In a society that values typically masculine traits — like stoic and assertive — being a highly sensitive male can be looked down upon.
I vividly recall sitting in the backseat of my friend’s car on a Friday night, heading downtown. The stereo was cranked to the max, and we were vibing to heavy trap music, rapping the lyrics and bobbing our heads in time to the beat. Or at least, my friends were.
As a highly sensitive person (HSP), the music was just too much…
I was staring out the window, focusing on my breathing, and hoping that my eardrums wouldn’t implode. I’d had a particularly tiring day at work. As my fellow HSPs will appreciate, I was planning on withdrawing to a novel and cup of tea in the comfort of my bedroom, my sanctuary away from the world.
I hadn’t even turned on the kettle when my phone started blowing up. Before I knew what had happened, the next six hours of my Friday night had somehow been roped off to go clubbing. Not that I didn’t understand — being the empathetic person that I am, I knew that this was how my friends de-stressed after a long week. And I wasn’t going to let them down. We HSPs tend to be people-pleasers, even if it’s not to our advantage.
Society and the Highly Sensitive Man
I realized that I was an HSP before realizing that I was an introvert. I’d always loved interacting with people, but I could never understand why superficial conversations with others bothered me, or why I always took criticism so seriously, or why I really hated loud music while driving.
Society has historically enjoyed prescribing what face the “ideal” man should present to the world. Aggressive. Assertive. Stoic. Cool under pressure. But we aren’t all like that, and in constantly defying those expectations lies the true difference in being a highly sensitive man.
Here is a breakdown of the most relatable situations, good or bad (depending on your perspective), that highly sensitive men face.
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4 Everyday Struggles Highly Sensitive Men Face
1. They often feel alone, even among good friends.
I am fortunate to have a steady group of friends, many of whom I’ve known since childhood. Despite having made tons of amazing memories and being comfortable around them, there are moments where I “check out” and feel like I’m watching the group from the outside.
That Friday night downtown was a perfect example, and it is one of the most bizarre things I have ever experienced. You know that you should be having fun and enjoying the moment — yet you feel weirdly disconnected from everything going on around you.
Male friends don’t typically rely on conversation to strengthen their bonds, and our connection largely comes from activities, doing things and spending time with each other. But highly sensitive men tend to pick up on a lot of arcane detail and silent moods expressed through subtle body language. Because a lot of this stays unvoiced between men, it often feels akin to witnessing a whole other imaginary conversation. It’s no wonder, then, that our friends often call us “anxious” or “jumpy,” when in reality, we’re probably experiencing information, and emotional, overload.
Similarly, it often feels like we are among the few men who don’t get overly excited about going on vacation or trying out new high-risk activities. I am the only person in my friend group, for example, who has expressed absolutely zero desire to go skydiving.
I’m sure every HSP male has experienced something similar — being overwhelmed by novel stimuli leaves us feeling disoriented, and makes us crave routine, stability, and a low probability of mortal injury. The conclusion for me is obvious: My friends are amazing, but I have to take them in concentrated doses.
2. They experience difficulty dating (compared to other men).
Like it or not, a man’s dating life is one of the first things that comes under scrutiny when evaluating his personality. I never cease to be blown away at how easily my friends are willing to go on dates and put themselves out there. Our evening get-togethers are often filled with amusing dating anecdotes that they are all too eager to discuss.
Meanwhile, I often find myself cringing in the background, unable to imagine myself in those situations. Indeed, I’ve found that the very nature of male dating culture is such that many HSP men dislike it, even if it is made super accessible to them (especially with all the apps out there these days).
Dating, especially among young men, is often defined by very casual attitudes. And casual dating can be nerve-wracking, especially for highly sensitive men who have a tendency to think deeply and reflect obsessively over every dating experience. What did they think of me? Should I have made that comment? Did I choose the right movie?
When combined with our tendency to pick up on every nonverbal cue and inflection in tone of voice, I feel confident in saying that there are few things more terrifying than dating to many HSP men.
Interestingly, it’s always the first date that we find the toughest — the date where we feel the strongest expectation to impress, be witty, strong, and charming all at the same time. After that, though, things seem to get easier. The HSP men who I personally know have had some of the most long-lasting and meaningful dating relationships, probably because their sensitivity gives them an edge in being understanding and empathetic with their partners.
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3. They have minimal interest in activities that are stereotypically “male.”
