Thursday, November 26, 2015

Aggression and vulnerability

Aggression doesn't get much love.

There has to be more to it than that. We (and hundreds of other species) wouldn't have evolved to display aggression if it didn't accomplish something useful.

It's primarily a defensive tactic. Acting in an aggressive manner is sort is like waving a gun around without meaning to use it. We hope that it will deter others without our having to follow through. Thus, aggression often makes us weaker. The only person aggression works for is the person who intends to follow through. In gun safety classes, they tell you never to pull a gun out unless you intend to shoot someone. That applies to aggression as well.

I recently had to deal with an unacceptably aggressive man and, unlike what I usually do, I thought through all the above. The first thing I did was to determine that he could not hurt me. Or, to put it another way, that should he do his worst, I could live with the consequences. Once I was satisfied that I had more moral and physical strength, I worked out my response. My strategy was threefold: 1) Forget about him and what he wants and relentlessly focus on my desired outcome; 2) Remember that while the aggressive actor needs an immediate response it is not in my interest to give it to him; 3) Stand up for what I wanted in a quiet but unshakeable way. It was a little unnerving how completely he caved.

Hiding your vulnerabilities isn't exactly the same thing as aggression but it is driven by similar motives. If, like me, you come from a family where people who were supposed to support you instead used your vulnerabilities to manipulate you, you will have learned that it's a bad idea to let unsafe people know where your vulnerabilities are.

And you will have learned the further lesson that just because someone loves you doesn't mean they are can be trusted. But it also doesn't follow that once you've located someone who can be trusted that they will love you or continue to love you. That's something we just have to live with. There is nothing you, or anyone else, can do about it.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Asking for love

Yesterday, I was talking about love being something you don't have to ask for. Okay, but what can we do with that knowledge?

Weird leap: research tells us that the submissive partner in a love relationship is more vocal than the dominant one. Are you vocal during sex? Are you more vocal than she is? Vocal here means both words and sounds you make. The take home point is that if you keep talking about what you want with the woman in your life you're sending her a very clear signal that you are the submissive partner in this relationship.

And there is this helpless little boy inside us who wants to blurt out that he needs love and, damn it, this is what he'll do what he needs to to get it.

In the end, she may not love you. Or, she may love you for a while and then stop. Or, she may intend to love you but just doesn't know how to love a man and has no intention of figuring out how to fix that. And the whiney little boy inside you probably can't change that. And even if he succeeds, it comes at a price you shouldn't want to pay.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

If you have to ask for it, it's not love

There is, of course, a necessary qualification: there will be things that the person you love can't guess. Sometimes you may have to tell them what you like and don't like.

But if it doesn't happen if you don't ask, she doesn't really love you.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Jealousy is often really about you

I was listening to an interesting podcast at The Art of Charm about retroactive jealousy. That is when you get jealous of your girlfriend's or wife's past partner.* If you have any reason to believe that that applies to you, check out the podcast.

What interests me here, however, is how the case of retroactive jealousy allows us to see in particularly clear light that a large component of all jealousy it is really about you. It stands out in this case because you don't typically know much about this person you're jealous about. In some cases, you've never met them and, even if you did, it was probably a limited and strained conversation. So the jealousy you feel about this person is mostly your insecurities projected onto them.

It's perfectly normal to feel a little doubt at the start of a relationship but that should fade over time. But if you still feel jealous about someone's ex months or years into a relationship there is a problem. When that happens, it is your insecurity, your sense of being an impostor that is at work. And the solution is to work on yourself. Self-love is crucial. Yes, it can be overdone but I am convinced that there are far more people who are suffering from a lack of self-love than an excess of it in this world. You cannot love anyone else, not even God, if you cannot love yourself.

In a small number of cases you can be consumed with jealousy and unable to see it because it feels like you have lots of objective evidence to confirm it. The jealousy you feel, instead of the anger you ought to feel, is really driven by your fear of leaving her. You think there is something wrong with you, that you only lucked into getting this woman to be with you, that you'll be all alone forever if you dump her. And that is blinding you. You can't see that she is the problem and that the sooner you get rid of this selfish jerk who is sucking all the energy out you, the happier you will be.

* I'm a man and unapologetically write as one. You can always reverse this and apply it the other way if you are a woman or gay or lesbian. That would require some adjustments because there are huge differences between men and women. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Another image: What are they selling?

 Okay, this may seem obvious. They're selling a birthday card.

But what is the woman who buys this card selling?

It doesn't help to know that the inside is a cheap joke about calling Chicken Delight because they have the best legs around. Ha ha.

But step back and consider the larger message. It's suggestive and slutty on the outside and cold-hearted denial on the inside. That's pretty much the exact opposite of what a man wants in a relationship. And, for an added bonus, she's mocking you for wanting what you want.

