A few years ago, I took a men’s weekend workshop. It was filled with all sorts of activities from shadow boxing to eye gazing to yelling at the top of our lungs.
Some of it resonated with me, some of it didn’t.
But there was one exercise that has stayed with me since.
It was nearing the end of the weekend and they had all 20 of us take out a sheet of paper and start making a list of women in our lives.1
The women we wronged. The women we left things unresolved with. The women who were left with our messes.
We were told to think about these women and write the Top 3 onto a list.
Then came the bombshell: we were to call each of those women and make amends with them. Take ownership for where we went wrong. And try our best to make things right.
The room instantly erupted.
I’ve never seen so many men freak out at the same time. Some went into a panic. Others completely shut down. One guy started hyperventilating.
But over the next hour, with a lot of coaching and support (and pacing and stalling), each of the men reached out and called the women on their list.
It was incredible.
A lot of the calls went well, to the surprise of many. Some did not.
But all the men in the room learned a valuable lesson that day: to stop running from the situations and people from our past, take ownership for the messes we’ve made, and to try our best to clean them up.
This is a practice (made popular by 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous) that everyone could benefit from.
But especially men.
Because of the way most of us men are wired/conditioned, we tend to shut down when things get painful. We cut and run. Move on and not look back.
We do this with the women and relationships in our life. And it causes a lot of pain. And suffering.
But we also do this with our selves.
This is how we numb ourselves. How we teach ourselves to disconnect from our emotions. To bottle things up. To shut ourselves down.
By making amends with others, we’re teaching ourselves to plug back in.
To connect, even if it’s uncomfortable. To own our part, no matter how difficult. To be present, no matter how painful.
For a lot of men, this kind of emotional vulnerability can be 10 times scarier than any physical threat.
Which is why it’s in such short supply these days.
I like to think of myself as someone who’s fairly decent at owning when I’ve fucked up. I’m not perfect. But it’s something I’m continuously working on.
Yet, just recently, it took me weeks to muster up the courage to call a woman I briefly dated.
Things had ended between us rather murkily – I slowly drifted off with less and less communication until the texts finally ground to a halt.
It was a shitty way to end a sweet connection.
Even though it wasn’t the deepest of relationships or the most egregious of errors, I found myself pretty nervous as I finally gave her a call.
What would she say? What am I gonna say? Will she be pissed? Think I’m stupid for even bringing it up?
Somehow I stumbled through it and the words I needed to say came out intact, more-or-less: that I was sorry for the way I handled things towards the end. That I wished I had communicated better. More directly. More honestly. With more thought and care.
And then I told her the things I wish I had said then: how much I appreciated our connection. How she entered my life at a vulnerable time and what it meant to me. How her passion and openness inspired me, and still continues to now.
It ended up being a great conversation. Awkward at times. Definitely uncomfortable. But in the end, she appreciated me reaching out.
And I’m glad I did as well.
Not only did I get to take responsibility for a mess I made. But by making amends, we both had the opportunity to find some closure. To let go of a weight from the past. And move on.
Unfortunately, not all amends will go smoothly.
Some will be incredibly uncomfortable. Some will be met with anger or coldness. And that’s okay.
This isn’t about getting a good reaction. This is about taking ownership of your messes.
There may be instances where it will feel too difficult or unsafe to reach out. That’s okay. Be gentle with yourself.
But if you find that this person or scenario keeps entering your mind, playing on repeat endlessly – then it might be a sign that this needs to be attended to.
Not just for their sake. But also for your own.
There’s no one way to go about doing amends.
12 Step Programs have a more formal process that’s similar to what the men’s workshop did (i.e. making a list of people, going through it one-by-one).
If you’ve never done anything like this before, this can be a great way to get the ball rolling.
Personally, I’m more of an advocate for weaving this kind of practice throughout your daily life. Not just with romantic partners, but with everyone.
Anything that you feel shitty about, that you felt you didn’t handle properly, or wish you could’ve done differently – consider reaching out to the person and letting them know that.
Look, making amends won’t fix everything. But if you want to have more harmonious relationships with others, it’s a great place to start.
By making amends, you’re beginning to take responsibility for your actions. You’re committing to stop running and cutting. And instead, turning and facing. To doing what it takes to make things right – no matter how awkward, vulnerable, or pride-swallowing it may be.
It’s difficult at first. But the more you flex this muscle, the easier it gets.
It’s exercising a kind of bravery that most men don’t associate as such.
It doesn’t involve firearms. Burning buildings. Or lightning-quick reflexes.
It involves the courage to admit when you’re wrong. To open up when you feel like shutting down. To put yourself out on a limb when there is no safety net.
It’s not easy. Not in the slightest.
But this is how we begin to heal our relationships with others. And our relationship with ourselves.
It’s how we connect with emotions we’ve been running from our whole lives. How we thaw out the parts we’ve numbed and shut down.
It’s how we access our full emotional range. How we access our hearts. And begin to live and relate to others from there.
It’s a bravery of the emotional kind.
And one our world desperately needs from its men, now more than ever.