What follows is the companion to my June 14 column. I mean, what’s good for the gander is good for the goose, right?
A lucky woman meets Gravitas. A smart woman welcomes and nurtures his friendship. And even smarter woman courts him, woos him, desires him, falls in love with him. Takes the plunge and marries him. Lets him move in.
Who is Gravitas? Oh my …
Gravitas (the Latin gravitas) is Gravity. It’s a masculine noun. It’s used to refer to personal qualities of substance, weight and depth. Along with pietas (virtue) and dignitas (honor), the ancient Romans listed gravitas (seriousness, duty) amongst the expected virtues of men.
Gravitas derives from the Latin word for “weightiness.” And weightiness is a quality wielded by the mature masculine. Now, let’s be clear: the weightiness to which I refer has nothing to do with the numbers that pop up on your bathroom scale. An overweight man is NOT the same as a man who wields gravitas. Conversely, men under 5’9” with sleight builds can and do wield gravitas.
Gravitas is an archetypal quality; not a physical description.
Yet, as I’ve worked with men in therapy whose goal is to lean more deeply and authentically into what it means to be a man, physical changes happen, too. I’m not kidding. They fidget less. They stand straighter, with legs a little wider, treading both heavier and with greater intention. Their voice deepens. Shoulders wider. Hands held at once casually and in readiness.
Gravitas isn’t ‘nice.’ Gravitas isn’t interested in nice. Kindness, yes. Generosity, service, mercy, passion, gentility – but not nice. Gravitas has ‘edges.’ Truth, respect, justice – for Gravitas, such things are more important than sentiment. They are worth standing for. Sometimes worth fighting for. In some cases, Gravitas is willing to die for them. Even kill for them, if there is no other choice.
Gravitas has a primitive, sometimes coarse simplicity. He walks the earth to penetrate the world. I don’t mean to be making a sophomoric, phallic joke. I’m being literal. It is a man’s job to penetrate the world. His very anatomy is a metaphor for his vocation.
Whereas the archetypal bastion of the feminine is sophos (wisdom), the bastion of the masculine is logos. Analysis, not synthesis. Which isn’t to say all men are logical, or to say that women cannot wield logic. It’s just to say that, when a woman does lean into analysis and logic, it’s because she meets Gravitas. She encounters The Man. From within and from without.
Logos is not merely thinking. It is NOT the indulgence of daydreaming. It is an analytical and contemplative discipline. It has rules – parsimony, deduction, induction, analogy, etc. Logos is a means by which a man apprehends and articulates the order of things, to the end that the man might live in ordered harmony with himself and the world. It’s very linear, dispassionate, and objective.
A lucky woman meets Gravitas. Sometimes from within herself. Her heart is decisively confronted by her soul. Jung called this animus – the part of a woman’s unconscious inviting her heart to connect with her head. Which is good, because a woman whose heart is unacquainted or estranged from her head is, on a good day, a one-dimensional woman. And, sooner or later, a miserable woman. Possessed by moods, anxiety, irritability. Sometimes she becomes emotionally dangerous to others – possessing, controlling, overly critical and shaming.
And sometimes, if she’s lucky, she meets Gravitas in a great love with an actual, living, breathing man. His gravitas grounds and bridles her emotional life. He gives direction and focus to her wisdom and intuition. Sometimes he even restrains her. Tells her a decisive NO. No further. Back off. Stop.
Yet, he loves her. He is not cruel, or demeaning, or disregarding of feelings. He loves her enough, however, to be straightforward, sometimes abruptly and uncomfortably straightforward.
And I’ve never met a healthy woman who didn’t respect and admire that. Surprisingly, this gravitas is sexually attractive to healthy women. Oh, sure, through the 60’s and 70’s women insisted men learn to be ‘more sensitive.’ A lot of us guys tried. Then those same women dumped us. Because we weren’t manly enough.
They desperately missed the gravitas of the masculine.
A smart woman hears the voice of Gravitas. And she surrenders. Submits. Suddenly there is less of her. And, just as suddenly, there is more.
(Steven Kalas is an author, a therapist and an Episcopal priest. He writes a weekly column for this newspaper and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)