Real Men Cry –– Indian Men Talk About Love And Heartbreak
Most of India has grown up hearing lines to the effect of ‘Mard Ko Dard Nahin Hota’ (A man doesn’t feel pain). A history of glorification of the male valour has resulted in the grave obliteration of male pain and heartbreak. Our society’s systemic conditioning and trappings allow our men to choose anger but never fear, pain or vulnerability. And so, there are always more chances of watching a Bollywood film hero ‘fight’ for the girl he loves than cry for her.
Patriarchy is a form of cultural violence that affects sections beyond the specifically targetted ones. In order to keep the power structures flowing through, patriarchy models ‘manhood’ in a watertight fashion wherein every miss is equated with potential emasculation. Toxic masculinity is certainly behind graver problems like sexual violence and the rape culture, dowry culture and mental health-related issues in men amongst others. However, it also affects men subtly in little moments and in its own tiny ways.
One of its manifestations is in romantic and interpersonal relationships. We all seem to know that men will do whatever it takes for the person they love but how do they react at the loss of love? In a society that presumes that tears signify weakness, how do these creatures of all-might and no-fright deal with the ensuing loneliness, emptiness, guilt, shame and sadness?
To know how men deal with heartbreak, earlier this month, Homegrown released a call-out and urged men to talk about their tears, their sleepless nights, their fears and of course, their courage and their will to keep loving despite everything.
A word about our responses:
- The age group of the respondents ranged from 18-35 years old.
- All of them identified their sex/gender as male (other options included non-binary, intersex, transgender).
- All but one identified as heterosexual.
- With the exception of one, all men admitted that they had been heartbroken at least once in their life.
- For qualitative responses, we did not push people to force-fit their answers to the available list of options but provided space for them to choose otherwise.
*The names of contributors who have requested anonymity have been changed to protect their identity.
On what they felt in that moment
Break-ups mostly always seem like ‘the right thing to do’, but when it finally hits after a moment or two that things will never really stay the same for the two of you, that there will be no 11.30 pm to 5 am video calls, no more random kisses between chai runs and cigarette rolling sessions, and well, no more them in your life, it’s that when it feels like “my insides were strangling me”, as Karan* would say, or “like slow disintegration”, as Amir* would call it.
Aseem* says, “My days used to be so blurry because heartbreak caused a kind of brain fog. I just lost myself, I forgot about my dreams, I completely lost my purpose. I used to spend hours in my bathroom crying silently while everyone else would sleep. No music, no friends, no video games for two months although I was a hell of a geek. I used to wake up just to attend college lectures and then get back to my flat and sleep. The only time when I used to smile was while talking with my little brother back at home. I always wanted to call my ex and tell her that she’s a bitch but I never did so because I used to love her so much and I never wanted her to doubt herself or her character. Deep down inside, I was so so broke that I kind of started behaving like a psychopath (not around people but whenever I was alone). It took me almost a year to completely change myself and get out of that phase. It was tough but maybe that’s how life teaches us our lessons and that’s how things are meant to be :)”
A lot of times, heartbreaks bring one face-to-face with their deepest insecurities even as they give one the time and space to see through their own selves. Vishal* feels, “Every heartbreak feels like the loneliest time in life. Personally, I have always felt unwanted and unlovable and unfuckable. And every heartbreak makes those feelings and realisations stronger. Love is the most important emotion for me in life. And I always feel I give it way too much importance and there’s no reciprocity. So suppressing it is the best thing I can do. Everyone has an image of what they want, an image of what life should be, an innate survival instinct that makes them want to keep themselves in a box. And I fit no boxes. So, every heartbreak is marked with this rollercoaster of sadness, guilt, hopelessness and a hard hit to my self-worth, and the desire to work harder on myself and block everyone out.”
Mard Ko Dard Hota Hai? / (Do Men Feel Pain?)
