Matt Rudd may have written the the most important book in a generation. It could also be the saving grace of millions of young men in their 20s and 30s, getting to them in time before they reach middle age, exhausted, confused and angry, literally saving lives.
Who are we as men? What is our role? For years we’ve been told that to be a man is to be powerful, financially independent, a provider to your family, but is everything we’ve been told completely wrong and leading us on path of self-destruction? From the outside, the men of today should be happy. They have it comparatively easy. They still get paid more for doing the same jobs. They are still 40 per cent more likely than women to be promoted to management roles. At home, men do washing-up and petrol, wine and bins. Women still do everything else. But below the surface, there is a different story unfolding. Men in the UK are three times more likely to take their own life than women. Men aged 45-49 have the highest rate of suicide, nearly four times that of women the same age. Their reported levels of stress are higher and their levels of happiness are lower. The evidence is clear and ironic: the system set up by men, which doesn’t work for women, isn’t working for men either. It’s making none of us happy. It made us think, and it will make you think too.
Chapter 3: Men & Adulthood
Don’t freak out. This is me, your forty-five-year-old future self. I’ve found a hole in the space–time continuum and here I am. You and I need to have a serious talk, so please listen carefully. I know you think you’re incredibly busy but, mate, you have no idea. Wait until you have three kids, which – I hope you’re sitting down for this – you will. (Side note: don’t spend three years arguing about how many is too many with your future wife. She wants three and three turns out to be a lot of fun, but you probably should have got on with it sooner. That way, you wouldn’t still be fourteen years away from them all leaving home, would you? Idiot.) Anyway, we were laughing at how busy you think you are. Wait until the idea of a night out, just for the hell of it, no planning, que sera, sera, seems about as unachievable as Leicester City winning the Premier League. (Which they do, by the way, in 2016. Don’t tell anyone. Just put a tenner down at the start of the season. Trust me.) Wait until the most relaxing part of your day is the commute home, even though you never get a seat and the guy whose armpit within which your face is involuntarily nestled has his iPhone on really, really loud. (What’s an iPhone? Like your iPod, only it means your boss can email, text and call you any time, day or night. It’s fantastic.) I know what you’re thinking. You’ve got your whole life ahead of you. You’ve got a whole career to sort out. And you’ve got a deposit on a cupboard above a Post Office to save for. And you’ve got to find ‘the one’. That’s all good. I’m pretty sure it will work out fine. But I want you to stop and think about how you will feel in two decades’ time. Let’s assume everything does work out fine. If it does, this is how you will feel . . .
First of all, you won’t really care about how successful you are at work. You’ll love your family and, because you are a man in a man’s world, you’ll still think, subconsciously but also, frequently, consciously, that it’s your duty to provide for them. But, because you are what we used to call a ‘New Man’, but we now call ‘a man’, you will also want to see your family. You will want to earn your family cake and eat it. So, you’ll try very hard to find some sort of work–life balance and you will fail. You will work from home some days, like you’re some kind of dad hero, even though you actually work harder when you’re there because you are, rightly, paranoid that people in the office call it shirking from home. You’ll take almost all your annual leave. You’ll leave the office when your work is done, not when it’s so late that your boss asks, ‘Why are you still here?’ Big stuff like that. All good. Except those attempts to find a work–life balance will have been enough to mark you down as ‘not a thrusting type’.
Unfortunately, there will be plenty of twenty-five-year-olds at work who are very happy to have no work–life balance whatsoever. They’ll be highly motivated to climb the ladder and no one will be able to convince them that ladder-climbing isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I’m not trying to convince you either, by the way. You can’t just sit at the bottom of the ladder all your life, can you? I’m just asking you to think about it. Ambition isn’t everything. Take some time to consider what makes you happy. There are some other points, but I’ll bullet them because I know you think you’re busy. God, that’s hilarious. I mean, what have you got to do today? Load a plate and a mug into a dishwasher? Rent a DVD? In eighteen years’ time, here’s what you’ll do on a typical day before you get on the train to travel to the job that is no longer the most important thing in your life . . . not by a long shot. You’ll get dressed, get three children dressed, re-dress the youngest one because, somehow, he’s going through a toddler fashionista phase and blue is so last season, wipe at least two bottoms, toilet-brush at least two toilets, toothbrush two sets of teeth, neither of which is yours, unload and load a whole dishwasher (two loads a day, my friend, not one a month), take a dog for a walk (you won’t win on the third child, but you must, repeat must, put your foot down over the Border collie), feed some cats (same deal), make fourteen mind-numbingly dull but apparently critically important decisions about a new kitchen you can’t afford (see Chapter Eight), drive a child to the bus stop because you thought it would be a good idea to move to the country (which it was, but, God, there’s a lot of driving), walk two other children to another school, drive to a road that is two miles from the station but has free parking, then run those two miles because you’re late, always late, for everything. Anyway, the bullet points . . .
