Sunday, July 29, 2012

Do Men Change?

Recently, Bonnie Kaye, an author and therapist whose radio show I'd appeared on some time back, asked if she could send me her book, Man Readers: The Guide to Dysfunctional Men. Since I live in New York City, I wasn't so sure I needed any kind of guide to dysfunctional men other than to walk out the door, but I agreed to accept a copy, uncertain whether or not I would want to read it. But since I do write about relationships for my blog on CafeMom's The Stir, it's always good to have ideas in the hopper.

Man Readers is predicated on an idea that is the polar opposite to most relationship books: It says you cannot save a bad relationship. Lots of books concentrate on how you can change or make better your relationship or marriage. This books says, You can't. Cut your losses. Move on. NOW! Which is kind of interesting because when you're telling someone, "Move on," it's a rather quick sentence, which goes against the common sense guidelines of book publishing. Indeed, it is a quick read.

Some of the categories of men who Bonnie says cannot change are:

Men with Sexual Fetishes (this includes everything from guys with "fur fetishes" to guys with "schoolgirl uniform fetishes" to guys who cross-dress)

Men with a Certain Sexual Orientation (i.e. you can't make a gay man straight and Bonnie believes bisexual men are essentially gay)

Men with Sexual Addictions (compulsive masturbating, compulsive porn watching)

Sexual Incompetence (men who have no sexual technique and never will no matter how many maps  of your vagina you draw them)

Other bad risks for marriage include:

Men over 35 who have never been in a long-term relationship (they don't know how to compromise and never will)

Men who come from dysfunctional backgrounds

Men who have been in prison 

Men with mental health issues

Men over 30 who still live at home

Men with drug and alcohol issues

Men with different cultural backgrounds than you

And so we've basically covered every man in New York. Ha HA! Bonnie, who says she has counseled over 75,000 women,  writes: "I have seen women try every trick in the book to get a man to change, and none of it works."

Is this true? Do people not change (Bonnie's book only deals with men)? Do they change but only for the worse? Bonnie makes a good case that, on the whole, it is difficult for people to change their basic natures -- and to do so, they really have to WANT to (many simply do not) and then work very hard at it. Our basic natures were formed pre-natal or in childhood, and were done so for whatever survival technique we felt we had to develop, and aren't so easily shaken off.

But people DO change. I've seen it.  I myself have changed in many ways over the years.

Some personality traits of mine have morphed but have not disappeared. Some very strong personality traits of mine -- such as being easily frustrated when I don't understand something and immediately wanting to quit the task -- still rise up regularly. But I've learned over the years how to control this particular trait and keep going with whatever frustrating task is making my blood boil.

Additionally, in my life, I have personally witnessed: An alcoholic stop drinking. A hardcore smoker stop smoking. A womanizer become a dedicated husband and father. A woman with chronic anger issues become incredibly sweet and calm. Mind you, these people are few and far between. I have also seen people whose negative traits never changed one iota -- and perhaps it never occurred to these people that they should change them.

I think most of us change in SOME ways, but not in others. I was once involved with a man wherein the continuation of the relationship centered on whether or not HE WOULD CHANGE. (Never a great foundation for a relationship, by the way.) In some ways, he changed. In others, it remained same old, same old, no matter how many long "talks" we had about it or how many threats or ultimatums were issued or how many promises he made.

The problem is, none of us ever know who will change, what will change, and how much will change. So we all take our chances. I think if the things you want to change are BIG things, or are driving your relationship into the ground, you should think long and hard about sticking around and counting on these changes. Perhaps Bonnie is right, and you need to cut your losses.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Why We Care About Celebrity Break-Ups

The big news in the celebrity world this week was the Kristen Stewart cheating scandal. This particular celebrity affair caused a huge uproar for a variety of reasons:

- There was photographic evidence (Kristen making out with her director, Rupert Saunders)
- The couple in question, Kristen and her boyfriend, Robert Pattinson, are both extremely famous
- Kristen and Rob play soulmates in an iconic and hugely popular movie series: Twilight
- Kristen released an unprecedented mea culpa to Robert Pattinson

Take out any one of these factors, and it would have been less of a story. Add in that the third party, Rupert Sanders, is married with children, and it's not quite Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, but nipping on the heels of Brad and Angelina.

