A Real Man

I was at a pub here in Budapest a few weeks ago and was highly amused to find myself being criticized by an otherwise attractive Hungarian girl for the simple fact that I don’t drink alcohol. She went so far as to buy me a beer and insist I drink it, and I went so far as to turn around and gift said beer to a random dude standing beside us at the bar.

I felt the funniest part of the entire interaction was when the girl asked me, quite seriously, “Why don’t you drink beer? Why aren’t you a real man?”

As I’ve written about before, I’m beyond taking offense to such remarks. But her words did get me thinking… Just what is a “real man” anyways?

The traditional, shallow view of a real man is the beer-guzzling, sports-loving, engine-revving, boob-leering, deer-hunting, crotch-scratching homophobe who doesn’t think too much about anything. Last time I looked, there were lots of these guys hanging out on reality television.

As you might imagine, my definition of a real man is quite different…

What Is A Real Man?

A real man makes up his own mind. He asks hard questions of himself and others, and arrives at his own conclusions. He cares little what the rabblement thinks of his personal choices. He might drink alcohol, but not simply because everyone else does. He might be religious, but not simply because he was raised that way.

A real man has a purpose in life, a self-assigned mission that he’s devoted to. That purpose may change over time, and sometimes the mission is simply to discover his next mission. As much as possible, everything a real man says and does is in line with his purpose.

A real man is a hypocrite, just like everyone else. Difference is, a real man will recognize and accept the gaps in his integrity, while constantly striving for greater congruency between his thoughts, words and actions.

A real man accepts his vulnerability. He hurts. He cries. He bleeds. He asks for help when needed. He recognizes the stupidity of macho.

A real man is more assertive than aggressive. He strives to avoid violence, but not confrontation. He tells people what they need to hear. He doesn’t accept bad behavior from himself or others. He calls bullshit when he sees it.

A real man leads by example and asks for what he wants. He doesn’t play mind games or try to trick anyone. He shares information freely. He seeks win-win. Zillion sum game.

A real man doesn’t feel the need to cut people down. He’d rather build them up. Instead of becoming consumed with envy, he’s secure enough in himself to take joy in the success and fortune of others.

A real man doesn’t compromise his values for a short-term win.

A real man cares about his planet and his body, and acts accordingly. Because he knows he’s only got one of each, no second chances.

A real man feels fear, just like everyone else, but he doesn’t let the fear control him. He confronts it regularly, training himself to lean into the flinch.

A real man knows how little he knows. He admits when he’s wrong. He’s willing to apologize and make things right. He’s okay with fucking something up as long as he learns a lesson. Sometimes he’ll even fuck things up on purpose, just to learn that lesson.

A real man resists the urge to play the victim. He reframes problems as opportunities and makes the most of whatever situation he finds himself in.

A real man respects and admires other real men (and women). No threat. He tries to help those who aren’t quite there yet.

A real man is not defined by his possessions. He’s not opposed to having nice things, but he doesn’t derive his core happiness or sense of self-worth from them. His real wealth cannot be lost or stolen.

A real man doesn’t mind standing apart from the crowd. He doesn’t mind being alone. He’s comfortable in his own company, at ease in his own skin.

A real man is not ashamed of his sexuality.

A real man knows that playing it safe is risky. He chooses adventure whenever possible.

A real man is constantly evolving. He’s never the same guy from one year to the next. He’s okay with transience and uncertainty. He’s strong enough inside to put up with whatever challenges life throws his way.

A real man gets shit done. He makes tough decisions and takes responsibility for his own life. He makes mistakes and learns from them. He fails often and he forgives himself. He learns and moves on.

A real man lives the Stockdale Paradox, whether he calls it that or not.

A real man is willing and able to share in other people’s pain. But he doesn’t put up with persistent leeches. He generally surrounds himself with other self-empowered people who are busy walking their own purposeful paths.

A real man doesn’t settle. When it comes to the really important things in life, good enough simply isn’t good enough.

A real man believes in himself, even if nobody else does.

A real man doesn’t try to avoid awkward conversations. He introduces elephants.

