To Be Strong Is To Show Our Weakness

Photo by Yuri Dojc

Being a guy sucks sometimes.

I mean, aside from having to constantly monitor all these fragile dangly parts that we absolutely positively must keep out of the way of zippers, rogue knees, and hand rails (although that last one really only applies if we’re doing rail slides on a skateboard), we’re also trained from an early age that we’re not supposed to show any emotions whatsoever.

“Be strong!”

“Real men don’t cry!”

What. The. Hell?!? What if I need to let out a good sobbing fit every once in a while? What if I want to bawl when a bleeding, limping Bruce Willis throws the German terrorist who speaks with a thick German accent (even though he can clearly fake an American accent) out a 20th-story window and reunites with his estranged wife?

What am I supposed to do about that?

I have to admit, I was a teenage drama queen. In my angst-ridden senior year of high school, I once punched out our kitchen window. My parents were surprisingly supportive of my emotional outburst, not to mention everything else (I thought) I was going through at the time. Even worse, I actually wore my bandages proudly to school the next day. It was as though I needed to advertise how messed up my personal life was (it wasn’t), and how badass I was (I wasn’t) through my ownage of a set of glass panes.

Seriously, I was Emo 15 years before the term Emo had been coined. I was a miserable wreck, suffering from a miserable life. And I wore my plight proudly, as Atlas must have done when he bore the weight of the world on his shoulders for all those billions of years.

It wasn’t until I took an adolescent psychology class years later that I realized how typical my behavior was. My life–and all the problems that came packaged with it–wasn’t that miserable or unique. In fact, my anger was pretty much par for any teenager. And I certainly wasn’t a badass for nearly severing an artery in my hand because I couldn’t keep my emotions in check.

"Feel my fist of rage, nefarious window!"

And no, I’m not going to explain why I was such an emotional mess. It was that trivial, and I was that melodramatic. Just imagine any typical issue any typical teenager probably goes through, and I’m sure you’ll figure it out.

In recent years, though, my emotional pendulum has swung perhaps too far in the opposite direction. After embracing my angst with such glee while in high school, in my late 20s, I finally decided that it was time to be a real man and dispense with the emotional toolbaggery.

And so, several of my recent relationships have included words to the following effect, as muttered by a frustrated girlfriend:

“I wish you were more emotive sometimes. You’re always so damned stoic.”

Yet, I like that I’m stoic. I’m proud of the fact that few people and few things can faze me nowadays. I’m proud of the fact that I rarely lose my temper or spew my emotions on someone. I’m proud of this new-found manliness that I’ve uncovered, and of how strong I am today.

Give me your best shot

At the same time, there have been a couple girlfriends who’ve gotten me to open up, whom I’ve shown my vulnerabilities to. Re-examining these relationships, I had a minor epiphany:

It takes a lot more emotional strength to let myself be vulnerable than just to close myself off. It’s much harder to talk about my feelings with a girlfriend than just to maintain my stoicism all the time.

I realize now that “showing weakness” does not equal “weak.” In fact, it takes a ton of strength to reveal my weaknesses, to open up to someone intimate. It’s hard to tell another person about my wildest dreams or my deepest fears. It’s hard to tell another person how much I would miss her if I were to lose her. So, if these things are so hard to say, what could possibly be weak about saying them?

Of course, there’s a flip side to all this. Revealing my vulnerability to someone doesn’t mean that I allow myself to become completely dependent on her, to start basing my entire existence on her presence, to pine for her when she leaves town for a week. Because, god damn, have I made that mistake, too.

It’s okay to cry in front of my girlfriend once in a while. It’s not okay to cry in front of my girlfriend every day. And, as the cliché goes, therein lies the rub….

To me, showing vulnerability to a significant other is kind of like holding up a barbell with bent arms. It’s easy to just let the entire weight drop to the floor. It’s also relatively easy to lock out my arms in full extension.

It’s not so easy to hold that midway point.


And this is how emotional strength works. To me, being weak is unleashing all of our suffering in a constant barrage of emotional vomit. Being weak is also holding everything in and never showing one ounce of emotion.

No, if we truly want to be strong, we can’t live our life at the emotional extremes, either dumping everything on our partner or just cramming it all down into our innards. We have to find that perfect balance of controlling ourselves, yet being open and communicative with our partner. We have to find that just-right, Goldilocks balance of emotion and control. And we have to hold that barbell with our arms bent… forever.

To me, that’s what it means to be strong, whether we’re man or woman.

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  • Well done, Dennis– you are a highly evolved male 🙂 It amazes me how many guys either refuse to open up or, at the other end of the spectrum, think that crying on a first or second date is okay. You’ve got to find the right balance (and not that I’m always successful in locating and maintaining this balance myself, but I’m trying…)

  • When is the “Dating for Dummies” book by Dennis Hong coming out ?

