Once upon a time a song changed my life. I was newly married to man I later divorced for unreasonable behaviour. He wasn’t so much cruel as so devastated by his previous experiences that he was unable to truly engage with another person but back then I was too involved to feel anything but neglect at his issues surrounding intimacy. A friend (who is now “the boyfriend”) sent me two songs. Of all things, we had been discussing music we would play at our funerals – for those looking to sordid insight at a friendship that catalysed the end of two marriages, the reality is somewhat tedious and reflects an over intellectualised friendship that skirted the meaning of life that would have bored even the most ardent of Dawson’s Creek fans.

But there have been many men that have been important to me and in this column I want to introduce Trev. I met Trev online and it was on impulse that I read of his travel plans and (living myself in Malaysia) suggested we “do” Cambodia together. Cambodia was a country on my wish list but I didn’t want to go there alone. I had a vision of what Cambodia could be like given maximum freedom and I (rightly as it turned out) felt that if I was with a friend I’d be freer. I took chances on that holiday with Trev that I wouldn’t have taken alone. With him, taking a spur of the moment trip to a bamboo train was fun when would have been stupid to have gone as a single female. 

Trev has seen a side of me that nobody else ever will because I’m sure as hell never going deep into an undeveloped country just to see Irrawaddy Dolphins (or similarly rare exciting things) again. I lay whimpering that night in our grotty hostel in the randomcambodiatownsville known as Kratie as Trev covered me head to toe in sheets, wrapped his arms around me and shook me with his laughter as he sought to reassure me that the bugs and beetles that had swarmed into our room when we turned on the light weren’t coming get me.

So, the song that changed my life; A better man. It wasn’t so much that at the time of hearing it that I wanted to be the one that he couldn’t stand the living the thought of living their life without (although those familiar with the boyfriend and I will probably see how much the song captures the changes in our lives and the journey we have made) but rather that I wanted to be that someone to somebody. I wanted to inspire not just love, not just passion, but genuine change. I wanted a real man and I wanted to be woman enough to experience a real man.

If a few weeks ago you had asked me to define what I meant by a real man, I’d have struggled. I knew it was what my ex-husband wasn’t and I knew it was something that my boyfriend was but anything clearer than that was difficult. It is being masculine enough to support me in the way the men of my family cared for their women but it was equal enough to nurture the dreams of a passionate and driven woman. I needed a man who wasn’t intimidated by my dreams, my intelligence, my sexuality or, (let’s be honest here) my issues but who instead could take a clear look at my whole and say yeah, I want to join with that and make the sum of our parts even better without stifling a single element of that crazy, passionate irrationality that is the intrinsic you.

I think most women of my generation have an equally vague desire for a man that can blend the complexity of the right level of support, enough new-manishness to do his share of the housework whilst still hitting the right note of dominance. I know I wanted to feel fulfilled in any career path I chose but I still liked guys that insisted that if we had a child it would have his surname and were sufficiently “caveman” in the bedroom.

A lot to ask? Not so says Trev. Instead Trev is one of what sometimes seems to be a rare breed of men. Trev actually likes women. This is very different from merely being straight. Straight men are sexually attracted to women rather than being sexually attracted to men. I’ve met plenty of men who are straight but dislike women. It only takes the boyfriend to ask “Mars or Venus?”* to illustrate his understanding that sometimes I want his pragmatic solution driven support and sometimes I just want to talk about how upset I am, to demonstrate how much he understands how my female needs differ from his masculine ones. Trev really gets this and while of course he sometimes wonders at the endless irrationality of women, he doesn’t hate us for it. Instead, he looks to society and wonders what happened to get men and women into such a confused state and what women want, what this elusive ‘real man’ is.

Trev can express it better than I can try to and so he has kindly agreed to provide the first Thursday Column interview on what makes a real man and to introduce his project on the subject.

Kathryn Trev, I must applaud you for defining a most vague and subjective of terms. What led to you putting pen to paper and attempting it?