A real man has amazing friends (both male and female) who love him deeply and want nothing but the best for him. And the same in kind.

A real man offers praise when it is due. In turn, he accepts compliments gracefully and gratefully. He understands that the world can’t be a more giving place unless people are more willing to receive.

A real man doesn’t do things half-assed. He aims for excellence at whatever he turns his hand to.

A real man is full of gratitude and wonder. He is in love with the world, in spite of all its flaws. And he expects the world to love him, in spite of all his flaws. He puts out there what he wishes to receive.

Being Real

Granted, the above is very idealized. I doubt that a man fitting that description has ever lived, or ever will. I like to think I measure up nicely in some of those areas, but I fall very flat in more than I’m comfortable to admit.

But this isn’t about achieving some kind of perfection. It’s just something to aim for.

For all the guys out there: How do you feel you measure up to my definition? What do you need to work on? Anything you’d like to add? Anything you disagree with?

And for the ladies: What’s your definition of a real man? And how would you define a real woman?

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    1. Okay Niall,

      What the hell were you doing in a pub setting yourself up for that conversation with the otherwise attractive woman if you don’t drink beer??? A game of darts maybe? lol

      Seriously, maybe nondrinkers who are also real men visit pubs just to stir things up…along with all the other things you listed. Well done!

      • Haha, I hang out at pubs all the time. I love being social and meeting lots of people, and pubs are still one of the best places for that. And I don’t spend much time interacting with someone if they get shitty about my non-drinking ways 🙂

    2. Personally, I think this definition fits well for both genders. I’d mumble and mutter something about “duty” in addition, but it’s somewhat of a half-formed thought at the moment.

      No, wait. I’ve got it. A real man recognizes that sometimes he has duties: to himself, his family and his friends, and that those commitments, those choices he makes, when authentic and in alignment with his values, are binding. He doesn’t shirk them.

    3. I like what Cliff says above and to paraphrase part of it into my own words; a man does what he says he will. Even when he doesn’t really want to a man stays by his word. Always.

      Of course this doesn’t mean a man can’t go against his word in a situation that genuinely requires it, y’know like breaking a leg or something, but men don’t make up bullshit excuses to get out of things they said they would do.

      Also, related to your sentence Niall, “A real man gets shit done” a man does what needs to be done. It’s what men do. They don’t sit on their ass when there is something that needs to be done or a problem solved. A good example I saw of this was a man who had to support his children worked long hours in a shit job because it was the only way he could. That is what real men do, what they have to.

      Of course all the other things you mention still well and truly apply, but tI think the above two are very important as well 🙂

    4. Niall, you’re the fuckin’ man! No other words for it. You take everyday things and turn them into philosophical and life lessons for all. Keep it up buddy.. I’m really loving this one!

    5. That’s a pretty accurate definition of a real man to me but it lacks the flaws. The man you describe there is simply flawless. That’s the description of a perfect man, a real man wouldn’t be like that completely but he will strive every day for being closer to that description.

      A real woman? Same. I understand what you described above as the real person, man o woman. The only thing that could be changed is “A real man accepts his vulnerability. He hurts. He cries. He bleeds. He asks for help when needed. He recognizes the stupidity of macho.” mainly because women already know/do that more often than men… 😛

      True, men and women we behave and react in different ways, we are different, but we can share the values you describe for your real person because we are the same in the essentials.

      Oh, just a thing, if you ever meet a man that fits this description give me his number, sounds like a great company! 😛

      • Aye, flawless indeed. Not realistic, but something to aim for.

        And I agree that pretty much everything above could be applied to the definition of “a real woman.” I was going to put more about sexuality in there, but then I realized you can still be a real man even if you’re gay or asexual.

        Thanks for the comment 🙂

      • Well said Maria!