    Loved this article 🙂 they should use it as a reference tool in sex Ed. classes, it would save a lot of hardship to future daters !

  • Gods yes, this is so true!
    Keeping stuff bottled up is extremely unhealthy. It doesn’t mean you’re strong, it simply means that on top the ton of crap in your life you also have a problem sharing you emotional pain (and thus healing it). And finding someone with whom you can share your sleaziest secrets, uh, I mean your vulnerabilities ( 😉 ) is one of the most awesome and wonderful things you can experience in this life!
    On the other part, I always hated excessively emotional people (a.k.a. drama queens). I also really hate whining, not only it doesn’t really solve anything, but the whiner is harming both himself (by focusing too much on the negative) and the hapless people to whom he is whining. Boy, these type of people are SO tiring and annoying! I don’t want to sound insensitive to their plights (which in many cases are quite serious), but when witnessing someone whining obnoxiously, I often wished to have a shotgun with me (and the right to use it 🙂 )…

  • Dennis, wonderful as always! All so true but it takes time and some guys (or girls) just may never get to that point and that seems to be a big portion of people out there in the world.

  • I’ve heard it said before that as a guy it’s only ok to cry if your dog dies, or if your team wins the superbowl.

  • I remember then-Dennis. Nice to know you’ve found a happy medium. Which, in reality, is probably the secret to everything.

  • Ah, yes. I’ve been called “stoic” once or twice in my day. Or thousands of times. Whatever.

    I’m aware of the problem, and I’m trying to do better. Which is probably the secret of life.

  • Great stuff Dr. Hong, you’re like the modern-day Socrates 🙂

    Reading what you said worried me a little because I feel like should have more angst in my life. My life isn’t amazing by any means, but I’m generally happy with what I got.

    As you you mentioned before on Cracked, crying was once a valuable survival tool. I can’t remember the last time I cried, not because I think I’m tough – quite the opposite actually – but because I’m much more likely to get angry at myself than feel the need to cry. But if the situation arose, I wouldn’t hesitate to unleash the waterworks.

    You’re insightful as always Dr Hong, I’m really looking forward to that e-book 🙂

  • Did we date during the stoic-Dennis faze? 😉

    All kidding aside my ex had the exact same problem. We broke up for a variety of practical reasons, but emotionally probably the only reason was that he wasn’t willing to open up and wouldn’t engage enough emotionally – and we both knew it.

  • Wow, great post Dennis! It’s interesting, because I feel in a way I know you from being a fellow blogger, and I believe you are more emotive than most men. It seems that you are able to express your emotions through your writing pretty well. Or maybe it is that you are looking at past experiences, so you have some distance? Anyway, I particularly liked this post because I needed the perspective. I’m the exact opposite. Holding things inside is hard. I share. A lot. Every single thought, dream, fear, etc. I’m an open book. Worse – I’m a Cliff’s Notes version of myself. There’s no mystery. Sometimes, I wonder if it’s possible I make things too easy on the guys I date or the people in my life. Anyway, it’s always good to be reminded that not everyone is like me. It’s harder for other people. Thanks, Dennis!

    • Thanks, Catherine. Yeah, I do definitely express myself better in writing. I’ve actually written letters to girlfriends and asked them to read them while I sat there, because I knew I’d express myself better that way. :-p

  • Hey Dennis!

    I just spent a considerably pathetic amount of time replying to comments on some of your old posts so I thought I’d stop by this one and just say, “Great post!” It is well-written and well thought out. I was considering some of the same points a few days ago after I barraged my fiance by swinging to the emotional vomit side of the pendulum. I think I’ll make your musings a regular read 🙂

  • Hello. I’m a 19 year old male who is currently undergoing a typical teen angst. Hahahaha. This may mean nothing to you because you don’t know me but your article helped clear my thoughts. Thanks! hahaha!

  • Awesome Cracked article.

  • Dennis,

    I found your works here through Cracked. Rest assured I’ll be trolling through here and enjoying everything else you and your fellow authors here have deposited for the internet at large.

    As a side note, thank you for also demonstrating that proper sentence structure, grammar and spelling are not solely the domain of English majors such as myself. In return, I’ll do my best to ensure other liberal arts majors within my sphere of influence have some sort of basic grounding in mathematics and core sciences.

  • I loved reading this… I have been trying to convince a lot of male friends in my life that this is the case, but it was (naturally) difficult to hear (from a woman). I just posted this on my FB page to share with them and hope it would be helpful. 😀

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