Why arn't men more emotional?
12 March 2008
From Page 9 of Dr. Herb Goldberg's Book What Men Still Don't Know About Women, Relationships, and Love....
"I'm not sure I ever 'got it' when it comes to how to live my life in a way that was original and free," reflected Steven Salt, a retired businessman.
"Of course, like most men, I always believed that I had the answers and that I was not going to live my life the stupid way other men do. I was going to be unique and avoid their mistakes, but instead I'm just another male stereotype. I started off thinking that being and achiever and a 'winner' would be the key to real freedom. So all my energy went that way and I faked everything else when it came to caring about other people. Then I thought I'd marry the 'perfect' woman and be the 'perfect' dad and husband, not like the other married men. I'd be different. But no matter how hard I tried I was forcing it and probably fooling no one but myself. My wife finally left and I barely know who my kids really are.... I fell into all the traps.
Now that I'm in my seventies, I'm becoming just like all those guys I felt sorry for when I was younger- guys with no patience for anyone else's ideas or opinions. I can barely stand to talk to anyone and yet I'm still looking to fulfill myself by meeting the 'perfect' woman. I've become a macho cliche. It's taken me this long to realize that even if she really existed I wouldn't know how to be with her and make it feel good anyway."
It's a pretty scary read and I think most men, especially those in middle age and later, can identify with something in there.
In his book, Dr Goldberg shows us how many men are on a life journey that will take them through the steps he calls "Externalization, Disconnection and Oblivion".
Externalization starts young. As children we are taught to disconnect ourselves from emotional responses, to be rational and to keep our feelings under control. We are taught to focus on competition, achievement and success. Boys don't cry and aren't dependent on others.
Disconnection is what happens when externalization gets extreme. We become emotionally disconnected from ourselves and everyone else. We judge people by what they can do for us rather than by any other measure of worth. All our friendships are based on doing and we may compartmentalize our lives so that we have "drinking buddies", "poker buddies", "fishing buddies" but we still feel like loners and don't mix with those friends outside of those activities. Disconnection represents an erosion of our relationship value system but it doesn't kill our emotional needs, it just denies them and walls them off. Paradoxically, as we are pushing away our wives and families we are becoming more and more dependent on them as our only emotional support. But we are in total denial of it. Our mission consumes us but we are no longer in touch with our feelings or anyone else's. The collapse or divorce, when it comes, totally shocks and surprises us, we don't see it coming - we don't have the ability to see it coming - and we suddenly find that our mission was empty, that there's no value in it without personal connectedness.
The endpoint of disconnection is what Dr Goldberg calls "oblivion". If we are lucky we never reach this point. Chances are that it takes a lifetime to reach Oblivion but if you're unlucky enough to have a single minded drive that doesn't allow anything to get in your way, it can happen a lot sooner. Oblivion is a state of emotional deadness. We believe that we can buy all we need, including relationships. We are cynical to the core, we see the price of everything and the value of nothing. At the same time we believe that we are the only "sane" one. We can't "be" with anyone, we always have to have a focus to any activity. "Hanging out" seems pointless to us, a total waste of time but we can spend hours in isolation reading the papers, watching sport on TV or browsing the internet - activities that require no human interaction. We seek to feel nothing.
Effects of disconnection on men
I think most men have some level of disconnection. When our wives or girlfriends disturb us while we're engaged in some activity we sometimes feel irritation. Why? Is our task so important? Not really, it's just disconnection. Your poker buddy is in an accident and is hospitalized. You don't visit him, why? Disconnection. Why do men rely on their wives to remember the birthdays of their own family members? Disconnection. Once you start looking for it you see it everywhere and the end game is oblivion.
Disconnection is losing your ability to see and feel relationships. Why did Paul McCartney marry and have a child with Heather Mills? Why do rich, successful men get into relationships that prove to be disastrous for them? Do these (usually old) men really believe that these young, beautiful women find them irresistible?
Yes they do. Their disconnection robs them of the ability to see agendas or to see the undercurrents of relationships even when they are obvious to everyone else. They have emotional blindness to their own lives.
Why do some men lose interest in their partners or switch on the TV immediately following orgasm? Dr Goldberg says it's disconnection, moving from one objectifying behavior (woman as an outlet for sexual need) to another (TV as an agent of oblivion.)
Reversing the damage of disconnection
According to Dr. Goldberg, one of the problems of disconnection is that you can't see it happening and you aren't aware that it's happening to you. But if you have read this far and recognize some behaviors or feelings associated with disconnection then what can you do to reverse it?
For a start, cautions Dr Goldberg, forget content solutions - i.e. trying to be different, trying harder. It doesn't work in the long term and will probably only make things worse.
Instead, work on your relationships. This might be hard to do with other disconnected men but you can start with your family and your wife/girlfriend and children. Stop offering cold, clinical solutions to problems, stop offering solutions in the relationship discussions people have with you. Call a friend for no purpose at all other than to chat. Practice being present when you are with people. Listen to them, if you find yourself leaping ahead or wanting to inject your advice or wisdom, hold your tongue. If you find your mind wandering try to bring it back to the here and now. When you're with your kids give yourself up to that time - don't keep checking your phone or email, don't keep wishing you were somewhere else, working toward your mission.
Disconnection wants us to focus on our self-selected mission with rewards somewhere off in the future. It wants us to waste our lives in the pursuit of something that can't bring us happiness. It's not easy but we can choose to live in and enjoy the now. That doesn't mean we have to give up on our mission but we can learn to get some balance back.