The Man Who Wasn’t There

Posted: July 4, 2010 in Desire, Identity, Masculinities

Yesterday, upon the stair

I met a man who wasn’t there.

He wasn’t there again today,

I wish, I wish, he’d go away.


I am often drawn to men who are not there. A blankness, a disconnection, a lack of identity. I like the space they present to me, the possibilities. The lack of someone concrete and known, the lack of risk that they will want to know me fully.

These men come in many different guises. Some are lost boys; some are married and attempting to lead  a ‘double life’; some have deep psychological problems. Some are just men, living in that hole that won’t be filled, called ‘masculinity’. That great unploughed field that none of us really understand. These men don’t know who they are. The detective in me enjoys trying to find out.

But it never comes to any good. A blankness will never accept love and it won’t love me back. It can’t examine itself analytically and with compassion, the way I attempt to examine it and understand the man that isn’t there in the void.  Often these men are angry, confused  and frustrated, and they don’t like a little girl coming along and prodding them to see if they react. I have had them lash out at me before now.

Men who are there are much more enjoyable company, and they notice and value and seek to understand me, as a person. Sometimes I think of these kind of men as somehow less ‘manly’ than those other, disassociated ones. That seems so unfair. They love and they talk and they are not scared to show their feelings. And my sexist, submissive subconscious comes to the stereotyped insulting  conclusion that they aren’t proper ‘men’, not men I’d like to fuck, anyway. The fact that some of these men are in fact gay just adds more complexity and possibly paradox to the whole situation.

My best loved man who wasn’t there isn’t here anymore. I knew him as a boy. I played with him on the canalside and I scrutinised his freckled face for clues of who he was and how he felt. But he suffered from self-knowledge, from knowing there was a deep chasm inside his chest. He knew he wasn’t there, and never would be, symbolically or emotionally, so he decided to not be there at all.

I wish these men who aren’t there would go away. Not to the extent my friend did. But so that I stopped being so transfixed by their absence. I wish we would all find a way of being present, and of accepting the presence of those we come into contact with. We are all here. We may as well face up to what that entails. I see you. Stop hiding. The game is up.


The Man Who Wasn’t There  (2001) By Ethan and Joel Cohen

Antigonish (1899) By Hughes Mearns

  1. I felt really chuffed with this when I first had written it. Now I don’t feel so confident. I am wondering if it says something about me that is really not that great. Oh well it is out there now, and that piece of film and music is so beautiful it’s worth it for that.

  2. annie says:

    I like it. Spookily I’ve had that rhyme going around my head for the past week too! For me, it’ s also about idealising people and trying to let go of longing for an impossible ideal…

  3. Hi annie I know what you mean, I did think about my earlier post : ‘Crush: some random notes on desire’ after I’d written this one.

    I didnt think about the rhyme till I looked up the film on youtube and I found an animation of the poem. Made me think that is where the Coen Bros got their title. I hadn’t thought of the link before!

    For me this goes beyond desiring an ideal-because I know these men who aren’t there really are not ideal at all. Even interacting with them on quite a superficial level makes me feel not great. Because it is like interacting with a brick wall, or a mirror or something. I am determined to learn some lessons now I have written this down!

    Thanks so much for your comment. This is a personal piece and it is nice to know it resonates with someone else.

  4. arctic_jay says:

    I used to be just as vexed by the “men who aren’t there,” as you’ve put it. I’m male, but I’m also naturally very verbal. I can converse at length about almost any topic, even ones I find dull and limited. I’m also reflexively snarky. Because of this, I can socialize easily with women, familiar or strange. Ironically, I’ve found that verbal dexterousness can be a hinderance when socializing with men, unless their gay, especially those that can be described as traditionally masculine.

    I used to dismiss macho male laconicism as dimwittedness, but as I started to examine masculinity with a more open mind, I discovered that masculine socialization has a nuance that rivals Butoh. Masculinity is in a sense a game and losing results in a visceral, stabbing sense of shame; it’s hard to describe. Any aspect of life can be judged by its rules, including conversation. Men oftentimes clam up when faced with a chatterbox because their being presented with too many opportunities to betray a lack of manliness. It’s like asking someone to play a game of catch and then launching a bucketful of multicolored balls of all different sizes at them. Men also know that women love to verbally present challenges to their masculinity of which many times there’s no proper response. If a man is stonewalling you, it’s because he feels that keeping quiet is the least compromise to his masculinity. Men who are comfortable with each other, however, can relay shocking amounts of information to each other with very little words. It’s all well condensed utterances place neatly in the proper context.

  5. Hi Jay nice to see you here! I don’t disagree with any of your points but I dunno, I think some men are the same whatever context they find themselves in. Those ones who really can’t express themselves. I feel like I have met them, not just as ‘a woman’ but as a person.

  6. arctic_jay says:

    That’s the thing, though. A woman can’t meet these men purely as a person. The type of man who would perceive you as a non-gendered conscious entity, is not the type of man that would present this type of problem in the first place. A male homosocial interaction is by definition a context a women can’t experience. As I said, once I allowed myself a different perspective, all the expression-disabled men I knew all of a sudden seemed not only capable of expression, but a complex and subtle expression at that. I’m sure there are people who are truly incapable of expression, certain segments of the autistic spectrum, but they can’t be used to provide insight into men and masculinity in general.

  7. I find your points interesting, and like you say I have never witnessed men being alone together so I don’t know for sure! Maybe these men I have met do open up to someone. I hope so.

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