The man cave wave is one of those cultural phenomena that just seamlessly assimilated into everyday life, almost as if it has always been there. Where did this craze come from? How did it spread? Who are some of the likely influencers behind it?
The term “man cave” originated in author John Gray’s 1992 book “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”. Gray asserted that, occasionally, male human beings needed to escape to a personal “cave” when relationships or family life became too much to bear.
These retreats allowed men to recollect themselves, and be able to revisit problems with a fresh mind.
Almost three decades later, the phrase is going stronger than ever. Thanks to social media and famous influencers, the man cave culture train will not be stopping soon. Let’s find out how it all started.
Where did the man cave originate?
The man cave, in practice, has probably been in existence since time immemorial. My wager is that for as long as human beings have been living together, especially in a relationship context, males have always needed a temporary escape from perpetually shared spaces. Someplace personal and private, where he can be free with his thoughts, fears, hopes, and ideas.
A large number of women still do not understand why their boyfriends, husbands, fathers, or brothers often need a separate space from the rest of the family. Understandably, and depending on the radicality of the man’s retreat, some ladies may even feel neglected or willfully ignored by these actions. Let us try to bridge the disconnect, then.
One man who shares my earlier opinion, on the underlying motives involved in the establishment of man caves, is world-renowned relationship author John Gray. As the overactive mind behind the best-selling book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, he may be able to provide a reliable answer to our question. His book was an epic literary moment, as it went on to become the best-selling non-fiction work of the 1990s, and third best selling book, overall, in that decade.
Spawning acclaim and criticism in almost equal measure, Gray carefully attempts to simplify the inner workings of male-female relationships, by breaking down the differences between male and female perspectives. These differences, he asserts, extend even to how men and women handle stressful situations.
Men, by nature, are more contemplative and individualistic. They are much less likely to discuss their problems, even with their partners. This is a potential source of conflict because women, in stark contrast, are more inclined towards group development and communication. Women believe in sharing the problem with a concerned listener, regardless of whether there is a clear path to a solution, whereas men believe in minimizing the problem and “rising to the occasion” with a solution.
Gray continues with his stress-reaction theory by claiming that men, when excessively pressured, pull back into their “caves” for a little while to escape, take a breath, and re-gather themselves. After a certain period, they are ready to resurface with a fresh mind and start addressing the problem. It may be pertinent to note that in the book, Gray uses the term “cave” as a metaphor, and not just a physical space. However, his analogies of men retreating to their garages and workshops is a clear illustration of classic man cave escapism, and a good reason to accredit the book as the first piece of media to acknowledge “man caves”.
In most Western societies, the wife is often portrayed as the household’s chief administrator, especially with regards to interior decorations and furnishings. Man caves, as a consequence of this perceived female dictatorship, almost serve as a symbolic push-back. A rebellious final frontier, where men of all ages and backgrounds hold the tattered flag of masculinity aloft with no shame or compromise. Space where the man can finally strip away the gentlemanly mask forced upon him by society, and revert to his primal and instinct-driven side. For married men, in particular, man caves are almost a live-in simulation of their old, and carefree, bachelor lifestyles, visited when the aromas of sweet marital bliss become just a little overpowering.
To be fair to the ladies, though, it is not just men in relationships who need these retreats. Single guys, monks, widowers, etc. also need the occasional moment to unplug from the demands of everyday life, in a bid to find clarity, purpose, or simple peace. “Spiritual hibernation” is an eloquent description one will frequently come across in comment sections on this topic, hinting at the almost compulsive drive for all men to undertake this exercise.
When did man caves become popular?
While this question does not have a definite and official answer, a reasonable estimation would be sometime from the 1990s onwards. The aforementioned Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus was one of the most important pieces of the pop culture behind the man cave’s momentum gain. The book’s real power, with regards to a man’s need for personal space, was the ability to finally put into words what men had been feeling for decades.
Legendary TV characters, such as Tony Soprano from HBO classic The Sopranos, and Eric Forman from That 70’s Show, were some of the more popular man cave kings in mainstream culture. In the new millennium, the suave and silver-tongued gentlemen of AMC’s Mad Men used their swanky Madison Avenue offices to reflect their individual styles, and enable their collective drinking problems.
Ron Swanson (played by Nick Offerman) from NBC hit-show Parks and Recreation, a caricature of the traditional “manly-man”, is also a strong proponent of man-caves. He often speaks of how the solitude brings him comfort, and how he can spend days on end in his sanctuary with nothing but his prized steaks, and a few bottles of bourbon.
Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight film trilogy is probably home to the mother of all man caves…Bruce Wayne’s Batcave. The live-action Batcave is arguably the single most influential concept behind the man cave craze in the 21st century. For starters, it is an ACTUAL cave, which is cool enough as it is. Add the awesome technology and gadgets to that and you have an incredible facility that sent male heart racing. The way the cave ties in with Bruce’s (played by Christian Bale) backstory also underlines its status as one of the factors behind man cave mania.
Another way, through which the concept of man caves is constantly reinforced, is in the multitude of fraternity-focused college films and television shows dominating our screens. From the film Neighbours to the TV series Blue Mountain State, men’s personal spaces are revered, scarce, and almost always worth fighting for.
Most popular man caves in the world
With men, as we all know, competitiveness is always around the corner, and the field of man caves is no different. Many actors, athletes, personalities, and influencers are not missing out on the opportunity to elevate the private sanctuary game to preposterous levels.
One of the more popular man caves, at least in the last few years, is Joe Rogan’s massive studio warehouse in Woodland Hills, California, USA. Home to his gargantuan Joe Rogan Experience podcast, this warehouse is simply a masculine fun-house. A fully equipped international standard gym, with highly specialized devices such as a hyperbaric chamber and spinal decompression machine, is probably the jewel in the crown. The podcast studio itself is no slouch, with a myriad of gifts from his countless celebrity interviewees and friends. The warehouse also features a dedicated gaming room, an indoor archery range, and large deep freezers that usually house Rogan’s hunting spoils. Not bad.
Since we are talking about size, let us talk about an iconic garage. I will admit that calling Jay Leno’s notorious garage a “man cave” may be a bit of a stretch. However, if a man commits to it like a man cave, and it yields man cave-esque results, such as the bright beam between Leno’s chubby cheeks…then it’s a man cave. Located in Burbank, California, Leno’s “Big Dog Garage” is technically TWO adjacent aircraft hangars converted to store his incredible collection of nearly 300 vehicles. Sedans, SUVs, convertibles, hyper-cars, motorcycles, jet-fueled bicycles, you name it. Leno prides himself in never having sold a single one of his cars, and you will (eventually) find him working on one of his many babies. Fun fact? Jay prefers to sort the bulk of his cars by era i.e. cars from the 1940s in one section, cars from the 1950s in another, and so on.
Another famous man cave that may not be as physically large as the aforementioned two, but no less popular, belongs to Swedish YouTube phenomenon PewDiePie (real name Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg). The appeal of this sanctuary does not lie in its astronomical proportions, but rather in its contents. PewDiePie’s man cave has A LOT of cool tech, memorabilia, and collectibles. One of the famous running mysteries here is the secret behind PewDiePie’s personal computer’s specs. No one on the internet knows what he is running under the hood…the ultimate mind game from the ultimate gamer.
Gray, J. (1951). Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus: A Practical Guide for Improving Communication and Getting What You Want in Your Relationships. New York, NY. HarperCollins. 1992.