It was a Zoom conversation with Rich Keller this past July when I confessed that I needed older male emotional support. It was a raw and vulnerable moment. Ultimately, I was struggling to face the realities of my life and didn’t know what path to take next. All I knew was at that moment, I needed support in a way that I never had before.

My relationship with Rich has turned into a connection between a 54-year-old happily married male and a 28-year-old single independent male who wants to live a meaningful life and live in congruence with myself. Eight months later, our relationship has manifested itself into “emotional night school,” where 3–4 nights a week we put the puzzle pieces of my past together and identified the tools I need to begin stepping into my full self.

It’s become a safe place to share, to cry, to laugh, and to be intimate in a way that is safe and protected. I feel seen, heard, and valued.

More than anything, I’ve noticed on this journey how rare it is to have a relationship like the one we’ve cultivated. I feel as though I see so many of my other male friends struggling around me— not with their professional work, but with how they handle hard personal moments, mindset development, and emotional endurance.

Through my relationship with Rich, we have read books together. Braving The Wilderness by Brene Brown, Man Enough by Justin Baldoni, Emotional Agility by Susan David, and For The Love of Men by Liz Plank have all been books on the education list that have helped me navigate through hard moments and make sense of myself—and help Rich make sense of himself, too.

What I’ve learned from reading these books is that men face many similar challenges because they haven’t learned the true meaning of emotional independence.

Men don’t have safe places to share and open up to one another and be vulnerable. They are scared to ask for help and advice. They don’t know how to sit in their emotions and work through their discomfort. They feel that they have to hide parts of who they are and numb themselves through masturbation, sex, drugs, work, exercise, and more. Because they’re not equipped to handle the internal discomfort, their external expressions of numbing are ultimately harming them.

Liz Plank writes in her book that “Toxic masculinity turns men into a threat to women … Every single day three men will end up killing their girlfriend, wife, or ex. Nearly half of all women who end up murdered are killed by a current or former romantic partner—98% of those partners are male.”

She goes on to share how there is an emotional gap between men and women in how they process emotions, even though the intelligence gap is similar between the two genders.

For The Love of Women

What I find so interesting is that women wholeheartedly celebrate Valentine’s Day. Around this time of year, many women’s Instagram stories are littered with their “Galentine’s Day” highlights, how they’re celebrating and loving their friends, and embracing the emotional connection they share with the women close in their lives.

But men often mock this and ignore it because men are not raised in society to embrace and navigate their emotions effectively. They fail to understand Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love and connectivity between people.

In conversations with Empathy Activist Rob Volpe—whose book, Tell Me More About That, is coming out February 22—he told me that men seek empathy from external relationships—neighbors, colleagues, and retail workers. Women, on the other hand, predominately seek empathy from their children, significant others, and closest relationships. Women are focused on the immediate community, while men are inclined to look beyond the nest for empathy.

No wonder the divorce rate is so high. Perhaps it’s because men don’t have the tools to evolve emotionally with their partners, who are often already more emotionally advanced than them upon entering a relationship.

I have unconsciously struggled with my emotional development my whole life, until last summer when I was forced to look at myself in the mirror, identify my own gaps, and take responsibility for them—due in large part to Rich’s willingness to help. And while I’m not perfect and will always be growing in this capacity, having awareness and an emotional vocabulary have become the most critical elements.

So when I look at Galentine’s Day, I see it from a different angle now. I see it as women embracing their relationships with other women who can fully see and understand them for who they are. Moreover, as Rob adds, I now understand that women find fulfillment in their close bonds with friends that men are just starting to clue into.

Men – Why We Need to Evolve Ourselves and Our Relationships 

As I have been going through my emotional and spiritual journey the past eight months, I’ve really had to dig up my past and evolve into a new form. And through this period and reckoning filled with personal pain and growth, it has made me look at my relationships with men and ask myself, “Do I have the friendships in my life that are necessary for me to grow with and for myself? Are the men in my life equipped with the depth that I need to feel nourished and supported?”

Upon further reflection, I’ve realized there are just a few men in my life whom I can seriously “go there” with as I look at things in a new, deeper way.

Those that I have been able to “go there” with have created a vulnerable playground for us to show up as our most authentic selves, belong in our fullest form, and not hold anything back. There is no fear of judgment when we’re courageously working toward a life of emotional maturity.

I believe that men should take more time to get to know themselves, do the emotional development work, and go deeper with their male counterparts, as the gift they are giving themselves by doing so has a lifetime value. It will only help them to feel more connected, grounded, and fulfilled in the relationships that matter most to them.

How do you do this yourself?

I understand that if you’re a man reading this, you may be asking how to do this yourself. There’s no perfect formula, and it’s a lot of navigating in the emotional gray, but what it does require is an open heart, an open mind, and the willingness to seek others out in a meaningful way to start the conversation in your fullest expression.

For starters, this work cannot be done alone. No book will show you all the answers, no single therapist, and no amount of aimless roaming will resolve these issues. There is no silver bullet, but with patience and time and a holistic approach, a lot of progress can be made.

First, you have to find someone who has the lived experience and pains who will help bring you through the tunnel and show up for you without rushing your development.

Once you find that person, you have to bring yourself fully to the table and be 100% vulnerable—open to letting the baggage go, digging into the pain, and allowing the insights to organically unravel.  And in that process, you have to be open to challenges. In my work with Rich, it’s often when I push back on him that the greatest openings are created. Now we know that when I feel a strong resistance we’re on to something big.

The process has a lot of highs and lows. Some days you feel like you’re on Cloud 9 from the progress, and other days you feel six feet under from the pain you’ve just uncovered. And in that process, you have to learn to become emotionally independent and not run to someone or something else to help soothe the pain. It’s sitting in the wounds where you find the most perspective, learnings, and strength for the future.

Throughout the process and never-ending journey, it takes the willingness to share and continually show up, the thirst to learn, read new material, write, express freely, and find a person who will hold a mirror to you and be constructive. It’s scary to look in the mirror because when you do, you realize there may be more pain than you expected.

It’s ultimately working through those feelings effectively that help you shed layers of yourself and grow into the next version that you’re meant to become.

Changing The Script of Valentines Day

As my good friend Morgan Ingram puts it, he sees Valentine’s Day as this over-dramatized day when men go “over the top” with their gestures toward their partners. But he raises a good question: Why wait until Valentine’s Day? Shouldn’t men treat their partners this way every day?

Perhaps Valentine’s Day is much deeper than what is portrayed in our current societal script. I challenged Morgan by suggesting maybe Valentine’s Day is an opportunity for men to look within themselves and seek out other men for emotional connection as they venture down the path of life without thinking they have to do it alone. And as my friend Marty Nocchi says, “Perhaps it should be okay for a man to tell another man he loves him without getting all freaked out!”

To the men reading this, in close, I challenge you to take stock of your own relationships with other men, and ask, “Do I have a safe, open, and vulnerable space to share and be my full authentic self?”