A few weeks ago, I came across an article in ‘The Times’ magazine. The cover featured a naked male torso, altered by red markings, to create a frowning face. The heading invited me to look inside to discover why men were so unhappy.
I was intrigued: I didn’t consider myself unhappy and it surprised me that enough men out there felt bad enough to warrant a multi-page article about it in a quality broadsheet mag. What the article revealed was more complex than the title suggested: yes, some of the men interviewed were (or had been) unhappy but the overall picture was of a general uncertainty among men – of what it means to be a man in the 21st Century.
So what has this got to do with freelance writing? Well, from a personal viewpoint, I too had struggled with many of the issues raised. I was made redundant just as my partner had qualified in her chosen career. We had moved house and, in the absence of suitable child care, it made sense for me to take on the role of raising our then two-year-old daughter. And I did find it hard – but not in the way I had expected.
The day-to-day tasks: entertainment, housework, cooking, etc. was fine; I even enjoyed singing along with the mums at the children’s centre. What I hadn’t considered was the effect I would feel of the weight of other people’s expectations. Would my partner resent the time I had with my daughter while she worked long hours to bring home the bread? What would her parents or our friends be saying to each other in my absence? ‘What is he doing at home all day?’ ‘Shouldn’t he be out working?’
We had discussed the possibility of my going freelance a couple of times but it was only when my six months’ National Insurance contributions had run out that I took the plunge. I was no longer entitled to any benefits and I was overjoyed: there was no longer anything to stop me working for myself. I registered as self-employed that day and haven’t looked back since.
Freelancing somehow suits me and while perusing that Times article I discovered why. It unleashes a powerful masculine instinct – the urge to hunt, to take risks, to pursue your quarry instead of waiting for it to mature and grow fat in a field. Every Monday morning I wake up psychologically hungry, knowing that my next meal is by no means guaranteed. If I have a good week – an article sold or a brochure commissioned – I come home happy, dragging the meat back to grateful appreciation. But if hunting is lean I trudge back empty-clawed, determined to put more effort in next week.
Of course, the reality is a little less romantic – my partner is, after all, in a job which is as secure as possible in the post-crunch UK, but on a psychological level freelance writing is the modern equivalent of hunting and, if I didn’t have the responsibilities I am blessed with now, I would probably have taken this road a lot earlier.
If I was asked to answer the Times’ question: ‘why are men unhappy’, part of my answer would be that so many of us have gone against our natural instincts. We have settled for security and an easy paycheck and sacrificed the thrill of the chase, the perilous pursuit. Sometimes, in seeking to please the women we love, we have confused their needs with our own. Freelancing is a partial return to the life of a hunting man.
Over to you. Are there other men who feel the same as me? Or do you freelance for totally different reasons? What about freelancing women – why did you choose this path?