The Wisdom of Women: How Men Can Learn Through Loss & Listening
Something occurred to me earlier today, and I’d be lying to myself if I didn’t acknowledge the fact that the wisdom of women has played a big part in this. I’ve had a strange week, I was dumped…kind of twice, I’ve been adjusting to the lifestyle of the unemployed after leaving my job which was liberating but quite anxiety-inducing, I’ve reluctantly begun taking medication for a thyroid problem and then it looks like things might have rekindled things with the girl who dumped me.
These things have tested and challenged me in different ways and I’ve sought out quite a lot of advice.
What occurred to me is that most of the good advice I’ve received, whether it be relationship problems, building character, maturity, responsibility… just good, genuine advice about general life quandaries has come from women.
I’m not disregarding the positive impact many important men have had on me, the example they’ve shown, and the good influences they’ve been. But there seems to be an undeniable trend of women ruling the roost in terms of imparting pearls of wisdom. Or at the very least is far more influential than I’d realised. It feels like the stuff that has really stuck and helped to shape me, helped me think more deeply, be more considerate, open-minded, more patient, less judgemental, to slow down and get back to some of the important basics of just listening and observing has come from female friends, relatives, girlfriends, and exes.
This hit me during this past week while I found myself in a variety of states; moody, hurt, self-pitying, defiant, scared, wearing the “I’m doing fine” mask, etc… and I noticed I was recalling any useful little sound bites, quotes, and insights that I could remember and found helpful to reassure and focus myself.
All of these internal replays had female voices. I took a minute to retrace the pattern of recent advice I’d received and this led me into a mazy wander down memory lane, revisiting older moments of insight and encouragement.
Just over a week ago, I’d been dumped on Whatsapp which I found angering, confusing, and hard to stomach, so I wanted to see my (ex)girlfriend for a face-to-face chat, not really knowing what was going to come of it.
All I had a sense of was it was likely I was going to walk into a situation where I’d be “officially” dumped in person which I could almost guarantee was going to cause an emotional and argumentative reaction.
Here’s where the trail of the pearls of wisdom began: I spoke to a friend about the WhatsApp incident and told her I was going to go and see my (ex)girlfriend and talk about what was going on. I think she could sense my frustration and temperament not being in the greatest state so she gave me what I now realise was personal growth gold!
She told me to see my girlfriend, leave my ego and pride at the door, to assure her that I was going to listen to all she had to say and that she would be heard. I was told to listen and not defend myself, not look to blame or insult, offend or (verbally) attack her, not to shirk responsibility, deflect, trivialize, justify, or make any excuses. At all. I had to just sit there and absorb.
When she was finished saying what she needed to, my second instruction was to speak from the heart and be completely honest, to speak openly and gently (still without doing any of the above), and without editing, censoring, or sugarcoating anything. I did as my friend told me, but this will be the topic of another blog.
Initially, it sounded to me like some kind of lamb-to-the-slaughter/character assassination/pride suicide waiting to happen (which it slightly was), but what my friend promised I’d feel was a heightened sense of self-esteem for having the maturity and bravery to face the heat and some harsh truths and a renewed sense of dignity for not retaliating or looking for excuses and speaking completely openly and honestly in daunting circumstances.
She was right and what I took away and learned from this advice and wisdom of women was monumental.
Believing In Ourselves & The Wisdom Of Women
As I tried to pick out some positives from this experience of having my ego savaged by my now-confirmed ex, looking for anything that’d help to patch my pummelled pride back together, I remembered what an amazing therapist had told me a couple of years before. She said to me that “sharing is a gift”, which I remember frowning at as it was the opposite of the idea I had of the strong, chin up, don’t complain, and be a burden model of what a man should be.
Sharing, I’d since learned, is an enormous gift. Not just for the person in question getting things off their chest, but also for the people listening, being reminded of their own stories, having memories stirred, allowing them too to feel heard and get some relief from their own demons. Or maybe just being told some hard, relatable stuff about themselves that they needed to hear.
From this, I remembered what a talented and mystical friend told me another time when my temperament was letting me down, frustration and anger were getting the better of me. She said to me, after I’d spent an age raging about everything and everyone, that it would help me to be aware that (quoting as closely as I can) “Everybody is doing the best they can with the information they have.” I remember feeling stopped in my tracks and mulling this over for a moment, I remember how it completely disarmed me and I also remember that she was right. The wisdom of women is a powerful force.
It also applied to me and how I was acting at the time. I remember having one last go at adolescent petulance and ranting about people generally being rubbish, having bad attitudes, and pissing me off… she calmly said “Maybe it’s not about you. Maybe they’re having a terrible day….just like you are now and you shouldn’t take it so personally. It’s their stuff, not yours.” I was instantly diffused… again. My anger had run out, I was oddly peaceful and I left feeling like a huge, very delayed penny had dropped.
During the week I fell into a strange stage of guilt. A weird double dose of it, first at leaving my job and feeling that odd sense of obligation and that I’d let down some people, the guys who’d hired me, managers who were helpful, and colleagues who’d treated me well. Then I thought over what my ex had told me when I’d taken time off with stress earlier in the year and found myself feeling bad about it. She told me “Don’t worry so much, long after you’re dead, the company will still be there, even in one, two hundred years. They’ll be fine… take some time to look after you”.
It was nice to be reminded not to get too shackled with a relentless sense of duty and get too caught up in pressure and expectations. Some things are more important than work and I should make time to look after myself. This led to my second bout of guilt… about my ex. She’s a good woman and with her harsh words still ringing in my ears from only a couple of days before, I felt awful that I’d not done enough, not tried my best…
I felt bad about many things. But again, my little dusty stockpile of largely neglected nuggets of wisdom shook itself off and threw a line at me that an old friend had told me some time ago; “you are not responsible for anyone else’s happiness. ‘X’ was fine before they met you and they’ll be fine after.” This is the kind of thing I often lose sight of, it’s maybe a bit self-flattering to think I’m such a huge factor in anyone’s happiness, but the mixture of guilt, rumination, and my own abandonment knik-knacks being prodded seems to often blur my view. My friend is quite right, they were fine before and will recover, move on and be fine after, we’re resilient beings.
To sum it all up, amongst all these bits of incredible wisdom and the many complicated facets of just being human, a genuine force of nature of a woman that I admire a lot listened to one of my angry, confused, stroppy rants along the usual lines of “woe-is-me, life is so hard and insurmountable” and maybe said it best in her elegant and charismatic way.
Reassuring me of lovely things like adversity being important, character needing to be challenged, and learning to take responsibility being key, she knowingly told me… “The art is to dig for the gold rather than drown in the shit”.
There are many ingredients that make a man and being a man means different things to different people. I think the job is never done, it’s a lifelong odyssey of mistakes, challenges, discomfort, evolving, and striving.
But what I think I’ve come to realise recently is that throughout that evolution, however you look at it, women often play a crucial role in what kind of man we become. The wisdom of women is something men should embrace and not ignore.
Thanks ladies, you know who you are.
The Wisdom Of Women was written by Oisin Abell: “Churning out content (sporadically), burning inside (often), learning how to be content (when I can).”