How to pimp out a man cave and “men going their own way’ are trending in the google search engines. This need to escape the burdens of life is not necessarily a new concept to the male psyche. But the pressures, and expectations being asked of modern men are raising the bar in the capacities we are being called to hold. Despite the popular ideal of the 4-hour work week, the actual working reality that the majority of modern men face is the experience of being held hostage to their jobs for 40-60 hours per week. If we count the work we do outside of the domain of clocking hours and getting paid, the average man (in particular those in relationships and with families) arrives home on the domestic front with another bus load of tasks egging him on: Laundry, meals, taxes, attending to his intimate partnership. For many of us there can seem to be a constantly surmounting list of to-dos. Even to the point of the things we are supposed to do for our own enjoyment, like connecting intimately with a partner, can begin to feel burdensome. All of this doing weighs heavily on a man’s soul. Not because there isn’t some satisfaction he gets from serving and providing but in the constant out-putting without attending to his deeper needs, his tank will start to run on empty.
As men that are more masculine-oriented creatures, we have a deeply ingrained internal wiring that seeks freedom from the burdens of existence, in some form or another. Often, the drive to accomplish things in the world is driven by this paradisiacal land of eventual freedom. Once we “make it”, then we can finally relax. Having built a cash cow by the age of “retirement” may for some be worth being on the train of stress and strain for 40+ years, but often it doesn’t payout in the dividends of the ultimate relaxation that many men are holding out for.
Many of us play this freedom-driven game of completions out in the short term, on a day-to-day basis. It gets wrapped up in a kind of masochistic thinking of: “Once I…, am making 6 figures, pay off my debts, get my YouTube channel to X number of subscribers, get the kids to bed, give my wife an orgasm, fix the broken plumbing, then finally I can take a breath and let go of the feeling of being trapped, stuck, burdened. There is always something that seems to be in the way. We can set our minds on some goals that we’ve determined once achieved will bring us lasting peace or happiness. The catch is this eventual peace, if it comes at all from our win, rarely lasts more than a few moments or days. Then it’s on to the next thing. We get caught in the vicious cycle of holding our breath and holding out on our enjoyment until we reach some magical destination.
The problem I see in a lot of men (myself included), that are on the constant chase for this elusive peak, is they can use their goals as a way of avoiding facing the things within them that are preventing them from creating an actual experience of peace or happiness. We can fail to register the recognition that this release from the burdens of life could actually happen without any external signifiers or events. We get wrapped up in the product and outcome vs. the desired experience, and feeling that’s underneath what it is we think we want. We can also develop the habit of measuring ourselves against others achievements, rather than by our personally crafted sense of core values. Which many men are completely out of touch with.
So why do men need time alone then?
Isn’t that what this article is supposed to be about?
First I want to distinguish between quality alone time, which is solitude, and loneliness. A man can feel completely isolated and lonely in a stadium of 100,000 people or lying beside his intimate partner in bed. He can have 3000 Facebook friends and still have this aching experience of disconnection.
For generations men were conditioned to compartmentalize their emotions. We have been trained to withhold these primary aspects of our life experience from others. A result of this is, not only are men feeling disconnected from themselves but also not having the skills to connect with others with any kind of depth. All humans are evolutionarily wired for relationships. It is rare for men to have genuine connections, where they feel safe to be fully themselves. It’s this absence of open communication and a truth revealing kind of relating that is the leading cause of the loneliness epidemic.
So why solitude if men are already lonely?
In order to connect with others authentically we must first learn to connect with ourselves. Intentional solitude is a foundational tool that provides a man the time and space to just be with himself. Intentional meaning he sets himself up with no distractions; no phone, no media, and nothing to accomplish.
At first this kind of practice might seem difficult if you’ve been on the doing-train for years. It will be hard to be still without stimulation. It will be hard to sit with the feelings you’ve may have been running from in your goal-oriented busyness. Including the feelings of loneliness or boredom. If you create some consistency with practicing just being with your sweet self, you will eventually start to experience a few things.
This concept of a man cave is not an accidental invention! It likely grew from this primal desire and memory of our ancient past. A past that included men, primarily communing with other men. In caves, in vast open landscapes. Sitting in stillness and silence waiting for game. Enjoying the company, the stories and the jokes of other men in the flickering light of a fire. Men are evolutionarily wired to need solitude. It is where we find peace, quiet, solace, and a connection to the soul.
Men and women have adapted differently to some degree throughout the ages, to require different ways of coming back home to themselves, from the stresses of the world.
Most of us men, from time to time, need a place to go to be free of the demands of life. To be unburdened. To relax into nothingness. We need some spaciousness in our days.
The reason men want to zone out in front of the TV is because of this need for nothingness. To clock out for the day. To be undisturbed and unfettered. A sacred space where the rational mind can stop ruminating and turn off.
