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The One That Got Away

Professional women want it all.

The perfect family. The successful career. Perfect children. Respect from their peers. Adoration and appreciation from their family. Eternal youth.

We ALL want it ALL, right?

Well, yes, but we men tend to do a better job of compartmentalizing the different aspects of life and resigning ourselves to the barriers of reality. Job is job… family is family… marriage is marriage… age is inevitable. We put these parts of our life in their own little sections of the plate. We really don’t like when the peas touch the carrots, so to speak.

With our temperament, we men will often stay in one little section of the plate for an inordinate amount of time. It’s the one that gives us the most obvious and quick “reward” for our efforts. It’s the one that fulfills our desire to “provide”.

We all know the stereotype of the man who stays in his “work” box and doesn’t come out enough to spend time with his wife and kids or focus on his health. Like every other stereotype, this idea didn’t just fall from the sky. Men can often get hyper-focused on the the goal of completing work or just on the actual act of the work itself and put blinders on to the rest of the world. Next thing he knows, he looks up from his desk and it’s 6:30pm. He missed his son’s teeball game. Again.

As a consequence, we now have a generation of men that sit around nursing a bottle of beer saying to his buddies, “My dad wasn’t around all that much.”

Their dad was a Super Provider Dad.

Super Provider Dad doesn’t say, “Dammit… if I could just work 30 hours a week, I would be around my family more and give them the time they deserve.” He resigns himself to the work. The work is his mission. It gives him a sense of purpose. His job title and paycheck are his scorecard. He gets hostile if the wife bugs him about working too much. “How do you think we pay all the bills, Sally?! Money doesn’t grow on trees!”

I’m reminded of the story by Pat Croce, former entrepreneur and owner of the Seventy Sixers. He had so much energy and would get so enthralled in his business that his wife and kids used to write him letters about how they missed him.

Super Provider Dad knows he can’t have it all.  Duh. Why would anyone think they could maintain this level of work achievement AND be some kind of super dad and husband? It’s impossible.

It sucks, but he often chooses work over family and health, and that’s that.

In my generation of dads, we do a much better job of setting aside work and concentrating on kids. We’re a loving, hugging, soccer-coaching, homeworking-helping bunch of guys. Yes, our career suffers and so does the marriage and our health (dead bedrooms and dad bods galore)… but we learned lessons from dear old dad and recognize the dangers of ignoring junior when he needs us most. We closed up the work box, opened the kid box and dove right in.

That mindset doesn’t seem to exist in the professional woman’s world.

She WILL be the perfect mom, she WILL be the most awesome employee at work, she WILL be a fantastic wife, and she WILL be super sexy and pretty until the day she dies.

The result? Failure.  A lot of guilt, anxiety, depression… and botox.

Somewhere along the line, somebody told women that they can and SHOULD have it all… and if not, they are an abject failure. For a woman to hear, “I don’t know how you do it all” is a badge of honor, not an indication of taking on too much in life.

The female propensity for Neuroticism (one of the five personality traits) doesn’t jive well with her very human inability to juggle so many things at once AND utlimately succeed at every last one of them.

They want it all -> They inevitably fail -> They experience great negative emotion.

People want what they can’t have.

In the world of pyschology, we know that if want to increase someone’s desire for something, you present the thing, pique their interest, and then quickly take it away. Dangle it juuuuuust out of reach.

“Playing hard to get” is a common ploy for both sexes during the mating game. Why? Because it works.

Men know not to answer a woman’s text message or call right away. Keep her waiting just a bit. Give her the impression that you’re too busy. You’re an important person. Keep her new relationship anxiety going, and then answer and watch her excitement boil over.

Women don’t cave in immediately to a man’s desire for physical intimacy because they don’t want to come across as sleazy or desperate. He has to jump through some hoops to win a chance with her. She’s a prize.

“I know you want this… but you can’t have it. Well, maybe you can. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

Drives us crazy.

For many women, there is no greater carrot dangling in front of them the “The One That Got Away” (TOTGA).

TOTGA is the guy that really REALLY pushed her buttons. He may have been the one that had that combination of all those qualities that make up the all-around dream guy. Maybe he was just a fun-loving sexy type of guy that was full of adventure. Maybe he was the sexy loser that she would sneak off with and not tell her friends or family about.

