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OK, get your Twitter fingers ready, because we're going to do something very unfashionable, no, we are going to talk about how hard it is to be a man. OK, Matt Raud joins me now. Matt is the author of a new book, Man Down Why Men Are Unhappy and What We Can Do About It. Max, good afternoon and good afternoon.


It's not the thing these days to point out that men are struggling. Are you braced for a bit of a backlash to the book?


I'm absolutely terrified to Brendan. It is unfashionable, but men don't. Men don't talk about it themselves. It's not like we're not being heard. It's just it's not a thing to discuss, really, is it now?


Yep. Sorry. Go on. Well, I was going to start by saying this is a rather belated but happy fiftieth birthday because I'm only nine months late. I'm sorry, but this is a book about midlife men being miserable. So I wanted to know how your fiftieth how you felt turning 50. Was that your proper midlife man?


Yeah, it was fine. It was fine. It was grand. I don't want to talk about it now. It was grand. Now, you say that the DNA evidence in general is that it's a really unhappy time for men that the facts prove. Yes.


Well, you have just escaped the worst age brackets for stress and anxiety. There's this really horrible spike for men in particular between the age of 45 and 49. And if you look at the figures, it just spirals. And then the good news for you is that from 50 on, it goes down a bit and then you can expect to be slightly less miserable by the time you hit 60.


OK, so if I can if I can just stick out the next 10 years, there are better times ahead. And you kind of put it down to the fact in the book that that you have a minute to think suddenly you hit me. I certainly have time to think. And it's a bit of a wake up call when you take a long, hard look at yourself.


Yeah. So for me, it was a couple of years ago I'd just been like all of us. You just pushing ahead for you for the first part of your life. You know, you've got school and then you've got exams and then the mystery of adolescence and you push your way through all of that. Then there's early adulthood. You're on the bottom rung of the ladder and you're kind of fighting up and you're trying to be successful on and on it goes.


Then if you're being particularly traditional, you find the one. And if you're being masochistic, you have kids and that's the next 10 years written off. And then there's this moment that neatly coincides with midlife where you for me, I have this a minute to think and I just stop sleeping. I started worrying. I was waking up in the middle of the night doing this this thing where you just constantly imagining what it was. If I lost my job, what if I can't pay the mortgage and it spirals, so.


That's that was when I started thinking about this, and I probably should have gone out and bought a red sports car, but instead I started talking to other men who I thought from my perspective were doing really well. They they were successful. So I thought I'd go and speak to them, find out what their secret was, and then do what they were doing. And the secret for them almost universally was that they were really struggling to it's just that they never, ever talked about it.


So that's the interesting thing. These were guys who from the outside had what is now called privilege maybe, and they had the trappings of success and everything, but they still felt trapped.


Yeah, yeah. So if you if I mean, they weren't the wall, they're not the one percenters, but they kind of ticked the boxes that society expect them to take. They'd got the two point four kids, the massive mortgage, the flashy car or a car or whatever. And, you know, they would they were doing okay. But and when I asked them if they were doing okay, just as you did at the start of this, they said, I'm fine.


And then maybe it was me. Maybe it's just the way I talk to people. By the end of the conversation, they've accepted that they were stressed when they were at work about not being home enough and then they were stressed at home that they might be missing important things at work. They were very caught up in this culture of presenteeism and at the same time trying to be what we used to call new men. But we just call men now, you know, hands on dads and to be to be present at home.


And that the thing that you lose in trying to do those two incongruous things is any time for yourself.


You you have this notion that happiness for these guys is always three years away like that. It's always like going to get this thing done. Then I'll have time to be happy or then I'll be happy when I get that or when I hit this. Yes.


And it's and that starts really, really young. So I, I spoke to lots of twentysomething men and they were obviously it's understandable. They're just thinking in the future so that they're pushing for future goals and it's getting younger and younger. So now you talk to you talk to young kids and that the age of 14 and 15, they're already plotting whether they're going to go to university and what and when they go to university, what job do they want to do at the end of that?


And it's it seems to me that with, as you say, focusing always on the future, you would expect that at some point you would be able to stop all of that and just enjoy the president. But the really depressing thing is that by the time you get to your 40s, you're still thinking in five years, I'd have paid that loan off then I can do that in five years, I'll take proper holiday, etc..


So if these people were from the outside, what we define is successful. It probably means that we need to change our definitions of success a bit. Does it have what a successful life is for a man?


This is where we step into the hippie territory. But yeah, I think so. You know, its success is measured in what stuff you've got and and that doesn't seem to me to be the best way to measure it. And then when you start talking about happiness, it suddenly gets quite vague. And life coaches are very good at selling this idea that you need to find your passion. And if you're a midlife man with overheads and dependents and you feel like you're getting to the point where you might be over the hill, you're not the next big thing at work.


