Webster’s defines “compartmentalize” as the ability to separate into isolated compartments or categories. It’s one of those words that gets tossed around when discussing the male psyche, but rarely do we take the time to look in totality, at the impact of some men’s ability to put the varying machinations of their minds and hearts into boxes forever separate.
One of the biggest myths around compartmentalization is that it is gender-based. This is false for a number of reasons, first, I’ve met more than my share of women who are capable of compartmentalizing their lives. In my experience, I’ve found the characteristic to be much more rare in women than men, but the fact that it’s rare doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Additionally, not all men compartmentalize. Some men wear their hearts on their sleeves and what you see is exactly what you get. Finally, even amongst men who do compartmentalize, not everyone does to the same degree. Some men unconsciously compartmentalize everything; while others pick and choose when to keep things separate. I would not describe the ability to compartmentalize as a positive or negative characteristic in any individual, but instead simply as a personality trait that makes some people different than others.
That said, this is singleblackmale.org, I’m a man and I compartmentalize, so today the bulk of our discussion will be around how we men do this and the positive and negative ways it impacts our lives.
Are you a man (or woman) who compartmentalizes? Do you view this as a positive or negative character trait you’ve developed? Are men who are unable to compartmentalize lesser men than those who can? How has your compartmentalization, or the compartmentalization abilities of a man you’ve known affected your life?
The Good about Compartmentalize: Career, Work/Life/Love Balance.
There’s a great deal of good that comes from a man’s ability to separate those things capable of affecting his life. One of the most obvious places the ability to compartmentalize comes in handy is in a man’s career. In even the most technical and mathematical of careers interpersonal relationships are important and influential to one’s success. In my career, the ability to keep what is business, and what is personal, personal, has been invaluable. It enables your ability to build solid relationships and contacts without the burden of the souring of those relationships affecting business. Stress, pain, and fatigue, like other emotions or impulses, can be placed in boxes separate from the boxes you need to access to be successful at whatever you’re putting your mind to. There’s nothing worse than dealing with a man who lets his emotions get the best of him in situations where emotions should be checked at the door. These sorts of people are almost impossible to do business with.
Also, when it comes to balancing one’s career and life outside of work, the ability to effectively compartmentalize again proves its value. A rough day at the office doesn’t have to mean a rough night with the woman you love. Your boss yelling at you doesn’t mean you will, in turn, yell at your wife, lover or significant other when you get home. And any unfortunate career missteps or miscalculations do not have the blamed on a budding relationship. Too often, men who bring home the stress of their careers allow that stress to seep into the pores and fibers of an otherwise wonderful relationship- ruining it. They blame their wives, girlfriends or even children for their inability to be the people they want to be when really, the blame belongs on their inability to separate their work from their love.
If you’re a compartmentalizer, what are some ways it’s positively affected your life? If you’re not how has allowing your influences to be whatever they are been good for you? Do you ever find yourself wishing you could or couldn’t compartmentalize?
The Bad: Procrastination and Different Faces in Different Places
The ability to compartmentalize also shows itself to be a not so positive character trait in many ways. I’ve always found that people who compartmentalize are usually great at procrastinating. I’ve known a great many people completely incapable of recreational activity when there’s work undone. Take MrsMost for example – usually, there’s no nooky going down if we’ve gone to bed and left dishes. Her mind just can’t separate the two. Me on the other hand, I can watch football all day long, knowing the whole time that I have a blog post I need to get done before the night is over.
It gets even worse when you start procrastinating about doing the things you need to do to keep a romantic endeavor growing healthily. You can go weeks without calling someone you know you’re supposed to call just by making yourself not think about them. Procrastinating is easy when you can put what you’re supposed to be doing in a box you don’t have to look at.
Different Faces, Different Places:
Another step-down dante’s inferno of compartmentalization is the compartmentalizers ability to be a different person in different environments. To some people, you’re the gentle, kindhearted guy who could never hurt a soul. While to others, you are the villainous knave who seems to have made it your personal mission to ruin their lives.
To some women you’re the door opening, chair pulling gentleman and to others your treatment of women borders somewhere between “can’t think of anything better to call women than bitch’ misogynist and straight up ‘we don’t love these hoes’ pimp. When a man starts using his ability to compartmentalize to separate the personalities he shows the people he finds himself around in ways that aren’t true to the person he expects himself to be, he’s heading toward deep, dark waters.
Do you struggle with procrastination or has someone you’ve known struggled with it? What about empathy? Do you ever find it difficult to appreciate the struggles of others? And how about having a slight case of multiple personality disorder?
The Ugly: Emotional Unavailability, Infidelity, Sociopathy
Show me a highly functioning but emotionally unavailable man and I’ll show you a man who compartmentalizes his life. This entire concept is based on a man’s ability to, for a time, close the box on his feelings while keeping all the other areas of his life completely active. The problem is, when we do this, we often have no regard for the impact it has on the women who come to know us during these spats of emotional unavailability. The ability to compartmentalize can be cancer to a relationship. Sometimes we get so accustomed to compartmentalizing that we end up pushing people away, not letting anyone in, or not allowing ourselves to fall for people we should fall for. There’s a certain perpetual loneliness in the heart of a man who has unconsciously pushed away everyone who’s ever cared for him. I wrote an entire post about this phenomenon you can check it out here: “So Don’t You Fall In Love: A Thesis For Emotional Unavailability.”
One of the more destructive things to come from a man’s ability to compartmentalize is that man’s potential propensity for infidelity in committed relationships. Even more troubling (for folks who don’t compartmentalize) is that a person who can deny himself access to the emotional ramifications of his infidelity is probably also capable of keeping that infidelity a secret – indefinitely.
With these guys, there are no teary-eyed confessions spurred on by the pains of guilt, there are no apologies or promises of repentance when these guys cheat, they take it to their graves. Should no one ever find out, it’s arguable whether or not this is a bad thing for the women involved; but should the truth find its way to the light, as it so often does, the associated pain and heartbreak is compounded by the revelation that the person you love is completely different than who you’ve known him to be.
The most dangerous place any man who compartmentalizes can get to is the place where he no longer cares. When you’ve made a life of separating impulses, putting things into boxes and closing off emotions, you begin to forget what it means to feel. And when a man allows himself to completely disassociate from his feelings he’s capable of anything. You can rationalize away any misdeed or unforgivable act. Infidelity is just the tip of the iceberg. Lying, stealing, murdering – all of these egregiously immoral actions can be set aside if one is well practiced at compartmentalizing the resulting emotions.
This is a pretty long post and I appreciate you all reading through it, but compartmentalization is real. We do it to varying degrees and sometimes, as I’ve tried to show in this post – the behavior can be habitual and increasing in nature. In my life, I’ve found that my ability to compartmentalize must always be tempered by a strict adherence to the personal code. A set of rules and ethics that keep me from spiraling out of control into a place I never want to be. But that’s just me. What experience do you have with compartmentalization – be it your own, or that of someone you’ve known? Has someone ever put you in a box? What does it feel like to compartmentalize or be compartmentalized?
****Admin Note**** For those of you in the NYC area, on Friday, December 23rd – SBM Presents: Happy Hour will return to the Empire Room in the Empire State building. You’ll have the opportunity to meet your favorite SBM writers and other bloggers, drink and celebrate the holiday season. It will be epic, and I can’t way to see you all. Till then … stay low and keep firing.