Wednesday, May 04, 2005

EOTM: Tribute to my Mother

My mother, Goldie, died on Sunday, May 16th, 1999.

She was a remarkable woman.

From the springtime of her life, as a remarkably beautiful and vivacious young woman, to the final days of her autumn, spent with her body and mind slowly failing her, Goldie lived a life of quiet strength, determination, and bountiful love.

She was the kindest, gentlest, and most loving person I’ve ever known. What a wonderful statement to be able to make about one’s mother.

But, as a result of talking to the many people who had known her in her life, I found that my perception was universal among anyone who had met her even once. Everyone experienced Goldie as a kind, gentle, warm, and most loving person. Her final gifts to her family were the many expressions of deep love that people offered when they heard of her death. At the end of life, she taught a great lesson in being able to turn around and accept people loving and taking care of her when she needed it most.

The end of my mother’s life was a long one. In circumstances it was soft at the end, but the experience was made hard by long slow deterioration of her abilities. It was a frustrating end to a life characterized by vigor and purposeful activity.

In tribute to her, and her unfailing consistency in living by and for her values and convictions, I want to tell the story of my mother. She had an exceptionally full and wonderful life, and that was of her own making. It was a just harvest for all the love she gave so generously.

When I hear some woman today sneer at how "men don't like strong women", I think of Goldie, and just marvel at how obtuse some people can be.

This woman was as strong as any person who ever lived, but she never once confused belligerence with strength. Marriage and children, and grandchildren, etc, were the central core of her life. She loved life and knew how to nurture it as well or better than anyone.

Goldie's secret was that she innocently and genuinely loved life and everything about it, and enthusiastically wanted to share it. A perfect illustration of how Goldie's love of life came out as caring for it, was the time we had a late winter storm after some of the calves had been born. Mom enlisted a neighbor lady's help and went out into the pasture and picked up the calves in a handcart and carried them down to the basement where she made a tent out of old sheets and warmed up the calves with an old hair dryer. She was in her late 60s.

On the night she died, I got out an old photo album with pictures of her going back to about age 10. In every picture, was that same smile with the same near dimples and the same twinkle in the eye. These were Goldie's trademarks, and everyone who knew her remembered these about her.

I had arrived late in Goldie's life, two days before she turned 40, thus I missed all the years of her as young woman and mother. But I could guess what they were like from the way that Goldie was in the years I did get to know her.

Simply put, Goldie was the best person I've ever known in my life.

The loss of women like Goldie, from the culture as a whole, will result in it being a far more hostile and uncomfortable place. Her speciality was comfort and she saw absolutely nothing to gain from being needlessly belligerent.

The loss of mothers like Goldie will change the family world that most of us live in most of the time. From an atmosphere of loving cooperation, we are moving culturally into a world of suspicious competition.

One of the first things I was struck with as I looked at photos from her younger life, the part I had missed, was the consistency of the smile across her ages, and being able to see the gradual transitions she went through as she moved from that freshness of youth, through a long and productive middle age, to as graceful an old age as she was able to accomplish. At the end, all her physical and mental capabilities just slipped away and she lay in one curled up position waiting to die for years.

But she did not turn loose of them readily or easily. Goldie's commitment to life can actually be seen in her last years as well as in her earlier more fruitful years. She was determinedly optimistic even the day she moved from her house to a nursing home. She was going to be out by that very afternoon and bake my brother's wife a cake. It was that kind of determination which had brought her through raising a family through a depression and world war, building a family business while in her 50s and early 60s, then retiring to an on-the-whole very gentle and gradual end to her life. Her children and their children were with her to the very end. She had been an extremely generous person throughout her long lifetime, and when it came time for her to receive, no one who loved her could hold back anything she wanted or needed. Her needs were always simple, and she was very respectful when asking, but if she did ask - you knew it was something she really wanted and you just wanted to give it to her.

Her ending was hard on all 3 of her children, and they divided up the tasks of organizing their mother's last party. There was a lot of gaiety to Goldie, and she loved a good party, particularly one where she was the guest of honor. Two took the logistics, and one took the difficult job of eulogizing their mother. It was both an easy and a difficult task. The ease lie in how much there was that could be said about Goldie, and the challenge was to make it an accurate portrait of our mother and why we all looked up to and loved her so: long enough to do her justice, but short enough not to lose people's attention. I wanted very intensely to give an accurate portrait of this lady and her sterling qualities.

