Several years ago, a video came out portraying a “Man Flu”. It was emailed around (this may have been before YouTube was super popular, I have no brains for remembering dates), and it made its way to my dad’s email. I remember we gathered around the family PC where my dad showed us the video and we laughed and laughed! The video was hilarious, and as my dad will willingly admit, when he gets sick, he hibernates and displays some of the typical “man cold” symptoms, so it made the video extra funny for our family.
Throughout the years, I’ve made jokes about man colds, and heard many more women complain about this phenomenon on Facebook. When Milkman caught the first illness he had since we were in a relationship, we were counting down to our wedding day. I wanted to baby him and love on him and tend to his every whim, because my mom always babied us when we were sick, so it was second nature. However, Milkman didn’t require babying or piles of sympathy and tucking in. I think he humored me as I drove to his parent’s house after work and made him a favorite meal and stroked his feverish forehead, but he didn’t seem to be dying. I thought, “well! Maybe he’s just not that sick.” The next day he fainted from a fever, and broke open the skin on the bridge of his nose as he collapsed to the ground. I was so upset (both for him having been hurt and also because I was afraid that gash would ruin my very expensive wedding photos! I know, I know, shallow…) and also a little in awe. Here was a man. A man who was sick. A man who was pretty darned sick. And he didn’t have a man cold?! What gives? Isn’t this a biological thing? Don’t all men look death in the face as soon as they get the sniffles? This is what society was teaching me, so it must be true!
Now, throughout the last 6 years of marriage, Milkman has humored me and does let me care for him a little extra when he is sick. Everyone likes having special attention and care when they are unwell, right? The joke at our house is that I am the one who gets man colds. If I have a cold, you might as well put me out to pasture. Someone spoon feed me some soup and get me a cool compress! I’m not likely to survive the end of the week with the colds I get. Lucky for me, I have a husband who is expert at all things comforting and spoiling.
But it has made me ponder… how was the man cold invented? If not all men get it, it must not be a genetic predisposition. And the more I’ve thought about it, I think it has been a phenomenon created by macho-ism. How can that be? Macho men need nothing! They are manly and self sufficient. They don’t show weakness! Keep tracking with me here.
We live in a society that praises men who never break down, never need help, and never ask for directions. Men have to be strong (or at least appear that way) constantly. Men who admit depression are seen as weak, men who show affection towards their children are labeled effeminate, and men who cry? Well they must be sissies!
This constant pressure to hold up a macho facade becomes increasingly difficult. But there is one time it’s okay for anyone to show weakness: when you are sick or hurting! Do women show weakness when sick? Sure we do. But it isn’t the last 11 months of emotions coming out at one time. Society has deemed its okay for women to show vulnerability. We can vent, ask a friend for help, go take a spa day– all with minimal judgment. But for some men, it seems the only time they can ask for some babying, some help, and get some pampering is when they are ill.
What if men get “man colds” because it’s the only chance they get to show they need help? What if we stopped expecting unwavering strength the other 51 healthy weeks of the year? What if we stopped making a huge deal out of our fathers, sons, and husbands needing a little pampering when they are sick, and just showed compassion without eyerolling? I can’t help but wonder if that would change the way we see the man cold, and dare I say it? Remove the stigma entirely!
So, the next time the man in your life is “dying” from the common cold, let it remind you to do a little something for him to decompress from time to time when he’s healthy again. Maybe we can change the narrative by just treating others with love, compassion, and being a safe place for people to turn to when they need to show a moment or two of weakness.