Why would that be appealing? Why would you want to get into or stay in a relationship with a woman who is sending you that message?

Thursday, November 12, 2015


I was asked to comment about an exhortation directed to Catholic men by the Thomas J Olmsted, Bishop of Phoenix. These opening words give you a good sense of what it's about:
I begin this letter with a clarion call and clear charge to you, my sons and brothers in Christ: Men, do not hesitate to engage in the battle that is raging around you, the battle that is wounding our children and families, the battle that is distorting the dignity of both women and men. This battle is often hidden, but the battle is real. It is primarily spiritual, but it is progressively killing the remaining Christian ethos in our society and culture, and even in our own homes.
My short answer is that there is a lot of good in the piece and that it's well worth your time to read it.

My longer answer is to wonder about the word "ethos". It has two meanings. In one sense it is a place, a cultural place, where you truly fit. If you were a sports coach who cared little for weddings and you go to wedding planners convention, you would be out of your ethos. If you went to a clinic about coaching young athletes, you'd be in your ethos. You'd walk into the room and you'd fel at home. And that would be true even if you were a neophyte coach and you were quite certain everyone else in the room was more qualified than you because, even then, you'd know you had a place. But it can also mean proving you have the right to be in the place you are. When I stand up in front of a group of young Catholics to discuss marriage and their plans for marriage, I need to show them that I'm worth listening to.

So the question is, in which of those two senses is "the remaining Christian ethos in our society and culture and even in our own homes" at risk? Is the problem that safe Christian spaces are being undermined from within and without. It certainly feels that way sometimes. And there are people, one of my nephews for example, who would like to see Christians driven from the public square, seeing us as no better than con artists. But it behooves us to ask the question from the other side as well: Has Christianity lost its credibility to speak to the larger culture and is that what's really making the assault Bishop Olmsted worries about so successful? And here, I'm afraid, we must answer in the positive.

It's interesting, in that regard, that Bishop Olmsted, is appealing to lay men for help. For what motivates this exhortation is a belief that the health of Christianity, especially Catholic Christianity, would be improved if Catholic laymen manned up.
For decades now, a model for manhood has been fashioned in the fictional British spy character named James Bond. Various actors have taken turns portraying this man who, in several adventures, has proposed what it means to be “manly,” yet Bond remains an enigma. Like the women that he uses in the films, the ones who watch him find themselves wanting to know him. He is never a father, nor does he accept responsibility for or love one woman. In him, we see a man whose relationships are shallow and purely utilitarian. Indeed, “James Bond is a male character whose name is the height of irony. He is 40 years old and has no bonds. He is actually pathetic.”
I don't disagree with that but, whatever else you might say about him, James Bond has ethos in the second sense. Sure, it's fantasy ethos and there is something no-quite-grown-up about it but Bond, like all action-heroes and superheroes speaks to a real desire that men have. That so many men seek it in such a ridiculously fake form as James Bond tells us a lot about how hard it is for them to believe in this in real life. It's not just that Bond is fiction as that he couldn't be anything but fiction. Outside of a tiny percentage of certifiable nut cases, every male Bond fan knows that he is embracing a  whacky fantasy. That so many have given up on finding any real hope for ethos in the real world is telling.

And that is the question I have for the Catholic church: what opportunity for ethos does it offer lay men? I ask because I don't think Catholic lay men will come riding to the rescue of a church where they don't feel they are in their ethos and where they feel that their credibility as men is constantly undercut. If all we have to offer such men is a long list of responsibilities that they shoudl man up and fill, they won' be coming to help us any time soon.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Women who won't sit facing backwards on the train

You meet a lot of women, and even a few men, who think that making a fuss about sitting facing backwards on the train is a reasonable thing to do.

If you challenge them, they won't even try to pretend that their position is reasonable (because it isn't) but neither will they waver. The final authority is their feelings. They will admit the arguments for why they should get over it but will insist that they just don't feel comfortable. And that is where the reasonable person (meaning you) gives up.

But here's the thing: it's easy to get over the feelings of discomfort. You just force yourself to do it and the feeling of discomfort goes away—we all train ourselves to get used to far more difficult things. You know this and you know that she also knows (or should know) and that is why it irritates you when she makes a fuss. In the end, though, it's just another discomfort to put up with so ypu give in.

But do you make a judgment about her? I think men generally don't consciously reach judgments about women in our lives at moments like this and I think we should. Judge but don't condemn. Notice it and add it to your file on her.

What this tells you is that she is scared of being out of control but, rather than directly confronting this problem, she likes to play little games that allow her to maintain the illusion of being in control even when she isn't. And now, having established the principle, it's a matter of determining degree. How much of this sort of game-playing does she indulge in? In the long run, that is a far more important consideration than how hot her body is.

