Kiran Belur is a 35 year old husband and father. He lives in Emeryville, California with his wife, Shirin, and his son Dhilan. He is a member of the hip hop group, Karmacy (new album, Wooden Bling, available now on iTunes), and cant wait to coach little league. In his spare time, he is an Intellectual Property Attorney.
I have to admit that when Deepa asked me to “guest-host” Devis With Babies, I was both intrigued and a bit intimidated. Intrigued because I really enjoy reading some of the posts (I say some, because I don’t get much out of the make-up and women’s fashion tip posts – those send me right back over to ESPN), and have enjoyed a number of lively debates as a result. Intimidated because (a) let’s be honest, Deepa is a tough act to follow, and (b) since I tend to be somewhat of a purveyor of unpopular opinions generally, unleashing my particular dialect of Martian in this forum could get ugly. Alas, I decided to give it a shot...what the hell, I’ll probably never run for office anyway.
I thought a lot about various topics, as the only direction I was given was to provide a male’s perspective. After some deliberation, I decided to write a response to Deepa’s November 25, 2008 post (“What A Boy Wants, What A Boy Needs”) and try to provide a “male’s-eye view” on the major question raised in that post: Do men want or need a forum similar to mommy’s groups?
Let me start by offering a suggestion with which to read this piece: Throw political correctness out the window. It’s just going to get in the way. Obviously, every person and every couple are different. However, sometimes blanket statements are accurate, and more importantly, necessary, if we are going to shed light on certain issues – particularly gender-based issues relating to marriage and parenthood. And frankly, since this is a blog post, and not a doctoral dissertation, we don’t have the cyber time or space to acknowledge all of the exceptions to every stereotype.
All right, now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to it….
Do Men Want or Need a Forum Similar to Mommy's Groups?
Or, to put it more precisely, do married men with babies want or need such an outlet? Well, to be perfectly honest, the answer is “yes with a but.” Yes, men need an outlet to discuss what’s going on in their lives and blow off steam. Between work, family, and whatever else each of us is juggling, we all relish the opportunity to get together with our peers to share, vent, etc. The “but” is that it’s not going to happen in the way that women might expect, and this may be part of the problem. Married men have actually been fighting for these groups for years, but I don’t think it’s ever been explained properly. Perhaps it’s never been presented in the context of what my wife refers to as a “teachable moment.” Well, not to fear, you asked for the guy’s perspective and I’m here to give it to you.
So here’s the drill. You may not like it, but here it is, ladies: If you’re serious about wanting this for your husbands, you need to encourage your husbands to spend more time with “the boys.” Yes, that’s right. And it gets worse! By “boys,” I don’t mean your friends’ husbands. I’m talking about your husband’s homies. His college buddies…the ones who you tried to become real tight with back in the day to get your husband to like you...YEAH, them. This is the only way your husband is truly going to be able to have open dialog about what’s going on with him.
You see, the reality is, a bunch of married guys are not going to have weekly get-togethers with the idea of talking about their feelings, even on an informal basis (and even if they are “mimosa-sodden”). This is not to say that men aren’t capable of these types of friendships, as Deepa suggested may be the case. Quite the contrary. I’ve had plenty of great friendships with my male friends, during which we’ve managed to balance our discussions about sports, women, and video games, with discussions about our goals, fears, and yes, the minutia of our lives. I’m pretty sure most guys out there have had similar experiences with their closest friends.
So, you may ask, why don’t you see your husbands interacting with their friends like this, now? Well, the difference is that it takes guys a long time to get to this point with each other….like, a LONG time. And, even once you get there, it’s very hard to keep the relationship at the point where you can just jump into the more personal topics. See, feelings are not our go-to topic of discussion. Before we can even broach the subject of how we’re feeling about things, we have to get past the “snarkiness,” the sports debates, clowning on each other like there’s no tomorrow, and myriad other topics (which you might think are pointless, but that we really look forward to). This is why pretty much all of the closest relationships I’ve had with my male friends were prior to getting married. And for the most part, I’m not as close with most of those guys now. I’ve heard the exact same sentiment from virtually all of my male friends.