Below, are selected portions of the eulogy I delivered at her funeral, 5/20/99. Goldie practiced the arts of wifehood, motherhood, and loving life in general, well into her 8th decade. Her children were widely seprated in years, her youngest being born two days before her 40th birthday. She always said that her children kept her young, and to see how her greatest pleasures lie in feeding people and taking care of them, you can understand how.


I want to extend welcome, on behalf of Goldie, since she is not able to welcome you herself, although we all know she would if she were able. If Goldie were in charge right now, we'd be bustling around getting you something to eat and drink. Feeding people was a big part of the way that Goldie showed love. Even if you stopped by for only a couple of minutes, Goldie saw to it that you never went away hungry or thirsty.

Anyone who has had the experience of losing a beloved knows that words cannot touch the meaning of that loss. When the beloved is a parent, part of our link in the chain of life is severed. While we experience death many times in our lives, and become accustomed to it, the death of a mother or father are events which only happen once in a lifetime.

One of the things my siblings and I have experienced as we’ve gone through the process of letting mom go is the realization that what we feel for Goldie goes beyond the love of a child for a parent. In addition to loving her, we also admired, respected, and, above all, trusted her.

We discovered that almost everyone felt the same way about Goldie. Somehow the frame of reference shifted from a perception of Goldie as mom, to Goldie as Goldie and how her entire life from beginning to end reflected a constant dedication to her values. While some degree of self-sacrifice was part of it, it was really far more a case of everyone simply sharing generously. Through Goldie's tutelage, we learned how it really is better to give than to receive: the delight in the eye of the recipient is an equal gift to the gift itself. In many respects, I envy those who knew my mother longer than I did. My brother and sister both experienced her as a young woman. I saw her only at middle age and after.

Her passing once again drives home the lessons she determinedly tried to teach throughout her life - teaching in the best way possible: by living them.

Goldie enriched the lives of everyone she touched, and she touched a lot of people. It was basic to Goldie’s nature that she reach out to others and touch them with a gentle, calming, and loving touch.

We will be known by our works, and I don’t want to pass up the opportunity to remark on the lessons of Goldie’s works, as a final chance to give thanks to her for her works on my behalf.

Goldie was a great teacher, in her quiet and unassuming way. She taught by being - by simply living what she believed - not really for the intentional purpose of serving as an example, but because she believed that was the way one should live one’s life. As one experienced and observed the results and Goldie’s effect on people, you realized she was right.

Even at the end of life, Goldie keeps teaching.

This latest lesson is a repetition of the lesson that there are many phases of life that we go through. And, while our role may change, it doesn’t mean that who we are changes. As Goldie’s physical and mental faculties progressively shut down on her, the kind and loving nature of her basic person kept shining through. A word I have heard over and over again to describe Goldie is "sweet."

In speaking with the minister preparing for Goldie's service, I learned something about Goldie that was both something I knew about her as well as seeing what I thought I knew in a new light. She said that the members of the church would often go to minister to my mother, and would come away feeling like they had been ministered to.

This was the essence of Goldie.

So there is more to it than just the child’s love for mother, which is what my sister and brother and I now feel, there was something in Goldie which just made people love her, and that something was the fact that she loved them.

Simply put, Goldie, mom, was the best person I ever met in my life.

When people tell me that they’re sorry to hear that my mother died, while it is meant in kindness, the circumstances of her passing make the joy outweigh the sorrow. All I can say is to them is that if they had known Goldie, they wouldn’t be sorry at all.

About a year and half ago, my uncle died. Suddenly thrust into the role of the elder of that family, my cousin, Don, said one of the wisest things I’ve ever heard. In speaking of his dad, Don said "We’re not here to mourn his death, but celebrate his life."

So, I welcome you here to join us in celebrating Goldie’s life.

And what a life it was. It was a life to be celebrated.

She lived through world wars and world economic depression. She saw more fundamental technological change in one generation than any other generation ever saw before or ever will see hence.

Goldie always had a lot of friends and made friends easily. It wasn't totally conscious on her part, although she did want to please, she was just so full of life that people felt good being around her. As a young girl, she was always laughing and bubbly and full of life. Her joyous smile was infectious.

Goldie had a rich and full life, with many dimensions to it. Goldie was first and foremost - wife, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother.

