In response to a 1997 Glamour magazine article “30 Things Every Woman Should Have and Should Know by the Time She’s 30″ currently making its way around the social media circuit, Hugo Schwyzer offers his list for men of the same age.
We’re a nation of list-makers. Or, more accurately, we’re a nation of list-readers and list-debaters. No kind of list starts more argument than the ones that focus on shoulds and shouldn’ts of modern living, particularly those that delineate what one ought to have achieved or mastered by a certain age. The latest example came just this past week, when Huffington Post reprinted a 15 year-old Glamour magazine article about “30 Things Every Woman Should Have and Should Know By the Time She’s 30.” Heated discussion erupted across social media, with several writers, like the F Word’s Meghan Murphy, offering their own counter-lists.
A little searching reveals that plenty of similar lists exist for men as well. One of the most famous comes from Robert Heinlein’s 1973 science-fiction novel, Time Enough for Love. The protagonist Lazarus Long opines that a man ought to be able “to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly.” “Specialization,” Long concludes, “is for insects.”
Heinlein isn’t the only one tallying up the essentials of masculine competence. Men’s magazines frequently offer similar lists. One of my favorites comes from the traditionalist Catholic journal First Things. In 2010, editor Joe Carter offered up 50 Things a Man Should Be Able to Do. Carter’s enumeration included the sensible: “wash a load of white clothes without turning everything pink;” “recognize when you are boring someone to tears with your inane banter”—and the more narrowly conservative: “differentiate between love and lust—and avoid the latter.” (Actually, Joe, for quite a few of us love and lust aren’t irreconcilables.)
We live in a culture that undersells men’s capacity for self-reflection, for self-restraint, and for self-care. In that spirit, here are my Ten Things a Man Should Know or Be Able to Do by the Time He’s 30.
1. Know the difference between genuine dissatisfaction and the fleeting desire for novelty. That’s important when it comes to deciding when to leave a career—and when to leave a relationship. Restlessness isn’t a virtue, but the refusal to stay stuck is.
2. Differentiate between love and lust. Both are important, and long-term romantic relationships need both to thrive. Too often, men and women alike imagine that they can settle for a relationship that only offers one.
3. Learn how to dress up—and how to dress down. Some lists are silly, suggesting that “real men” own their own tuxedos. That smacks of privilege. The point is that you should know how—within the budget you have—to dress for job interviews, funerals, and first dates without needing to ask your mother, your sister, or your ex-girlfriend for help.
4. Acknowledge your male privilege. Whatever your race or economic background, you’re safer from rape, sexual assault, and harassment than women. People will defer to you just because you’re a man, not because of any special merit. Your job is not only to do what you can to renounce those privileges, but to work on making a safer and fairer world.
5. Be able to say “Dude, that’s not cool” in public. “Bro codes” suggests that men should go to great lengths to avoid embarrassing another guy. Too often, that means turning a blind eye to sexism. The difference between a guy and a man is that the latter has the courage to call out a friend or an acquaintance who’s crossed the line.
6. Don’t take women’s mistrust personally. By this age, you should stop saying inane things like “trust me” or “I’m not like the other guys.” Women aren’t mind-readers and in a world with as much sexualized violence as our own, we are guilty until proven innocent. Stop complaining and start taking steps to make yourself a safe ally and friend.
7. Decide how you feel about children. No, that doesn’t mean you have to have kids by the time you’re 30. But you don’t have forever, bub; men have biological clocks too. “I’ll think about that later” is a great thing for an 18-year-old to say. At 30, given what your female peers are experiencing and you yourself will soon go through, it’s time to make a decision about what you really want and start to act accordingly. If you never want kids, that’s great too—the point is, it’s time to start deciding.
8. Be able to prioritize. Put your wife or girlfriend first. Put your kids (if you have them) second. Put your family (yes, that includes your mother) third and your career fourth. Yeats wrote: “the intellect of man is forced to choose perfection of the life, or of the work.” His poem leaves no doubt that choosing the latter is a recipe for misery.
9. Have good friends of both sexes. Some men find it very difficult to open up to other guys; some, like Harry from the famous film When Harry Met Sally find it impossible to be platonic friends with a woman. Part of growing up is getting past the socialized awkwardness and internalized homophobia so that you can connect emotionally with at least one other man. And part of growing up is recognizing that even when unilateral or mutual sexual attraction exists, it doesn’t need to be acted upon. Whether there’s an undercurrent of desire or not, real friendship between men and women is possible—and it helps make us all into richer people.
10. Take care of yourself without being nagged. One big reason women live longer than men is because women are so much better at self-care. Machismo kills. You can’t be the hero if you aren’t there—and being there requires looking after yourself. Get some sleep, call the doctor, watch your weight, deal with your addictions…and not just because your mom, girlfriend, or sister is always on your case. You’re not a little boy anymore, my 30-something friend. It’s your body and you are its sole proprietor. Love it and care for it.
Hugo Schwyzer has taught history and gender studies at Pasadena City College since 1993, where he developed the college’s first courses on Men and Masculinity and Beauty and Body Image. A writer and speaker as well as a professor, Hugo lives with his wife, daughter, and six chinchillas in Los Angeles. Hugo blogs at his eponymous website and co-authored the recent autobiography of supermodel Carré Otis, Beauty, Disrupted.