The complicated lives of men

Men. We’re so strong and so weak at the same time. We laugh in the face of danger and yet cower away to the corner when life gets rough. We’re expected to live through things that make us sad and depressed and still put up a smile. Although we don’t have it as tough as women do — trust me, they have it t-o-u-g-h — we can still make a mess of our lives if we don’t make the right choices and even if the right choices are not made for us.

I came across this article from WebMD, and I thought it was very interesting. The article is a review of a book written by George Valliant, MD, based on his findings from the Harvard Study of Adult Development. The study followed men who attended Harvard University starting in the 1930s. They are still being followed today, though many of them have since passed, and the rest are in their 80s and 90s.

The book by Dr. Valliant seems to summarize the findings of the study and translate them as recommendations to men in the United States. (I write “seems” because I have not read the book nor the study’s findings, only the WebMD article.) According to the article, these factors are strong indicators of living a successful life:

  • Avoiding cigarettes
  • Good adjustment or coping skills (“making lemonade out of lemons”)
  • Keeping a healthy weight
  • Exercising regularly
  • Maintaining strong social relationships (including a stable marriage)
  • Pursuing education
  • I agree with all of them, and I don’t agree only because the study seems to be well-designed and analyzed and the findings seem reasonable. I agree because these factors are true in my own life. Once I started acting more mature, dealing with problems in a more mature way and not throwing temper tantrums, things began to get easier at work and in my personal life. No longer were my bosses uneasy about approaching me about a problem. We were able to have a mature discussion about my mistakes or shortcomings, and I was able to learn and analyze what had happened in order to not let it happen again. Before that, a temper tantrum or frustrated outburst got me nowhere. Yes, I felt better, but nothing was fixed, leading to more frustration and more anger.

    And what can I say about my interpersonal relationships? For the most part, women in my life didn’t want to date a petulant child. They wanted a man who was able to take care of business and get on with life. The two or three girls I dated through college tolerated me, but that tolerance ran out. Once my prefrontal cortex started calling the shots when it came to dealing with problems, I noticed that women were more inclined to go out on a date with me… Women who I wanted to date and form a relationship with. It wasn’t until I was 27 that I met my wife, and we have the greatest conversations ever. Yes, we joke around (a lot), but we also are very honest with each other and work to solve the problems in our lives and in our relationship in a rational way. We’re yet to raise our voices to each other, let alone get into an all-out fight. Our most serious discussions have been settled fairly, quickly, and fairly quickly, with both of us being grown-up about it and accepting the outcome. (Truth be told, I’m always wrong, and I’m okay with that. I’m joking, of course.)

    As you may or may not know, my weight has been an issue almost all my life. I’ve ballooned and deflated over and over, gaining weight in the winter and losing it in the summer (when soccer and running make it easy). On the one hand, I blame my genes. The men and women on both sides of my family are big, with few exceptions. We come from “good stock,” I guess. To make things more difficult, the American diet is not one that has been good to me. It is far too easy to just pull into a drive-thru and get some food, some very high caloric food.

    Then again, I’m always on the move. I don’t mind (much) getting up and going for a three-mile jog with the dog. I love playing soccer. I like other sports. Yes, going to the gym can be a bit of a hassle, but I do it. Yes, there are times when I go for a week or two without working out, but I get back into it. And exercising makes me feel better. That’s known to happen. My wife says she likes me better when I work out. I agree. I like me better, too.
     


    I bet they like themselves, too.
    Photo credit: / Foter.com / Public domain

     

    When it comes to friends, I don’t have many. I have a lot of Facebook friends, lots of coworkers, and tons of followers on Twitter. But I can count in both hands the real “friends” that I have, those I’d trust with my life. That’s not a knock on the rest of you. I’m very appreciative of the time you’ve spent listening to my venting, but my friends… Well, they’re the kind of people who have spent time listening to me cry, or entertaining my wildest aspirations. They’re the ones that saw that I was admitted to the DrPH program and smiles and said things like “F*ck yeah!” Like with almost anything else in life, it’s the quality and not the quantity, right?
     


    “F*ck yeah, we’re friends!”
    Photo credit: VinothChandar / Foter.com / CC BY

     

    Of course, my best friend is my wife, and I’m not saying that as a cliché. She really is my friend, lover, confidant, and everything else. As I stated above, we get along great, and our fights are not really fights. They’re discussions between two adults, and we always come to a resolution. We kiss each other goodbye and goodnight, and times in between. I’ve never been married before, so I don’t have something personal to compare this marriage to. But I saw the marriage my parents had, and the marriages of friends and relatives that crumbled. This marriage is better. And I’ve seen the marriages of people who have been with each other for decades and still get along great (or put up one hell of a front). This marriage is on its way to that, and I’ll work hard for it to get there and beyond.
     


    “And that over there is my cow,” he seemed to say.
    Photo credit: Martin Gommel / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

     

    Finally, it goes without saying that I’ve pursued education at every opportunity that I’ve had. I remember one of my uncles berating me because I wanted to finish high school and go to college. He yelled at me, telling me to drop out of school, get a job, and help my mother. Lucky for me, mom was all about the schooling, too. (Then again, she might have agreed with my uncle if I didn’t have the aptitude for school, or so she says.) Learning in any capacity has always been “my thing.” I get a book or a magazine, or go to a lecture, and I absorb the information. It’s really neat when I stand back and look at how I learn. The information comes in, gets stored, and is available when I need it. That’s not to say that I have a photographic memory. I don’t. I forget plenty of things, and there are a ton of things I’m yet to learn. But I know enough now to find the answers to my problems, which goes back to the first point in the list up there. Knowing how to solve things makes it easier to face things.

    And face things I have, and face things I will.
     

    facing_the_world
    I’ve heard of “facing the world,” but this is ridiculous.
    Photo credit: Briana Raucci / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

     

    On it’s face, my life isn’t all that bad, really. I have a great wife, good friends, great coworkers. I have jobs that fulfill me in every way possible, mostly because I love to help people and I love science. There’s a roof over my head each night. The quadrupeds are all about loving me. The dog, in particular, so much so that she takes me out for jogs to keep my heart going strong. I’m going to a very prestigious university in September to work on a doctoral degree. Mom and dad and siblings are healthy. Money is in the bank.

    However, if you look at my schedule for the next days and weeks and months, my life is incredibly complicated. There are presentations to attend and presentations to give. There are projects to complete and new ones to start. My uncle recently passed away quite traumatically (for everyone close to him and those who were there). I just got a call from my mom that my grandmother, her mother, is very ill and may not last long in this life. There are payments to be made on time because banks and lenders don’t care at all about an unscripted life. And so on and so forth.

    So, while I consider myself blessed in many, many ways, and I wouldn’t change my life at all because it’s pretty darn good, I sometimes wish I could step off the accelerator for a little bit and cruise… Lest I end up looking at myself in the mirror at age 80 and not recognize the tired old man looking back.

    Featured image credit: an untrained eye / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

    I'm a doctoral candidate in the Doctor of Public Health program at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. All opinions posted here are my own, of course, and they do not necessarily reflect the opinions of my school, employers, friends, family, etc. Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @EpiRen