[Editor’s note: Every week, New York City’s own Andrew W.K. takes your life questions and sets you safely down the right path to a solution, a purpose, or — no surprise here — a party. Need his help? Just ask: AskAWK@villagevoice.com]
Dear Andrew W.K.,
I have a lovely girlfriend who makes significantly more money than I do, and I find this situation aggravating and stressful. She and I live together, and the kitchen is now “my domain.”
I know that love conquers all, but how do I be “the man” when I consistently find myself relying on her?
“The man” isn’t as valuable as “a man.” And “a man” realizes that in order to be a great man, he must be a good person first.
In order to be a good person, he must respect his partner as a distinct and equal person, and not just an abstract identity attached to him, such as “my girlfriend,” “my woman,” or “my wife.”
A truly good man must think of other people as unique beings of inherent value and greatness, capable of just as much greatness as himself. Rather than resent another’s greatness — especially the greatness of a loved one — a true man strives to encourage it.
In recognizing someone else’s capacity for greatness, he may also see her become even greater than himself. Perhaps in ways that he didn’t expect. Perhaps in ways that defy social standards. Perhaps in ways that force him to look closely at his life and feel self-conscious and insecure. But rather than fear these feelings, the great man embraces them, for he realizes they’re opportunities to improve the quality of his soul, to loosen the strangling grip of his ego, and to free himself and others from unnecessarily stifling conventions.
A true man is wise enough to not always be the best at everything, and is at peace with this. A strong man allows others to be strong and then helps them get even stronger.
A truly great man doesn’t only use his resources and energy to increase his own greatness, but shares his vitality and ability so that others can actualize their own greatness. Perhaps becoming even greater than anyone thought they could become.
A great man does not sulk and complain about feeling inadequate or “unmanly,” but is constantly doubling his efforts to live with more humanity in his heart, to become more “human” than simply “man.” He strives to be challenged, to be tested, to be humbled; he embraces these tests of character, for he understands that the uncomfortable feelings that come with these trials are ultimately expanding his own inner nature and making him a fuller version of himself. He is wise enough to embrace the complete range of feelings and emotions — including weakness, humiliation, doubt, and even emasculation — knowing that all these sensations have value, and not limiting himself to the way he thinks “a man’s supposed to feel.”
A true man also realizes how tempting it is to oversimplify life into subjective indicators of material success, things like earning money, performing physical tasks, adhering to certain lifestyles, and embodying certain personality types. These outer experiences appear easier to master and control, and therefore are more often used to measure and judge how “successful,” or how “manly,” or even how “happy” we are. It seems much easier to evaluate people based on things like money and houses and cars and how much they “provide” for their families materially, than on the quality of their own character and what they contribute to the spiritual needs of the world around them.
Devotion, attention, loyalty, tenderness, understanding, resolve, resilience, patience, honesty, selflessness, and commitment — compared to the physical world of material success, the qualities of character are much harder to measure and more elusive for most of us. It’s more challenging to live honestly and unselfishly for one day than it is to earn a billion dollars in a lifetime.
We would often rather think our value as a person is primarily reflected in the material world, but it is in the immaterial world that our true self matters most and has the most impact — the way we make people feel about themselves and about being alive.
So don’t worry so much about money or if someone earns more than you do. Focus as much as you can on being the best person you can be inside and out. Develop your own integrity based on inner awareness and self-honesty. Strive to remove as much selfishness as you can from your decision-making. Show kindness and goodwill toward strangers and friends. Be excited about opportunities to challenge yourself and your ideas about who you are.
Consider your commitment to these noble efforts as your only reliable indicator of true manhood — or better yet, true humanity. Elevate yourself, and elevate the world.
More:Ask Andrew W.K.