You don't feel like you can just chuck everything in and go off and become a bee farmer. Whatever you call bee people grow baby sheep anyway. You don't feel you've got any room for manoeuvre. So if you start thinking about what is what is success a bit earlier, it's too late for us, I'm afraid, Brendon. But if you start I think you know what, Matt?


I'm certainly not going to go home and tell my wife that I've decided to find my passion and follow it.


Yes, darling wife, I'm going to go for a year and grow some bees. Yeah. Is not going to go down well. But if you start thinking about that much earlier, then the idea is that hopefully you might offset the risk of becoming miserable at midlife.


Now, a lot of guys do kind of do that, finding a passion thing in the sense that I think when a lot of guys hit this point, they maybe get on a bike and cycle away from all the bad thoughts or they you know, they find some other kind of Iron Man kind of stuff or whatever. That's a phenomenon, isn't it? Yeah.


The Lycra like romance is is definitely a thing I. I've tried all those things. Oh, yeah, what have you tried and tried something that was a proper mid-life crisis moment where I got the wet suit on, walked a mile out on the beach, and then the friends who I was with pointed out that I got the wet suit on backwards. I've done the cycling thing. I've done heavy drinking, I've done no drinking, I've done triathlons. And I think they're all what they do is they just stop you thinking about the situation you're in.


So it's just it's exactly the same as the way most men deal with things anyway. Just keep going, keep doing stuff, keep soldiering on, keep cycling around the county, whatever it is you're either going off.




Did the going off to drink up before before this strange year that we're in. It was I was feeling really pleased with myself because I've done quite a few months with not a drop and I was one of those annoying people that tells everyone else how great they're feeling. And then what happened this year happened and it seemed like a really sensible time to start drinking again.


OK, now, in terms of what we can do about all this, right.


You're not just moaning and you have some prescriptions, but some ideas. Right. So one is that you're saying we need to change the way we raise boys and tell us about the man box.


Yes. So there's this amazing NGO that does work across 40 countries, including the UK and Ireland. And they they try to get to boys at a young age to try and teach them to talk about their emotions, to not not just this idea that we should man up and get on with things and they try and break that down. And you had your contributor earlier talking about male violence. And a lot of that comes from this idea that, you know, you've got to be a tough man and you've got to be strong and you must never you must never talk about your feelings.


So the man box is this. The psych psychologists coined this term that if you're in the man box, you're following very traditional masculine values. And the result of that is you will end up unhappy.


Yeah. I mean, I, yeah, I, I accept that there's a lot of guys like that, but look at the two of us like we're having this conversation and you know, the two of us seem reasonably well-adjusted, able to talk about these kind of things. Like one thing I did agree with in the book, you characterise school as a place where emotions are contained, exuberance is dampened for for for boys, that it's not about teaching them how to be happy or have empathy or sociability or any of those kind of things.


Yeah. I'll give you a good example. This week, one of my son's teachers has a traffic light system in the class. So if you're being good, as in well-behaved, you're in you're at the OR it's a rain. But I think even more controversially, you're at the top of the rainbow. And if you're being bad, you go to the bottom of the rainbow. So that's got nothing to do with teaching them, you know, things about the world.


It's all about good behaviour. So you you know, we want our kids to be well behaved. But this constant pressure to kind of repress our exuberance is a real problem. And I've done this to my boys. You know, when you when they kind of you're trying to get them to dive into a lake or something and that that worried about it. And you just say man up. And that's, I think is something we need to address.


We also need to do quite a lot more about the the relationship chat, because at the moment it's still I'm sure you're all super open about this, but over here, the whole chat is co-opted entirely to the schoolyard and the Internet. So our sons are learning about how to have relationships from those things rather than from intelligent conversation. So we need to be more Swedish about all of that as well.


Yeah, I know another thing and we hear this a lot in relation to girls and women. And I have no doubt that it is true in relation to girls and women. But we don't hear it so much about men that you think that they we are fed as well, a lot of kind of male archetypes that are very difficult to live up to and put pressure on us, and that there's a lot of derogatory stereotypes of men as well that we're fed.


Yeah, I talk about this quite a lot in the book, there's so in terms of media, you've got two characters. You've got the superhero with the six pack who always gets the girl, and then you've got a useless guy, which is very common in films and sitcoms. The hapless man who is often, you know, saved by the women in the in the program. So, you know, we talk a lot about the stereotypes that are damaging to women in media.


