The groundbreaking book that breaks the silence of the male code.
Why do men fall out of love? It’s rarely a simple issue of attraction, sex, or money trouble. In this provocative no-holds-barred guide, Michael French brings unparalleled insight into the male psyche and reveals why so many men feel trapped, unhappy, or unfulfilled, and what women can do about it.
Based on interviews with men from all ages and walks of life this grippingly honest book illustrates why, when it comes to relationships, so many men feel “outgunned and outmatched” by women. Discover:
· The 4 relationship busters that lead couples to flounder and sink–the loss of intimacy / the quest for validation / the perfection impulse / the fading of attraction–and strategies for dealing with them head-on
· Six key reasons why men fall out of love–from issues of identity, power, and fear to stereotypes about who they really are and what they want
· The truth about men and (mis)communication–and ways for them to open up
· Three questions a woman needs to ask a man before she becomes emotionally involved
· The Relationship Audit–how couples can figure out what is driving them apart and find ways to mend their relationship
By finally bringing men’s true feelings to the surface, Michael French offers a dramatic new approach to understanding men and their hidden emotions. This guide illuminates the deeper reasons why men fall out of love and, more important, shows how relationships can be healed.
“An impressive, insightful, and completely accessible view deep into the heart’s of men and their struggle with love.”
–Joel D. Block, Ph.D., author of Naked Intimacy
“Read this brilliant book and untie the knot of life– why does love fade?”
–Susan Braudy, former editor of Ms. Magazine
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Michael French is a businessman and author who divides his time between Santa Barbara, California, and Santa Fe, New Mexico. He is an avid high-altitude mountain trekker, as well as a collector of first editions of 20th-century fiction. He has published more than books, including fiction, young adult fiction, biographies, and art criticism. His novel, Abingdon’s, was a bestseller and a Literary Guild Alternate Selection. His young adult novel, Pursuit, was awarded the California Young Reader Medal.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The Hidden Lives of Men
For each man kills the thing he loves.
There are many stories by women about why they leave their husbands, partners, or lovers, but few by men who head for the exits. Are they not getting the attention they want? Are they simply tired of, bored with, or frustrated by their partners and want to trade them in—as if shopping for a car—for a newer, shinier model? Are they filled with so much anger, frustration, or confusion about their relationships, or other parts of their lives, that they don’t know what else to do but leave? Maybe they’re hoping to find a new woman to save them, or they’re chasing a lost childhood. Many are clueless about where their emotions come from and how they work—they understand the effect but not the cause—and how important their childhood is to the man and intimate partner they ultimately become.
Their confusion also comes from mixed messages they receive from women. On the one hand, men are often chided for not being emotional or sensitive enough, but they also hear that emotions are a woman’s domain and that men can’t possibly understand their complexity or compete with women in this arena. So men think, with linear male logic, why bother becoming something, or attempt to master a skill, they can’t possibly succeed at?
For men, falling in love seems relatively straightforward. It usually starts with physical attraction and/or infatuation, followed by an emotional connection, then attachment, openness, and trust and, as the relationship matures, companionship, a sense of responsibility, and dependency. Falling out of love is usually more gradual, complex, and unsettling, not just for its painful impact but because of the subtle, dimly understood reasons behind it. The thief who steals love away is sometimes another being who lives inside us. Often he is the child we once were and then abandoned prematurely. The thief is also the incessant voice of our masculinity, and our passive willingness to accept traditional male stereotypes. It is as well the “binge and purge” values of popular culture; the struggle to find healthy role models; the conscious and unconscious behavior of our female partners; and, not least, the difference between how men and women learn, think, and communicate.
The ten stories here offer different insights on why men struggle with love. One insight, hardly groundbreaking but still important, is that the nest and its boundaries send a mixed message to a man almost from the beginning. On the one hand, there is the idea of “growing up” and “settling down” and having a family—a primary definition of masculinity. On the other, most men, at some level, are inherently uncomfortable in a committed relationship. They think or fantasize about whether they chose the right partner, and isn’t it too bad that they have to settle for just one woman because no one partner can satisfy a man on every level. Men tend to want it all, even if they’re afraid to say so out loud, or admit that, practically speaking, the goal is impossible. The irony is that when their relationships run into trouble, men, rather than leave, often stay—out of convenience or habit, fear of the unknown, the sense that quitting means failure, or the belief that somehow they can fix the problem. The underlying assumption behind all four reasons—ubiquitous in male culture—is that a man must always feel in control of his own world.
