3 Ways Smart Guys Hurt Those Who Care Most

This is for people “trying to help” guys who don’t want ‘help.

I think what confuses the frustrated ‘helper’ most, is some smart guys’ apparent disapproval or dismissiveness, lack of commitment, or sense of emotional independence. 

If hoping against hope for change in such behavior(s) is painful for you, and you can’t seem to get any traction, congratulations: you are properly empathizing with an isolated smart guy. Welcome to his world.

1. (Dis)approval

A smart guy’s apparent or real disapproval of you/others can be explained by a truth hidden in plain sight: he’s grown accustomed to getting more approval than those around him. (Even criticism implies someone has high expectations and potential approval with your name on it.)

It’s an identity.

The book Punished by Rewards describes how external evaluation costs the recipient his sense of inherent lovability, emotional safety, and unconditional high regard, which all humans, all ages, need. In the absence of playful experiences of self-discovery, farting around, and goofing up, you just can’t grow confident at distinguishing your own, intrinsic motivation from extrinsic evaluation.

Performative learning costs you the chance to discover who you are and what you love.

There you have it: to anyone who relies on approval or ‘rewards’ as social currency (instead of love, which many learn to mistrust,) ‘love’ may only be perceptible as approval. Take this picture with capitalism as the backdrop, and love looks like any other currency one has learned to accrue and dole out in exchange for goods and services. Naturally, this leads to ‘expressing love’ through approval, criticism, teasing, sarcasm, and at best, dismissiveness.

Love reduced like this becomes a mockery of itself.

This is my reasoning as to why those of us who secretly crave approval but feel that, once you’re all grown up, you have to provide it for yourself. You can see how that’d make it hard to recognize or digest honest-to-goodness love from those who love you most.

2. Commitment to Non-Commitment

If, from a young age, you believe that you can do anything and be anyone… but you’re also fascinated with everything you’ve tried your hand at, curious about many subjects, and good at many things… by adulthood, you might feel a lot like a stem cell in the blood stream: able to do anything, but completely out of place everywhere you go. 

Imagine you’re surrounded by others who DID ‘commit’ (immunoogy term) to developing into a particular type of person or cell, and became part of flawed but phenomenally complex organizations or organs, performing specific functions within these human systems…

Surrounded by people with perhaps less potential, but more commitment, how you feel about your ‘infinite potential’ can vary greatly from day to day, moment to moment. In many smart guys’ adulthood, the same vast variety of factors that impact stress management in everyone else, shake the bedrock of his very self-esteem and identity.

In other words: on a moment’s notice, any one thing can unravel everything.

So if he won’t commit to a time to meet next week, or to marriage ever, or to anything in between, it might just be because he wants to be good to you.

Remember: he’s got very limited advance notice on how confidently he’ll be able to actually be who he knows he can be. He’s just trying to do things well.

3. Deceptive (in)dependence

If the previous two descriptions give you hope and stamina to persevere in the push-pull of ‘helping’ the smart guy in your life, I have failed. My intention is to release you of the ‘helping’ push-pull altogether, because ‘helper’ push-pull is what keeps him more stuck than anything else.

I’ve already written on why worry offends smart guys.

Here I’ll go into one reason it entrenches them.

The dominant Western culture leaves either very little room for interpretation when it comes to ideals of masculinity, or way too much for one generation to (want/be able to) morph into.

Idealized masculinity, like idealized femininity, is impossible to attain, and even if reached for a moment, is instantly revocable and constantly under siege from both individuals and the culture at large.

Since neither the ‘woke social-justice warrior,’ nor the the muscle-bound macho who “puts everyone in their place” just in the way he enters the room are unattainable masculine identities, maybe smart guys aspire all the more to one of ‘can-do Renaissance man,’ of ‘white-hat hacker,’ or of ‘guy behind the curtain’ who sees all, knows all, and evaluates who gets what at the end of the yellow brick road.

You take that away from him by worrying. By getting him digging his heels in, tug-of-war style. He may actually feel like a team of one against every woman in his life, every critic, and every authority figure ever.

What if his air of aloof independence is a wise place for him to hang out?! What would be so wrong about letting him dig himself deeper into a hole on his own terms? He just might come to tap the sweet wellspring of his own personal masculinity. Finally tapping a sense of rootedness, meaning, and belonging. Through independent divination.

In Summary

If you allow that your smart guy may, indeed, be served by learning certain things you’d like him to learn (notice I didn’t say he needs to, or that you know the order in which lessons are coming to him)
…and if you allow that he may very well be ready to do some soul-searching (though not the type you have in mind for him,)
…allow this for yourself as well.

What if you are not actually imbued with the all-seeing, all-knowing confidence of what is next for him? What if that is for him to know, and for you and I to find out… if and only IF he lets us?

Please know that I’m in solidarity with you both. With him in his knowing he needs to do things his own way, and with you in how much you’re being affected. I get it. I really do. We both know he wouldn’t want us talking about him, so let’s not meet. 

Just subscribe and forward him a post you think he’d find useful. 

Or tell him an insight you had from reading this one.

I welcome written feedback!

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