Men Who Take Baths
United States, 2021
"I’m a white, blue-eyed, reasonably affluent young man. Am I allowed to have problems?"
When someone says “be a man,” what does that mean to you?
It has two different meanings for me. One is what it used to mean and the other is what it means to me now. When I was younger, it meant to be stoic, steadfast, unforgiving, power through, the connotation of “man up.” People thought of it as negative but I didn’t know that at a young age. I thought of it as helping me through challenging times in my life. But then it started to mean be tough -- at all costs.
Now, I know that being a man is about being able to hold space for duality. It’s about caring for myself but not at the expense of others. Truly soothing myself. It’s kind of the reason I signed up for this. I started taking baths to relax and let go.
You mentioned that you have judged men in the past but men’s groups helped you overcome that and get on the path you are on now, is that correct?
I’ve always been on my path but it’s just been a matter of whether I’m comfortable. I had this feeling of being weird or different. I’m this tough go-getter sales guy who can push a goal and get a job done. But the question is: how am I really when I’m with myself? Soft.
I perceived my co-workers as being different than me, and it was my fears and insecurities that were disconnecting me from the men around me. Even when I had a friendship with one of them, when we would talk about the hardships of entrepreneurship or dating, I always kept something close to my chest. Going to a men’s retreat was the perfect canvas of safety. I was there with a friend who helped me organize it. I hadn’t invited other men who I thought were tough. But when I saw that this man from work was there, it permitted me to recognize how I had been distancing myself from other men out of a place of fear.
One of the things I found most interesting about a month-long men’s group we just ran is that...
...I thought it needed to be structured for the men to feel like they got something out of it. This is interesting to me because I realized that I was playing into the idea of how I thought men wanted things to be done. When I took a step back and reconnected with the value of Men Who Take Baths being run by a woman, I was able to see the value of creating a space where men can just speak openly with one another about anything-- challenges in their lives, things they are proud of--which is something women do together so often. It seems like intimate friendship doesn’t come as easily to men. What would you say to that?
The conversation is just the beginning. Something I say in the men’s groups I’m part of is that we’re not here to create a “safe space,” we’re here to create a space where you can take safe risks. It’s more important to be able to reinstate safety when it’s lost. To be able to say that you feel disconnected or challenged is important. These aren’t just conversations, it’s dropping out of a story and dropping into what’s happening in your body with another human being who happens to identify as male.
I noticed how scared my partner was about me participating in men’s groups. Instead of reacting to that, I got to realize that women have felt alone too.
In healing, your masculine wound, did that instigate healing with your mother, who you mentioned in a previous conversation you had a difficult relationship with?
It’s a healing of my relationship with who I think is my mom. I had this image of my mother inside me that hasn’t drifted or changed from back when certain things happened. At the same time, there is this feeling that she couldn’t give me what I needed and I couldn’t trust her. My mentality became, ‘I’m just going to fucking do this on my own. I’m going to fight.’ I got rewarded for that.
It wasn’t until I had an anxiety attack and realized that my whole way of being was coming from this deep subconscious place of not being safe. I seriously would not have agreed with this when I was 25. I wanted to change who my mom was. Then I distanced, held boundaries, and disconnected again. Also, she’s still in my life. I love my mom. It was realizing that she wasn’t withholding something from me, it was that she didn’t know how to give it. She was trying her best. When I try to understand it, it gets in the way. But when I feel it, I feel soothed. Right now, I’m hot as fuck in this bathtub.
Honestly, it was being in a circle with a group of men and hearing about a man who had lost his mom to drug addiction that shifted things. I’ve been going to these men’s groups for two years every week and I’ve only missed three. It’s emotional reps. It’s a cathartic release. I can show up exactly as I am. I’ve discovered that when I say to the group “I’m not going to come tonight because of self-care,” I was making the group another place where I needed to show up and be something. Why can’t I just show up to the group and turn my screen off and be quiet and sit with myself in bed? What’s stopping me from doing that?
I love that this is a beautiful, emotional moment and you have a massive pile of bubbles on your head.
What in your life has had a profound impact on who you are in the bath right now with all of these bubbles?
My relationship with my mom. My relationship with my father. And when I’m sitting with a group of eight men. I get to learn from a gay man with adopted children who is going through a divorce; I get to learn from a young man of 24 who doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life; I get to learn from trans men. It’s not sexual, I want to add that. Being intimately curious with a group of men is a whole other thing. Intimacy can be non-sexual. I realized that I don’t have that with my oldest friends and there is sadness there about that truth.
If men are trying to move away from one strict version of masculinity, what are they moving towards and how do they hold one another accountable?
And what about the men who are afraid of masculinity being changed, the ones who don’t like the term toxic masculinity? Look at what we’re saying with that: an entire thing that a group identifies with is bad. From that man’s heart, he sees change as a threat. He gets tougher and bottles himself up inside and adopts the stories connected to that toxicity as true of him. He starts using “man up” more.
If I talked about toxic masculinity, I would be afraid that men wouldn’t show up in our men’s group. Actually, no, that’s not totally true. I would be getting a specific set of men who have been hurt by masculinity.
I have an image in my head of a militarized, angry man who is protecting himself and his family, maybe he is into MMA fighting. I’m painting a picture, yet I know men who are into MMA and aren’t proponents of “toxic masculinity.” Hurt people, hurt people. Healed people, heal people. There is truly an opportunity through conversation to empathize where “toxic masculinity” is coming from and not meeting fire with fire.
You’re getting tough-looking men and soft-looking men into bathtubs, that’s part of it.
Was there a fear of the feminine before you started men’s work?
No. Something I got from my mom was complete and utter acceptance. Yet, no boundaries and trust. I think being in touch with my feminine energy is what I’ve been working on with my relationships with men and my partner. I wasn’t able to express it in my reality before because I felt like I would have had to fit a role of being gay to be accepted, but I’m not gay. I am in touch with the feminine.
Speaking of roles, you do these men’s groups, but what happens when men step back out into a world that has an expectation of how they’re supposed to behave?
The men’s groups change how I react and respond to that world. I don’t want people to believe me, I want them to feel it and discern for themselves. When a problem happens in my life, I’m able to show up differently.
It’s at the seed level. There are ways to pierce through. Maybe a man will see this bathtub interview and want to try what I’ve done. Then they come into men’s groups through curiosity and not from a place of anger.
When it comes to women’s role in this evolution, it’s not about them supporting us. It’s about women doing their own work, and if they can do that, they will have their own empathizing experiences. You can’t fix anyone. I can’t tell my partner to go to therapy. It’s not going to work. It’s going to make them frustrated and upset.
The reason I did this interview is to share it with my buddies who are bro’ing out in Boston. They are going to love this. People might also get triggered. I can totally see people watching this and saying, ‘Oh, look at him.’ That was the biggest challenge for me in proceeding with men’s work. I’m a white, blue-eyed, reasonably affluent young man. Am I allowed to have problems? I’m not supposed to.
There are many places along our journey where we make a judgment about how we need to be, and it only leads to hardening when we do that, it only leads us into a place of toughening up. The way through is to learn to feel. I now notice when I feel tight. Then I don’t judge it, but accept that it’s what I need at the moment. The next course of action is to choose to open.
Are you the man you want to be?
I am. And I could cry saying that right now.