This is not in any way meant as an indictment on marriage. I’m just trying to explain that getting married changes the dynamic of how guys interact with each other, by mere virtue of the fact that there is less time for guys to spend together. The most common manifestation of this is when guys say that now that they’re married, the only other guys they get to hang out with regularly are the ones married to, or dating, their wives’ friends. And while that can be cool, it’s just not the same thing.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that your husband isn’t close to his boys anymore, it’s just that they’re probably not close enough anymore that they already know each others “stuff.” So, when they see each other at a monthly poker night, they’re not at the point where they can just launch into the minutia. And frankly, they’re probably just so happy to see each other that that’s not what they want to talk about anyway. The idea is for your husbands to see their friends often enough that they can get past that. More on how to practically achieve this in the midst of a marriage and new baby later…but first, let me address:
How your husband can ever have a meaningful conversation with his friends about anything real, when all his boys want to do is go to clubs, play poker or watch sports.
Excellent question. You know, the thing about guys is that we just can. I remember one night when my wife was pregnant and a friend was having a birthday party at a club. I really wanted to go, because I hadn’t seen some of my friends in quite a while, but she wasn’t feeling up to it. So I went for a few hours. We all celebrated…the single guys hitting on women (or at least trying to), and the married guys drinking in the corner and talking shit about the single guys who couldn’t get any numbers. Pretty typical night.
In retrospect, however, the thing I remember most about that night is a half hour conversation I had with my buddy, in the middle of the club, about how he and his wife were potty training his daughter. He told me about the difficulties they had had and how great it felt when things went well. He also shared some of the funnier stories (it turns out potty training is fodder for good comedy). Now, normally, this conversation would have been kind of weird, especially at a club. But, since I had a kid on the way, I was totally intrigued by everything he had to say. Moreover, these types of conversations have become more and more common since more of my friends are becoming fathers. When we’re together, whether at the gym, sports bar, lounge, etc., a portion of the conversation is always dedicated to what’s going on in each other’s lives, with each other’s kids, and how each of us, and our wives, are coping with sleep issues, eating, nannys, etc. I suspect the same is true in your husbands' circles. You just may not see it because it’s couched in some form of debauchery.
So, how do you wrap your brain around the idea of your husbands spending more time with their friends, when you now need them to be at home, and accountable, more than ever? Here’s my advice:
1. Embrace the idea of a regular guys’ night. Don’t just tolerate it, but encourage it. This is important. Be excited for your husbands beforehand. And most importantly, when they come home, even if you’ve had a rough night with the kid(s), show them that you’re happy that they went. Don’t be passive aggressive and take your frustrations out on them. Here’s a little secret…guys start worrying on their way home, because they don’t know what kind of mood you’re going to be in. It can be a complete buzz-kill. (Obviously, this has to go both ways, and you should have your girls’ nights, as well).
2. Make a concerted effort to incorporate your husband’s friends into your lives. This is HUGE for both of you. Essentially, it kills two birds with one stone. Your husband gets to spend time with his friends and you get to have your husband with you and your child. Plus, the more time that your husband gets to spend with his buddies outside of a guy’s night environment, the easier it is for them to get back to that point where they’re apt to discuss family, etc. I can’t express enough, how important I think this is.
3. Be patient. This is not going to be an overnight process. The first few times your husbands go out, they may just get drunk. Again, the idea here is not about “allowing” them to have more fun while you stay at home. Rather, it’s about a change in both their and your attitudes that will allow them to feel more comfortable getting back into the comfort zone with their friends so they can have an outlet.
4. Communicate. This one is pretty generic, but it’s important. For any of this to work, you and your husband have to be able to tell each other what’s going on in your mind and how you’re feeling about things. My wife and I have been together for 13 years; and it’s only because we’ve both been willing to put our egos aside and listen to each other, that we’ve been able to work our way through issues like this one.
This is not, by any means, an exhaustive list. I just thought about some of the couples that I admire and who I feel are very happy, and tried to articulate things that they do which seem to work. One disclaimer: The above will not work with every single guy. However, if you married a guy who is incapable of this type of expression, you really should have known that before you married him and set your expectations accordingly.
In conclusion, I really want to thank Deepa for bringing this topic to the forefront. Reading her post, and all of the subsequent comments, really made me think. I know that this may seem more like a guy’s wish list, but that’s truly not the intention. I also applaud the women on this board who said that they wished their husbands had this kind of an outlet. I hope that this piece has shed some light on this topic from the male perspective.
Happy husband, happy life?