        To Niall, I TOTALLY know what you mean about the non-drinking critics, I’ve been dealing with them all my life. I never drink and I never did, so when I told people that, they are pretty shocked and most of them don’t understand. I think they’re thinking I’m an alien coming from another planet or that I’m a nun. They think I’m boring, but let’s be honest here, what guys really think it’s that they can get me drunk and take me back to their beds. (not that I think I’m very pretty or anything like that, just that most guys in pubs are after anyone really) After years of watching interactions between guys and girls in bars/pubs, I’ve learned their tactics. It’s pretty distracting actually, like a game you watch on TV. Cheers to you Niall for resisting to the pressure!

        • I subscribe to that comment Caroline! 😀 And after years of research and studies of those tactics I must confess I have so much fun when a guy follow a “tactic” by the book and you know exactly what the next step will be… it’s me who find them boring, don’t you? Ahhh, thank god that there are still a bunch of original “real men” who bring laughs and surprises to our lives! 😉

    6. I really enjoyed this blog post. Needless to say, this says much more about the girl who bought the beer not being a real woman than nything else. Because a real woman has matured emotionally to the point where she can accept that everyone has the right to make their own choices for themselves and the importance of respecting that – particularly if she wants the same rights herself.

      Totallylove the videos you do when you’re out and about. Didn’t know you had ANY level of discomfort making them! Would never have guessed.

    7. I like this post from a women’s point of view: I used to fall for your first definition of a real man (the testosteron guy, drinking, sport, etc). But since I started my life journey, something weird is going on. I start to look rationally to this subject and I can’t really change. Because me and a real man would’t last a week. I know this, because I’m not a real woman anymore (in standards of society’s majority). So…I need to know guys better, before I get involved. Obviously the inside is better is more important, so what’s the big deal here? I don’t know if I can trust my intuition on this one anymore. I think my man-compass still needs some re-programming before use. I like all people in the world, but I can try them all out. I can’t date them till I know him better and dump them when they start to like me. This may sound as if every guy would fall for me instantly. I’m not that kind of person, but I do hate to break hearts 🙁

      So what is a real man for me now? That’s a guy who stands for his choices, life and his love (if he has one). He made his choices fully conscious, not because 95% of society expects him to do it. He doesn’r have to agree with me, as long as he has a strong base. The same for a real, real woman…

    8. Hi Niall,

      great post and yes, indeed something to aim for (just another analogy to good horsemanship: a life is not long enough to learn – it’s what you learn after you know it all that counts 😉

      And I also believe this post is equally true for real women. One specialty: Women tend to be giving more than they they have, this way often exhausting themselves. I consider it very important for a woman to fill her own basic needs first before giving to others. The secret is: a fulfilled, relaxed and authentic woman will give and care automatically because it’s our pure nature. Just know that especially women need to feel more, share more, learn more about their own needs (both mental and physical) before they are happy to give themselves and their beautiful ideas to the world.

      And they love real man! Nothing as attractive out there as a man who doesn’t compromise his values for short-term win!! ;-))

    9. I’d rather say a real man OR a real woman, both, is a person who has control over his/her own body, and more importantly who controls his/her own mind.

      If someone does something just to impress another person, or social pressure etc. what’s the reason of his/her being?

      Great post!

    10. Hi, Niall!!! Like your posts, thank you very much!

      For me, real man should be responsible, nothing more. Nature and history are all about responsible man who is able to care about woman, children and parents.

      And woman….probably, real woman should be wise ) and happy ))))

    11. I’d pretty much agree with all that, well said. it reminded me a lot of the Rudyard Kipling Poem “if” a great thing to keep and mind, and try and live up to, even if you falter when striving towards it.


      However I really think that it both applies to men and women. All you said really applies to being a mature adult than just being a man. I think there’s a bit of a problem at the moment in that an adolescent mindset has become acceptable, even lauded in mainstream society, and learning maturity comes later and later, if at all. Taking responsibility for your own life and decisions is key.

      I’d also add that a real man (adult) knows themself, and accepts themselves for who and what they are. To thine own self be true.

      And I’d add to sexuality, a real man (adult) knows and accepts their sexuality, isn’t ashamed of it, and behaves with honesty and honour in dealing with other people in a sexual and relationship context. (and a pet peeve of mine, doesn’t give a load of really graphic detail as to what they got up to last night after you ask how are today. sigh)

      The Art of Manliness blog talks about this sort of thing fairly frequently and has a great article about how Atticus Finch, from To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, is a great example of manliness. Self confident, responsible, diginfied and courageous without being a meathead.


