Sometimes I go about in pity for myself and all the while
A great wind is bearing me across the sky.
The country song is wrong that: Behind Every Good Man, There is a Good Woman. A good man must start being behind himself first. Only then will he be free to choose a good woman. He won’t be desperate, pretending to be able to make a choice which is actually the voice of his neediness. The work is to get beyond neediness which only sets up unhealthy love-killing dependencies.
For those of you from the Judeo-Christian tradition, you may recall in the Old Testament when Moses says to God, Tell me your name, so I can tell it to the non-believers. All God will say is YHWH (we added the vowels later), which many Biblical scholars have translated as, I am who I am.
But my own favorite interpretation from an enlightened Biblical scholar is, I am who I will become. I believe that speaks more to the 21st Century male who has removed the boundaries as to how far he can grow.
Now consider your main male model – usually dad. Or if you had an absent father, then an uncle, coach, teacher, family friend. You can pretend you’ve arrived spontaneously in adulthood, but you didn’t. Your models were crucial to your development. So think what patterns of relationship with women you learned from those men.
Now having considered this a little deeper, what will you do the same, and what differently next time.
In this situation, you may already be different if you had a dad who was physically gone, or emotionally gone in one of the many ways available: working too much, drinking too much, whatever too much. You may have decided, I want to be anything BUT dad. Such a different position isn’t any more mature than the same as dad, except when it helps you break out of your cocoon.
In other words, men mature in two ways. They often start, or get stuck, as a lot like their dad. Or they can try rebellion. That’s the anything but position. Both of these are way stations on the road to becoming mature enough to have a mutually beneficial, not dependent, relationship with a woman.
Let’s look at your roles. What are they? Which are you having to give up now? Husband, son-in-law, father (or the father who was par t of a twosome)
Who will you be on the other side of all this?
You won’t like hearing this, but no matter how long or how many relationships it takes to get beyond dependency to one which works and truly feeds your soul, that’s the road you must travel. After my comment about how long or how many, you’re probably ready to run in front of a bus. DON’T. Personally, I would never have dreamed how long it takes. Each of us has different levels of damage to work through. The flip side of all this is some guys report getting closer to their dads in this process.
Assignment: It can be remarkably freeing to go back and thank the men who helped you become who you are today, even with your imperfections. In church this is called gratitude. Start with dad if you have one, then the other role models mentioned a few paragraphs ago: teacher, coach, uncle, family friend, whoever. Don’t try to figure this one out, just trust me and do it. I promise this will help unless you chose s.o.b.s – those guys don’t count. But many by now will have mellowed even if they were tough guys when you were younger.
So who will you thank?
After doing so, what did it feel like?
All we can do is stay on the road. A few diversions along the way are inevitable, so don’t beat yourself up when you fall into old patterns. The good news is that if you fall into the same old type of relationship, it’ll hurt, but you can get a better sense of how much dependency is left for you to work through.
The crucial difference to explore is between the words need and choice. Many times I’ve told myself, OK, now I REALLY am past neediness. Only to have another relationship tank when really I was afraid to get too close. That is one form of reaction to neediness.
As soon as possible when a relationship ends, take responsibility for your part of the break up, and work on forgiving yourself and her. Until you do, you won’t have the energy to try again – not that you should race to do that.
And if your ex wants to keep the anger running, it may mean she misses the sex and intimacy, since anger’s better than nothing, and she’s trying to substitute. But anger is a gift of authentic feeling, and I doubt you want to be giving her lots of presents right now, so don’t respond to her rage, stay calm in the storm.
I studied with a great psychotherapist. One of the first things he taught me was that we pretend we want to get well, but secretly we want the rest of the world to be screwed up, not us. I will never be able to thank him for all I learned from him and how gently, skillfully, and without condemnation he uncovered my secrets.
One concept I really struggled with was forgiveness. He kept saying, because he knew I couldn’t get it, The hardest to forgive will be yourself. I always thought, It’s some ‘bitch’ or some ‘son-of-a-bitch’ who needs to be forgiven, not me.
Then one day I finally understood really nobody had made me make one poor choice or another. I’d managed it all on my own. I hated knowing that since I couldn’t forgive myself. That was the day I began to break the back of my judgment of others and to take responsibilitiy for my own actions.
Speaking of models, don’t listen to critical parents or old people who babble, We’ve been happily married for 60 years. Right, but with very few exceptions, we wouldn’t call them happy or fulfilled.
I get asked all the time if pre-nuptial agreements are unromantic. (A pre-nup generally means the one bringing the bulk of the money into a relationship will get to keep that money if the relationship dissolves.)
Actually what is unromantic is another break up. It is just your ego which thinks you can see the future – no matter how many wedding vows you’ve taken, sorry you could be wrong about this one too. So many of us guys are still looking for a mom.
The great French-German poet, Rilke, said approximately 110 years ago (so this is nothing trendy): I hold this to be the highest task of a bond between two people: that each should stand guard over the solitude of the other.
It is a big mistake when we try what true love too often embodies: one person dissolving into another. That is typically what the very young and naïve call love. It usually doesn’t make it ten years and makes up much of the divorce statistics. So dissolving into each other is romantic nonsense, but it usually takes at least one marriage before people begin to understand about things like having separate bank accounts. Do you see that is part of being an independent or what Rilke called solitude?
In the real world you don’t know squat about what will last until you are about ten years into a marriage. That is three years past the famous seven year itch. I never made it past that itch.
You know how when you are first married, when she says to you, Honey, I love you, I love you. You get mushy inside. Then after about a year when she says the same thing, you say, Fine, but will you help me with some yard work?
Paraphrased from Werner Erhard
Life usually boils down to these three: sex, power, and money. If you make it to ten years, you might have reasonable grounds for mixing your money. I would still recommend getting some counseling before you do that to see when that makes sense. This is a responsible way to use counseling: find somebody you trust to stand outside your marriage and give you good tune up advice every once in a while. It is getting more popular for young couples to find older ones to act as ‘marriage mentors.’ Very good idea.
At this point you may think I am a terminal skeptic. So fine, look back at the statistics I gave you on divorce in the Forward. You can let your ego get way out of control and pretend those stats don’t apply to you. Sorry you aren’t immune or exempt. Nobody is. BTW, I advise women to exercise the same caution.
Instead of pretending you can beat those odds, keep reviewing this chapter. This isn’t material you can absorb overnight.