The work of the modern man has broadened to include the management of their domestic world and the responsibilities that come with domestication; wrangling kids, attending to our intimate partnerships, and the basic chores of home upkeep. We can be convinced that we always need to make ourselves available to the demands of everything and everyone that needs our attention. We are bombarded with alerts from our phones on multiple applications all day long. Our attention is constantly being pulled and fragmented, spread thin across householder responsibilities, devices and all that it takes to maintain our supposedly advanced modern existence. We are also becoming increasingly enculturated to have side hustles, all in pursuit of the dream of freedom. To orient ourselves around productivity. Many never put their devices down until they hit the pillow.
When we push ourselves to the point of depletion, we are much more likely to use vices to numb the pain of our bleak existence. These vices creep their way into our lives in the forms of mindlessly scrolling social media, the internet, getting hooked on pornography, alcohol, pot, and netflix series. It’s a man’s way of turning off momentarily and shutting the world out. None of these things in moderation and used with awareness are necessarily harmful. But when they are used as a way to escape our reality, or avoid our emotions, they prevent us from facing the things we need to face to actually make the changes we want to make. They become a way of sabotaging ourselves and keeping us on the karmic hamster wheel.
If we don’t consciously create space for ourselves, we may unconsciously create conflicts in our relationship that create space by pushing the people we love away.
If we are in a relationship or parenting we might have a tendency to believe we never get to take a break. We may want to blame our partner or our boss for keeping us on a tight string, but in reality most of the conditions that have been set on our availability are those that we ourselves have allowed. It is a man’s lack of boundaries that sets him up to never get reprieve from what the world wants from him.
For many men asking or claiming time for himself can be ridden with an internalized guilt, which can translate into guilt from our partners if we have set up the kind of dynamic where we have trained them to expect us to always be there. The effect on relationships is we can get into a vicious cycle. If we show up to a partner depleted; bringing low quality attention, presence and love. This will often leave a feminine partner, who’s need is for connection, feeling unfulfilled. Which will both activate her nagging - which often has nothing to do with what she is nagging you about but more about your lack of presence and capacity to connect to her heart. Put simply, if you are not nourishing yourself you will have little to bring to the relationship to nourish it.
A lot of guys get caught up in being the provider, having been conditioned to believe that’s the value they are bringing to their partnership, when in fact what women are actually seeking is for you to provide emotional safety and stability.
Men that are trapped in do mode are often afraid of deeper intimacy, both in the emotional connection to their partner and also with themselves. Busyness can often be used as an avoidance strategy to keep uncomfortable emotions or self-reflection at bay. It’s not like being with this stuff is so horrible or difficult, it simply becomes difficult because of the aversion to it.
We may even go as far to declare our alone time as “sacred”. It is during these periods that we re-orient to who we are at our core. Always being on can cause us to lose touch with what is most important to us, or what our purpose is. It’s at the points of reflection that we create meaning in our movement. Connecting into a deeper “why” makes sense out of our struggles. It helps us to translate our pain into insight and gives us the space to unpack, reflect, and explore how we have arrived where we are. Acknowledging the choices we have made, running on autopilot disentangles us from the unconscious habits, allowing more freedom and agency to create from. As we practice gleaning wisdom from deeper moments of insight and integration, we can then pivot forward with clarity and a wider berth of consciousness.
A lot of driven, high-achieving men, miss out on the juice and joys of life because they are always on the gas pedal. If we are fixed on outcomes and destinations we lose sight of what’s happening around us in the present moment.
We see this same insight cast across our modern era, where we all exist with a plethora of connectivity, yet somehow the loneliness epidemic claims more lives. It’s the seeking outward towards shallow connections that doesn’t fill the empty well. Solitude brings us back to the source of ourselves. This is the primary location of our attunement to the cosmos.
Women have a tendency to be more nourished by connection and contact, though both genders will need some of each. Because modern couples tend to occupy so much of the same space together it can be difficult for a man to allow himself to take time and space to recharge.
If we are constantly on, from the moment we wake up and at the mercy of giving to our jobs and then returning home to handle more responsibilities, from care-taking children to attending to our partner’s need for attention, we can end up feeling depleted.
This state of depletion leads to low quality attention, irritability and likely even angry outbursts, because we are neglecting the part of ourselves that needs to do NOTHING.
As men we MUST make ourselves important enough to deliberately sanction time away from responsibilities, from the habit of doing, from social media, from relating to others.
Otherwise we will decline into the behaviors that will be labeled as “toxic masculinity”. Many men will likely seek out secondary methods to turn off, like overuse of alcohol or media.
First you must become aware that you have a need. Having a need does not make you needy! Second you must have the will to make this need a priority. Third you must have the conversations from the heart, that you will not compromise on this need. Finally you must do it!
Get out in nature. Take a hike. Sit and be still by a river or in a park. Light a fire in the backyard. Allow yourself the time to come back home to yourself