For as long as I can remember, I've been hypersensitive.
Emotions pour out of me in a way I've never had control over. An embarrassing moment, a happy ending to a movie, or a heartfelt compliment from a friend could all easily have me bawling in a matter of moments. I've always been very in tune with my emotions. I accept all of them, happiness, love, pain, and anger. All of these exaggerated feelings have allowed me to understand myself and my limits in a way I am so grateful for, even if crying a lot can feel a bit silly.
After being with my boyfriend for a few months, I began noticing he would have a hard time explaining his emotions.
If his moods were off, I'd ask him what was wrong. He would always reply with "I don't know" or "nothing." Or if he was able to say he was sad or stressed, he always said he "didn't know why" or that "it was nothing." At first, this got on my nerves. As an emotional person, I couldn't understand how he couldn't recount every little detail of every bad moment of the day. How can you have a feeling so obviously affecting your mood, yet not talk about it? It felt as though he was pushing me away.
The more I got to know him, and his family, I realized that this is how he grew up.
His family is set up in a way that his father is the head of the house. This dynamic is new to me, having been raised by a single mother. His family is lovely and kind, and so is his father. I know for a fact that his father adores him, and has nothing but good intentions. However, his father is an advocate for stoicism and masculinity. Of course, it's not at the fault of the parents, because this has been happening for generations upon generations.
My boyfriend is the oldest son of four, so I'm sure these stoic ideals are pushed even more heavily onto him.
He grew up being teased for what he wore and teased for the choices he made. "Skinny jeans are for girls," or "It's too feminine to get your ears pierced." On the other hand, he would be told to "toughen up" or "man up" if he was sad or stressed.
Sadly, this is how a large number of men grow up. They have their feelings invalidated or pushed under the rug just because they were born with a Y chromosome. They are ashamed if they want to express themselves through fashion and sensitivity rather than bottle up with brawn and repressed emotions.
This is my first time experiencing it first hand, and it isn't easy. My boyfriend is so desensitized to emotions at this point that he doesn't even know what he's feeling. Sometimes I'm sure he's convinced himself he isn't feeling anything at all.
I have to hold his hand and walk him through what his emotion is, why he's feeling it, and why it's OK.
"Do you think you're upset because of your semester deadlines coming up? Could you be stressed? Did you know that most other students are also stressed right now? And no, you're not acting like a wimp, you're acting like a human."
And on the day we can't get to the bottom of his feelings, I'll be there for him. I'll let him feel them. I'll let him mope around or sleep in.
I'll even let him cry it out, because I know he spent so many years choking back his tears, in fear of being rejected as a man for being human.
Almost two years into our relationship and there's a lot of noticeable progress. He will tell me about his day without me having to ask. He will let me know when he's stressing over something, and how I can help. We can talk through anger rather than him shutting down. Lastly, he isn't afraid to cry. And I'm always there, telling him there's no reason to apologize for feeling, it's what we were made to do.
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