Women are better lovers

byronThere is this passage in the poet Byron’s Don Juan that has always impressed me as one of the keenest observations concerning women to be found in literature:  “Man’s love is of his life a thing apart,/’Tis woman’s whole existence” (Canto I, 194).

In my thinking, most men lack women’s capacity to love fully.  I write this knowing the tendency of stereotype to overlook exceptions, which are often many.  Still, I think my observation holds.  And thus I count women superior to us men, for surely love is the noblest of human emotions.

Women think with their hearts, though not at risk of their intelligence, for they know how to discern; witness any shopping outing and you’ll catch my drift.  They’re no less so when it comes to sorting out men.

Women frequently assume risk, or gamble on love, unlike many men who prefer the safety of the status quo over commitment.  While marriage in the West continues its decline, given opportunity, most women prefer it; less so, men.  As the late Toronto Star columnist Merle Shain reminds us, “Men opt for security in lieu of feeling and call their decision maturity” (Some Men are more Perfect than Others, p. 6).

 Sometimes women lose heavily, having bet all, and thus they grieve; yet they excel even in their loss, since we’re defined more by what we attempt than what we lose.  The ancient Greeks had it right: assertion validates identity.  Far better to enter into your feelings and chance possibility than to awake one day to numbing emptiness, the sorrow of not having loved and wishing you had.

They say women adore intelligence in their males, and they do; but what really seizes their hearts are the courageous kind, who accepting their vulnerability, refuse to let fear foreclose on happiness.  With brave men such as these, love offers its amplest bloom.


How fear erodes love

Like many of you, I follow the news, only to come away frequently dismayed. For all our pretense to rationality, people often seem governed more by passion than reason.  History strikes me as repeated scenarios of human excess, or what Freud astutely called manifestations of the Id, or pleasure principle. I like to think of this inchoate anomaly as the Child within.

There are pretty much seven salient emotions that define and undergird human behavior:  love, hate, hurt, anger, joy, sadness and, last but not least, fear.  The latter generally takes several primary forms: the fear of abandonment, of ineffectualness, of future events, and of mortality.

We’re all afraid in different ways to different degrees, but often don’t realize it, since it’s deeply imbedded within the Unconscious, tracing back to the loss of our hammocked security within our mother’s womb.  We carry no memory of those halcyon days of dependency, but the psyche remembers its glory and the anguish of its loss; so much so that we spend a good deal of our lives seeking commensurate bliss.

I’ve always relished the Edenic garden myth of Genesis with its several resonances of Man’s true estate.  In that story we learn that God made a woman to be a companion for the man he had made, for it wasn’t good for him to dwell alone.  In essence, we’re social creatures and need others to complete ourselves. But I wonder if there’s more going on here, say the underlying, primordial fear in whoever wrote this story of loneliness. Was the writer reflecting his own wrestlings with abandonment?

Such fear may lie behind the quest of so many for validation, whether through achievement, wealth, or power.  We want badly  to be esteemed. We want to draw the crowd.

This fear of abandonment doubtless explains a good deal of romantic love–a quest to find the parental surrogate with us “till death do us part.” Unfortunately, it may also fuel the often failure of this kind of love, since ultimately our happiness derives from within.  Sadly, it perpetuates relationships that frequently denigrate Self.  For a few, death is even preferable to rejection or desertion.

Our world is filled with children who never experienced kinship with an ideal mother in the first place, intensifying their adult quest and making them doubly vulnerable to masquerades of affection.  It may also explain, though inexcusable, much of the misogyny that still abounds expressed in myriad ways, sometimes brutally, by men who project their mother-loss on all women.

Fear of abandonment may lead to a need to control others, as if by putting them on a leash you can prevent their straying.

It also feeds jealousy, that brooding insecurity that suspicions a consort may be enamored away by someone more attractive.

It may likewise accentuate the need for young people to seek the crowded weekend bar, for what’s more hell for a single than a Saturday night alone?

Certainly, it factors into misbehavior and criminality, the need to gain attention or be confined and thus taken care of.