      (Unfortunately Art of Manliness usually concentrates on how many pushups you can do and dressing well.)

    12. Hi Niall, I agree with You. Specially when I was single I looked like a wired woman to others just because of my different thoughts including not-drinking and not-smoking, I was hardly criticized and sometimes I still am.

      But, I am clear that I don’t like to do things like that and much less because other people tell me to do it.

      You remainded me about Paulo Coelho’s book (in spanish) “Manual del guerrero de la luz” I think He talks about real Men and Women.

      To me real men/women is to have : accciones y pensamientos congruentes, trascendentes, y responsables.

      Note: I’m learning to write in english and sometimes can’t remember some words :$ I’ m really sorry if this was hard to read.

      Naill you remainded me about Paulo Coelho’s book ” Manual del guerrero de la luz”

    13. Agree with ya my friend. By the way, today, Dec. 20,2011, is my ten year sobriety birthday. Best decision I ever made for my life. Feel myself more of a man because of it, not less. Thanks ND.


    14. Niall thanks so much for profiling me on your blog today! 😉 Flattering and humbling.

      Just jokes… This is a fantastic post and gives us all something to shoot for. These ideas are kind of what I’m trying to embody on my blog, which I am currently trying to re-focus and work on a lot more.

      Thanks for the motivation!

    15. I would generally agree with all the points you have made here, Niall. From my experience, I have seen what a man should NOT be – namely a man should not try to shove its world view onto another and should also know when to stop something if the action is reckless ( I’m pretty sure you know what I’m on about, being from Ireland and all 😉 )

      And I admit I’m nowhere near those lists of ideals either BUT I’m not going to break a sweat over it. After all, I think that we are all perfect in our own imperfections.

      As for why so many men go down the mainstream route – it all comes down to peer pressure. I’m sure all of us have seen some girl / guy we admired go with some stereotypical piece of trash, to put it bluntly. You then wonder should YOU become that in order to feel ‘ normal. ‘ Good thing I said nah at least!

    16. Well put. And yes, this is idealized, but that doesn’t make it any less true. This is what I see a “real man” and a “real woman” should be. I don’t think there’s anything in your list that is inherently male or gender oriented, and I love that. I see it as more being a “real human” – something we should all strive for.

    17. Bravo! Well put for our broken world. I agree with the comments about man/woman. So I suppose I’d say something along the lines of Real Person if I were writing.

      For me, my relationship with God comes first. So I’d need to find some way of writing that if I put together a statement like you did.

      Getting there (my relationship with God), again, saying for me, took years of being lost and work of searching. So I guess the way I’d add words would include, “Putting relationship with God first!”

      Or if not there (Yet!) an openness to a relationship with your Creator who loves you when you do meet… and a willingess to learn when you do meet.

      Because *I* do know You will know God either “here” or after “here” is over.

      And I know God loves you just exactly where and who you are right now in this moment.

    18. If you can write, you are on your way… It is really not bad, I think. 🙂

      Lot of people never thinking about yourselves (just complain a lot, and blame yourselves or especially others…) how can to be better, or just not bad.

      Somethimes need to be a little “bad” or Bad whith somebody… today not know why, but someday you will undertsand or mabey not… but everithing is perfect, if not Perfect too.:-)

    19. I am just curious, do you people think real men are born real with the potential already inside them or do you think those obnoxious, selfish wannabe men can ever really grow up & change for the better? I have yet to see it happen.

      • I like to think it’s available to everyone, this way of living. Some folks surely have a greater natural tendency to get distracted by shiny objects and flashing lights, but resisting all that is part of the growth process methinks.

        Thanks for the comment!

    20. Bloody marvelous post! A real man makes no apologies for who he is, whilst at the same time apologising genuinely if he makes a mistake. A real man doesn’t do what everyone else does, just because it’s easy. I could go on forever!