In any relationship, as early infatuation gives way to the daily routine and compromises of living together, men dwell specifically on the limitations on their sexual freedom. What a woman may happily define as “security” and “comfort” often comes without the consent of a man’s hormones. Perhaps he understood the theory of giving up his freedom before entering the relationship, but reality is another matter. For many, suppressing their attraction to other women comes at the price of finding fault with their partners or themselves, retreating into passive-aggressive behaviors, or wanting to escape from their relationships whenever possible. Men like this may simply not be emotionally ready for a serious commitment, but even when they are ready, their hormonal and psychological makeup mean a need for exploration and a certain amount of freedom.
As hoary a stereotype as it may be, this is the basic definition of a hunter-gatherer. This does not imply a license to pursue other intimate relationships, but it does mean finding healthy outlets for independence, self-assertion, and emotional fulfillment: a world without women. Exclusive male enclaves can mean anything from car clubs, investment groups, sports, Rotary meetings, prayer groups, breakfast clubs, or just time alone for thinking or reading. In J. R. Moehringer’s memoir, The Tender Bar, his adolescence and manhood are largely shaped by the company of men who gather in a bar to drink, to vent, and to be honest about their feelings, whether or not they are politically correct. The theme is men respecting and caring for other men. It is also about being unintimidated, deflecting judgment, and burying your pain, including that caused by women, before it buries you.
Men who are work and responsibility obsessed often feel guilty if they have too much free time or hang out with other men. They think that they are “doing nothing,” and that being unproductive is somehow unmasculine. In reality, “doing nothing” can be invaluable therapy. In the Manhasset bar where Moehringer centers his story, doing nothing but drinking means men running from their problems, looking for distractions, fantasizing about women, and being lost boys. Not all men are lost boys, but as Moehringer implies, many feel trapped or taken for granted. It’s often assumed by our culture that boys will grow up on their own to become men because, after all, manhood, unlike being a woman, is just not that complicated. As Moehringer finds out, it takes not just a nurturing mother but lots of men—the bar is his metaphor for a much larger and more diverse male universe—to grow a boy into a man. If men are honest, most will admit they need a private world where they are not judged or stereotyped by women, and give themselves permission to explore whatever needs exploring. They need space. They need a place to feel safe.
In most cases, if your relationship is healthy, it’s your partner who is your safe harbor, but even the best relationships don’t satisfy all needs. Psychologists have written on the necessity for men and women to keep growing emotionally outside of their primary relationships. In the last generation or two, women have learned the value of growth through independence, but men appear to be far less confident and adventurous, as if they don’t trust their instincts, have a fear of making a mistake, are afflicted with guilt, or think they will earn the disapproval of their partners if they become too independent. They rationalize that they don’t have time for such self-indulgence. Whether men restrict their own growth and freedom or they allow their partners to intimidate them, if opportunities for self-assertion and exploration are cut off, falling out of love may be the result.
Where does this male vulnerability and lack of confidence come from? In the opening scene of Martin Scorsese’s film, The Aviator, a preadolescent Howard Hughes is being given a bath by his beautiful Victorian mother. As she caresses his chest and arms with a bar of soap, we sense his vulnerability as well as their mutual adoration. His mother seems in total control of Hughes’s emotions, and what she is telling him—to be afraid of people who have typhus and cholera—is reinforced when she asks him to spell the word “quarantine.” After making sure he understands the danger of disease and germs, she adds, “you are not safe.” This may be a mother who has only the best of intentions—she just wants to keep her son alive—but the unintended consequence of her message is that Hughes develops a lifelong fear of not just germs and disease, but of failure at almost every level.
On the surface, Hughes’s adult life is a chronicle of one brazen accomplishment after another, as if to show the world and himself that he is a superhero. Ever the perfectionist, he is as hard on himself as on those around him. He also tries to be perfect in order to push away his fears. At his core, however, the dark message from his mother prevails. He is afraid—of germs, of losing his mind, of rejection by those he loves, of having his weaknesses exposed to the public—but he can’t make himself tell anyone. He tries to be confessional with his principal love interest, Kate Hepburn, who reminds us in some ways of his mother. But Hughes is never totally candid with her. He thinks his problems will ultimately go away because, after all, he is the genius and superhero who can conquer anything.
In the end, as in a Greek tragedy, Hughes’s fears destroy him. The bar of soap he carries in his pocket is more than evidence of an obsessive-compulsive disorder or germ phobia: it is an ironic message that his problems are internal. Like many men who are boxed in by their fears, Hughes feels alone in the universe. He can’t love any of the women he so badly wants to connect with. He is afraid they will abandon him because he thinks he isn’t worthy of their love. Overwhelmed by his fears, he retreats emotionally and physically from the world. In his heart he kills almost everything he has loved. Only the beautiful, shiny planes he designs and flies—objects that can never abandon him—seem safe for his affection.
