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Master of His Domain

A Defense of "The Man Cave"

By Brett Smiley

When my girlfriend Michelle and I moved in together, she quickly discovered my knack for effortlessly remodeling the kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and living room into choreographed wreckage.

My man cave is our compromise.

Almost simultaneously with the term's invention, the so-called man cave became a punch line. One writer, and man cave hater, goes as far as to describe these male spaces as havens for Beer, TV and Sports — yes, capitalized and in that order. But, theoretically, there's no reason men can't get drunk and watch a football game in any room in the house. The notion that man caves are merely the outward manifestation of men recreating fraternity houses (in order to escape their present lives) suggests that the concept itself proves men never really grow up. (Which, I admit, is true to an extent.)

But, I think there's more to these man caves than that. Contrary to cave-critics, mine is not a place where I hide from Michelle, nor a symbol of a dysfunctional relationship. You won't find Star Wars figurines guarding the entrance to a war bunker with neon beer signs and a video game chair. (There is, however, a framed picture of Plaxico Burress's Super Bowl winning catch. So what if he's in prison — it was a hell of a catch.) Still, the man cave isn't just a compromise, it's purposeful.

The Evolution of Man Caves

Man caves, in most cases, do serve a real function. They're part of what helps sustain us, like adrenaline, or "guys night." Women often dictate the appearance of the rest of the home — and rightly so. They have better taste than we do. But that cave is a man's domain.

Put simply, man caves are a space set off from the rest where we can do our thing, whatever that may be. For some, the place might just be the good old-fashioned garage. For others, it's a tool shed. You're probably familiar with the electronics nut, who has a room outfitted with a state-of-the-art television and surround-sound speakers. Or the entertaining guy, who might have a space with a full bar or wine cellar.

"If we think about socialization, women are more relational, and men tend to be more independent in some ways," says Dr. Matt Englar-Carlson, an associate professor at Cal State Fullerton's Department of Counseling and member of the Society for the Psychological Study of Men and Masculinity. "I think it's pretty normal that men tend to gravitate to a garage. Men tend to socialize around 'doing,' like a project. It's called 'action empathy.' It's not better or worse than the way women relate, it's just different."

The man cave gives men a place to build transmissions, paint, display antlers, play video games, watch sports or just read books. (Lots of books.)

Caves of Our Fathers

In three different homes, for as long as I can remember, my father has had the same wooden desk and tattered chair in a cluttered room downstairs where he goes to shuffle papers. His cave is not well decorated, or well lit, but he has his treasured Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle signed baseballs on a shelf there. In an otherwise orderly house covered with floral patterns and ceramic trinkets, he needs a place to keep his things in organized chaos.

"He's always marched up and down the stairs to that mess of his," my mom says. "He hasn't banned me, but he doesn't like me to touch anything."

My girlfriend's uncle's cave is much simpler. It's a chair covered with all of his important belongings, some clothing and miscellaneous junk. His bride — as he still calls his wife after 25 years of marriage — voiced her displeasure at first, but eventually realized it's just one of his things. They compromised.

For one man (who we'll just call Alex), his cave has become a tug-of-war. He recently moved into a new house and keeps an office out in the backyard. It's about 10 feet by 10, set up just as he wanted, but his wife has "co-opted it."

"It used to be my sanctuary," says Alex. "But she put in an elliptical machine, then a small TV and then an old computer. Now she's making design suggestions. My mistake was insulating the place."

My Humble Space

My man cave consists of a bridge table with an aluminum fold-out chair at the side of our bedroom. It's covered with miscellaneous junk and my hat collection. There's an overflowing basket of clothes in laundry purgatory underneath. Not exactly the Ritz Carlton of man caves, but I like it.

In my cave, I do work, pay bills and, as my father's son, shuffle papers. By confining my mess to this quaint structure I've, for the most part, stopped leaving wrappers and clothing everywhere else.

While some guys might use their caves to avoid their wives or girlfriends, or to isolate themselves from the kids and the world at large, in those cases, the space is just a manifestation of a greater problem. A cave's existence is not cause for therapy. "Man cave" is just a trendy name, not a concept for women (and some men) to loathe.

For me and Michelle, the man cave works. And, like everything else in relationships, it comes down to give and take. I recently took some liberties with my cave that Michelle didn't appreciate by attaching a snack tray to my table, which apparently jutted into the bathroom pathway. She protested the territory grab, so I've relented ... for now.

Does your man have a man cave?


  • A man cave is a dude's ultimate domain.

    NINA PROMER/epa/Corbis
Master of His Domain
A Defense of "The Man Cave"
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