      And of course…..real men listen to Nina Simone 😉

    21. I agree with everything but the sexuality part. It’s mentally and practically impossible for me to view a guy with a purse and a girly t-shirt as a real man, no matter how confident they may be in their choice.

      I’ll always remain a “titties and beer” loving, meat eating and BBQ loving person. Many of these qualities are associated with being a real man and I like that. But if you don’t have these “qualities’, scoring in the points you mentionned will get you at the same status (as viewed by others) too. It just takes more effort, but you’ll be more of a man for it.

      But in the end, it’s more important what you think a real man should be like. No matter what anyone else says or thinks. And that basically boils down to confidence. Also a quality girls seem to like, if I am not mistaken… 🙂



    22. I know I’m late to the party here…but, DAMN! This is an amazing post Niall! I got all inspired and teary eyed over this. You seem to have pegged the definition of a “real man” perfectly!

      Did you find it in Webster’s?

      Seriously, I’m sharing this around. It’s truly a beautiful image of a man to strive for. Now my Tweet from the other day makes even more sense.

      Thanks for being a real man Niall.

      Btw: I’ve also stopped drinking, for 30 days only, but so far I’m enjoying it. It may even become a habit!

    23. Personally, I think this is the best definition of a “decent human being,” men and women alike. Thank you for this delightful little read!

    24. Dear Niall,

      As I was looking for the definition of a real man to explain to a friend of mine what I had in mind, your article came up. I must say you have defined it the best , after looking thru so many articles.
      On that note, I would like to add that I have had the pleasure of actually having met a man that fits 99% of your definition. After 40 years of my life I actually found a real man. Having said that you sound like the real man as well. Good luck on all your adventures, you seem to be having a blast and I admire your writings.


    25. These may help you in your understanding of “real men”

      People like telling men what “real men” are like. The purpose is that if you don’t behave as they see fit, you’re demoted to a boy or a plastic man or something. I think I *may* be real myself – regardless, I will act, think, and feel exactly as a please despite anyone’s insistence of how I should be or implications that they have the authority to define some word. I thought being above a certain age and having a penis had something to do with it but folks can go ahead and use the words they please.

      Some of the characteristic you list above make for what I consider a respectable person and include what I respect in women. I, as a computer programmer, have heard some other programmers describe what a “real” programmer is. Not surprisingly, they themself invariably fall within their description and it describes qualities of a programmer that they respect.

      At the end of the day, when I hear someone describe a “real” something or other, I smell manipulation (where someone is playing to stereotypes and your sense of insecurity) with an agenda and then I stop listening. Jr. High level manipulation is useless to me and I can’t respect someone using it. I laugh at the idea someone could really take me in that way.

      I’ll stick to the dictionary when it goes to defining words. They’re not always perfect but they don’t have an agenda and the good ones (“real” dictionaries” 🙂 ) genuinely attempt to describe the words as they are understood in everyday speech.

    26. Thankyou for an amazing post! Its good to know there are some genuine thinking men out there, I love your work.

      For a few years now Ive worked as one of very few women in a typically mans job, and Ive been blessed with some harsh insights into some fairly shocking ideas about what it is to be a real man, so I had to go online and look for something sensible, all I found at the time was a blog by a wise male programmer who remarked that men dont seem to know what it is to be a man anymore, that they define themselves by not acting like a girl, which these days is made all the more difficult by having women doing the very jobs that they chose in order to prove their manhood.

      I realised there was defintely a marked difference between what the ‘lads’ at work thought vs what I (apparently not a normal girl) thought. That it seemed, at least from the more troublesome ones, that they seemed to only care about impressing each other and using women to score points this way, the winners, I noticed, would spend more time insulting the others and walking somewhat like a gorilla, while the betas would do more of the gossiping and displaying other traits they normally projected onto women.
      Then there were the others, my version of Real men as opposed to the Imaginary type above, who were decent people, who didnt compete that way, they were usually married or in a long term relationship, sometimes still a virgin and for the rare, perfectly in the middle, mature but single exceptions, still in love with their ex. (boohoo for me!)

