I was in a hot tub at a convention, meeting “Ruth” the new wife of an old acquaintance, “Jeff”. She was a pretty lady, quite verbose, not shy at all about sharing her opinions (or getting naked in a hot tub) and was holding forth on her theories of male behavior.
I was interested in general, just sort of wondering what kind of lady “Jeff” had hooked up with, but also because…Ruth was a professional therapist. She had warmed to her subject, and the others in the tub were hanging on her every word.
“Men are assholes,” she said.
I raised my eyebrow. “We are?”
She nodded. “Absolutely. And I know this, because I’ve been married seven times.”
The men in the hot tub wilted under that logic. The women swelled: tell it, sister!
I kind of chuckled. “you know,” I said. “There’s only one thing in common between all of your marriages: YOU were there.”
Immediately I was the focus of hostility. How dare I! Well, I dare primarily because I care more about truth than I do how much people like me. And this struck me as the worst kind of self-serving bullshit.
She and Jeff were divorced about ten months later. I kinda hope she tried being a lesbian next, at which juncture she’d discover she’d brought her problems with her (“No matter where you go, there you are” as Buckaroo Banzai said), and the next step in her devolution might be “women have learned men’s bad habits” or even a total retreat: “human beings are assholes.”
As a final, desperate epiphany, she just might…MIGHT one day look in the mirror and ask the most critical question: “Or is it just me?”
Most optometrists wear glasses. I’d noticed that a long time ago, and what it means is that we are attracted to things that impact our own lives. And with therapists, I sort of suspected that they had troubled families, or troubled relationships, and sought answers.
My friend and mentor Jerry Pournelle studied psychology seriously, and actually had a practice for a while. He did a research paper at one point, examining the success rates of different branches and schools and philosophies of mind. And found something fascinating: he found NO real difference in the different schools. The results all depended upon the degree to which the patient trusted the therapist. Their CONFIDENCE in the therapist. And, in a way, the degree to which the therapist embodied the qualities sought by the patient.
In other words, one way of putting it is that the patient has to want to grow up to be the therapist.
Remember that “Adulting train” we spoke of? The Ericksonian concept that we all want the same things, the rough path described by Maslow’s hierarchy or the yogic Chakras? Again, broadly: physical autonomy and security, sexual expression with ethics, control of living environment and a career that supports us with integrity and power, falling in love and creating a family, learning about the world and sharing what we know, aging with dignity and dying at peace.
That’s what about 99% of people want, even if they lie about it.
So what lessons can we draw from Ruth, the hot tub lady?
Once upon a time she was a little girl, who wanted the things other little girls and boys want: a ride on the Adulting train. She may not have understood the implications, but her tribe would present her with models and lessons and opportunities to grow and learn where the tracks were, and how to earn her tickets.
Something went wrong. Perhaps a lack of role models. Perhaps a few bad experiences. Perhaps something innate. I’ll never know. But she began to experience pain along the way. Relationships went wrong, and she asked “why?”
The HEALTHY response would be “I’m doing something wrong. I’m making bad choices in partners or behaviors. I can learn better. I can DO better.”
The UNHEALTHY response would be: “Things are going wrong. If its me, that means I’m broken. I cannot face that, so I’ll blame THEM.”
With the theory that “men are assholes” what is her relationship history going to be? What kind of men will she attract and be attracted to?
And yes, in a sense, it is JUST that simple. I remember talking to another woman who claimed something similar. “All the men I meet are assholes,” she complained. I was riding on a bus with her, and had a little time to probe. I was interested in what she was really saying.
“ALL men?” I asked. I was interested, because heck, she knew ME, and if she was saying I was an asshole, I wanted clarity.
But after a little pushing, the truth came out: “well, not all men.”
“And what happens when you meet a guy who isn’t?”
She flushed a little, embarrassed. “I’m not attracted to them,” she said.
Oh. THAT little thing.
Get it? If “men are assholes” is true, then what happens when you meet a guy who isn’t one? “Not an asshole? Then you aren’t a man.”
My first “real” girlfriend tried to push me into hitting her. Why? According to the lessons she’d learned from her mother, that was what a “real” man did. He kept his woman in line. If he wouldn’t bat you around, how could you trust him to stand up to other men to protect you and your children.
Needless to say I got out of THAT relationship quickly. Not immediately, I have to confess. The implications of her being my first “real” girlfriend should be sorta clear. Let’s just say that she turned me out, and leave it at that, shall we? Ah, the memories are still steamy…
Ahem. Back to the scheduled programming. “Men are assholes. Therefore, if you aren’t an asshole, you aren’t a man.”
Can you imagine anything more poisonous? THAT’S the internal definition. That means that she will either SEEK assholes, or if she’s in a relationship with a “nice guy” she will push him until he BECOMES an asshole…or leaves.
If you can’t see the toxicity in this, your eyes are closed. And no, its not women learning from men–that is an incredibly sexist attitude, and your natural mate would be a man who thinks men learn THEIR bad attitudes from women. Have fun. You guys deserve each other.
The truth is that both men and women act like human beings, and one thing human beings do is warp their perceptions so that the world matches their image of it, which is connected to their self-image.
So…what would be Ruth’s way out?
- Love herself. Deeply, and fully. If you do, you treat yourself the way you would your most precious and beloved child. We see children as vessels of infinite potential. We KNOW that they are ignorant now…but will grow and strengthen and learn and mature. We have DEEP faith in this. And if you love yourself deeply enough, you will not fear to look at your flaws. They do not determine your future, regardless of the voices in your head.
- Commit to loving another human being. Admit that this is what you want, and crave: a loving bonded relationship. Building a family, even if it is only the two of you. What is necessary to do this? Remember the “Adulting Train”? Before you get to the heartspace, you need to have physical autonomy, ethical sexual expression, and financial security. Put it in animal terms: you need to be a healthy forest creature who can hunt, gather, and build a nest. Simple. But obviously some animals think they can skip that lesson.
- Understand humanity without guilt, blame or shame. Develop a theory of relationships that admits that healthy ones exist. Don’t “blame” either side for the flaws: trust me, if you talk to gay men and women, the exact same b.s. crops up. It isn’t about men or women. It is about people. And if you have a pattern of bad relationships? It is about YOU. If you love yourself, and expand your sense of “self” to include one other human being AT LEAST, you begin to understand that we are all doing the best we can, all have wounds and blessings, and that if love is one of life’s great gifts, we owe it to ourselves to make love more important than ego, and learn to commit to the path.
Those are the first three steps in the process. If Ruth had followed them, she would have had the courage to look in the mirror and say: “I am making bad choices in men, and in behaviors. My view of life is skewed, and I can’t deal with the fact that I’m attracting who I AM rather than what I WANT.”
As painful as that realization is, so long as you have faith that you can heal, and change, and grow, it is the door to freedom and happiness. It is becoming an adult in the world.
And if you aren’t an adult? Don’t have physical and emotional autonomy? Take responsibility for your life and not blame others for your actions and emotions? Don’t have financial independence?
Well…some would say that in that case, you shouldn’t be playing adult games, sex being chief among them. You have some growing up to do before you activate the reproductive circuitry.
And sitting in your white coat prescribing glasses for other people doesn’t imply your eyesight is particularly good. And if you REALLY care about your patients…you make damned sure YOU can really read the chart before you start prescribing.
(We will explore all five steps of the Lifewriting “adulting” process in our SOULMATE PROCESS class starting February 16th. Totally FREE to the first 200 people. Learn more at: www.soulmateprocess.com)