Every week I see another list or article titled something like "How To Know If You're Dating A Real Man."
Or I hear a woman on a talk show complaining that she just wants to date a "real man."
Well, the sobering truth is that he doesn't exist.
I have no problem with the traits that these lists often describe.
A sense of purpose.
And then there are the more stereotypical traits.
Drives a fancy car.
But having any of the above traits doesn't make them inherently more real than, or superior to, other men.
It simply means they are a man that has those traits.
While perhaps well-intentioned, using the term "real man" implies that a man who is doing or being the opposite of those traits is somehow a "fake man." An imposter. A fraud. It allows space for a sense of shame, comparison and inferiority.
Who are those "real man" articles for, anyhow? The guy who only has six out the 10 traits? If so, then he probably won't feel better about himself after reading how he's lacking four qualities, causing him to show up as a fraud.
Or is it written for the guy who is ten out of ten? If so, then I doubt he would he even be reading an article like that.
Inherent in these "real man" definitions is the perpetuation of a cookie-cutter mold of masculinity. Even a "conscious" or "evolved" cookie-cutter mold is still a mold. It's a box for a different audience.
And it's completely subjective, depending on who is doing the defining. The David Deida version of a real man will be different than the Oprah Magazine definition, which will be different than the Elite Daily definition.
I know, because most of my life I've exhausted myself trying to fit into those molds. Working out so I could get more buff.
Hiding my emotions and tears because "men don't do that."
Checking out women's bodies and objectifying them because that's what macho guys do.
The underlying drive for all of my posturing was a sense of shame and resistance about who I am. And that insecurity is what drove me to read articles and books to see if I was making any progress on becoming a "real man." For what? So that finally other guys would give me a bro hug, welcoming me into some secret global fraternity? Or so that women everywhere would wink at me, lick their lips and send me their numbers on a cocktail napkin?
What is the archetypal man, anyhow?
Is Russell Brand more of a man than The Rock?
Is Tom Brady more of a man than Prince?
Is James Bond more of a man than Mr. Big?
Is the personal trainer more of a man than the computer programmer?
Is the sales executive more of a man than the stay-at-home dad?
I'm sure you'll have your own reactions to those pairings. And I celebrate the wide and ever-evolving spectrum of masculinity.
But the truth is you are a man if you say you are. What kind of man you are is up for debate.
What makes a good father? Boyfriend? Husband? Son? Citizen?
What makes a conscious man? Loving man? Influential man? Successful man?
Those are great questions.
But to debate if a man is "real" or not? Really?
That's like writing an article called "How To Know If Your Dog Is A Real Dog."
Or "How To Know If Your Baby Is A Real Baby."
The work I do with my coaching clients is to undo the cultural patterns, pressures and expectations that men endure. We stop buying into the debate whether they are a "real" man or not. End checking how they stack up to the stereotypes of "real men" we see in movies, on TV or billboards.
Then, like Michelangelo carving David from a block of stone, we both discover and create the amazing man they already are.
This is less about word choice and more about shifting the frame of the conversation. Rather than fueling the debate of who is a real man, let's invite a dialogue that is shame- and judgment-free. One that acknowledges the strength, individuality and beauty of each man while allowing the reality that every man (and woman) always has room for growth. Not because he has to satisfy a cultural checklist, but because he has his own list of values.
If you are a man reading this, just know that you are very real.
The only thing I care about is: Are you embracing and expressing the unique flavor of your own masculinity?
That's the real question.