When Paul got home he found Hillary’s closets and drawers had been emptied, and her journal was lying open on his desk. She had clearly left it there for him to discover. And discover it he did, reading it through tearful eyes for the rest of the night as it chronicled her long love affair with this woman, her involvement with women’s Wicca groups, her affinities with Native American rituals, her dissatisfaction with motherhood and their “picture perfect” Del Mar life. The short version of the story is, Paul was left with their three teenage children to raise and, two weeks later, slapped with divorce papers filed by a Del Mar attorney who is known in the trade as “the shark.” Of course, Hillary got half of everything and $3000 monthly in spousal support, while Paul used what was left of his consultant’s salary to pay the mortgage and take care of the kids. When I asked him if he resented this, Paul said, in his usual stoic way (he’s a New Englander), “Well, you do what you gotta do.” Then, amazingly, he went on to defend Hillary, saying that although she had a college degree, she had never worked, so she would need the spousal support to get on her feet.
The story of men’s puzzlement about women has gone largely unreported, although the women’s view of what’s wrong with men is virtually a national sport. If you were to wander into the self-help section of your local bookstore and peruse the titles on the shelves, you would find that many of them seem to suggest women need a lot of help in the world to set their lives straight. You would further discover that the reason they need this help is that men are basically demented and simply don’t know anything about women’s wishes and dreams.
The book that started this depiction of women as victims of male ineptitude is Women Who Love Too Much, which bears the subtitle When You Keep Wishing and Hoping He’ll Change. The book, written by Robin Norwood, was first published in 1986 and has been in print ever since. If you click on the title at Amazon.com, you will discover the major industry of male-bashing that the book has spawned. Ms. Norwood has also written Daily Meditations for Women Who Love Too Much and Letters from Women Who Love Too Much, as well as Why Me, Why This, Why Now: A Guide to Answering Life’s Toughest Questions. The Amazon folks tell us that people who bought Women Who Love Too Much also bought Don’t Call That Man!: A Survival Guide to Letting Go by Rhonda Findling, Smart Women/Foolish Choices: Finding the Right Men, Avoiding the Wrong Ones by Connell Cowan, et al., and Men Who Can’t Love by Steven Carter (presumably a man who can love) and Julia Sokol. The effect of these books on our culture has been positively Circean, and this, of course, is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
It goes without saying that you will not find books called Men Who Love Too Much, or, even more unlikely, Smart Men/Foolish Choices. And this is not because there are no men who “love too much” (don’t we need more love in the world, rather than less?) or men who make foolish relationship choices, but because men don’t generally buy self-help books unless they have to do with disassembling an automobile engine or repairing an electrical outlet, and even then, hesitantly. Of course, relationships are equally sabotaged by women, and women have cheated on, manipulated, been abusive to, and generally behaved badly to men in much the same ways and probably in the same proportions (after all, whom are all these heterosexual men behaving badly with?) as the other way around, but the popular perception — especially among women — is that men are incorrigible and women are almost always the victims of male insensitivity.
Then there is the spectacularly successful “Men Are from Mars/Women Are from Venus” series created by John Gray, who initially provided some corrective to the “women are right–men are wrong” industry by suggesting that both men and women need to learn to communicate with one another more effectively. But as the insights of Gray’s initial volume in the series have been expanded, or perhaps “thinned” is a better word, to give us all sorts of sequels (Mars and Venus in the Bedroom; Mars and Venus on a Date; Mars and Venus in Touch; etc.), calendars, workbooks, Braille editions, parodies, and endless variations, the Mars/Venus analogy has become a bit worn. Gray’s books, unlike the others mentioned, do not bash men and probably have helped a great many men and women to recognize the roots of some of their conflicts. But sometimes, particularly in the later volumes, by simplifying the complexities of human relationships and boiling them down to the hardly staggering insight that men and women are different, they may actually deepen the rift.
Instead of relying on books, I set about to uncover some real men’s attitudes toward real women in this postfeminist age by talking to men who had been in problematic relationships with women and listening to their versions of the relationships. Nearly everyone I told that I was working on this article said, “What about the women’s side?”
While there certainly is another side to each of the stories related here, that is not the story I am telling. You can find that story in the hundreds of novels, films, and nonfiction accounts by and about women who have been battered, emotionally abused, neglected, and generally treated shabbily by the men in their lives. I have no desire to “bash women” in this article, but I do feel it important that the other side of the story get told.
Meet Sing Yu, an Asian-American man of 45 who’s been married once and has had four or five troubled relationships since his divorce, nearly all of them punctuated by hysterical episodes. He’s gun-shy about remarrying because his wife left him for another man, blindsiding him with the news after five years of marriage. When I told a mutual friend I was writing this article, he immediately told me I must talk to Sing Yu. We talked for several hours in my living room, and he told me many of the details of what he called his “roller-coaster” relationships. Sing Yu grew up in Hong Kong and came to the United States in 1975 to attend college in upstate New York. He got a degree in physics and went to Chicago to complete a Ph.D. in physics. He got various jobs related to physics and math and finally ended up in biotechnology, doing research and technical work.