Of course, there is also the beam in our own eye. I also play games rather than accept that I can't control what life is going to throw at me. And yes, I should do something about it. But, if I do, that not only entitles me to make judgments about others, it obliges me to because that is what it takes to love others as yourself.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

What's really behind the Man Rules

I think something interesting is going on in male culture right now. And it isn’t what it appears to be. The men driving the renewal often speak of what they are doing as something that has never been seen before but I think what they are doing is more of a renaissance of manliness. They are rediscovering something that was lost.

I caught an interesting example of this on a podcast at The Art of Charm that I listened to yesterday. It was posted on July 29 of this year and is called The  Man Rules and featured a sociologist named Dan Griffin. Griffin argues that there are a series of socially derived rules for being a man that we have all internalized and that these have positive and negative aspects about them. In order to not be sabotaged by them, a man needs to know about the rules and to be conscious of the ways they affect his life. So far so good.

You can guess a lot about where Griffin is going to go with this just in the language he uses. Note, for example, how he uses negative and positive formulations of the same rules. He didn’t intend to set these up as vice-virtue pairs but I’m going to do that for him and, when I do, you will be able to see that Griffin has accidentally uncovered some ancient wisdom.

There are two things going on here. The first, as is obvious when we look at the chart above, is that Griffin has rediscovered virtue ethics without realizing it. The second is something that Robert Glover showed us in No More Mr, Nice Guy years ago: that hiding your vulnerabilities is no way to be a man—that concealing your weakness is no way to be strong. To be a man is to accept that there are risks and that there are no safe ways to live if you want to have meaningful relationships.

That second point is not obvious from the above chart alone for it shows only binary pairs. To get it, we need to consider that there are two extremes for each vice. If you are swept up by everything that provokes an emotional response in you, that will destroy your integrity. You'' be able to tell one woman that you love and treasure her and then go across town and say the same things to another lover. So you have to know how to control your emotions in order to have integrity. Paradoxically, you also have to nurture your emotions to have integrity. If aren't afraid of losing someone, you'll never value her in your actions and you'll betray her not by cheating on her but by failing to love her adequately. Your claim of love will be an empty sham.

Griffin, interestingly, takes the manly values, beginning with the ones listed in the chart above, to be socially given, “from your parents, from the schoolyard". And that they certainly are but they are also built on a solid biological foundation. A powerful hint that this is so can be found in Griffin’s saying that the man rules are universal; that while there are local variations, you find these in every culture. And that ought to give us pause because the odds against every culture throwing up more or less the same set of gender rules are very high. These aren’t gender rules, they are sex rules. These are the rules that derive from your having both an X and  Y chromosome and all that follows from that.

And that jumps right out at us when Griffin and Art-of-Charm host Jordan Harbinger discuss sex. Griffin lays it out as categorically as he can:
You can take all the rules of sex and you can condense them into one sentence: have as much sex as possible, whenever possible with as many hot women as possible.
He’s wrong. There is a second sentence he doesn’t know about and I’ll get to that in a minute. The important thing to grasp is that what Griffin treats as a cultural determination is a biological fact. For men, there are two successful evolutionary strategies and one of them is the sower strategy, which is to attempt to impregnate as man women as possible so as to created better odds of your genes being passed on. And that is Griffin’s one sentence.

The second sentence, the one he doesn’t know about, is:
Form a solid and lasting bond with one woman, protect and feed her and help her raise the children you produce together.
That also improves the odds of your passing on your genes because any children you and this woman have will have a better chance of surviving.

Civilizations tend to be built on the latter of the two options. When civilizations crumble, the first will reassert itself. But the first never goes away. When things start to get unsettled—because social norms are abandoned, because the economy collapses or because the culture is put in danger because of war or disease—you see the first come back with a vengeance. Because it never goes away, all civilizations attempt to regulate and, where it can’t be regulated, accommodate these drives. Thus we have marriage and divorce laws, child support payments, prostitution, pornography and so forth.

One of the reasons these things never go away is that women have complimentary drives. The best way for a woman to get pregnant is to have sex with as many men as possible. On the other hand, the best way for her to ensure she has a partner to raise her child, and thereby increase the chance of their survival, is for her to be monogamous. The temptation to pretend to do the second while actually doing the first is always present. (The central sexual myth of our culture is not a false belief about masculinity but a false belief about the supposed moral superiority of women when it comes to sexual behaviour.) If you were to do a thorough-going genetic analysis of your family going back a few generations, you would almost certainly find a man in your family tree who was there in name only.

And I’ll end for now on a very MacIntyre note. What if there was a cataclysm in our culture and we didn’t notice it? Suppose that economic prosperity and peace concealed from us the fact that our moral culture was severely wounded. Perhaps what someone like Griffin is doing is not, as he thinks it is, a process of cultural criticism but an attempt to rebuild a manly culture out of the ruins.