Editor’s Note: Who is the wisest of them all? Who is more dedicated to your pleasure than anyone on earth? Who can help you when you’re going online for the first time to find love; or when your lover’s children hate you; or when you want to strangle your husband? Why, the Love Goddess, of course. She promises nothing less than celestial wisdom, heavenly sex, divine dating. Read on …
In the New York Times health section recently, psychiatrist Richard A. Friedman writes that his male patients have appeared far more emotionally devastated by the nation’s staggering financial downturns than his women patients. It’s not that women don’t get upset about job and money losses, he adds, but when it hits them, they don’t feel like losers the way men do. “… Do men rely disproportionately more on their work for their self-esteem than women do?” he asks. “Or are they just more vulnerable to the inevitable narcissistic injury that comes with performing poorly or losing one’s job?”
Now, you know I’ve been around a long, long time. And I’m seeing something happening to men that’s even more pernicious, more wounding, than either reliance on work or narcissistic injury; it’s a loss from another dark moment in our cultural past, roughly 200 years ago.
It was at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution that this sad goddess watched men and women, accustomed to working together in society side by side, be hurled, suddenly, into separate spheres — men into the workplace, and women into the home. I watched as writers and pundits went wild idealizing this new arrangement by praising this new male ideal of the ambitious, tough, successful provider fighting alone in the brutal workplace; and his feminine counterpart, the selfless model of meek, devoted, domesticity.
To fit the ideal, a man’s head was to be filled exclusively with thoughts of work; a woman’s with home. The ideal man had no emotions; the ideal women, no worldly ambition. If a man failed to fit this rigid ideal, he failed as a man. And if a woman failed to be a loving, selfless “angel in the house,” she was not a woman but a useless, unfeminine thing. But it was fake, this characterological division of labor, and soon, men’s sacrifice of their relational, emotional selves took its toll, as did women’s sacrifice of their talent and self-concern. The stereotypes of the time showed the resulting damage: the wan, frail, Victorian woman languishing with mood tonics and the vapors, and the distanced, authoritarian husband who couldn’t relate to his family.
OK, so the old system has crumbled. But old cultural values live on within us — just as family messages from our childhoods do. Even as women flood the workforce, it’s attachment issues they talk most about, and suffer from, when they become depressed. Men don’t — they talk about the opposite: detachment issues.
My sense is that if we look closely at the double meaning of this word “loser,” we can feel the burden of idealization our financially devastated men carry from the past. First, they feel they’ve flunked the ideal to which they’ve been held for so long. But worse, I think, is the loss — the poignant, incalculable loss, of those crucial parts of themselves that were severed from them when men were asked to play Provider and nothing BUT Provider.
What kind of New Year’s resolutions will benefit a lover who may have lost his shirt, and his self-regard? Your recognition of and undying appreciation for those parts of him the workforce never embraced but that you do: The nurturant, kind, good, generous man inside the bereft, devastated provider. As serious as his diminished bank account is — and I do not for a moment underestimate it, for him or for you — see if you can vow to see past those losses to the other ones he’s experiencing, the ones that make him feel like a “loser,” the ones that suggest that he is nothing but his job; nothing but his wallet. Help him reclaim the winner you know he is.
May you all have a New Year’s Day rich in real, true love.
Like all savvy goddesses, the Love Goddess has her own blog, which you can visit by clicking here.