Family was the foundation for mom on which everything else was based. And on this foundation she built a 52 year partnership with a man who was not always the easiest to live with, gave herself to 3 generations of children, then turned around and graciously accepted their support when it came time for her to receive and for them to give back a little of the great gifts they had received from her.

Mom gave gracefully because she never thought of herself as "owning" love - to her, love meant passing it around. Holding onto it lest she somehow have "less" simply would never occur to her.

Goldie was an adventurer. As a teenager, she had a boyfriend who had a biplane, the photo of Goldie looking out of the cockpit shows her delight. Sixty years later, Goldie went on a cruise to Alaska and through the Panama Canal. Nothing ever daunted Goldie. The word "can’t" wasn’t in her vocabulary. She didn’t expect immediate results, Goldie’s secret weapon was persistence. Another perfect Goldie story happened on one of the many adventures she shared with her husband. They went fishing up in Minnesota. This was at a stage in their lives when money was scarce. They still enjoyed life itself without any need for a great many trappings to make it enjoyable. They could only afford fishing tackle for dad, so the guide fixed my mother up with a hook and a bobber and she wrapped the line around her finger. She caught the biggest fish of the trip.

Throughout Goldie’s life, she made many promises to people, and she kept them. While I am not aware of her ever breaking a promise to anyone, I think it is perhaps the promises that Goldie made to herself that she kept the best.

So, one of the things which I would most like to celebrate today is how Goldie’s promises to herself were the essence of who she turned out to be. And how her work is now done, and well done, and how she needs and deserves a rest.

We are well-wishers, seeing Goldie off on the next exciting part of her adventure. Goldie was never one to be tied down, but over the past 10 or 11 years, all her abilities gradually failed. Goldie was in there, but trapped - yearning to be free. Today she is free. I’m very happy for you mom.

In order to understand the wholeness and fullness of Goldie's life, no better words have ever been written than Ecclesiastes 3.

"To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.

- There is a time to sow, and a time to reap,

- a time to live, and a time to die."

There is indeed a time to sow, and a time to reap. All things do and must pass. Each generation must pass through all phases of life and learn its lessons.

Goldie understood this. During the time when it was her time to plant, she did so generously. She tended what she had sown, and made sure that her own never knew real lack. And when she grew old and infirm, she began to reap the harvest of what she had sown and tended so carefully. There is a time for that, and when it came for Goldie, she did it as gracefully as she did everything else.

Goldie was an artist, and while she used and mastered many media, from drawing to oils, her favored medium was life. Goldie was an accomplished artist in that subtle art of life. She imparted to her children that love of life which defined her, and a set of values that does not include ever doing harm. To the very end, Goldie retained a sense of innocence, awe, and wonder. The picture to the right is one of the many home-made christmas cards she made over nearly 40 years of carrying on that tradition. She drew the cover and composed the verse inside which was always news of the family's year.

Goldie loved life, and lived life, and lived love.

Goldie’s death was not unexpected. The family had years to prepare, and went through more than a few dry runs. Goldie had lived a full life, experienced a bountiful harvest, and now it was October for her. In the last of her seasons, she reaped a graciousness about receiving that she had always had about giving.

What was remarkable about Goldie, I will not use the word special because it has become so cheapened, was that from beginning to end she lived her life consistently, living a set of values that she passed on. That is a part of Goldie that you will find in every child and every grandchild. We hope that it will continue to be seen in great-grandchildren and their children.

These two pictures represent Goldie at each end of her adult life.
The picture on the right, is the way Goldie looked 3 years ago, 1996. However, if you had looked at Goldie through her own eyes, you would have found that in her own heart and mind, she looked a lot more like the picture on the left. Ever in Goldie’s heart was the world young and bright and new and full of promise. In the young girl, were the seeds of the promise of what Goldie was to become. While the changes were many, and the years relentless, I believe that you can still see that the smile is the same, and behind the glasses and the glare, the same twinkle is still in her eyes.

I’d like you to take a moment to look at the young Goldie on her way to becoming and see if you can imagine what dreams lurked behind those bright young eyes. Then I’d like you to look at the old Goldie, and see how all those dreams played out and how deeply satisfied she was. While it is easy to see the remarkable beauty and promise fresh and bursting into bloom in the picture of the young Goldie, it takes knowing her to see even greater beauty in the face of the old Goldie.

Goldie knew, when she was a teenager, exactly how she wanted to live her life. Not the details of the plans, but by which values. In the time interval which separates these two photos, close to seventy years, not once, not one single time, did Goldie ever act contrary to those values.