The important thing is that TOTGA was presented with the option of entering into a longterm monogamous relationship with her, and he said, in no uncertain terms, “I don’t think so. Sorry. No.”

She wanted him. Couldn’t have him. Not because of something he did, necessarily… but, instead because she failed at being the quality of woman necessary to land a man of that caliber.

She had him in her grasp… and she just couldn’t hold on. This is like being denied that promotion she worked hard for. Like finding out her kid is having behaviorial problems at school. Like finding out her husband is looking at porn non-stop.

It’s failure.

TOTGA, in her mind,  is the living embodiment of “There’s something very wrong with me as a woman.”

For many women, if it weren’t for their biological and social pressure to “settle down” and start a family, she would absolutely still try to be with TOTGA.

I have known several women that openly admit the existence of TOTGA. One in particular sticks out as a textbook example.

Amy had a boyfriend. He was fun. She had an exciting life with him. She was very much in love. He said no to an extended long-term relationship/marriage. She was getting up there in years… a career woman. She quickly found another Provider man (a doctor), and within one year they were engaged. They married and soon after she was pregnant. Mid 30’s… so just under the fertility wire. Smart gal.

They are the most un-loving couple I have ever seen. You would think they are brother and sister.

In the very short time that my wife and I have known Amy, she has mentioned the ex-boyfriend to us both. It’s obvious the guy is her TOTGA.

My wife and I went with her and her husband to go skiing. It was my first time ever on the slopes. I was busy doing the “pizza” maneuver with my skis and trying to keep from breaking my arms and legs. Meanwhile, Amy was zooming around like a pro. I was impressed. I complimented her on her skills.  “I used to go skiing all the time with my ex. He was really good.”  Alright, was it really necessary to bring up the ex at that point? That made me take notice a bit. She could’ve simply said “Oh, Thanks. I’ve been skiing for years.”

She would later admit to my wife that she still is still in contact with her TOTGA, husband knows about it and he doesn’t like it. She chats with him anyway.

Every time she reaches out to him, it’s her way of saying “I’m really not ALL that bad, right?! I mean… there’s still some slight chance that, if the situation were right…”

She has to keep in touch with TOTGA. Why? Well, why the hell not? She wants it all, right? She has the dutiful provider husband, the baby, the career… but she doesn’t have TOTGA.

Hubby says, “I love and adore you forever”.

Baby says, “I love you more than anything on the planet.”

TOTGA says “Nah… I think I can do better.”

This is in part why, by my estimation, women have such a hard time enforcing boundaries. With boundaries, much of the concept is you saying to yourself, “Even though I can have it and I may badly want it, it’s not good for me and my current situation…so I’m going to have to say no.” That goes wildly against the “I want and deserve it all. Anything else is failure.” doctrine.

  • She wants to be VP of Sales for her company. Reality: That means working 70 hour work weeks and not seeing her husband and kids very often.
  • She wants to be super homemaker mom who bakes pies and attends all of the school functions. Reality:  No VP of Sales position for her. The guy who works 80 hours a week and never sees his kids gets the job instead.
  • She wants to be super sexy woman for the next 30 years. Reality: No more indulging in wine and desserts. You have to go to the gym 4 days a week and yoga on the weekends. Cosmetic surgery is a strong possibility. This will put you at the top 10% of women your age.
  • She wants to be the best wife possible. Reality: TOTGA is dead. He never existed. Focus on the now.

Learn to compartmentalize, in other words. Enforce boundaries.

It’s tough. It’s tough for all of us, but it’s especially tough for the ladies who like to not only mix their peas and carrots on the plate, but to also throw a big pile of cake on top of the whole thing and chase it down with three bottles of Dom Perignon. Then they complain that they have a belly ache.

This is why people say that women “multi-task” so much better than men. They find it very difficult to compartmentalize.

This goes back to my theory of about sometimes enforcing boundaries for your wife. It’s a delicate balance. You don’t want to be a controlling/abusive asshole that tells your wife NO all the time, but you also want to make sure she does what is best for you and your family. For many men, they can’t fathom having to enforce a boundary for their wife. She SHOULD KNOW not to talk to that guy, go out for drinks, send messages to an ex, etc. Yeah, well… what if she doesn’t? Are you willing to walk away? Are you willing to do things to keep her from crossing the line? Is your relationship worth the effort?