The film’s depiction of Hughes is not unlike the lives of many of the men I interviewed. Rather than admit their fears, they preferred to hide behind their relationships, their bravado, their achievements, or other definitions of masculinity. Any display of weakness, any admission of confusion or unworthiness—not just for Hughes, but for a lot of men—are camouflaged by acts of reckless courage, indifference, anger, or denial. Any emotion that reflects vulnerability is the enemy. Anger in particular is used by men as a wall to hide their vulnerability.
Hughes’s life was not unlike the movies he made, which were essentially dramatizations of male fantasies. For a lot of men, day-to-day reality is an oppressive world—a place of stress, tedium, ambiguity, endless responsibility and accountability—a world of shadows more than light, and from which they long to escape, if only they knew how. Male fantasies, running the gamut from sexual to the urge to be a superhero, are fundamentally about needing to retreat from a male world that is tightly and unforgivingly restrictive—to a male world that is unfettered, without responsibility, and judgment-free.
The Hazards of Masculinity
Masculinity was described to me by one man as a drive down a dark and endless highway, without road signs, rest stops, or any warning when serious danger is approaching and it’s time to turn around. Once you were on the highway, he thought, there was nothing you could do about it. That was your fate. You just kept driving until the car died, you were buried in a rock slide, or you were so lost there was no hope of reaching your destination, assuming you knew what that destination was in the first place. Men love fatalism—it’s one of their romantic streaks—perhaps because it relieves them of responsibility for making crucial choices, which they will be blamed for if things go wrong. Masculinity is both a problem and a solution for men. A problem because no one is quite sure how to define the term—something about ambition, leadership, and responsibility—and a solution because, despite a lack of clarity, it is a familiar and acceptable concept, a refuge, a place to hide. In The Tender Bar, the author learns from his hard-drinking mentors that every man has a mountain and a cave in his life—the mountain he is supposed to climb, and a cave, such as the bar, to hide in when he betrays, or has been betrayed by, his ambition.
The blueprint of masculinity, according to many psychologists, is embedded more deeply in our culture and in their DNA than men want to acknowledge. One problem for men is that not only do they have difficulty defining the “M” word, so do women. One young woman told me that masculinity meant having rugged good looks, acting like a gentleman, exhibiting confidence and independence, being competitive and successful, possessing the skills of a great lover, having courage, and being emotionally strong. When I suggested that no man I knew could deliver that Prince Charming package, she said that didn’t stop her from looking for her knight in shining armor. Somehow she expected more from men than she did of her own gender. But men may be even harder on themselves. Those I interviewed recited the following components of masculinity: having a beautiful woman who loves them; being athletic; being the breadwinner, problem solver, stoical leader, and fearless warrior; making (and keeping) lots of money; having power and authority, confidence, and a sense of humor; being rational and not overly emotional; being practical and expedient; independent, and selfsustaining; being competitive and successful and achieving on every level; being a sexual stud as well as an empathetic lover, a responsible and loving father, and a family’s provider and protector. Most of these are noble or idealized roles, and while no one claimed to have all these qualities, quite a few men said they thought they were supposed to have as many as possible. This is what they believed their culture, and women, expected of them. To be as close to perfect as possible was the masculine ideal, or at least not reveal your weaknesses and deficiencies. That men fall short of this goal, often dramatically—and how they feel about their failures—is just one of the secrets they don’t like to talk about.
Admitting that the various definitions of masculinity are often in conflict with one another is one way to start breaking through the silence of the male code. One man told me it was drummed into him as a boy that, when he grew up, he had to succeed in his profession. There was no other option, his father said, if he wanted to respect himself and win the respect of others. An attorney now, putting in sixty- to seventy-hour weeks, he’s had difficulty finding time to be a responsible husband and father—another definition of masculinity. When finally confronted by his partner, who demanded more of his affection and attention or else, he reluctantly agreed to a divorce rather than give up his career path or even cut down on his hours. While some women might also choose their careers over meeting family needs, I would guess the percentage pales in comparison to men. Several women told me they thought that most men define themselves by their work, but the majority of women—no matter how many hours they put in at their job—define themselves by what they do outside of work.
Just as lemmings charge blindly into the sea, men follow their primal definitions of masculinity with often unconscious devotion. It’s the dark side of the herd instinct: they’re too afraid not to follow. If a man has thought about it, however, he will tell you that wanting to be “a man” leads him down the slippery path of repressed emotions, deceit, frustration, and making difficult if not impossible choices. It can also lead to a fear and distrust of women. Some men I spoke with thought that it was easier being miserable on one level or another than to figure out a face-saving exit from their relationships without blowing their masculine cover. They had put themselves in a box, voluntarily, and closed the lid as if to prevent escape—but why? If it’s all right for women to be afraid or anxious, or to talk about their failures, or seek help from one ano...
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