The most cherished legacy Goldie left her descendants, is one of absolute and perfect trust. Goldie understood the importance of keeping faith as few still do.

What some people did not see under Goldie’s kindness, was her grit and determination. This, too, is a legacy she leaves her family. "Can’t" wasn’t in Goldie’s vocabulary until about 10 years ago. While she accepted it with grace, she hated it. The reason I feel such joy for Goldie today, is because she is finally free of the prison her body had become.

The weeping that Goldie’s children have done for our mother, is not from sadness that our mother now is getting her well-earned rest, but tears of joy over having known her.

And I’d like to tell you a bit about the path that Goldie followed on her way between the beginning and end of her life.

Goldie was born July 26th, 1912 in small central Missouri town. Her mother's maiden name was Holt, and the town was named Holt Summit. There were ties here for her that went back to the town's founding. She had two sisters and a brother. Goldie was 7 years old when the armistice ended WW I. She was a teenager during the roaring 20s. Now, if that isn’t enough to give a father sleepless nights. On new years eve, 1932, Goldie married Woody, the man with whom she was going to spend most of her life. Many times mom told the story of saying the first time she laid eyes on my dad - "That’s the man I’m going to marry." Knowing mom, it’s very easy to believe. Determination was a character trait that Goldie had in good measure. Once she made up her mind to do something, there wasn’t much that could stop her.

Being a wife and mother was so central to Goldie, that her life can only be seen in its wholeness by seeing how these roles both defined her, and were her greatest passion. Woody was her partner, and they were in it for the long haul. It was on that framework that all the rest of the experiences of Goldie’s life were built.

In 1935, at the height of the depression, they had a daughter. In 1942, with the war raging, they had a son. While times were thin, Goldie still made sure somehow that her children never lacked anything they really needed. As young marrieds and parents, Goldie and Woody learned to lean on each other and to be partners. Goldie took care of Woody until the day before he died, and only gave in when the family ganged up on her because she was exhausted from caring for him. But, all the time it mattered, Goldie was there when Woody needed her.

Two days before her 40th birthday, Goldie had a third child, a son. Goldie experienced motherhood for a far greater portion of her life than many women. In 1960, Woody and Goldie bought a small business, a country bank, and for the next 14 years they worked six-day weeks. They built the business well, and it provided a comfortable retirement for both of them. To the end of her days, life was as gentle and tender to mom as she had been toward it. The nursing home where she spent her last days provided nothing but the finest care. Her church was a great comfort to her.

The years at the bank were good years for them. With only one chick left in the nest, they traveled, not widely but well. They began to be able to have the things they had worked for all their lives. This was their early harvest. The picture on the left was taken in Hawaii. Together they created many adventures for themselves.

When Goldie and Woody retired, they returned to the country. Goldie the artist, took up oil painting and one of her paintings hangs in the nursing home where she spent the last 5 years of her life. They both had a few good years, then Woody’s health failed. At ages 66 and 68, Goldie had the pluck to climb on the tractor, and keep up the "genteel farming operation" until it became clear that Woody would not recover enough to take it over again. In 1982, they moved to a retirement center, and Woody died about a year and half later.

The years since then, were Goldie's harvest years - for mom, the months of September and October. I first noticed that mom was failing, eleven years ago. Dear Goldie could drive 30 miles from her home to my house in the city, but I couldn’t get her to understand how to get to the Quick Trip at the other end of the block. The time since then has been watching her slip away so gradually that it was tough to see, except when you compared year to year. In her life, Goldie had never encountered a real obstacle, merely temporary setbacks. When we could no longer maintain her in her home and brought her to the center, she planned to get out that afternoon and make a cake for my brother's wife. Goldie was always looking ahead to the future, and was never without plans for it.

See, I told you that in Goldie’s eyes, the world was still as full of promise to her as it ever was.

In the end, Goldie’s body simply failed on her. But never her spirit.

It is that which we love most about her, and something she gave to all her descendants. That is her legacy - a legacy of spirit.

So, in the end, Goldie accomplished exactly what she set out to do.

Thank you mom. Thank you Goldie. No finer job has ever been done.

Rest well and easy. You’ve earned it.