But I think we also need to look at look at how media affects men as well.


And that I can tell you that this is getting an enormous response. It's clearly a conversation worth having. No, it's both.


It's going to be a bloodbath. I'll tell you.


Can I tell you briefly about the happiest man I met in the two years I was researching this? Yeah, go on. He was he was he was doing all the stuff that we we all do at the start of life. He was setting up a small business, installing burglar alarms. And he he was installing these every day with and the old clients that he was doing this for kept saying to him, I wish I was your age, I'd do everything differently.


So he ended up moving to a caravan next to Loch Ness, where he's lived for the last 30 years. And I promise we can't all go and live next to Loch Ness in the caravan. But I promise you, he was a properly happy man. Yeah, I well believe it, I really believe it until I look until he gets bored. Yeah, look, people people on both sides of this, like, I think you know what's funny?


I think a lot of women here want want men to change is the impression you'd get here. My husband at middle age went back to college 30. Lauren is now a barrister. He skips out the door to work. He is so happy.


Another woman here was saying, Brendan, if we all knew the young age, what success really was, we could offset midlife misery. It's called the journey of life. And not from a 52 year old woman just saying, listen, there's a guy here has an interesting take as a man in his 60s. When I look back, it seems to me that the even aged decades were stable and secure and the odd digit decades were difficult and unsettled.


He could have a point there. Brilliant. Yeah. So I'm going to I've definitely got that bad 10 years ahead. But you're promising me that the 60s are going to be a golden age for all of us?


Well, that's that's my main hope is interesting that when I started writing about this, the the response first came from women who were saying, this is my husband or partner. He needs to do all of these things. So it's as usual, the women are taking the lead on these on this emotional and emotional intelligence stuff. But more recently, the men have got in touch as well. And it's been really amazing.


And the thing is, you're not setting up any kind of battle of the sexes here. In fact, like this is kind of like, for example, in terms of parental leave and in terms of, I guess what we know talk about of the emotional labour in the house and everything.


You think we need a more balanced approach to that parental leave thing is just completely crazy. We have I had a week off for my first son, two weeks off for the next one and a week off for the one after. So that's just and then back to work and you make your colleague say, welcome back, here's a cake and off you go. And then for the next six months, those horrendous early months, your wife has to take all of the the main pressure and you're kind of running between the two things.


So I did spend some time with some really irritating dads who work for an insurance company where they've made it equal. So the dads and the mums get here off and they were all so happy and they've got, you know, absolutely perfect start to family life. They return to work, exuberant and ready to go, I think. I think in ten years time I'll be amazed if that's not the way we do things.


And you also think that more broadly speaking, that we need to get out of the two income trap and you kind of have an idea as to how that might work in terms of both people working, but not all the time. Is that right?


Yeah, there's this is a bit pie in the sky, but at the moment, it's still much more likely that it's the women who are asking for flexi time. And we can convince ourselves that we're terribly important and couldn't possibly take four days or three days. So and that that just continues this imbalance. And it means that men are facing, you know, forty five years of five days a week commuting, which I don't think is sustainable anyway. And most most studies show that working four day weeks is more efficient anyway.


We're not going to get to that point yet. But I do think men could ask to look, I've just starting a family. I'm going, would it be alright for me to work four days a week and try and share that? So between the two of you, you're still making ends meet, but it's not as imbalanced as it currently is.


It's a matter in your own household. It's a very egalitarian, enlightened kind of household. No, absolutely.


No, I'm just writing what other people should do and ignoring advice. My wife works, works at the local hospital.


She does three days a week. I've been doing four days a week, but it took an awful lot to get to that point. And now I've written this book. I'm doing seven days a week, so it's all gone horribly wrong.


Are you quite involved with them bringing up your children and the emotional labour in the house?


My wife's not listening to this, so yes, I'm a very good man. The honest truth is, if I if I know now what if I was whatever I'm trying to say, I would do things so differently. I was starting out again.


Why would you do differently? I would I would take more time off for the first one.


It was a really difficult birth. And I just you know, I was so worried about suddenly becoming the, you know, the solo owner that I didn't say to my boss, look, this this is serious. I want to take a couple more weeks. So I would also leave work earlier and not worry about being the last one in and I would just try and have a bit more balance rather than being paranoid about those things. So easy to say now, of course.


Yeah. And look, it does make sense.


And we all kind of know that at the back of our heads in one way, don't we? You know, the way that this argument and again, it's a perfectly legitimate argument that that a lot of women would make, that men do not carry these and their weight in terms of the emotional labor, child rearing, that there's all this stuff that women still do despite equality and everything. But there's another side to it I think, that you're driving at, which is that men are missing out for not being involved fully in that side of family life, aren't they?