      Its seems the real (and already acknowldged perfect-ideal) man is a rare breed, in an available form, but I think all it takes is to stand out from the crowd as your own person, and not to fit into a stereotype for safety.

      Certainly as a woman who has long since given up romanic ideals, and just seeks pleasant company in any form, I have infinate respect for any person (of any gender) who fits that basic requirement of humanity, of being themselves without fear.

    27. Nice brother, awesome post.. now that you are around south america, let me know if you stick around Paraguay for some days.

    28. Just received your email defining what a real man is…it’s what I would call a virtuous man. A real man is a non fictional human being with an x/y chromosome pair.

    29. i’m sorry, but you got this wrong. you made the (classical) mistake of equaling a ‘real man’ with a ‘good man(person)’. they are not the same, they never were. a woman can also be a good person, but a woman can not be a real man. but i understand your confusion, i was also confused about this. we live in a time were the sexes are regarded as social constructs or ‘gender roles’ as they are called. but this is bs. there are real differences between the sexes, rooted in biology that cannot explained away. if you have a problem with this you can complain to nature/God 🙂

      there is a difference between:
      a. being a good man(or person)
      b. being good at being a man(a real man)

      a man can be a good man(person), and at the same time not be good at being a man. think of a effeminate man. and vice versa, a man can be good at being a man and at the same time be a bad man(person). think of criminals or any villain in an action movie(darth vader, tony sporano, scarface), they are bad men, but not unmanly men.
      obviously the best thing is to be a good man(person) and being good at being a man. think of any hero in an action movie(luke skywalker). they are good men and manly men.

      so, how do we define a real man? first of, who should define? in my opinion women’s definition don’t matter. this is for the men to decide. often when women define this, they do it in order to manipulate men. but obviously womanliness will help us define manliness. manliness is something what womanliness is not and vice versa.
      a real man is a masculine man, any person with a penis is male, but not necessarily a real man. also being a real man is amoral, meaning a good person can be real man and bad person can be a real man, see what i wrote above.
      also we have to have a universal definition, a definition any man can agree on regardless of their country, religion, culture, etc.

      if we look through history there are 4 virtues(virtus in latin means manliness) that a man must possess to able to be real man:
      – strength
      – courage
      – mastery
      – honor

      i will not write what these virtues are, fortunately there is a book where you can read about these virtues and definition of a real man/manliness/masculinity, that book has also been my source for this post: the way of men by jack donovan. warning! your pc detector will go off, but i think he gets it right.

      i will end this post with these words: to be good at being a man is standard you have to aspire to, but it is also something you cannot achieve, but it still remains like a guiding star, so we don’t lose are way.

      i’m out, stay manly!

    30. I‘d agree with Cliff Cumber, this definition is true for both genders, so let us say a real human being or a real person. Unfortunately, I have not met such men/women in my life. If I have, I would have remembered. However, if one would like to meet a real person, then they should have a look at a five years old child. The child would be curious, open, honest and genuine in everything he or she does or experience in their life. Later on, the family, school, peers etc. would affect the child and he/she would become a “normal” member of our society. Hence, there are not many real men and women around us, even though I am sure there are some out there…

    31. I don’t see the definition different by gender. If you replace “real man” with “real person” I think it still all stands true. For me it is missing something related to our responsibility to children probably because I’m a mother. But I do think there is a responsibility in who we are being for those younger than us. I also struggle a little bit the the descriptor “real.” I know the girl in the pub used it so it was a natural jumping off point, but it’s a word that doesn’t land for me. We are all real, even the most fake of us. For me the question would be more like what characteristics give you the experience of an authentic man or woman or person. Peace.

    32. I reckon this could also be called something like “A real Human”. So I guess this is a good definition for “A real women” too, as other awesome people have said below! I reckon I could fit a few of the points, and I try to be all of them but of course fail at a lot of things up there haha. Maybe thats being a real man/women/human? Just keeping on trying to be your best, no matter how many times you fail? Just always striving to evolve and learn? But yeah all good stuff to strive for and think about, thanks Niall.

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