7/26/12 - 5/16/99

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

EOTM: The Art of Loving - Erich Fromm, 1956

In the 1950s, there was a significant amount of social criticism of the "American way" of life. Eisenhower warned of the dangers of the "Military-Industrial Complex", books like "The Organization Man" and "Man in the Grey Flannel Suit" questioned life in corporate America, and thousands of books both fiction and non-fiction questioned the ways that American's pursued personal relationships, marriage, and love. Erich Fromm, in particular, questioned whether love was something to be acquired, as most Americans seemed to think, or something to be practiced - an art, a skill - and whether the experience of love was gained by loving or by being loved.

I agree with Fromm's formulation that love is a verb, not a noun. Here is the first chapter of his 1956 work on the subject. Since this is a non-commerical site, I think reproduction of this comes under fair usage and does not violate copyright laws, particularly since I encourage everyone who wants more love in their lives to buy this book.

Chapter 1 - "Is love an Art?"

IS LOVE an art? Then it requires knowledge and effort. Or is love a pleasant sensation, which to experience is a matter of chance, something one "falls into" if one is lucky? This little book is based on the former premise, while undoubtedly the majority of people today believe in the latter.

Not that people think that love is not important. They are starved for it; they watch endless numbers of films about happy and unhappy love stories, they listen to hundreds of trashy songs about love--yet hardly anyone thinks that there is anything that needs to be learned about love.

This peculiar attitude is based on several premises which either singly or combined tend to uphold it. Most people see the problem of love primarily as that of being loved, rather than that of loving, of one's capacity to love. Hence the problem to them is how to be loved, how to be lovable. In pursuit of this aim they follow several paths. One, which is especially used by men, is to be successful, to be as powerful and rich as the social margin of one's position permits. Another, used especially by women, is to make oneself attractive, by cultivating one's body, dress, etc. Other ways of making oneself attractive, used both by men and women, are to develop pleasant manners, interesting conversation, to be helpful, modest, inoffensive. Many of the ways to make oneself lovable are the same as those used to make one- self successful, "to win friends and influence people." As a matter of fact, what most people in our culture mean by being lovable is essentially a mixture between being popular and having sex appeal.

A second premise behind the attitude that there is nothing to be learned about love is the assumption that the problem Of love is the problem of an object, not the problem of a faculty. People think that to love is simple, but that to find the right object to love--or to be loved by-is difficult. This attitude has several reasons rooted in the development of modern society. One reason is the great change which occurred in the twentieth century with respect to the choice Of a "love object." In the Victorian age, as in many traditional cultures, love was mostly not a spontaneous personal experience which then might lead to marriage. On the contrary, marriage was contracted by convention--either by the respective families, Or by a marriage broker, or without the help of such intermediaries; it was concluded ~n the basis of social considerations, and love was supposed to develop once the marriage had been concluded. In the last few generations the concept of romantic love has become almost universal in the Western world. In the United States, while considerations of a conventional nature are not entirely absent, to a vast extent people are in search of "romantic love," of the personal experience of love which then should lead to marriage. This new concept of freedom in love must have greatly enhanced the importance of the object as against the importance of the function.

Closely related to this factor is another feature characteristic of contemporary culture. Our whole culture is based on the appetite for buying, on the idea of a mutually favor- able exchange. Modern man's happiness consists in the thrill of looking at the shop windows, and in buying all that he can afford to buy, either for cash or on installments. He (or she) looks at people in a similar way. For the man an attractive girl --and for the woman an attractive man--are the prizes they are after. "Attractive" usually means a nice pack- age of qualities which are popular and sought after on the personality market. What specifically makes a person attractive depends on the fashion of the time, physically as well as mentally. During the twenties, a drinking and smoking girl, tough and sexy, was attractive; today the fashion demands more domesticity and coyness. At the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of this century, a man had to be aggressive and ambitious--today he has to be social and tolerant-- in order to be an attractive "package." At any rate, the sense of falling in love develops usually only with regard to such human commodities as are within reach of one's own possibilities for exchange. I am out for a bargain; the object should be desirable from the standpoint of its social value, and at the same time should want me, considering my overt and hidden assets and potentialities. Two persons thus fall in love when they feel they have found the best object available on the market, considering the limitations of their own exchange values. Often, as in buying real estate, the hidden potentialities which can be developed play a considerable role in this bargain. In a culture in which the marketing orientation prevails, and in which material success is the outstanding value, there is little reason to be surprised that human love relations follow the same pattern of exchange which governs the commodity and the labor market.

