck is it all about? Thankfully, my closest friends share the same malady.

Symbiotic simians aside, McDonagh’s film is more than just a poignant fable on masculinity. The filmmaker is nudging us feckin’ men to address the unacknowledged fragility of being vulnerable in front of our mates.

While some males might arrogantly claim otherwise, sometimes we need our male friends to define who we are.

It appears he’s not alone in his thinking.

Swiss-born British writer and philosopher Alain de Botton reckons men have a fear of revealing their vulnerability.

He wrote on his site, The School of Life:

Men enter friendship under the belief that the route to another person’s affection is to impress them.


The terror of men is that the admission of failure, sorrow, confusion or stupidity will render them unworthy of the attention and kindness of other males.

In the risk of coming across as vulnerable, I sometimes suffer from that unworthiness. It tends to make things awkward.

Poet David Whyte skewers men’s inability to be absolutely “naked” in front of their friends even further:

“Vulnerability is not a weakness, a passing indisposition, or something we can arrange to do without, vulnerability is not a choice, vulnerability is the underlying, ever-present and abiding undercurrent of our natural state.”

The beautiful bastard has nailed it.

So instead of wading into the treacherous waters of male emotional instability and doubt, we bunker down into our battled-hardened bravado of bullshit and denial.

Not all “bromances” are like that. (What a lazy, ecumenical and vulgar term. It ignites a fury that I usually reserve for readers of Dan Brown’s books).

And most men are curmudgeonly content in their land-locked terrain, covered in barbed wire until there is that insatiable yearning for male intimacy.

Unfortunately, we predictably don’t go searching for it when we need it most.

I get that some guys struggle with affection and embracing because of social anxiety. Although, I’ve always been dumbfounded and suspicious of that ultra-masculine snuggle that starts with a peculiar arm wrestle, that morphs into a rigid embrace like Cold War spies exchanging secrets.

I have absolutely no interest in the origins of this Viking-style grip, but for the love of God, just stop it now. I’m begging you. You can cuddle. It’s okay. Nobody cares.

Our lack of expressing our vulnerability could also be related to the fact blokes just don’t catch up.

Men don’t do coffee. We need a reason. Males don’t do the secular logic of normal conversations. If I rang a mate with an unprepared topic he would instantly assume I have only a few months to live.

We are not instinctive and spontaneous, like women. If a buddy rocked up unannounced with a picnic basket and blanket, I would immediately call a helpline. Yeah, that makes us all look like Neanderthal nut jobs but it is just simply an unwritten law of the male universe. 

There are obvious flaws and faults in male relationships. But when we are not inventing new ways to kill each other, we are doing okay.

As De Botton says: Being vulnerable just requires a bit of faith with us fellows.

Brendan Foster is a Fremantle local, former Fairfax journalist and communication professional.

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Men, it's okay to show vulnerability

In a society that deems vulnerability as something that men shouldn't display ...  
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