Dan Griffin | Man Rules (Episode 430)

You don’t have to be shackled to your programming. Learn to identify and move beyond the Man Rules for genuine relationships and a more emotionally fulfilling life.

“The cultural expectations for men have risen dramatically while the guidance for us has changed very little.” -Dan Griffin

The Cheat Sheet:

  • Understand how the Man Rules are affecting your life — which ones are working for you and which ones are working against you.
  • What’s the Relationship Dichotomy?
  • The Sex Funnel’s not just another ride at the amusement park on the wrong side of the tracks.
  • Shame and vulnerability: the yin and yang of connection?
  • Learn how trauma affects men’s relationships.
  • And so much more…


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It doesn’t matter what spot on the map you call home, and it doesn’t matter what culture raised you; if you’re a man, you’ve likely been programmed to follow the Man Rules — a certain set of expectations that defines you as a “real” man: Don’t cry. Don’t ask for help. Don’t be weak. Don’t be vulnerable. Be a sexual Superman. Don’t worry too much about relationships. Don’t show emotion. Always win. Know all the answers.

In episode 430 of The Art of Charm, we talk to author, thought leader, speaker, and expert on masculinity and men’s relationships, Dan Griffin, about The Man Rules. He tells us how we can be engaged in what he calls a more conscious masculinity — a life that comes to terms with the Man Rules by understanding the part they play without letting them blindly dictate the course ahead.

More About This Show

As a trained sociologist, Dan Griffin has talked to males between 16 and 60 all over the world and found the Man Rules to be consistent across geography and culture.

“Man Rules,” Dan tells us, “are really the messages that we internalize as little boys from various sources — from the media, from our parents, from the schoolyard — all about how to be men. But so much of it is not conscious to us and it just builds up, and part of why they’re called rules is because [they’re] some really clear expectations of how we’re supposed to show up as men.”

These days, Dan helps men navigate the impact of the Man Rules in their relationships to help them enjoy more fulfilling professional and personal lives. But this hasn’t always been the case. In college, he was first made aware of the Man Rules while attending a course on the sociology of women and, at the same time, dealing with his own addiction recovery. He calls this “a confluence of two significant forces” that changed his perspective about how conscious men could act contrary to their programming when the situation called for it.

Dan describes how, upon entering his first support group meeting, he was surprised by a man trying to give him a supportive, welcoming hug. “And then a half an hour into that meeting, this [other] guy is talking about fears that he’s having,” says Dan, “he’s afraid of losing his relationship. He’s being more real than I had heard any man being, and I began to notice something about how men were expressing themselves that was different and I just took a real interest in it. It became my Masters research, and then as I stayed in my own recovery process, I watched how that all unfolded for me.”

The Man Rules: Good or Bad?

When pressed to determine if the Man Rules are inherently bad or have the potential to be positive under the right circumstances, Dan says, “it’s not so much that the Man Rules are good or bad, it’s how conscious we are of them.” To be sure, there’s something to be said for Man Rules that urge us to be protective of others — it’s probably a big part of how they became hard-wired into our gender’s DNA over thousands of years. It’s when that urge oversteps its utility that problems arise.

“It’s an honorable process to be a protector,” says Dan, “but when being a protector means you’re also attempting to rule over people or you’re attempting to control people in ways that inhibit them, or when being strong means you can’t let anybody in or you can’t show a softer or weaker side — even if it’s going to destroy your relationship or your life in some other way — then that’s when it can become problematic.”

“What the Hell is Water?”

An analogy Dan likes to share shows how easy it is to miss the Man Rules (or the Woman Rules, for that matter) when you’re immersed in them.

“Two fish are at the bottom of the ocean hanging out and another fish swims up and says, ‘Hey guys, how’s the water?’ and swims off. The first fish look at each other and they say, ‘what the hell is water?'”

