Three Phrases Men Stumble Over — Yet Women Long to Hear
While working overseas for nearly ten years, mainly in Japan, I enjoyed the privilege of observing manly (and womanly) behavior in cultures very different from the United States. So when Art of Manliness asked me to provide an updated perspective on Japanese-style manhood, I was happy to oblige — and surprised at what my research uncovered.
AoM and Soul Shelter readers enjoyed a glimpse of traditional Japanese manhood in a previous essay on Bushido. While those ideals are popularly known as the Way of the Warrior, as the article showed, they might be better termed the Precepts of Chivalry.
In practice, though, chivalry in Japan is something men have extended primarily to, well … other men. A woman’s role was to have dinner, beer, and bath ready however late her husband returned home. Men, for their part, were expected to focus exclusively on work, which meant ignoring their wives and children. Unfortunately, over time the “absent husband/father” syndrome became widely accepted and drove a terrible wedge between the genders.
Today it is reflected in fewer, later marriages, and skyrocketing rates of divorce, especially those initiated by older women, who shudder at the prospect of becoming little more than a housekeeper for a retired, estranged husband who is clueless without his company — and helpless around the home.
Mr. Amano, a dedicated salaryman in his late 50s, foresaw his own marriage foundering and recognized that Japanese husbands had to mend their ways if they were to live like true men (and stay married). He formed an organization, Zenteikyo (loosely translated as the Chauvinistic Husbands Association of Japan), which serves as a support group and resource for men striving to become more sensitive to wives’ needs.
With Art of Manliness mission firmly in mind, last month I called Mr. Amano to chat, and found him warm and companionable. We bemoaned that opportunities to demonstrate chivalry these days seem limited to such mundane tasks as opening wine bottles, carrying packages, and walking on the traffic side of the sidewalk. To be sure, the days of hewing logs with ax and adze, building fires with flint and steel, and using fisticuffs (or swords) to defend one’s beloved, are, for almost all of us, long past.
Men today, we agreed, face challenges of a different sort. And increasingly, words, rather than actions, dominate metrics of manhood. I was struck by Mr. Amano’s assertion that there are three crucial phrases that many men find almost unutterable. That’s too bad, because they’re precisely the three things most women long to hear. I assured Mr. Amano that the problem of lack of chivalry, while acute in Japan, is universal.
So, are you ready to test your international manliness quotient? Then assess how frequently — and on what occasions — you voice the Three Magic Phrases.
The first is the simplest:
Words of thanks come easily in response to the big things. But real men express gratitude for the thankless, everyday chores that make a home, for the tasks too often left to women. Real men may no longer hew logs, but they must hone gratitude.
Readers, can we have a show of hands? How many of you offer daily thanks for the small stuff? (if you’re like me and Mr. Amano, you’re shifting uncomfortably in your seat.)
Well, onward nevertheless. Most men find Phrase Two even more challenging:
Even boys will voice contrition for their big failures. But it’s your ability to recognize — and say you’re sorry for — smaller failings that ranks you as a man. Forget about pumping iron; pump up the apologies.
Finally, there’s Phrase Three. It’s the least voicable of all, especially in Japan. Around the world, though, it occasionally pops out at, well, mission-critical moments:
“I love you.”
But real men say “I love you,” not only in the heat of passion, but in the cool calm of daylight: while driving the car, while washing the dishes, while eating breakfast. Men, forget about lifting logs; focus on lofting those lovewords.
(This essay first appeared in a slightly different form at Art of Manliness.)
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