Friday, August 26, 2011

Curse my Dumb, Dumb, Dumb Male Ego

The male ego is a terrible thing. It sets one up with the ludicrous and impossible expectation of being better at all "important" skills than anyone else in the entire universe. Especially better than the girls. Especially better than the girl you're dating.


The only thing that saves us men from self-destruction is our sneaky ability to excuse ourselves from having to be better at certain things. We do this by rationalizing that the things we AREN'T better at are somehow less "important" or less indicative of our true personal greatness. It would be smartest to do that for everything; to get past the need to obsess and compare by saying, "Nothing you could test or measure really defines my greatness; I just feel that I AM great." But we don't typically go that far. We usually keep our pride staked in a few arenas where we feel relatively assured of rule, and that can get us in trouble.

That brings me to my story. The other day something caught me off guard and made me really scramble to protect my ego. It was finding out that my girlfriend is an expert in the martial art of Taekwondo. She is not just a "dancing around and kicking the air" kind of expert, either. She is an "able to break two triple stacks of boards at one time using downward blows of her palm heels, which none of the men at her level could even do," kind of expert. WOW.

The proper reaction for me, the one I want to have, is to simply be proud and impressed, and to feel lucky to be dating such a badass. That IS how I feel about the other things she's good at, even the other athletic things, like being a successful college volleyball player. For whatever reason I've never been a real sporty guy (windsurfing doesn't count), and I therefore haven't prided myself on traditional sports ability.

Strength, though, is different, because I haven't been smart enough not to pin a chunk of my male pride on it. So for my girlfriend to be so good at something that seems like the ultimate test of strength makes me feel awkward and unsettled, like I either need to go out and try to match the feat, which would be dumb, or I need to make a difficult change to my expectations of what I think I should be better at.

For her part, my girlfriend thinks I'm totally ridiculous to let any of this bother me. She points out that I am obviously "stronger," in terms of how big my muscles are, how I can lift heavier things, etc. And she points out that Taekwondo breaks, like golf drives or a softball pitches, are much less a matter of pure strength than they are a matter of learning and practicing a specific technique, then being able to focus and execute it with max speed and perfect form. Which means that, even with some strength advantage, I would have to get very good at Taekwondo to do the kind of stuff that she does. It would be tough and time-consuming, and there would be no guarantee of success given some of the un-trainable kinds of quickness and natural athletic coordination that seem to be involved.

Discussion Question: What do you readers think? Should I make a ridiculous, clumsy attempt to preserve a primitive version of my male ego? Or should I just try to evolve mentally to where it doesn't bug me? What would you do or have you done in similar situations?


DaNews said...

What a revelation...women are better than men at almost are lucky to learn this early on...enjoy your wisdom and don't try to compete, 'cause you'll always lose one way or another.

Johnny Douglass said...

Your mother asked me the other day how I would feel if she could break my hip with one punch. I replied by asking her how she felt (before I broke my hip with my own stupidity) to know that I could probably lick her in a fight. She said it was irrelevant because she knew I would never harm her in that way. She's right of course. Just quit pestering your girlfriend to try windsurfing and she probably wont hit you. AND don't you try breaking any boards!!! Your girlfriend sounds pretty smart. Listen to her and you will become smarter. DaNews said it more succinctly.

Frank said...

You don,t have a prayer competing with women. They have advantages that we men cannot compensate for. If she can cook she is a keeper. Let us know how you are after Arlene.

Catherine said...

In my life with your father, I have come to count on his emotional strength as much or more than his physical strength, though both are appreciated. ( As you note, however, the past few months I have been doing the mulching.)
It seem to me the dance of life that governs a relationship between a man and a woman goes like this: You need, I give, I need, you give, you need, I give, I need, you give, and on and on over the years, and it really is a song of love.

James Douglass said...

Thanks for the nice comments, everybody. I am NOT going to try to break any boards. Rhonda is an awesome athlete who has worked hard and passionately for her many impressive skills, and it would be much wiser for me to be proud of her awesomeness than to try to compete.

In general, I think learning how not to feel jealous when women are better than me, at anything, will make me a happier person and a better boyfriend.

Scott F said...

I think that windsurfing does count as a real sport. I was always an athlete in high school and college. I was a high level gymnast (took lots of strength and balance) football player , baseball player etc. One thing that drew me to windsurfing in my 20's was the high amount of strength and balance that I think it takes, similar to gymnastics. It also takes perserverence and persistance to achieve new moves. I continue to pursue it in my 40s for all these reasons as well as the incredible workout I get doing it.I dont get much opportunity to go or even much wind when I do but its still worth it to me for the aforementioned reasons. You have said it doesnt take inordinate amounts of strength but my 10.6 meter sail makes me disagree. You are at a far higher level than me and any windsurfer knows how much strenght, balance, agility and drive it takes to get there. I dont think its a competition. I dont really know either of you other than reading your blog but it seems as though you are both athletic and high achievers in different ways just from reading. Definately respect and admire her accomplishments like Im sure she does yours.

James Douglass said...

Scott- Thanks for the thoughtful comment! I forget that windsurfing is a tough sport because I have SO MUCH FUN doing it, but you're right- it's quite a mental and athletic challenge at any level. Perhaps it's parallel to things like gymnastics and martial arts in that it offers cool skills, speed, and sensations, but only for those who have the right kind of motivations, patience, and humility to enjoy the long, stepwise learning process and not "to put the cart before the horse," as they say. Anyway, the different things that Rhonda and I have excelled at, we did because we enjoy them, and it would ruin the fun if I tried to do one of Rhonda's things for competitive ego reasons more than my own enjoyment. PS- Good luck with your 10.6. I used to sail a 12.0. ;)

Niagara said...

Just have a beer. As someone said, "Matter is a question of mind, if you don't mind, it doesn't matter".

Sorry my english :)

Jeff said...

It's obvious to me that both of you possess your own special board skills!


James Douglass said...

Niagara- Good advice. A lot of times something seems like a big deal to me, but if I just forget about it for a while, then later on I realize it actually wasn't a big deal at all.

Jeff- Indeed. :)

kdw851 said...

Hi James.
I learn alot about windsurfing reading your blog, other sites and watching videos. I don't get enough time on water but hope to partially make up for it in Avon NC first week of Oct. I'm 56 yrs old with 2 artificial hips learning to plane in footstraps after 5 seasons with whatever TOW I can get. I just love the feeling of improving at something and seems like you do too.

Re. your gal don't worry about it, sounds like you're in good situation. You have your great windsurfing skills and sound like a fine biologist (I told you before I work on biomass), she has her martial arts and VB, sounds like its cool to learn a few things from each other. My wife and I feel people who have nothing to prove don't try to prove things to others.
What do you think about the smaller % of men attending college compared to women now, including biology? Globally, that does concern me.

Also, thanks again for your board recommendations.

James Douglass said...

Hey Kdw- Thanks for the nice comment. I think we share the view of windsurfing as something that offers endless opportunities for challenge and improvement, but at the same time is a fun and "no pressure" kind of thing. I'm glad you're putting your artificial hips to good use.

Yes, I reckon I'm in a good situation with my sweetheart. The other day she showed me the right ways to hit a volleyball, and I've had her on a SUP board a couple times now. We both admire each other's unique talents and qualities and, like you say, we really don't need to try to prove anything.

I'm not an expert on the college gender shift thing, but men and women seem to have the same level of smarts, on average, so I don't think that's the cause. It probably has to do with motivation and effort. Though it's good that we've gotten rid of the myth of the inherently-superior male, we may now need something else to inspire men to live up to their potential.