Men seek meaningfulness. Does my life count? Do I matter? It can be religious or secular. Has my life had any meaning? It can be celestial or specific, a look forward or a look back. Think of the old man in the cemetery at the end of the film Saving Private Ryan; turning to his wife, he asks if he has led his life in a way worthy of the sacrifices others made to make his life possible?
In our lives we have relationships—physical or metaphysical—with people, things and concepts outside of ourselves. For life to have meaning, what we do, what we work for, what we concentrate on needs to be something bigger, something more significant, something more essential than ourselves. It is a natural male trait to believe and behave in this manner—protect and provide does not imply the self, but implies selflessness. Perhaps the object of our focus is magnificent. Perhaps it is limited to our close environs. But that focus being outside of ourselves, and being greater than ourselves, is the secret to meaningfulness. This is not really a secret at all. It is well known and has been, seemingly for all human history, as it should be because it is tied up in our biology.
Bigger than implies otherness; working for, or with, otherness implies relationships. Every relationship—two or more people—is bigger than you. A relationship may be with a life partner, parents, kids, pets, friends, spiritual beings, even inanimate projects or objects, which take on a life of their own. Recall that men relate to the physical world differently than women. This includes relating to everything from barbells to machine parts, from construction equipment to the objects we are constructing. These are relationships and they can be meaningful. I have seldom met a woman who understands this; and seldom met a man who doesn’t.
A family is bigger than a couple. Some relationships involve our allegiance to group, community or nation. Some are trans-generational.
An essential element of meaningfulness is hope. This, perhaps, is where it becomes complicated. Hope is the most important of all feeling, because hope implies not just the present but a time beyond the present, and it implies continuation and fulfillment. The realization that there is a future, that there is something more than today, more than the immediate, causes us to forecast
permanence, or at least semi-permanence. Think of the word permanent. This may seem circular, but permanence conveys a projection into the future. Permanent relationships equate with hope. This is key—hope for oneself, for one’s future and the future of one’s relationships, and for the future of one’s species.
What should we be hoping for? Security? Love? Sex? Intimacy? Immortality? Right now we are in a project; we are producing a book and launching a men’s health initiative. Those projects require projections into the future. We anticipate positive outcomes. Personal relationships also mean projecting into the future. Our relationships are products of our behaviors and actions. We foresee continuity. Continuity implies permanence or at least semi-permanence. That implies hope. That is the exhilaration, the up-ness, of every new relationship. One is looking into the future, not stopping and concentrating on the present or mulling over the past.
The need for permanency is more than cultural. It is biological. It takes numerous forms, but each serves the same biological need. As we have shown, men have an innate need for intimate, permanent relationships with women. This is more than merely psychological if psychological is construed to mean independent of physiological. Thought patterns are heavily influenced by our chemistry and our wiring; and our wiring has been heavily influenced by our chemistry, beginning some seven months before birth. The average man’s need for a relationship with a female is psycho-physical. One can’t get around that. As we’ve said, Biology is Basic.
We can see that men have a need to permanently, or at least semi-permanently, connect with women. The need for these relationships is tied up in protect, provide and procreate, and in the continuation of the life of our species. For millennia this was identified as marriage, although that seems to be changing. Even after people have had a bad marriage, they’ll go do it again. And again. Even when they say they’ll never do it again, they do it again. In spite of all the problems in male-female relationships, there is a biological drive for that relationship that goes beyond just sex.
In this section we’ve talked at length about the problems in relationships between men and women, but truly our emphasis should be on the glories, the splendor, the magnificence of relationships; on all that they can be, and all they can mean. The ultimate product of the relationship between a man and a woman, viewed from the biological perspective, is a child. When the child is produced purposefully, this is the most intimate expression of love. Yes, kids are the manifestation of our biological imperatives; and those imperatives seem designed to produce the expression of hope in permanency, in a future beyond ourselves and our lives.
Jeffrey Rabuffo, MD
Dr. Jeff has a weekly, half hour, live radio show on WLIS/WMRD, 1150AM (Old Saybrook, CT), which can be streamed live or on demand via http://wliswmrd.net. The show airs Mondays at 11AM with a replay on Thursdays at 11AM.
You can also order a copy of Dr. Jeff’s book, The Life of Men, available in a 2nd edition paperback on Amazon at this link http://amzn.to/2oICjjx
Dr. Jeff is also available to speak at your group, club, or organization.
He can be reached via email: firstname.lastname@example.org