“I just don’t trust men in general,” she said. “They have hurt me and dissappointed me too many times. Most men lack integrity.”
“Well, as a man, I thank you for trusting me enough to admit that,” I replied calmly to my client.
“I don’t mean you. I mean…well, you’re different,” she said nervously, afraid that she may have offended a supportive man.
“It’s ok. We’re talking about you right now. How am I different to you?” I asked with encouragement.
“Well, you’re different because you’ve earned my trust. You showed me that you care each time that I see you. You’re very accepting of me…I can feel it.”
This conversation is not just from one client. In fact, I can recall this script being repeated by both male and female clients in different forms. I hear it as well in the candid conversations of my everyday life, that yearning for more trusted men. But with that yearning comes the struggle to find trustworthy men, and then the challenges of letting those men in emotionally. This repetitive notion has shown me there is a prevalent mistrust of men, which can be held by anyone who has been betrayed or abandoned by a man in the past. At its basest level, this notion is an unaddressed stereotype that can be harmful because it keeps open-hearted men veiled by our suspicions. It is also harmful because it can shame all men, whether they have committed an offense of not. By keeping good men out of our lives, we feel neglect, and further the stereotype. By not distinguishing honest men from men who lack integrity, we let the wrong guy in which leads to betrayal. This is a painful cycle experienced by many of the people I have met.
I too, have struggled to trust men. Though there have been a few gems in my life, I have not deeply connected to most of the men I have encountered. I’ve never been a big sports fan. I don’t have an obsession with cars and I’ve often felt like an odd ball on sports teams. These are some of the culturally encouraged ways for a man to connect with other men. Yet, I was left starving for male contact.
As a straight man, I have both admired and envied how gay men were able to come together, bonded by the initiation that is the “coming out” process. In many ways, they have been pioneers of safe male connection. I was able to find some of this male bonding through Native drum groups and the Cornell Thai Boxing Team. But I longed to have a space that was just about men supporting men. No competition, no distraction, just a space where men could reveal themselves without trying to impress each other. There were good men in these teams and groups, yet we never slowed down enough to connect heart to heart.
I used to work with a Navajo medicine man in New Mexico. He told me about the great lengths they went through for the initiation of their girls into womanhood. I was touched by the care and preparation that went into the ceremony, especially since not every tribe still has this ceremony in modern times. Then I asked him what ceremony they did for the boys in his community. “We don’t have a initiation ceremony for men anymore,” he replied. My own longing led me to create a men’s initiation ceremony while living on the Cochiti Pueblo Reservation. The private ceremony brought men together from different walks of life, a place where men were allowed to express their feelings and struggles. They had no other place to share this part of themselves. Being the facilitator of this initiation was powerful, fulfilling, yet incomplete for me personally. To further build my trust in men, I needed men to hold the space for me. I needed to be witnessed as a man, not the facilitator.
I recently had this experience when I joined a men’s support group in Hawaii called the Mankind Project. In addition to weekly support groups, I also took part in the New Warrior initiation weekend. It was the first time I was able to be in a group of 70+ men that I did not know, yet still feel safe. I was seen as a good man, a brave man who was willing to help others in need. But even more significantly for me, I was able to receive support from men who were perfect strangers.
Honest, consistent communication and presence seemed to melt that mistrust which I have developed towards men. Going through an initiation together showed us that we were not going to cut and run. It formed a bond worth forming. We supported each other in being in our integrity and didn’t ask each other to apologize for being a man. I felt a deep relief after this initiation that I had never experienced before.
Having this support is helping me to see that I am not a lone man of integrity, living on an island of accountability with little male support. There are trustworthy men out there that are often painted with mistrust. But perhaps honest men just need to be seen by each other so that we can reveal ourselves more freely. I now believe that men who are regularly supported in their integrity will treat men and women with greater care and consistency. Feel free to comment with your beliefs and experiences by joining me on
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