We asked our respondents about what they thought ‘real men’ did when they were growing up and if the perception had seen a shift now. To our surprise, most of the men recognised these constructs had to be analysed and discarded. Kanishk says, “As a child, I thought that ‘real men’ suck it up and move along. The emotionless narcissistic prick is what I thought being a ‘man’ meant. Growing up made me realise that the entire idea of a ‘real man’ is complete bullshit. Empathy and emotions are what makes a ‘real human’.” Raj concedes, “As a child, I felt that a man’s life is to work his ass off. It doesn’t matter if he is happy or not, he has to carry on without a hint of sadness. But now I feel that it’s okay to feel sad and express how we feel because no matter what we are still humans.”
Men definitely learn this from their elders and if not broken, the pattern keeps repeating itself endlessly. “ I have grown up seeing my father (who is an engineer) working in a steel plant where his life was limited to ensuring our security. Financial security was meant to be assured by the male senior member. So, my father dedicated most of his life to this. I have rarely seen him sharing any of his emotions with us. However, now, I think his perspective has also changed.”
But it does not mean that there aren’t any exceptions. Karan* says, “I never really tried to conform to such stuff. I trusted my mother with the values she had attempted to instil me with and glean from her as well. Therefore it was incredibly easy for me to share. Given that I have an elder sister as well, this was all the more convenient. My perceptions have definitely become clearer. My closest friends and I share a similar view in terms of sharing insecurities and feelings. Seriously, drop some acid and all the bullshit dies down, what remains is your bare self and you are not afraid to let it free.”
Vivekananda puts, “Gender conformity and binaries never made much sense to me. I always thought I was more like a tree. But conditioning definitely did seep into my outlook and behaviours too. I always thought that I was not man enough. As much as I believed that it didn’t matter, it did. It felt like I had this obligation to carry the burden of being a ‘Real man’ and because of this, my sense of self was constantly threatened. It reached a point where my entire self-esteem had to be reexamined. This was an excruciating process because I had to constantly break down everything. It was never easy in the beginning and it didn’t start off from a place of self-respect, but now that I look back, I want to hold on to my belief that I am a tree. Trees cry trees laugh, trees love, trees live and trees die. I choose what I want to be and I’ve never felt better wearing my own skin.
Voicing The Pain
However, someone like Vivekananda also found it difficult when it came to sharing the pain he was going through. “It was always hard. People around including family, friends and the mainstream media didn’t make it easy. But then I want to focus on how easy it was. It was always easy because being myself, wearing what I like, talking, walking and loving the way I do, caring and thinking the way I do always felt effortless. I have grown up living like a true Gemini (haha). But for a long time they lived as strangers, now they coexist and I have learnt how to redefine them. Pain is inevitable. But I’ve learnt better ways to translate that now. I was hurt once. But I do not wish to cling to it. I choose love and I choose to walk my truth.” While someone else said that it’s “Never easy. You fear being judged”, Karan*said that it was “pretty easy” for him. For Gautam*, “It’s grown easier. I am able to speak myself to you.”
If there’s one thing you could tell your heartbroken self, what would it be?
Looking back, most of these men thought that it wasn’t as difficult as it appeared to be in the moment. Most of them said that they would kindly say to themselves:
“It’ll get better...eventually.”
“Remember the big picture.”
“Suffering is necessary for us to grow. Stop being a victim of the situation and be a hero for yourself because you are the only person who can bring your real self back.”
Do you still believe in love?
Two ‘no’s’, most ‘yes’s’ and one “Heck yeah, my dude!”
Heartbreaks can be difficult, and more so, in that very moment, but it’s really important to keep holding on. It’s important to realise that at the end of the day, gender is a mere construct and our heart and our sense of self is bigger than all social construct. So, cry out loud and laugh and kiss and keep believing in love, no matter what gender you identify with and more so if you don’t identify with any.
Feature image illustration by Akanksha Bhatt for Homegrown
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