In the public realm, our insecurity renders politics manipulative, with appeals to our fears rather than the public good.  Government becomes a public parent, taking care of all, increasing our dependency, minimizing our self-sufficiency.  We now face an unprecedented federal debt that may do us all in.

Finding our way past this fear is problematic, since we tend to conflate all our fears with thoughts, and thus resort to rationalizations for what we do.  Fears like those of abandonment give rise to a sordid array of  compulsions and resultant follies

But back to where I began.  Properly motivated, love’s the grandest gig in town when conducted rationally in loving another for their individuality and not as some kind of throw pillow. Similarly, finding good friends enhances our lives, not because they cushion our loneliness, but because it makes good sense to bind with those with whom you share commonalty of interest.

Ultimately, our deliverance from anxiety over abandonment comes from diminishing the dominion of feelings; it begins with identifying them and uprooting them as our motivators: What am I really seeking in this relationship? Why am I not seeing the red flags?  Why this person?  Love must be built on more than a therapy for loneliness.  Love is marvelous.  For the right reasons!

Love as a many splendored thing

Recently one of America’s favorite singers, Rihanna, reconciled with her on and off again boyfriend, Chris Brown.  You’ll remember he had beaten her up several months earlier.

In a similar vein, about a year ago I got to know a girl in her early twenties who complained of her uneasy, abusive relationship with her boyfriend. While she didn’t tell us of any violence, she made it clear she was undergoing daily verbal abuse.  All of us, puzzled by the dynamics, wondered why she didn’t bang the door shut on the guy.

When it comes to this kind of thing,  I can be pretty sensitive.  My mother, after all,  endured an abusive relationship with my father across the years that sometimes included violence.

The poet Sylvia Plath, shortly before her suicide,  wrote famously of the masochism underlying such manacled couples as “a love of the rack and the screw.”  As a professor who taught this poem for many years, I take it she had in mind the role of culture in nurturing feminine subservience in a patriarchal world, the “for better or worse” syndrome of  the traditional marriage vow.   Women, however, were the only ones taking it seriously, as may still be the case.

But I think Plath’s conclusion errs in its reductionism.  In those days, few women had access to employment and thus independence.  And then there is evolution’s maternal instinct that still kicks-in, the children to be protected at all costs.

Today’s scene, however, is vastly different and still changing as women have secured options earlier women perhaps never thought about, since they were precluded possibilities.  And yet a good many women, and some men, still cling to demeaning liaisons.

The truth is that many relationships should never have had their genesis.   We live in a culture that dilutes love by conceiving it falsely, with our movies, harlequin novels, and music playing out the theme of lovers “as the luckiest people in the world.”

Romantic love, or ”being in love,” has a fixity about it, a must have it now and abundantly; a possessiveness centered in emotional absolutes.  Root bound, it cannot grow and lacks a future.   At best, it turns habit.

“Loving,”  on the other hand, is like a fine vintage that gets better with the years.  Here lies the advantage of postponing life choices until the grapes are ready.  I was raised in a world that told me that first love was true love.  This may be so for some, but I think not for many.

Unfortunately, a good many relationships pose a latent psychological component, or dread, that the late psychiatrist Reuven Bar-Levan nailed down persuasively when he wrote that “what holds people in destructive  and humiliating ’love’ relationships, and what makes them plead and even beg to be ’loved,’ is extreme fear of abandonment.  The force of this fear is so great that people degrade and humiliate themselves to avoid it”  (Thinking in the Shadow of Feelings, p. 145).

This dread, overwhelming and prevalent, primarily traces back to our parents and whether they succeeded in making ourselves feel lovable.  When missing, it pursues us, like a shadow, all of our life and through mistrust we prove quite capable of driving genuine love away in wanting rather than giving, demanding and not allowing.

Again, authentic love lacks stasis or rigidity.  As such, it maturates and transcends love’s vicissitudes because, with time, it grows in wisdom, acknowledging flux in all relationships, and allows even for exits, since loving abounds in the context of freedom, or ability to sometimes let go.  Genuine love has its ending ultimately in our mortality if from nothing else; but whatever its source, its loss results in sadness, not fear or anger.  Free from fear,  love thrives.

Removed from anxiety, love is, indeed, “a many splendored thing.”

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