Being a Man

Is part of being a man doing things that you don’t enjoy?

I’ve been mulling this over lately. There’s a certain perception that men should do classically manly things. Even small things that you might not think of. Drinking black coffee, for example. How many TV shows have you seen where the wannabe pussy-man orders some fru-fru coffee drink with four sugars and plenty of cream–or, in this modern heyday of Starbucks and its own brand of coffee culture, some kind of soy latte frappa-whatever-cini? Right? And then the manly men on the show, usually characters with whom our sadly feminine main character is trying to gain masculine acceptance, all laugh in his face as they drink their burning hot black coffees and smoke their unfiltered cigarettes. Because that’s what men do.

So why is that? I’ll be honest with you. I’m not a huge fan of black coffee. But for a while I tried to be. I assumed that it was more mature to like black coffee, and so I tried to condition myself to liking it. A good friend of mine is a stout believer in the virtues of black coffee, and I have to wonder if he initially liked the taste, or if he had to learn to appreciate it. Because of course it’s possible to come to like something. But why? Why do we strive to appreciate things because we’re supposed to appreciate them?

You know how I like my coffee? With lots and lots of cream. Heavy cream or half & half and, again, absolute tons of it. I just finished my second cup today, and I made sure to add even more cream the second time around because the first time the coffee was still vaguely coffee-colored, and that ain’t the way I like it. And I’ve only learned to like it this way after having started a low carb diet that doesn’t allow me to add sugar to my coffee. And guess what? I put some artificial sweetener in the other day, and holy damn it was delicious. Sweet coffee tastes good, and I’m not really sure why I find it hard to acknowledge that.

It’s not just coffee, either. My girlfriend got me a pipe for my birthday, because I’m the type of prematurely old and cantankerous weirdo who would love to receive a pipe as a gift. And–thank God–I really enjoy smoking it. The smoke tastes and smells nice, there’s a level of simple but satisfying skill to pipe smoking that appeals to me, and it looks super cool. But I’m fairly confident that, even if I’d hated smoking the pipe at first, I’d have stuck with it until I enjoyed it, because to my mind it seems to be the sort of thing a growed-ass man should enjoy. The kind of thing you could offer a less virile friend to try, and then laugh with satisfied smugness when he spluttered and coughed, confident that you had won the manly day.

The list goes on, too. Whiskey is another obvious one. I like whiskey. I’m a big fan of bourbon, in particular. I like bourbon and coke. I like bourbon straight. I like Manhattans. But I’m pretty certain that I didn’t really like it when I first tasted it. I’ve come to like it and appreciate it now, and I feel like a straight up boss every time I drink it.

But what’s the use, really?

I read some comments online about dieting recently that brought these thoughts to my mind. The question posed was something along the lines of, “What should I use to sweeten my food?” and the low-carb advocate’s response was, “Why do you need to sweeten food? I encourage to learn to appreciate the way food tastes.”

I read that and thought, yeah! You totally should learn to appreciate the taste of food without sweeteners.

Then I stepped back a moment and analyzed my reaction.

Wait, what? Why? Why should you feel pressured to like something that, upon first experiencing it, you don’t enjoy? Of course it’s possible to learn to like something, and liking more things is good, generally speaking. But who says that you can’t dislike things? Especially as an adult. It’s accepted that kids are picky, but once you become a man you’re supposed to like manly things? Shouldn’t adulthood be the point where you no longer have to pretend to like shit? Shouldn’t a tall, bearded son-of-a-bitch be the last person to have to like certain things?

Of course, you can’t blame it all on the pressure to seem manly. There are plenty of things we do once we grow up that we don’t really enjoy, but feel are appropriate to do. If we’re lucky we learn to enjoy them. “Yes, I train Muay Thai. Hm? No, it doesn’t hurt to get hit in the face. It’s awesome! What’s that? Oh yes, I like to wind down after sparring with a glass of Scotch and a cigar, followed by a drunken walk in the woods, avoiding clearly marked trails at all costs, of course.”

Well, guess what? I don’t like getting punched in the face, and I ought to be able to admit that. I don’t like Scotch. I do like the woods, true. And I do like cigars. But I don’t like having to learn to like things that rub me the wrong way, even if I do so anyway.

So here’s to being your own version of manly, womanly, or whatever you want to be.

And here’s to coffee with sugar (or Equal) and lots of cream. Because face it–black coffee tastes like a kick in the teeth.