The third error leading to the assumption that there is nothing to be learned about love lies in the confusion between the initial experience of "falling" in love, and the permanent state of being in love, or as we might better say, of "standing" in love. If two people who have been strangers, as all of us are, suddenly let the wall between them break down, and feel close, feel one, this moment of oneness is one of the most exhilarating, most exciting experiences in life. It is all the more wonderful and miraculous for persons who have been shut off, isolated, without love. This miracle of sudden intimacy is often facilitated if it is combined with, or initiated by, sexual attraction and consummation. However, this type of love is by its very nature not lasting. The two persons become well acquainted, their intimacy loses more and more its miraculous character, until their antagonism, their disappointments, their mutual boredom kill whatever is left of the initial excitement. Yet, in the beginning they do not know all this: in fact, they take the intensity of the infatuation, this being "crazy" about each other, for proof of the intensity of their love, while it may only prove the degree of their preceding loneliness.

This attitude--that nothing is easier than to love--has continued to be the prevalent idea about love in spite of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. There is hardly any activity, any enterprise, which is started with such tremendous hopes and expectations, and yet, which fails so regularly, as love. If this were the case with any other activity, people would be eager to know the reasons for the failure, and to learn how one could do better--or they would give up the activity. Since the latter is impossible in the case of love, there seems to be only one adequate way to overcome the failure of love--to examine the reasons for this failure, and to proceed to study the meaning of love.

The first step to take is to become aware that love is an art, just as living is an art; if we want to learn how to love we must proceed in the same way we have to proceed if we want to learn any other art, say music, painting, carpentry, or the art of medicine or engineering.

What are the necessary steps in learning any art?

The process of learning an art can be divided conveniently into two parts: one, the mastery of the theory; the other, the mastery of the practice. If I want to learn the art of medicine, I must first know the facts about the human body, and about various diseases. When I have all this theoretical knowledge, I am by no means competent in the art of medicine. I shall become a master in this art only after a great deal of practice, until eventually the results of my theoretical knowledge and the results of my practice are blended into one--my intuition, the essence of the mastery of any art. But, aside from learning the theory and practice, there is a third factor necessary to becoming a master in any art--the mastery of the art must be a matter of ultimate concern; there must be nothing else in the world more important than the art. This holds true for music, for medicine, for carpentry--- and for love. And, maybe, here lies the answer to the question of why people in our culture try so rarely to learn this art, in spite of their obvious failures: in spite of the deep-seated craving for love, almost everything else is considered to be more important than love: success, prestige, money, power-almost all our energy is used for the learning of how to achieve these aims, and almost none to learn the art of loving.

Could it be that only those things are considered worthy of being learned with which one can earn money or prestige, and that love, which "only" profits the soul, but is profitless in the modern sense, is a luxury we have no right to spend much energy on?


Back to Gender War, Sexuality, and Love

Monday, May 02, 2005

EOTM: Love: The Real Kind

Forget "Romeo and Juliet" and its modern day clone "West Side Story". Forget "Sleepless in Seattle", "When Harry Met Sally", and all the rest of the commercial Hollywood tripe. If you want to see a real love story, rent a small budget film by the Montana Historical Commission called "Heartland".

Set in Montana (surprise!) around the turn of the last century, this beautiful little film shows mature love at its mundane but substantive best. There are no roses, Valentines, jewelry, or hankie waving declarations of love. There are simply two people who grow to respect, care for, and trust each other with their lives. Neither could hardly be farther from a Hollywood stereotype. No cover material for GQ or Cosmo here. Just people of substance and character who learn to depend on each other and support each other as they face the common challenges of survival.

The modern notions of "romance" and "romantic love", peddled in the forms of mindless mass market entertainment called romance novels and "chick flicks", have created such unrealistic and destructive expectations in the minds of so many people, mostly women but also a large number of men, that ordinary relationships which fall short of the simplistic perfection of idealized "love" are no longer considered satisfactory to most. There are never any stopped-up toilets, nor unpaid bills. Everything is "perfect", idyllic, utopian: the modern day version of the garden of eden myth. Gone is the concept of "for better or worse" which was the foundation that made marriage so successful historically.

When one can depend on someone year in and year out to be a partner and a support, to lend a helping hand when one falls, to nurse one through the occasional sickness or misfortune that is part of the real human condition; over time a deep respect and caring grows. This is real love. This is what will make a marriage work.

