Over the last few years, internet sensation Andrew Tate’s popularity was a clear signal of how hyper-toxic masculinity continued to rule the roost. His notion of an ‘alpha male’ hinged on mistreating women and exhibiting superiority over them. Consequently, many young boys and men adopted this ‘tidal wave of misogyny’, relegating their relationships to the sidelines.
It’s not just Tate’s brand of chest-thumping aggression that has been disturbing. For generations, men have been expected to ‘man up’---a statement that signifies power and privilege. That’s not all—they have been discouraged to express their emotions, for the fear of being called out a ‘wuss’.
After conforming to these traditional gender notions, it seems like men are finally willing to embrace ‘healthy masculinity’---a construct that encourages them to be comfortable in their skin. This was revealed by dating platform Bumble during the unveiling of their dating trends for 2024, where ‘open hearted masculinity’ featured as one of the defining trends.
“It is all about embracing diverse emotions, traits and behaviours, to promote equality among genders. Healthy masculinity emphasises on qualities like empathy, emotional intelligence, compassion and integrity, while understanding their strengths,” shares Ruchi Ruuh, a Delhi-based relationship expert.
Interestingly, when it comes to relationships, one in four men globally surveyed by Bumble stated that they have actively changed their behaviour, becoming more vulnerable and open with people they are dating than ever before.
We spoke to young singles and couples as well as relationship experts to understand a little more about this new dating trend.
Reframing gender roles
Anubhav Mehta (28), a marketing executive at a Bengaluru-based multinational always believed that masculinity was his biggest superpower. However, after being in a series of failed relationships, he realised how his ideas were rather toxic, which consequently drove away his partners.
“I believed controlling was the best way to be in charge of relationships. Also, when there was a conflict, I would avoid expressing my emotions. Instead, I would put on a front that it hardly mattered to me. This trait damaged my relationships in a huge way, since it also impacted both emotional and physical intimacy with my partners. I have finally learnt my lesson—better late than never,” he shares.
Interestingly, for 26 per cent of Indian men, this newfound openness has resulted in a positive impact on their mental health, while 37 per cent Indian men shared that a lack of vulnerability is now a dating deal breaker, reveals Bumble’s dating trends for 2024.
Traditional masculine norms or toxic masculinity certainly has detrimental effects on men’s mental health and their relationships, says Ruuh. “These traits generally emphasise on emotional stoicism or being emotionally stunted, leading to excessive display of aggression and dominance and suppression of vulnerability and sensitivity towards issues as well as women.” However, what’s heartening is the shift in the attitude and more awareness and acceptance for emotional expression, continues Ruuh. “There’s a growing discourse on mental health, which has prompted a lot of men to go deeper and understand why they need to conform to the traditional masculine roles. Why can’t they accept their softer side? I think that’s a very important change,” she adds.
Nayamat Bawa, head of therapy at IWill–a leading AI and digital health startup shares that men are now more willing to be caregivers to kids, undertake more chores at home and are also more involved with their families. “There is more awareness among urban families when it comes to men’s mental health, which was once only supposed to be the problem of a ‘weak’ man,” she says.
Toxic masculinity is gradually taking a backseat, with men being more open to other emotions and not just relying on anger to express their emotional distress. Bawa points out that this is an evident theme in couples’ therapy where men express their deepest emotions to their partners verbally and through their gestures.
“Healthy masculinity dismantles the traditional image of a macho man who has everything in control and knows it all. Men can be strong, competitive and ambitious yet they have the ability to cry, to be empathetic, romantic and verbally expressive about their emotions,” reiterates Bawa.
Shikha Dharohar (38), a human resource professional from Mumbai, has consistently worked with her partner to help him bring about changes in the way he perceives masculinity. Previously, she admits to being unaware and believed relationships were meant to be steered by men.
While she felt uncomfortable in the dynamic for several years, she didn’t know any better. Fortunately, years of therapy helped alter her worldview. Eventually, she began encouraging her husband to be expressive—he was reluctant in the beginning to acknowledge that he was an advocate of toxic masculinity. However, in the last two to three years, their relationship has blossomed. “I certainly feel more seen and heard now. In the past, every single time I brought up an issue, my partner would shut me down and have the last word. There was hardly any conflict resolution that made me feel suffocated. At the same time, he would never share his side of the story, of what he felt. Things look very different now,” she confesses.
Positive impact on relationships
It’s not just Dharohar’s case—there are many couples who are beginning to see a change in their dynamic with their partners, especially with males being more comfortable with their emotions.
“With open hearted masculinity being a trend, I feel more men will be open about their vulnerabilities. This will lead to a different sort of communication that is more robust and effective, helping form a deeper connection with their partners,” highlights Ruuh, adding that it will also lead to quicker conflict resolution.
Consequently, there’s likely to be greater mutual respect since this practice encourages equality in relationships. “Nobody is above anybody and the power dynamic in the relationship will stabilise. Conflicts will also reduce because the origin of many misunderstandings comes from very rigid and traditional thoughts of masculinity, where gender roles are divided,” adds Ruuh.
However, the path isn’t clear of challenges. There’s still an idealistic prototype of men that most people carry that often reveals itself while dealing with them. It will take a while for things to dramatically change.
“Toxic masculinity is deep seated and for it to go away completely will take some more time,” concludes Bawa.