In the world of infidelity, there is no stronger candidate for an affair partner than TOTGA. None. He’s the dangling golden carrot. He’s the guy she let slip away. He’s a reminder of her failure.

He’s living proof that “having it all” is impossible… FOR HER. For a lot of women, that is a crippling realization.

If she suddenly grabs the TOTGA carrot, she ain’t letting go. He’s the trophy she holds over her head as she screams “See?! I CAN HAVE IT ALL!!”

You’ve been warned.

In another life, I would be your girl
We keep all our promises, be us against the world
In another life, I would make you stay
So I don’t have to say you were the one that got away
The one that got away
The one, the one, the one
The one that got away
All this money can’t buy me a time machine, no
Can’t replace you with a million rings, no
I should’a told you what you meant to me, whoa
Cause now I pay the price
The One That Got Away – Katy Perry

Weakness

The concept of “sucking it up” and “being a man” didn’t just fall from the sky. They are axioms that have been passed down from generation to generation. They evolved naturally as a response to the community’s needs and expectations.

Men who have been around the block a few times know one thing:

“We’re all weak. We all have faults and vulnerabilities. Deep down we’re all scared kids just trying to make it in the world. Yes, your girlfriend/wife/kids are free to emote and share these fears and vulnerabilities. The world will praise them for doing so. For you, the man... this isn’t the case. People will poke and prod and sometimes beg you to open up and share your innermost feelings and weakness and fear. After doing so, they will reject you or relegate you to inferior status. This is true of your friends, your coworkers, your boss, and your romantic partner.”

Some semblance of the above has probably been shared with you at one point or another, usually in a much simpler form:

  • Be a man.
  • Man up.
  • Deal with it.
  • Suck it up.
  • Get up. Don’t let them see you weak.
  • Stop crying, or I’ll give you something to cry about.

The current political/emotional climate claims that the above is a manifestation of a larger issue known as  “toxic masculinity”. Those opposed to such displays feel that we must do all we can to stomp out such evil. Once we do that, we’ll have no more war, no more sexual assault, and men will be free to cry like babies with no repercussion.

Yeah… no. Sounds great in theory. Will never work in practice. It ignores reality.

The term “toxic masculinity” is misleading. It implies that these “suck it up” traits are somehow an evil, poisonous manifestations of human behavior that we must act agressively to remove.

Quite the contrary. If we remove “man up” and stoicism from our definition of masculinity, what is left? At that point, what defines a “man” other than the bits dangling between his legs?

We didn’t randomly come up with these “acting weak is dangerous” concepts on our own. This isn’t a grand scheme devised by males to hold power over others and make life more difficult for our fellow men (that makes no sense). Instead, it’s a reaction to a subversive and sometimes overt set of societal rules that we note again and again and again in our daily lives. We have listened, digested and reacted accordingly.

Men act this way because society has told us to do so. Otherwise, we wouldn’t go through the trouble. We wouldn’t hold in our emotions and have more heart attacks and stress-related ailments. We wouldn’t commit suicide at such high rates. We would seek out more help from our loved ones. We would emote. We would “let it all out” when the mood hits us.

But, we can’t.

Oh sure, we can take the outcome-independent approach, thumb our nose at convention and say,  “I don’t care what happens… I’m going to be who I am and to hell with everyone” and cave to our momentary weakness, but we have to be honest with ourselives. We will pay the price in some way. Most of us have learned this at some point or another in our lives.

Many of us try to momentarily let our guard down. For example, we men tend to emotionally soften when with our wives. We talk about our aching bodies. We complain about stupid little things in our day-to-day lives.  We complain about work. We look for motherly sympathy and love when we get sick. We cry.

What happens?

The wife sees the weakness. She recoils. She may do her best to disguise her feelings, but the discomfort is palpable.

You could survive a workplace injury with 50 stitches across your face, a severed finger and three broken vertebrae and she would say to her friends, “I had gave birth with no epidural and never once whined like this. Wow. He is so annoying.”  You could have the flu and a 103 temperature and your wife would snear and say “What’s wrong with you?” when you answer her questions in a less than cheerful manner (this happened to me all the time in marriage #1).

This is why women came up with the term “man flu”. Not because men are whinier than women (c’mon, seriously?), but because women just flat out can’t stand it when their man is weak and incapacitated. Her ability to empathize is overpowered by her acute disdain for you at that moment.