I don't. And I don't even I'm just thinking of all the men I've spoken to. They don't I don't think they I don't think we want to miss out. And I think they want to be involved and that but they just haven't got to the point where they are creating that. That's the issue. I mean, what was it like for you? Were you super hands on? Are you good at sharing the emotional labor and all of that?


No, I'm not the only one. Nobody's interested in what it's like for me. You're you're the man in the arena here. So let's keep the focus on you. Listen, another kind of thing that you touch on as well, and it might be worth mentioning, is that in terms of men's actual physical health, then that there is still you reckon from your from your conversations, there's still what you call an access barrier to health care, to men who still have that attitude of not going to the doctor.


That's right.


Well, I was I spoke to a few GP's who specialize in men's health, and they say whereas women have to they start having a relationship with doctors from quite an early stage. Man, the first time you are called in for a test, you're likely to be in your 40s. So what happens is men are have no language to say something's wrong. There was one particular case where doctors just said you had a whole afternoon of men coming in for ten minutes appointment.


They'd spent nine and a half minutes talking about their ingrown toenail or something inconsequential. And on the way out the door, they say, oh, by the way, I've got a lump down there. So they're very bad at talking about their physical health. Mental health is even harder. So, yeah, again, but that also goes back to the start, that if we teach boys to be more I mean, this is all sounding a bit hippy.


I know. But if we teach boys to talk about their feelings from an earlier age, if we try and avoid some of these traditional masculine stereotypes, I don't think it ends up meaning they're not men. I just think it means they might be happier.


They might be more like us, much more open and able to talk about things. Listen, there's a there's a listener in Dublin here text say that bloke seems nice. I take what he's saying. But as a 52 year old female, I experience all of that. The only difference is that in my work department, all the men my age have a higher pay rate and a better job title than I do.


Well, that's absolutely true. And I do say that in the book as well. I mean, the other really ridiculous thing is there are lots of women who all of this will apply to as well. But there was a crazy study a few years ago which showed that in a typical day, men speak 7000 words a day and women speak twenty thousand words a day. So we are more buttoned up. We and as we get older, we talk less.


So I think if this is it's very dangerous to make huge gender stereotypes, a sweeping statements about gender. I'm going to anyway, if men are, you know, not not talking, if they talk less, then it's likely that they're hiding things and they're not discussing things with their friends. And then as it goes on, it just gets worse and worse. Yeah.


And I remember I think it was Gay Bar, the broadcaster here years ago on his radio show unlocked this thing called The Silence, where at a particular point in Irish marriages and maybe marriages everywhere, a silence descended and their husbands just didn't talk to their wives anymore. And it's a tragedy for for both, really. Let's face it. Listen, and I Dharmesh, who is fifty eight today and still getting better looking, says, is your man just taking ages to get around to telling us we should never have got married in the first place?


Cos I presume the married men are happier ultimately aren't they. That's, that's what they always say.


What do you expect me to say on national radio? OK, you're right. Moushumi have annoyed the women enough today, now I think we will we've taken it as far to the brink as we can, so we will back it up. No, let's see if we can find we find a text that will just bring it back to the meter. Yes, I text him four words here. Oh, the poor man.


OK, I know that's an absolutely valid point and I've had that quite a lot as well.


OK, by the way, before you go down, we're all at home now with the kids. So this is kind of your dream come true. This whole pandemic is in terms of family life is working out there.


That is the really crazy thing, is that I wrote most of this book before all of this, and it was a bit of a cry for please, can we spend more time at home, please? Can we work from home or please can we spend more time with our family? And then blaming covid happens and now we're all stuck at home. And I spent, as I said, my wife's works at the local hospital. So I was doing the full on work from home home schooling.


By the end of week one, I was praying for a return to the rat race to our chametz I Britannic on the train home.


So going to silence, I'd say, yeah, ok, it's a grass is always greener thing, which is part of the problem as well.


Yeah. Yeah absolutely. OK, Maveron, thanks a million. I'm just going to read to text that kind of, I think some of either side of this, this book is just proving that the patriarchy screws men too is one side of it and another female texts are saying this has been and still is the situation for women. All our lives were never in the present as they're attempting to rear children, generate some income if we can get work or part time work and relate to husbands.


So, look, maybe the situation here is that this system is is is screwing everybody, maybe not equally, but it's certainly screwing everybody. OK, Matt, thank you very much. The book is called Man Down Why Men Are Unhappy and What We Can Do About It. And it's published by Little Brown. And let's take a break.


Email Brendin at Dotti.