by Niall Doherty

I was at a pub here in Budapest a few weeks ago and was highly amused to find myself being criticized by an otherwise attractive Hungarian girl for the simple fact that I don’t drink alcohol. She went so far as to buy me a beer and insist I drink it, and I went so far as to turn around and gift said beer to a random dude standing beside us at the bar.

I felt the funniest part of the entire interaction was when the girl asked me, quite seriously, “Why don’t you drink beer? Why aren’t you a real man?”

As I’ve written about before, I’m beyond taking offense to such remarks. But her words did get me thinking… Just what is a “real man” anyways?

The traditional, shallow view of a real man is the beer-guzzling, sports-loving, engine-revving, boob-leering, deer-hunting, crotch-scratching homophobe who doesn’t think too much about anything. Last time I looked, there were lots of these guys hanging out on reality television.

As you might imagine, my definition of a real man is quite different…

What Is A Real Man?

A real man makes up his own mind. He asks hard questions of himself and others, and arrives at his own conclusions. He cares little what the rabblement thinks of his personal choices. He might drink alcohol, but not simply because everyone else does. He might be religious, but not simply because he was raised that way.

A real man has a purpose in life, a self-assigned mission that he’s devoted to. That purpose may change over time, and sometimes the mission is simply to discover his next mission. As much as possible, everything a real man says and does is in line with his purpose.

A real man is a hypocrite, just like everyone else. Difference is, a real man will recognize and accept the gaps in his integrity, while constantly striving for greater congruency between his thoughts, words and actions.

A real man accepts his vulnerability. He hurts. He cries. He bleeds. He asks for help when needed. He recognizes the stupidity of macho.

A real man is more assertive than aggressive. He strives to avoid violence, but not confrontation. He tells people what they need to hear. He doesn’t accept bad behavior from himself or others. He calls bullshit when he sees it.

A real man leads by example and asks for what he wants. He doesn’t play mind games or try to trick anyone. He shares information freely. He seeks win-win. Zillion sum game.

A real man doesn’t feel the need to cut people down. He’d rather build them up. Instead of becoming consumed with envy, he’s secure enough in himself to take joy in the success and fortune of others.

A real man doesn’t compromise his values for a short-term win.

A real man cares about his planet and his body, and acts accordingly. Because he knows he’s only got one of each, no second chances.

A real man feels fear, just like everyone else, but he doesn’t let the fear control him. He confronts it regularly, training himself to lean into the flinch.

A real man knows how little he knows. He admits when he’s wrong. He’s willing to apologize and make things right. He’s okay with fucking something up as long as he learns a lesson. Sometimes he’ll even fuck things up on purpose, just to learn that lesson.

A real man resists the urge to play the victim. He reframes problems as opportunities and makes the most of whatever situation he finds himself in.

A real man respects and admires other real men (and women). No threat. He tries to help those who aren’t quite there yet.

A real man is not defined by his possessions. He’s not opposed to having nice things, but he doesn’t derive his core happiness or sense of self-worth from them. His real wealth cannot be lost or stolen.

A real man doesn’t mind standing apart from the crowd. He doesn’t mind being alone. He’s comfortable in his own company, at ease in his own skin.

A real man is not ashamed of his sexuality.

A real man knows that playing it safe is risky. He chooses adventure whenever possible.

A real man is constantly evolving. He’s never the same guy from one year to the next. He’s okay with transience and uncertainty. He’s strong enough inside to put up with whatever challenges life throws his way.

A real man gets shit done. He makes tough decisions and takes responsibility for his own life. He makes mistakes and learns from them. He fails often and he forgives himself. He learns and moves on.

A real man lives the Stockdale Paradox, whether he calls it that or not.

A real man is willing and able to share in other people’s pain. But he doesn’t put up with persistent leeches. He generally surrounds himself with other self-empowered people who are busy walking their own purposeful paths.

A real man doesn’t settle. When it comes to the really important things in life, good enough simply isn’t good enough.

A real man believes in himself, even if nobody else does.

A real man doesn’t try to avoid awkward conversations. He introduces elephants.

A real man has amazing friends (both male and female) who love him deeply and want nothing but the best for him. And the same in kind.

A real man offers praise when it is due. In turn, he accepts compliments gracefully and gratefully. He understands that the world can’t be a more giving place unless people are more willing to receive.

A real man doesn’t do things half-assed. He aims for excellence at whatever he turns his hand to.

A real man is full of gratitude and wonder. He is in love with the world, in spite of all its flaws. And he expects the world to love him, in spite of all his flaws. He puts out there what he wishes to receive.

Being Real

Granted, the above is very idealized. I doubt that a man fitting that description has ever lived, or ever will. I like to think I measure up nicely in some of those areas, but I fall very flat in more than I’m comfortable to admit.

But this isn’t about achieving some kind of perfection. It’s just something to aim for.

For all the guys out there: How do you feel you measure up to my definition? What do you need to work on? Anything you’d like to add? Anything you disagree with?

And for the ladies: What’s your definition of a real man? And how would you define a real woman?