Don’t think that this is an anti-woman post. Not at all. Your job of retaining the “strong man” persona extends beyond the home.

Just try being weak in the workplace. Watch as Brad gets the promotion you worked so hard to earn. The only reason you can gather why Brad was picked was because he was outgoing, cool under pressure, and good looking. You would be correct. Your consistent 70 hour work weeks, excellent project management and unblemished performance reviews were no match for the time you got overwhelmed and choked up in the break room in front of your coworkers. That one moment put a permanent stain on your image, and subsequently your career. You’re “That guy that cried that one time.”

Your boss may not be able to verbalize it, but there’s something about you that’s just not leadership material.

Try being weak in sports. Be the guy who always gets up limping after falling down on the basketball court (we all know that guy). Be the guy who gets upset when he makes a silly mistake and hangs his head and pouts for the next 20 minutes. You’ll be on the bench where you belong. Who cares if you are the best shooter on the team and hit 90% of your free throws. You’re a wuss. It’s annoying and everyone woudl prefer you didn’t play.

Weakness brings about hostility, anxiety and sometimes anger from those around you. When you show vulnerability, people will POKE at you (test you) until you finally role over and expose your belly. Bullies know this. They test and test. If you continue caving in to them, the bullying escalates. It’s not until you break one of their noses that they finally back off.

Your wife will always be one of the biggest pokers/testers. “Shit tests” is what some men call them.  Little jabs here and there. She will poke. And poke. And poke. You will finally snap and say, “Hey, can you fucking cut it out please?!”. This will be met with disbelief. “Wow, you’re sensitive. Stop being such a baby.” Translation: “You should’ve told me to stop 18 pokes ago, you big wuss. Seeing you so affected by my words is a turnoff. Call me an asshole or ignore me, but don’t tell me your feelings are hurt.”

Not having the sex life you feel you “deserve”? You could do what most men do in that situation…. and cave in to emotion. Talk to her. Appeal to both her rational and romantic side. Show her how much your lack of intimacy affects your well-being. Show her how hurt you are.

When you realize how important maintaining strength is for a man in any relationship, doing the pitiful sob-story routine with your “low libido” wife is the absolute worst thing you can do.

“But… that’s what we MEAN by TOXIC MASCULINITY! This kind of stuff needs to stop! Men are DYING because of this mindset! Men should be able to emote with no fear of negative fallout.”

Ok. While we’re at it, we should also and tell men that it’s wrong for them to be attracted to young women. We should also tell women to stop being attracted to fit and rich men, for kids to not like candy and for dogs to stop hating cats so much.

It’s not going to happen. It’s human nature. We reward the strong men and avoid/punish the weak. Sometimes we have to stand up and help and protect the weak. That is noble. But, let’s be honest, the person you are helping… are they good “leader” material?  The kind of person you want helping you achieve your goals? A source of happiness? No. The moment you extend your hand, they are reduced to the lower echelons of the heirarchy.

As older and more experienced men will tell you, the ones that are the most vocal about wanting to see your “vulnerable” side are the ones that will punish you the worst. “I know I said I wanted him to open up to me… but not THAT much. Jesus.”

So, we just suck it up and deal with the internal struggle and suffer? Not necessarily.

I’m a huge proponent of the teachings of Stoicism. 

… as social beings, the path to happiness for humans is found in accepting this moment as it presents itself, by not allowing ourselves to be controlled by our desire for pleasure or our fear of pain, by using our minds to understand the world around us and to do our part in nature’s plan, and by working together and treating others fairly and justly.

Live in reality. Don’t be easily washed away in the emotion of the moment. Find the positive aspects of the reality you are in.

I’m reminded of the Tom Hanks movie “Bridge of Spies”. One of the main characters was Rudolf Abel, a Russian spy. Nothing rattled Abel, not even after being discovered. He just remained calm and went along with whatever was happening at the moment. An incredulous Tom Hanks finally asked Abel, “Aren’t you worried?” Rudolf’s response: “Would it help?”

Find help if you need to… but do so carefully. This is what a close male friend, your parents, a sibling or your dog are for. Do not burden your boss, your wife, your coworkers or your casual aquaintances with your day-to-day problems. Doing so paints you in a negative light and slowly chips away at your positive masculinity.

The world has little use for a weak man. Take solace in your role as the rational figure who doesn’t succumb to emotion.