The Need to Be Close Emotionally
“The most happy marriage I can picture ... would be the union of a deaf man to a blind woman.”
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
George Weinberg’s been analyzing men for over 25 years. He’s discovered, through work with his therapy patients, that men want “commitment, love, and permanence every bit as much as women do.” Guess what other conclusion he’s come to? Men want permanent monogamous marriages, but apparently they act like jerks and behave as if they don’t. Blame it on a culture that discourages men from revealing their feelings; a culture that perpetuates the myth that the ideal man is the strong, silent type.
Weinberg’s twist, his hook, is that he offers the opposite of the “wisdom” offered by other pop psychology pundits like John Gray. While Gray tells us “men are from Mars and women are from Venus”, and that successful relationships require a “strategy” for success, Weinberg says phooey on such ideas. The term “strategy”, he believes, is just a euphemism for “game” and men and women shouldn’t engage in relationship games of any kind.
How can I be true?
Should I be faithful to myself or to you?
The right answer to this question, framed in these words by the poet Sara Teasdale, is that, for a marriage to happen and to succeed, you have to be faithful to both. Even more important than your romance is your relationship to yourself. If you have to betray yourself to get this guy to marry you, he probably won’t, and even if he does, you have created a big problem.
Not exactly genius, but some women need to hear that. Weinberg continues, writing that “. . . the art of making a love affair work isn’t simply to fulfill his needs; it is to fulfill your man while giving yourself what you need too.” Like information contained in other psychology books, if your parents didn’t teach you such things, you ought to get a book like this and learn it yourself.
It seems, according to Weinberg, that what “terrifies men in love relationships isn’t commitment but what they perceive as the loss of their masculinity. He also believes all men have the same basic psychological needs, and “these needs determine their gut reactions”. His book’s premise, though based on his own research and experiences, seems to hold water for someone. Therein lies the conundrum I see in all self-help, pop psychology books. I hold that we keep reading different books until we find what we want to hear. While this book may make sense to one reader, it could be total hooey to the next. There is an almost morbid fascination in this country with self-improvement. Doubt it? Do a search using the words “self-help” on Amazon. Over 31,500 titles will come up. What does this imply? It means we are searching for answers. Some books are valid, others not (obviously). Validity, though, is in the mind of the reader and is truly contingent upon perceived need.
Weinberg’s book is worth considering simply because it rips apart the whole sitcom premise that men are irrational, infantile buffoons who must be managed and manipulated by well-meaning spouses or girlfriends. This is a book written specifically for women to read and use as a guide. It should also be noted that Weinberg writes audience specific psychology books. This is a “guide” for healthy heterosexual relationships, but Weinberg is well-known for his groundbreaking book Society and the Healthy Homosexual (he coined the term homophobia by the way). Weinberg appears to have a fairly good grasp on relationship dynamics, his conclusions seem more solid (as in—will stand up through time) than Gray’s.
Another how-to relationship guide, another pop culture assessment of what type of give- and-take is needed in order to sustain a commitment, and one more way to grasp onto a lifeline when an emotional ship is sinking . . . What serves as a floatation device for one might be a pair of concrete overshoes for another. Aren’t self-help books really about the quest for bettering something—a relationship, a bustline, a recalcitrant pet, a willful child? In the land o’ self-help books, validity lies in the hands of the reader. Just as some people believe that by inserting magnets in the soles of their shoes, their feet will improve, and others hold fast to the conviction that wearing copper bracelets will provide relief from arthritis pain. Some of us follow the Atkins diet while others eat only fruit and salad.
Weinberg puts another concrete chicken in the yard art of life. Self-help books are part of our culture. The search for perfection, for answers, for improvement—it’s not something that’s going away any time soon. Beware of quackery, and drive slowly down the road to Wellville. Weinberg’s book, with its emphasis on real-time dialogues between couples and suggestions for positive interaction that requires no perfumery or game playing, might actually help some couples achieve a better, longer lasting relationship.