Trev It is hard to say what exactly triggered the attempt. It was partly the "self help" material that I was listening to on my mp3 player that kept on skirting around the subject of being a real man, but without ever defining it to my satisfaction. This came on top of a trend that has been going on for many years in my life to improve myself and be the best that I could be.

Whenever I see missing information like this I like to solve it, and so I thought I'd write down the criteria for a Real Man to give me something to work towards... That was the genesis of the project...

Kathryn I think you've picked up on a topic that is really significant to our generation. I've said myself that I want a real man but I didn't really know what I meant. I presume you've met plenty of women like me and men who wonder what we mean.

Trev It is one of those buzz words that is floating about at the moment. I'm not sure if it isunique to our generation, but it is certainly something that seems to be relevant to a large number of people. Women wanting a Real Man is a pretty common phenomenon. I think that to a large extent that most guys have no idea what is passing through a woman’s mind when she says
 these words. Part of the project is to help educate guys what is involved and eventually to provide resources to help them get closer to the ideal

Kathryn I think there are benefits for women as well. With your definition there is at least the beginning of a discourse for them about what they mean. And of course, a way of finding these better men!

Trev It is certainly an interesting topic for women of course. At these early stages there are a lot more women then men that are following the project! And for sure, if I can create a few more real men out there then I think that is definitely a benefit for women...

Kathryn So what does the project currently involve and how can people participate?

Trev At the moment the project is in its infant stage. I am still trying to pin down what the words "Real Man" mean to people, and specifically women. I'm also trying to apply the things I am learning to my real life. People can participate by following my blog and giving me feedback. I also have a page on Facebook called "The Real Man Project". Anyone with an interest can follow that which will chart my ongoing progress.

Kathryn I think it provides an essential context for the debate. I loved your post 'What would you have 
done?' Theory is all very well but while the initial idea can often capture our attention, we often move on. By illustrating the project with real life situations I think you're more likely to create a lasting impact. Ideally where would you like the project to go?

Trev The "What would you have done?" post was something that happened to me, and it seemed to illustrate some of the problems of being a real man, and my own personal challenges really well. These type of posts will continue to appear as and when appropriate events happen in my life, or possibly in other peoples’ lives if they feel that they have a story to share then I will consider helping them in this respect. 

The main thrust of the project in the short term will be my personal improvement, and collecting tools to help myself and others to improve in various aspects of their life. I'll be testing all of these methods, and letting people know what effect it is having. Eventually I hope to build up a large list of resources to help guys pin point their weaknesses and tools to strengthen them in these areas.

Kathryn Well I'll be following with interest. I think there has been a lot of confusion between the sexes as the position women hold in society has evolved and it's great that you are encouraging people to take responsibility for their wants and needs. Thank you for talking to me today Trev. Good luck with the project!

Talking to Trev reminded me of a conversation I have had a number of times with the boyfriend. The boyfriend will talk of being worthy of me. This isn’t so much an idea based in me being some wonderful creature, rather a reflection on how a relationship can fall apart and how making love work requires commitment. The challenge is through worthiness of self, sustain and nourish ones relationship. It goes both ways and as Trev joked to me that if there are more real men out there then maybe women will have to step up their game. I for one embrace that challenge, I know that if I’m to maintain the interest and affection of my real man, I cannot be complacent. 

And that’s what Trev’s project ultimately means for me. If we want a fulfilling and meaningful life (regardless of love) then we must seek it out, work at it and not be passive. For the most part I agree with Hobbes that life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short but I think there is choice in there and I applaud the men that seek to be better men, to be real men.

* From the book by John Gray, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus
8/6/2010 03:01:15 pm

You both sounds quite professional :)
Another step of spreading a real man idea. Woo hoo!

8/9/2010 04:34:13 am

Its true as women we are always seeking and talking about finding a real man. With guidance for both parties involved I believe we can all 'get what we want'


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