Guy stuff: How to be awesome to a male friend struggling with infertility
Hi everyone! Eric here this week with more musings from the <cue movie announcer voice> “male perspective”. In a lot of pop culture and conventional wisdom, men are characterized as being boorish, insensitive, and often emotionally flat-footed. And I know at least a few women who’d agree.
I beg to differ. I don’t think this is true more than 97% of the time. J
Seriously, though, the stereotype of men being emotionally blind and insensitive is not always true, and in fact, it is entirely possible to be a dude, a bud, one of the guys, and still be a great and understanding friend to your male buddies.
This was brought home to me after a male friend unexpectedly and quite naturally inserted into our conversation one of the nicest things anyone has said to me in quite a while. Here’s what happened:
We were having a perfectly normal conversation about a whole range of topics, and as things turned to some aspects of raising his young child, he paused and quite casually said, “hey man, I know you guys struggled with this, so if you’d rather I skip it, that’s cool.”
There are two remarkable things about this. First, the fact that my male friend had the sensitivity and awareness to even think such a thought was pretty cool and totally in contravention of the stereotype. I also really appreciated that that he had the grace and tact and comfort to ask, without fanfare or making a big deal out of it, as a natural insert in the conversation. If that doesn’t count as emotional intelligence, I don’t know what does.
Now, I’m not saying that every guy is like this, and I do think my friend is kind of a rockstar, but my point is that the male friends of those dealing with infertility can do some simple things to be equally awesome without feeling like you need to do group hugs or carry a hanky. So if you’re the one facing infertility, maybe share this link with your friends. And if you’re the male friend of an infertility sufferer, here are <cue movie announcer voice again> Three Things You Can Do To Be Awesome:
Be Awesome #1: Do exactly what my friend did. If you know a friend is dealing with infertility, or has already been through it and is unable to have children, remember that the same way you would remember that they recently lost a family member or had survived cancer or anything else that would make you a bit sensitive to the words you use and the things you say around him.
Now to be clear, I do not mean censor yourself. Topics should not be taboo, I just mean take a little bit of care. Especially if the infertility challenges are current or recent, when the talk turns to kids or changing diapers or issues with pregnancy or almost anything else related to those early years especially, maybe just check in with the friend. “Hey man, is it OK we’re talking about this?”
It’s not like I’m going to say, “no please don’t talk about your family or your children or what’s going on in your life.” But believe me when I tell you, the simple acknowledgment, the recognition of asking the question, is incredibly powerful. For the speaker, it can be a small kindness in passing, but I assure you as the recipient, it was an act of empathy and care that I will not forget.
Be Awesome #2: The second thing to do is to keep a great perspective. By all means lament and discuss and bellyache about the aggravating and troublesome and periodically truly-disgusting aspects of raising children. Just remember, and I can say this from lots of experience with snot and puke and poopy diapers, that some of the things you don’t like are things that many of us would gladly give up a great deal to have. So by all means tell funny stories and complain and gripe, but remember to do it with a laugh and a smile, because the problems that having a child raises are sometimes minor when viewed on balance with the hurt of never having the chance to experience those complaints.
Be Awesome #3: Finally, if you’re out in a group, be a great wingman. Maybe before you head in from the parking lot, or meet up with “the gang” at the party or whatever, take your infertile friend aside and tell him you’ve got his emotional back. Try a script like this:
“Hey man, I know you guys are struggling/have struggled to have a family. If at any time, when we’re BS’ing with the guys, if our talking about kids or pregnancy or little league games or changing diapers becomes difficult for you, just shoot me ‘the look’. I’ll coolly swoop in and change the subject, and no one will be the wiser. I realize this must be hard for you sometimes, and I’m your wing man if you ever need me to redirect.”
Then, so he doesn’t feel like he needs to put on a dress or cuddle you, punch him on the arm, call him an obscene name and insult him for something. I mean, we’re dudes. It’s how we say, “Thanks man. I love you too. “