• Cancel your gym membership. It’s always a phase, you never stick at it, and by the time you hit forty you’ll realise that all the cardio you were told was great throughout the first half of your life has actually knackered your knees. And your back. And, oddly, your little fingers. Just do twenty press-ups a day, eat more vegetables and fewer cornflakes (you know why they were invented, don’t you?) and you’ll be fine.
• Resist the temptation to buy a new CD player, a new MD player, a new Sonos system, a new Bose system or, indeed, any music-streaming device. Likewise, do not buy the iPhone, the iPhone 3G, 3GS, 4, 4S, 5, 5C, 5S, 6, 6 Plus, 6S, 6S Plus, SE, 7, 7 Plus, 8, 8 Plus, X, XS, XS Max or XR. Ditto 3D OLED televisions, computers, Wi-Fi range extenders, portable hard drives, Kindles, solar chargers and power blocks. All of these things are designed to make you unhappy (see Chapter Seven). Live byone simple rule: do not buy any gadget that requires a new type of cable. Limit yourself to a simple phone, a small television, a basic laptop and a car that runs until it dies.
• In three years’ time, someone called Mark Zuckerberg will invent something called Facebook. You have two options: travel to Cambridge, Massachusetts, and kill Zuckerberg before he can release this, the single most alienating aspect of twenty-first century life; or never open a Facebook account.
• DIY. Right now, you have a hard time building an IKEA Billy bookcase. You think this is acceptable. You think it’s funny. You even wrote an article about it because you and everyone else in the media love to stereotype male uselessness. Sort yourself out. If you don’t, you will spend the next two decades handing increasingly large amounts of cash to ‘that’ll-cost-you’ workmen to do jobs you are perfectly capable of doing yourself. Step one: buy a drill with an Allen key bit. You’ll be astonished how much easier this makes it to master the IKEA flatpack. You’ll be like a Formula One tyre changer in no time. Step two: don’t freak out when the hole you’ve drilled in the wall for the bookshelf you’ve decided you can construct is not exactly in line with the other hole. Take a deep breath. Don’t cry. Don’t start phoning estate agents. Fill in the hole and drill a new one an inch to the left. Easy. Step three: apply this approach to all DIY tasks. Be prepared to make a mistake. Understand that you can fix mistakes. Caveat: this does not apply to plumbing or electrical work. Even though you will go on a weekend plumbing course in four years’ time and decide it’s not that hard, it is. Know your limits.
• Your world will shrink as you get older. Just accept that this is beyond your control (although, nudge, you now know what to do about Mark Zuckerberg). Once you have children, it will become almost impossible to maintain any semblance of a social life (no, the NCT group doesn’t count). Make time for good friends and ditch bad ones. Always send physical Christmas cards. Never send birthday greetings via Facebook (again, see above). Enjoy the crumbs of fun you are left with.
• What is the point of it all? Your forty-five-year-old self has begun to comprehend what your eighty-year-old self will know for a fact: working for the sake of status and money is pointless. You will never have enough of either. There will always be another rung on the ladder, always something or someone to covet, always a newer smartphone (oooh, look, cameras). Enjoy the present, not the presents.
- Buy shares in Facebook.
• And a PS from mid-2020: don’t take restaurants for granted, hug your parents, hug everyone and never, ever panic about toilet rolls. There will always be enough. I know that doesn’t make sense now, but it’s better that way. Just trust me, particularly about the toilet rolls.
This is an excerpt from Matt Rudd’s new book Man Down – Why Men Are Unhappy And What We Can Do About, £14.99, Waterstons (PIATKUS Publishing)