“People can easily name the Man Rules if I prompt them,” says Dan, “but when they begin to look at how deeply embedded they are in their lives — whether it’s the Man Rules or the Woman Rules — [they] begin to see how they play out on a regular basis.”

Being aware of the water, so to speak, makes it possible to leave it, but its immensity can be staggering when you try to wrap your mind around it. “When you first discover the water,” says Dan, “you think you’re in an aquarium; by the time you really immerse yourself in it, you realize you’re in the ocean.”

The Relationship Dichotomy and the Sex Funnel

Women, while programmed with their own Woman Rules, are just as caught up in the consequences of the Man Rules when they enter relationships with men. Just like men, they may not even be aware of these rules. And while the Man Rules often act counter to her interests, a woman might even reinforce and support them because, like the men in her life, she’s always been taught that such rules outline what a man is.

This doesn’t bode well for either party when the man is trying to do his part in nurturing a healthy relationship while simultaneously coping with his own Man Rules programming that tells him he’s less of a man for even caring.

He may genuinely want to become more intimate with his partner in the relationship, but the Man Rules wrap this intimacy and longing for connection up with sex and send it down what Dan calls the Sex Funnel. “You take all of your feelings of closeness, affection, attraction, any kind of want for connection, and we put it in that funnel,” says Dan. “We put it in the funnel and it comes out as sex, and it’s what keeps men from connecting with each other as authentically as we want to and it’s what keeps men from being as open with women as…they really want.”

A Massive Evolutionary Shift

As men, we “have a much greater idea of who we are than who we are not,” says Dan. “I’m not vulnerable. I’m not crying…I’m not this and I’m not that.”

As a result, we spend so much time constantly trying to prove ourselves by having as much sex as we can, or hoarding as much money as possible, or acquiring power, or whatever the Man Rules tell us will make us “real” men — and this wraps us up in negative identities. Nothing we can do will ever be enough. “So much of how we are taught to define ourselves is based on external factors,” says Dan.

Nature plays a large part in etching the Man Rules into men, but Dan believes we’re currently experiencing a massive evolutionary shift in our culture that’s challenging the way we deal with these embedded rules. “[50] years ago, we would’ve been really clear what our role was. we’d know exactly how we were supposed to show up as men,” Dan says, “today, the roles are a lot more confusing. A lot of the young men that I talk to [say] they’re confused; they want to show up a certain way that is more authentic to their relationship [and] more authentic to who they are.” More than ever, men are registering the change and asking how they can navigate these changing expectations today be ahead of them.

“There’s clearly a crisis of masculinity that’s happening,” says Dan, “but I see it as an incredible opportunity.”

Listen to episode 430 of The Art of Charm in its entirety to learn how Dan helps men (and women) become aware of ways the Man Rules are affecting their lives and take further steps to cope with them, and hear us exchange stories about how early experiences with our role models shaped who we are today.

Dan is giving The Art of Charm listeners a special 20% discount on his latest book, A Man’s Way Through Relationships. This is only good for the next month, so get on it quick!


If you enjoyed this session with Dan Griffin, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out on Twitter:

Click here to thank Dan Griffin on Twitter!

Resources from this episode:

A Man’s Way Through Relationships by Dan Griffin
A Man’s Way Through the Twelve Steps by Dan Griffin
The Art of Charm bootcamps

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AJ Harbinger - author of 1161 posts on The Art of Charm

AJ Harbinger is one of the world’s top relationship development experts. His company, The Art of Charm, is a leading training facility for top performers that want to overcome social anxiety, develop social capital and build relationships of the highest quality. Raised by a single father, AJ felt a strong desire to learn about relationships and the elements that make them successful. However, this interest went largely untapped for many years. Following the path set out for him by his family, AJ studied biology in college and went on to pursue a Ph.D. in Cancer Biology at the University of Michigan. It was at this time that he began to feel immense pressure from the cancer lab he worked in and began to explore other outlets for expression. It was at this point that The Art of Charm Podcast was born.

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