When I was growing up, I was told a lie—by my family, by my peers, by the society in which I lived. I was told that the true value of a man is measured in how “studly” you are. I was told that manly men were those who were so charming, handsome, and strong that they could have any woman they wanted, any time they wanted. I was told that the mark of a “stud” was a string of one-night-stands and brief, highly sexualized relationships. I was told that the most important thing I could offer the world was my ‘studliness,’ and that the most important thing the world could offer to me was sex. And I believed it—I believed every word of it.
The problem was, I didn’t measure up to that standard of manliness. In fact, I wasn’t even on the chart. In middle-school I was not only scrawny and underweight for my age, but I also suffered from depression, anxiety, and a pervasive feeling of worthlessness. I couldn’t talk to girls. I didn’t dress cool or look cool. I wasn’t charming and witty and suave. In short, I didn’t have what took to be a “stud.” Even as far back as 7th grade, I felt like a failure in the core of my being—after all, what good is a man if he can’t perform the most basic and important roles of manhood?
As I look back on this time in my life, I feel sadness for the boy I used to be. What a tragedy to believe that my only value was in something so shallow! What a tragedy that I was so hopelessly hung-up on having to become something I could never be! What a tragedy that I never heard the truth! And what is the truth, anyway? If studliness and shallow sex appeal aren’t all there is to a man, then what is being a man all about? And if what I learned was wrong, why did everyone around me (my family, my peers, and society) seem to believe it was true?
The Bible says that the most important thing that defines a man is love—not love for self, but a self-sacrificial love for others. This is what Jesus modeled, and this is what the Apostle Paul preached. Men are to be initiators, to move into their world and bring order to the chaos, especially in the area of relationships. Men are to be brave yet honest, confident yet humble, strong yet approachable. Men are to be trustworthy mentors who build others up, not shady playboys who tear other people down for their own twisted pleasure. They are to be faithful husbands, loving fathers, fearless protectors. The true value of a man is in how he impacts his world relationally.
As far as I can tell, the reason that “studliness” has become the idol of manhood in our society is that it seems extremely manly on the outside (initiation, aggression, etc.), but it requires no real strength or commitment as a man. It’s far easier to ‘turn on the charm’ and have a fling with a young woman than it is to chose a life-mate and stay committed to her for the rest of your life. It’s far easier to move from shallow relationship to shallow relationship than it is to risk being fully known and exposed to someone else. It’s far easier to use someone sexually than to love them for who they are. Studliness (and the sexual ethic that goes with it) offers an illusion of relationship but no substance. It makes you feel like a man without actually having to be a man. But the real strength of a man is seen when he is willing to enter into conflict, to stay faithful to his marriage vows, to stick with his family even when he wants to turn tail and run. The man who has the guts to trust God enough to live out what Jesus has modeled for us on the cross—that’s the real stud.
I still struggle at times with my calling as a man. There are many moments in my life when I feel like I don’t have what it takes to impact my world. I sometimes feel like the boy who believed that his value was in a studliness he didn’t have, and I still find myself slipping back into my old defense strategies of avoidance and escape. But Jesus isn’t done with me yet, and slowly but surely he is making me into the kind of man I’ve always wanted to be deep down in my soul. He’s making me into a real man, one who wants to bless the world and give life to it rather than sucking life out of it. I’d rather be that kind of man than a stud, anyway.
Written by Mike Costanzo