I have way too many memories, both old and recent, of meeting up with my male friends, only to spend hours watching them fantasize over cars, or play video games, or talk about random sports statistics. Not that those things are wrong, but I’ve always found it difficult to feign interest in stereotypical “masculine” pastimes that I don’t enjoy.
A defining quality of HSPs is that we look for artistic depth in our hobbies. Walking alone under the moon of a chilly winter night is a pleasure my friends will never understand, but something that never fails to fill me with a deep sense of awe. The same goes for reading historical fiction, playing the ukulele, listening to lo-fi music, writing short stories — and even working on these articles, for that matter!
We feel enchanted by activities that are mystical, wistful, and make us ponder the world. They feed the rich, inner world which we all possess inside of us, and make us think of infinite possibilities.
But this presents a risk for HSP men. Because our hobbies can be explored without other people, we have a strong tendency to withdraw into the comforts of privacy unless absolutely necessary. It doesn’t matter how sensitive we are — every man needs the company of other male friends to push and challenge him. Otherwise, we may end up using our sensitivity as a crutch, and risk becoming stagnant and inflexible.
I’d like to think that I’ve started to look at my sensitivity in a more objective light, thanks to my friends. I’m able to question many of the automatic thoughts and reactions I experience, and am learning to take things at face value. Likewise, I’d also like to think that I’ve had a positive impact on my friends, encouraging them to look at things from different perspectives and being more open about having deep discussions.
4. They are labeled as the “responsible” ones — and live up to it.
My friends are usually reckless, and I often find myself sighing at their weekend antics. It certainly feels like I am the only person injecting a note of reason into their adrenaline-filled activities.
It’s getting pretty late. We should probably head back soon or we’re not going to be able to get ourselves an Uber.
You should pace yourself with the drinks, Bro, it’s been a while since dinner. Let me get you something to eat so you don’t black out.
Like most HSPs, I often feel like I have a mini clock ticking in my ear. I am very sensitive to time, and hate feeling like I’m not on schedule. (This is probably another reason why I hate planning vacations, with their detailed itineraries and endless lists of things that could go wrong.) And on a wild weekend night, time anxiety is the last thing on a typical young guy’s mind. My voice of reason tends to fall on deaf ears… although when things do inevitably go wrong, I am the quickest to react and take action, like a responsible parent or chaperon.
Being the “responsible” one extends to more than just parties, though. Our ultra sensitivity to conflict makes us step in when an argument begins, and also “causes” us to be the mediator before things get out of hand. I may be the quietest in the group, but I do keep everyone together, and that is true of many HSP men.
The first time I got called the “responsible” one — incidentally, for warning my friends about climbing a steep cliff — I was kind of offended. Responsible? Me? I was younger then, and it was at the height of “cool” for us to do things that were dangerous and discouraged. Again, we can put them into the stereotypically masculine category.
But, the older I get, the more I start to look at my male friends’ antics with idle curiosity and bewilderment rather than grudging admiration. I’ve long since accepted that many of the pursuits which give me a sense of pleasure are different from that of my friends, and I don’t hold that in comparison anymore. I am content to watch them scale low buildings while I sit back and enjoy the beauty of the building, the way the bricks so beautifully fit together. Or I’ll just sit back and take in the quiet night air, relishing the stars in the sky and the gentle breeze.
Being a Highly Sensitive Man Is Different. But That Doesn’t Mean It’s ‘Bad.’
Being an HSP man brings with it a lot of experiences that are unique. But I refuse to say that they are “bad.” I like being a little different from my friends, looking at things from angles that they may not have otherwise considered. After all, what’s the fun if everyone is the same? For us perceptive folk, we find human nature is inherently interesting, and spending time with our more headstrong friends opens up a whole world of possibility.
Of course, each of us is different. I don’t pretend to possess a magic character profile for each HSP man out there. I can only speak to my own experiences, and generalize based on past research and the other men in my social circle. Plus, the situations that I come across as a more introverted HSP may be vastly different from what an extroverted HSP faces.
But I feel confident in saying that, all things considered, we highly sensitive men should be proud of who we are. So long as we are able to maintain a social balance, and keep an open mind, the world becomes a fascinating place when you have a tendency to reflect and ponder. Society needs men who are more perceptive and appreciate the beauty in little things — and I’m glad to be among them.