//: September 4, 2014 : //
The score is 19-23, 41 seconds left on the clock, and the ball is on the 9-yard line. “Gun left trips, wing return, 36 delta swap fastball, t lucky.” I drop back, survey the field, see my receiver wide open in the end zone. I throw it hard, fast, and on target. The only problem is my left tackle’s head is in between the ball and where the ball needs to go. The ball pops up into the air and falls into the arms of a very gracious awaiting defender. He takes it 92 yards back for a pick six as time expires.
I sit down on the field and I start to cry. I wallow in my misery and let my emotion wash over me. I feel a hand on my shoulder. I look up and there is my Coach looking down at me smiling this cherubic smile that makes all negative feelings melt away like a sunrise extinguishing the dark cold night. I say, “I’m sorry coach.” He looks down, continues to smile and says, “Come on son, football players don’t cry.” I didn’t show true emotion in front of another human for over half a decade.
In the eyes of the general population, ‘feelings’ is the real ‘F word’. It is that one thing that everyone has an unspoken agreement that they don’t belong in society, school, or the workplace. We leave our feelings in the pillow we cry alone into on late lonely nights. We leave our feelings on the steering wheel that we hit in our car alone. We leave our feelings on that couch that we sat on for three days with only a gallon of ice cream and The Office to keep us company. The singular commonality between all these situations is loneliness.
Pop culture, our parents, our coaches, our teachers, and toxic masculinity has paved the way for a severe lack of discourse about our feelings. This loneliness come from a common fear humans have around connecting with others. It’s very easy to connect when things are going well, however, it’s much more difficult to see someone going through hell and being vulnerable enough to approach them or being strong enough to accept their feelings. This is because the narrative for so long has been “football players don’t cry”, “big girls don’t cry”, insert “______ don’t cry.” We must change that preconceived notion that the ability to not show feelings is the hallmark of masculinity. This is extenuated by romanticized songs like I’m Still a Guy by Brad Paisley, which defines the role of feelings men have in an unprecedented way and paves the way for a lack of space for feelings for men and women. This unfortunately is the case for many people.
Over the past 5 years I was the toughest guy I knew. The only feelings I acted like a needed was the feeling of my knuckles connecting with someone’s face if they wronged me or my friends. I strutted around like a conquering emperor looking at his new subjects. I acted like I was better than everyone because I didn’t truly feel. I laughed at criers and scoffed at lovers. Basically, I had the emotional intelligence of a starfish. But deep down I was still the same sad, scared kid who long ago was told people like me don’t get to cry. I was leading a double life and it was literally killing me. There was a soft, scared kid on the inside pleading to be let out, and on the outside, there was an athletic, good looking future frat star, who couldn’t be bothered by anything with a heart coated in 4 inches of hard cold iron. I hated both sides of me.
A few months ago, it all came to a head. I sat in the cool grass feeling it between my fingers trying to soak up as much sun as possible, while on the inside just trying to keep it together. In my mind I was collapsing. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I could barely perform the daily functions of being a human. All because I was tired of the daily struggle between my visible and invisible self.
I felt like the Greek demigod, Sisyphus, destined for eternity to push a boulder up a hill only to watch it roll back down. I laid back and once more let the feelings wash over me over. Years of pent up anger, sadness and exhaustion from living a double life. My body and mind were screaming, “MAKE IT STOP! JUST END IT!” There I was sitting on a grass field like I did some five years earlier, wallowing in pain and self-pity. And that’s when, once again, a hand was placed on my shoulder. I looked up through teary eyes as I saw a man that looked like my coach. He was slightly younger, slightly shorter, significantly more in shape, yet still sported that transcendent smile that lights up a room.
That man asked if he could sit down with me. I, of course, obliged. He sat down and opened up his heart to me; a complete and utter stranger. The more he did it the more the part of me that I buried deep inside, thumped its way out demanding to be heard. After 20 minutes it was me again! I could finally be my free, unrestrained self. I realized I was even more of a man for being strong enough to share my feelings.
After five years of trying to achieve this adulterated, misconceived version of masculinity, all it took was a 20 minute conversation in which I opened up to another person without fear. I changed from a boy to a man in that moment. A man I could live with, a man who could be trusted, a man who could love, a man who could be loved, a man who wasn’t afraid of his feelings. A man who stopped smiling with his mouth and started smiling with his eyes.
Culture says we can’t have feelings. Culture stigmatizes sharing feelings. Screw culture. One of the things that makes humans unique is our depth and breadth of emotions. So why suppress that? I implore you, if you’re hiding behind a wall, please come out, we want to hear you. It may be one of the hardest, yet most rewarding things you’ve ever done. If you're already in touch with your feelings, I encourage you to reach out to someone who isn’t and open up to offer them a space to open up. Don’t be afraid of your feelings. Feelings are deep, beautiful, and supremely human. By sharing them you might just change someone’s life. If you positively affect just one person’s life you change the world. So….go….change the world.
“Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”