My struggle as an emotional man (and as an Asian American)
7 min read.
What does it mean to be a man?
Ohh boy, that’s the question, isn’t it? I even hesitate asking it because maybe part of being a man is not questioning your manhood, right? You just be tough, it’s not that hard.
Well, to be honest, it was for me.
Over the past year, I’ve been on a journey to get better at managing my emotions by learning about Emotional Intelligence. If you don’t know what that is, I wrote a little more about it and why it’s important here.
I think the root of most of our social issues today are because men (and some women) lack emotional intelligence. And this was especially true for me.
I didn’t know it was called Emotional Intelligence at the time, but reflecting back, I was incredibly unintelligent when it came to dealing with emotions. I had no self-awareness, self-love, empathy, or social skills. I suffered with anger, annoyance, frustration, rejection, loneliness, embarrassment, and insecurity, all of which I was not allowed to express. They said it was not “manly,” they said I was being “too sensitive.”
I had no avenues to express what I was feeling, and it’s been bottling up, getting all tangled with each other, and now it’s extremely difficult to sort it all out.
Emotions and Intelligence Don’t Go Together
I’ve been taught that intelligent people don’t let their emotions get in the way of what is “real” or what’s in front of them. Intelligent people don’t show weakness and vulnerability. Intelligent people ignore the negative emotions because having them means you’re unstable.
This was something that was both consciously and subconsciously taught to me. I know the people around me were well-intentioned, but there was never any education around how we should handle what we’re feeling. Maybe it was a cultural thing, or a generational thing, but I saw the same thing everywhere, especially in mainstream media.
Every man around me was always tough, macho, and never cried.
I knew I was a boy, I identified as a boy, and I wanted to be part of the boys. So I kept my feelings to myself because that’s what all the other boys were doing.
There were one or two kids in at each of my schools that were able to be real, but I was still unable to connect on a deeper level, other than by association, mainly because I was just not comfortable being completely open. It’s all definitely my fault.
On top of that, I went to predominantly white schools, so I don’t think anyone was used to seeing an Asian kid. The rare ones they did see were on TV and they were either quiet, unromantic martial artists, or effeminate, awkward math nerds. Already, I was playing the game with extra weights on my ankles.
My experience with masculinity
I was an emotive boy confused in a culture where I was told not to feel.
Even sitting by myself and writing this out is weird to me. I never talked about this as a kid. But here we go.
Growing up, I would always lock up around anyone who showed too much emotion, good or bad. Even saying the words “emotions” and “feelings” makes me feel weird or exposed. And any time I was able to express my own emotions, it would seemingly be at the wrong times.
I laugh or smile when in serious situations, coming off as insensitive. I cry when there’s even just a tiny bit of sentiment, coming off as a “crybaby.”
My brother even recently said that when we were kids he would get confused every time I expressed a strangely-timed emotion. And it was all because I was (and am) very emotive, but didn’t really see that in other boys who were displaying tough, nonchalant, neutral expressions.
Seeing all of that all around me and on screen as a kid forced me to internalize how everyone else perceived Asian men. And because of that I struggled with my masculinity. I over-analyzed how I thought other people would see me, which led me to doubt myself, to feel low-value, unattractive, odd.
I crushed on so many girls, none of them giving me the light of day, and when someone did like me, I was either oblivious, emotionally out of tune, or didn’t believe that they were genuinely interested. I was shy and awkward, especially around girls and anyone I deemed the “cool kids,” which was basically everyone. I thought they were all better than me in every way.
I let it get in my head that women probably think Asian men are terrible romantic partners because it’s what everyone sees in the media.
That lower-self and negative self-talk consumed my whole being. I would never cold approach anyone if there was no natural reason to. And it wasn’t because I thought I would be awkward, or weird, or not know what to say, but because I projected onto them that I was never good enough. I thought they will never find me attractive because I’m Asian (even to other Asian girls!).
The Consequences of (Not) Talking About Emotions
See, being emotional is probably one of the last things you would associate to “being a man.” And the older Asian men around me didn’t go deep with emotions, with me or anyone else. You’d have to give them a few drinks before you see any signs of vulnerability.
I understand that, especially with family, you want to show strength and solidarity, show no weakness so that everyone can take solace and trust in you.
But what it taught me was that I was a lesser man if I did show any sign of vulnerability.
I see now that things are starting to change, men are talking about it and it’s been amazing to witness, but we still have a long way to go.
So talking about the “softer stuff” like what we were feeling, our emotional and mental health never happened. My dad would sit us down, quite often actually, and tell his life stories, and there was definitely a lot of emotion in there, don’t get me wrong. But it was always a long-winded way of him telling us what we should or shouldn’t do. Back then, I never felt like I connected with his heart at all. Nor did I feel like he wanted to connect with mine.
Sure, maybe I was too young to understand because now, I think I’m at a great place with my family and I feel comfortable sitting with them to talk if I need to, but back then, I would have never even thought about it. I didn’t have the trust to expose myself without judgment.
I love both my parents to death and what they have done for my brothers and I, especially for all that they’ve sacrificed to come to America, to give us a good life. I am so deeply, enormously, profoundly grateful for them. Being a parent is definitely the hardest job. It’s just that talking about ourselves wasn’t the priority.
Saying I love you? Oh no way, not gonna happen, too weird.
Again, this is not me complaining or holding a grudge against my parents at all. They did the best they knew how and have instilled so many other great values in my brothers and I. It’s kinda why we’re all, like, suuuuuper cool and like, really fun to be around…
But I realized that I’ve been missing out on so many benefits from being able to talk through these deep feelings with people.
Like trust, human connection, a better sense of self, confidence, clarity with expression and communication, and meaningful relationships.
Hiding my emotions was isolating.
I’ll stop here.
Now look, I’m not looking for the pity train here or to play the blame game. I have come to terms with all of this today and am working through it.
It was hard for me to grasp, but now I understand that I have no control whether or not I am Asian, American, or a man. There’s no reason that should affect how I view and carry myself. I cannot let my circumstances define and confine me. The more I worry and frustrate myself over something external that I can’t control, the more I am giving power to it and that’s only going to hold me back.
So I’ll stop here before I get too far into a rant, but I am now feeling so much more optimistic about the world to allow us to put ourselves out there in so many different formats.
But writing can also be very lonely (talk to me, people!), and I love having these conversations in-person. I’m actually working on a podcast and video series to document my journey with emotional intelligence, so follow me on all of my channels to look out for that! And join me in the conversation.
This felt good. Thank you for giving me this space.
Talk to you next time, beautiful humans.
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Here are some more books* that I’ve been recommended regarding masculinity and relationships:
- “The Mask of Masculinity: How Men Can Embrace Vulnerability, Create Strong Relationships, and Live Their Fullest Lives” by Lewis Howes (https://amzn.to/2KpruuR)
- “Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead” by Brene Brown (https://amzn.to/2Ku1Bdo)
- “Men Explain Things to Me” by Rebecca Solnit (https://amzn.to/2tzPcyn)
- “The Way of the Superior Man: A Spiritual Guide to Mastering the Challenges of Women, Work, and Sexual Desire (20th Anniversary Edition)” by David Deida (https://amzn.to/2Kqu7Na)