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What are these things called "Emotions"?

What are you feeling right now?

… Seriously.

I cannot begin to imagine how many times male acquaintances of mine said that they would like to be in a monogamous relationship, but that they have no idea why it hasn't happened for them yet. Many blame San Diego gay culture for being full of bottoms while others lament over the shallow nature of their peers. When these same guys are asked to share how they feel about being single, many of them are lost for words. “Feelings aren't for guys,” they say, “We just get shit done.” Well, I've got news for you. Believe it or not, being able to communicate one's feelings and emotions is a critical part of developing and maintaining the ever-elusive long-lasting and meaningful monogamous relationship that so many of us are looking for.

Although emotions are a natural part of the human experience, many guys don't have a clue where to start when trying to verbally (or even nonverbally) communicate emotions. This is because in American culture, males are not given a vocabulary with which to communicate their emotions, and are, at times, discouraged from expressing them altogether. Many of us can remember the small boy on the playground who was labeled a “cry-baby” every time something bad happened to him. Perhaps you were that “cry-baby.” This shame and aversion to emotions that is built into our culture encourages males to keep their feelings to themselves and inevitably leads to what psychologists have labeled with a fancy technical word: alexithymia, or the inability to communicate one's emotions. I must add, however, that women are not immune from the emotional limitations that many men experience.

Pay close attention to your conversation the next time you are with a group of your close male friends. Chances are, they won't talk about how hurt they were by the Charger's recent streak of losses, nor will they express their sense of betrayal by a supervisor who failed to defend them against a verbal assault by an out-of-hand customer. Instead, these emotional states will be conveyed by the simple feeling of anger. Anger at the Chargers. Anger at the supervisor. Anger is a guy's favorite emotion and, many times, his only one. It is often a cover for another emotion that he may be experiencing and is what psychologists call a “secondary emotion.” While anger is a valid emotion, it does not convey the same depth of meaning that other word choices may convey, and it leaves the person receiving the anger in the position of interpreting what the anger really means. As you might imagine, this could lead to miscommunication that would otherwise be easily avoided through clear expression of one's emotional state.

Many people who I've met started therapy with the idea that therapists talk only about emotions and feelings – two things regarded by many men as amorphous blobs of unimportant information. Therapy is ultimately what you make of it, but I emphasize the ability to communicate one's emotions will enable a person to communicate clearly with their partner- adding to the potential of developing the intimate and meaningful monogamous relationship that he or she may be looking for.

You may believe that emotions are not necessary to have a healthy relationship, and that's ok. There are many different types of relationships out there. Only you can decide whether emotions are needed to have the kind of relationship that you want, whether it is monogamous, open, Dom/sub, swinger, or any other relationship type you may choose to be in.

If you would like to expand your emotional vocabulary, try these quick exercises.

1. On a piece of paper, write down every emotion you can think of. Try to find as many synonyms as you can when you are finished and group those together. You might be surprised at how many groups of emotions you have made when you are done.

2. If you or other people find that anger is a typical emotion for you, there is hope. Carry note cards with you. On one side, write down what happened during your day that made you angry. On the other side, write down the emotion you were feeling. At the end of your day, try to think of other emotions or feelings that you may have experienced at the time. Ask a close friend to help brainstorm if you have trouble with this.

3. If you and your friend continue to be unable to think of emotions or feelings beyond anger, try labeling your emotional states with one of the four basic emotions instead: happy, sad, mad, or glad. A therapist who specializes in men's issues can help guide you through this process if you have any trouble.

When you are able to communicate a depth of emotions, others may think of you as an interesting and complex person worthy of further conversation. One of the people who takes a newfound interest in you may even be like the ideal person you've hoped to start a relationship with.

Stephen Brewer, M.A. is a registered psychological assistant (PSB33858) in Mira Mesa and is supervised by Angela Spenser, PhD (PSY15450). He runs a LGBT and Kink friendly practice, specializing in addictions, trauma, HIV/AIDS, and men’s issues. He can be reached at (619) 377 – 3120.