Following on the heels of my rationalization of cheating and thoughts on the differences in the way men and women are brought up and how that affects them in relationships, I talked to my husband about what I wrote to get his perspective. He brought up something he learned in therapy recently; the origin of the phrase "suck it up".
Not a trigger warning but more of a "put down your bagel if you happen to be eating" warning. The phrase "suck it up" originated from pilots during World War II. During rough air, if a pilot happened to vomit into his oxygen mask, they had to "suck it up" in order to avoid breathing in acidic fumes into their lungs, which could result in death. The phrase originally meant to choose the lesser of two evils and has evolved over time to the "just keep going", "push past the pain", "you are fine" phrase thrown about today. I am definitely not implying that this idea of appearing ok despite struggles is uniquely male. I believe that when it comes to feeling and processing emotions and being encouraged to be truly open and vulnerable, society does men a disservice.
My husband explained to me, from his learnings in therapy, that he has been taught to view suppression as a strength. Push it down, compartmentalize, suck it up. Rub some dirt on it and get back on the playing field / to work / to regular life. I think that where women have images of Bridget Jones crying into a pint of ice cream and Elle Woods throwing a box of chocolates at the TV screaming "LIAR!" (again, neither are tropes I think are particularly empowering for women either!), men are shown images of masculinity shaped by violence, womanizing, and very few deep emotions. I think it's important to add here that my husband is federal law enforcement. There is an alpha mentality to his job that is in some ways vital to his success in his career but is not ideal in a marriage.
In my relationships with my family, my friends, and even sometimes at work, I've been encouraged to feel and express my emotions. P has experienced the opposite--suppression is a strength. Don't rock the boat, don't bring something up that might upset someone, don't question anyone in a position of authority. "Suck it up". When we were talking about this, he said that when he didn't bring up how he was feeling in our relationship prior to his infidelity, he felt he was protecting the relationship. I saw red and felt the blind rage of an all-consuming fire. All of my therapy-practiced "I" statements, empathy, and response over reaction flew out the window. "You thought you were protecting our relationship by sliding into that piece of garbage's DMs?". As you can imagine, that didn't receive (nor did it warrant) a productive response. I've never said that I have all of the answers or do it all perfectly. I'm still hurt and I often react from a place of pain.
Now that the flames have subsided, I can see that he meant he thought he was protecting the relationship BEFORE the infidelity. And that by suppressing his feelings, pushing it down, and compartmentalizing, he got himself to a bad place. He never wanted to rock the boat, hurt my feelings, or cause strife. Yes it feels insane to type that knowing what has ensued since. I'm still employing my lens of empathy and seeking to understand. I can write for days on my experience as a millennial woman and I feel lucky to have much more insight than I ever have before into the experiences of my husband.
All I can say to men (and women) is this: don't suck it up, don't push it down, sit with your feelings and figure out WHAT you might need and then ask for it. And if the person you're with can't or won't give that to you, take stock to figure out if the relationship is worth working on in order to change that. As long as there is a desire and commitment from both parties to learn and to change, I think the effort is worth it. If it's not, you gotta go back to the drawing board and figure out the next move ♛