In her best selling book, Daring Greatly, Brene Brown acknowledges that in her research on the social effects of vulnerability and shame, she assumed her message was targeted toward women. It certainly resonated with women, but when approached by an audience member after a particular talk, she was persuaded that men absolutely need this conversation about shame and vulnerability. The audience member said his wife and children "would rather see him die than fall off his white horse", referring to the pressure men feel to embody ideal masculinity and women's embrace of acknowledging and healing their own vulnerability while requiring male partners to always be strong, resilient, and confident.
I've had this chat with several female friends, and as our relationships age along with us, we're encountering the challenges our mothers always told us about "after the fire is gone". The struggle to conceive, finances, parenting, caring for parents, the pressure of dual incomes - the terribly unsexy stuff of life that reveals how you work together as partners. As life grows more invested and responsibility increases, so to does the need to share our vulnerability with our partner or support network (parents, friends) and have them hear and receive it with kindness and compassion.
We can be so reticent to allow people to step outside their prescribed role! When we're young, this is an attempt at defining our identity and values. As we age, we may think we've put such reductionist behavior behind us because we know that you're not just a Carrie or a Miranda, you're sometimes Carrie and you're sometimes Miranda. Heck, every once in awhile, you're even a Samantha. We do however, keep perpetuating the idea that identity is a solid structure through the expectations we place on others. I can clearly recall one friend pronouncing, "I'm the woman - I get to be little spoon!" I find it best to allow both partners a little spoon turn, if so desired.
In the words of Michael Singer from his book, The Untethered Soul, "Clinging is one of the most primal acts. Because some objects remain in the consciousness while others pass through, your sense of awareness relates more to them. You use them as fixed points to create a sense of orientation, relationship, and security in the midst of constant inner change. And this need for orientation extends to the outside world. Although you are clinging to objects, you use them to orient and relate yourself to the multitude of physical objects that come in through your senses. You then create thoughts that tie all the objects together, and you cling to the entire structure. You actually end up relating so strongly to this inner structure that you build your entire sense of self around it. Because you cling to it, it stays fixed. And because it stays fixed, you relate to it above all else. This is the birth of the pscyhe. In the midst of the expanse of the empty mind, by clinging to passing thought objects, you make an island of apparent solidity. [...] Clinging creates the bricks and mortar with which we build a conceptual self. In the midst of vast inner space, using nothing but the vapor of thoughts, you created a structure of apparent solidity to rest upon."
We build this structure of self in relationship to other people, like a house in a row of townhouses that relies upon the interconnected structures. Mom is mom, so she's responsible for caring for us in a particular way. Our boss is a team leader, so they always make the best decision for the team. Our son is a good kid, so he always makes responsible choices that make us proud.
But sometimes Mom needs to take care of herself first, or decides she's newly interested in world travel and will see you in six months. Sometimes bosses panic under pressure, and blame a team member to the client or their own boss. Even good kids can do thoughtless, bad things. Our desire to define people and place expectations on their behavior extends from our needs, not necessarily theirs.
When I was teaching at a large outdoor event this summer, there was a really strong looking, big guy taking a variation of a forward fold. He had his arms wrapped underneath his legs and his head resting on his knees. He looked cozy and restful. I went over and gave him a little back rub complete with hip and shoulder presses. He stayed put for several minutes afterward.
As a yoga teacher, I could look at a guy like that and assume I know what he likes in a yoga class. Probably loves strong practices, arm balances, and has no time for meditation and quiet. But a man like that probably spends a lot of time at the gym, and may never receive the kind of loving, quiet self-care that he was facilitating for himself that day. I wanted to enhance that for him, because it's my mission to help people be quiet and kind.
Everyone wants to be everything, at some point anyway. We all want the opportunity to be heard, valued, strong, soft, the giver, the receiver, the boss, the employee, teacher, student, parent, child, speaker, listener.... Notice when you're trying to stop them or yourself. Notice the stories you've created about how that person should be, and allow them to be whoever they are in that particular moment.