What's interesting for me is that when you click into any one of these stories about Kristen and Rob, you will see a whole lot of commentary along the lines of:

"WHO CARES???!!!!"

And then there's:

"They are celebrities and we don't know them. Who cares?"
"It is none of our business. Who cares?"
"Worry about your own relationships, not that of people you don't know. Who cares?"

The truth is, we care very deeply -- including those people who read about an affair only to proclaim they don't care about it. We don't "care" in the same way that we care if our parents divorce, or if our spouse wants a divorce, but we care about it because we are constantly looking outwardly at other relationships in order to a) take stock of our own, b) figure out if we should enter one.

Celebrities have taken over where fairytales have left off. Cinderella, Snow White, The Frog Prince -- these are just a few of the slew of propaganda used to convince all of us to enter into domestic arrangements, procreate, and then hold on for dear life until we exhale our last breath on this planet.

With the advent of movies and TV, we now look to celebrity couples -- the real people, not just the characters they play -- to provide our fairytale for us. We see these glorious couples in quick snippets only: Dolled up on the red carpet, holding hands, showing off adorable, fashionable tykes, and gushing about each other in the press. We never see the argument right before they hit the red carpet, and celebrities rarely say something to the effect of, "Sometimes I hate my husband," in a magazine interview. Reality shows do provide some measure of the real life "nitty-gritty" of relationships -- but even those battling couples seem to solve all of their problems within the show's allotted time frame.

For those of us who may never have experienced anything but the seedy underbelly of relationships in real life -- parents who chronically didn't get along or got divorced; relationships of our own that went awry or fell far short of expectations -- celeb couples give us some promise that entering into the highly-risky "nuclear family" arrangement might be a good idea. Those of us who would never DREAM of putting all of our retirement money into one stock are told we must put our entire lives into the hands of one other individual. On the face of it, we know this is a terrible idea-- the risks are far too high. But because of biological, anthropological, historical, and societal pressures that have evolved over centuries, this is where we find ourselves at.

Enter the celebrity couple. Look at Heidi and Seal! Look at Katie and Tom! Look at Robsten! And Jen and Brad! And Brangelina! And ... etc etc.

And then their fairytales fall apart, we're back to questioning the whole nuclear arrangement. Is it worth it? Does this ever work out? Will this work out? This is scary. THIS IS REALLY SCARY!! But we're ashamed of our fear, and so we say, "WHO CARES???"

The truth is, we do. Very much.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Why the TomKat Divorce is So Typical

Beyond the fact that Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are famous, and that they are extremely wealthy, and they're both involved in a cultish religion called Scientology, their divorce is actually extremely typical. It was Katie who filed and it was Tom who said he was blindsided. The vast majority of divorces are filed by women. One study says that with college educated couples, women file for divorce 90% of the time. Men usually say they didn't see it coming, they were blindsided, and they are devastated.

All of which is a bit ironic, considering that men are generally seen as the reluctant parties to enter into marriage. But what these studies never seem to get into is WHY it is women filing for divorce. I'm sure the reasons are all over the map, but Kate Figes' book "Couples" has an interesting explanation. When a marriage is in trouble, generally it's the wives who voice their concerns. Women are, on the whole, the more communicative sex. But a woman can tell a man -- over and over and over -- that she's unhappy, miserable, and the marriage isn't what she wants and the man just ... doesn't hear her. Or doesn't acknowledge it. Or doesn't take it seriously. Or something.

On the one hand, you can see the man's side of it. Women complain about their friends -- but continue to be friends with them. Women complain about how bad their favorite TV shows are, but continue to watch them. A man on the receiving end of various complaints probably thinks, "Yeah, she hates me, but she also hates her mother, her sister, her best friend, the neighbor, and her boss. And I notice she isn't doing anything about them either." Then he opens another beer and turns on the game.

But when the papers are filed, he's suddenly shocked and devastated and had no idea things were so bad. In Figes' book, one man taken aback by his wife's divorce filing said, "She'd been saying for years she was miserable but I didn't think she really meant it."

If men and women are hoping to save their marriage before it gets to this point of no return, a couple of changes might help. Women can couch their unhappiness is less broad, vague terms, ie "I'm so miserable," and instead say something like, "If we don't work on improving this marriage, we should see a divorce lawyer within X amount of time." And men, of course, might want to sit up and take those groans of complaint seriously. They DO mean something.