It all starts with a cough, then comes the sniffle and finally we hear the sigh. Three small but sure signs that indicate the rapid breakdown of the male to utter those dreaded words, “I don’t feel well”. Only it’s never just a dodgy stomach or a mild cold it’s always something that clings much more unavoidably, a state of deprivation so severe it sends even the toughest of men bolting for the chicken soup and into the depths of despair. Man flu. It’s big, it’s ugly and apparently we have no choice but to hand out the tissues and get used to it.
I’m sure we’ve all experienced an encounter with man flu, whether as a bloke you’ve been the ailing patient or as a woman you’ve faced a moping father, brother or boyfriend. Nevertheless, it’s often an unwelcomed event met with many a raised eyebrow and much too frequent eye rolling. But why? Why does pity seem like an all too distant prospect the moment he brings his duvet to the sofa to spend the afternoon with Jeremy Kyle? No matter the generation, most typical women seem to have little or no sympathy for the male that succumbs to the fever, seeking indifference over acknowledgement in times of flu crisis. Simple encouragement to get a grip and get over it is often far too easily interpreted by the flu sufferer as harsh misunderstanding, a lack of sympathy and cruel disbelief of the illness in question. But, maybe they have a point. Should we let the man regress into the little boy every once in a while? Surely everyone is allowed to be ill without interrogation?
In my experience, there are many possible ways to handle man flu. The first being, ignore it. Unless that thermometer reaches 100 degrees there’s no reason at all for him to be bed bound. Subtly let him soldier on with his melodramatic sighs, the world doesn’t have to stop just because he’s cracked out a Lemsip. If ignorance fails to tame the sniffles, when he says he’s ill, say you’re ill too. The moment he realises he might have to nurse you instead his coughing will miraculously become bearable and he’ll be boiling the kettle in no time.
If this approach fails and you’ve exhausted all attempts of rousing enthusiasm from the feverish male you have no choice but to sympathise. For the saintly amongst us this will have been the first option, with the welfare of your loved ones paramount no matter the state or symptom. But, for most, recognising the utter dependency of the male will not be an easy step to take, especially if you’ve brought it all on yourself because you gave him the flu in the first place. So, mollycoddle him, bring him toast, mop his brow, whatever. Will he be contagious? Maybe. Does he deserve a little bit of sympathy? Well, probably yes.
I’m not advocating ignorance to every illness ever experienced by a man. If his leg is in plaster, by all means, make him his lunch. However, if his major symptom is an Alan Rickman style husk to his voice then pack him up with a multi-pack of Soothers and go about your business. A typical man flu patient is regularly criticised by the female non-sufferer for exaggeration of coughs, recurring pleas for compassion and the odd melodramatic sigh. But maybe, every so often, we should spare a thought for the patient. Genuine illness could be, after all, a rare possibility.