Romance is the most transitory and ephemeral thing in the world. One of the stupidest statements possible in the English language is "I still love you, but I'm not in love with you." We can be "in" a bathtub, or "in" deep shit, but we cannot be "in" love. Love is a verb, not a noun. One experiences love by loving, not by having love poured on them.

The emotions associated with romantic love are based entirely on the drive to reproduce which is built into the cells of every living thing. The thrills, the headiness, the euphoria, are all part of the mechanisms which serve the purpose of inducing us to take risks which may endanger ourselves in order to engage in the reproductive act. For most of their lives, human beings today are not active in reproduction. Basing relationships solely on reproductive mechanisms leaves them no foundation when reproduction is not the purpose of the relationship. This is why the vast majority of marriages are failing at the end of the 20th century.

Modern relationships tend to be like the old Greek myth of Procrustes, the robber who kept an inn to lure unwary travelers. He demanded that they fit perfectly into the only bed he had and chopped off parts which were too long or streched parts which were too short to fit. The ubiquitous nature of modern media has created "ideals" of what and how people "should" be which are so rigidly fixed in many people's minds that the first thing they do in a relationship is set out to transform the other person into the closest facsimile of the ideal which is possible given the nature of the raw material.

This is particularly true of women. Dozens of authors, women and men, have used the phrase "men are projects", i.e. remodeling projects. Folk wisdom on this issue abounds. "Women are always surprised when their husbands do not change after marriage. Men are always surprised when their wives do." Women who consider their mates projects instead of partners will always end up in a power struggle and control battle which, for the man, amounts to fighting for his life. The implicit message is "I have the right to, and intend to, destroy who you are so that I can make you into who I want you to be." Not surprisingly, this message does not thrill many men.

Mistaking the feelings which fuel the reproductive drive for love, and the false confusion of sex with intimacy and love, creates relationships which cannot be anything but short term and disappointing. In rural America, many a kitchen has a plaque on the wall that reads: "Kissin' don't last, cookin' do." This folk wisdom reflects the fact that a marriage is essentially a partnership formed for the purpose of helping the partners and their offspring survive. A natural division of labor based on the differing roles in the reproductive process made it wonderfully good sense for the male to spend proportionately more time in the outside world doing the work of feeding and clothing the family, while the female spent proportionately more time in the home using the produce of the male's work to create an environment which was conducive to survival for both of them and their children. Romance does not feed you when you are hungry, nor keep you from freezing to death when the temperature is below zero.

Only when all basic survival needs have been met, do people have the luxury of pursuing activities purely for pleasure, entertainment, recreation, or self-fulfillment. Technology, urbanization, and modern production/distribution systems have moved most life sustaining activities outside the bounds of the typical family today. Basic survival needs are seen as "entitlements", which is far different from conditions which prevailed in this country only a few decades ago, and which still prevail in most of the world. Survival is NOT an entitlement to most people. People who stand balanced on the precarious edge of survival understand this all too well. In such conditions, someone who shares their own resources to help another survive is commonly understood to be doing so because they are acting out of the emotion of love.

Therefor, a realistic definition of love is sharing one's resources to help another survive or even prosper. This is so central to men's intuitive understanding of what love really is, that when this is NOT seen as love, when it is rejected as love and they are told that love is objects given, they refuse to accept than definition and get confused and angry. They fall into the trap of believing that the more safe and comfortable they can make a woman feel, the more she will feel that he loves her. Modern men have been slow to realize that the sense of entitlement of the emotionally arrested adolescents, which modern women have become, makes them consider this to be the zero point. It is not the result of their labors, simply the minimum entrance requirements to get men to the starting line.

Comfort, safety, freedom from hunger, are all assumed by women today. And like the proverbial complaint of every generation about the next, they have no idea what it took to create it. They assume that they are entitled to it, and are wounded and oppressed if they do not have it given to them. Now that material expectations have escalated to the point where it takes years of 60+ hour weeks to accumulate enough experience and wealth (plus social connections and a lot of good luck) to be able to provide that, the vast majority of loving men are simply invisible to most women.

Today, the idea that a woman be a partner and expend a equal amount of effort to creating the comfortable environment they share has given way to the dogma of victimhood which asserts that a man who asks, or worse has the audacity to expect, that a woman make an equal contribution is considered guilty of oppression. Most women throw away more real love than most men get in their lifetimes.

Sadly, this fiction has been so well promoted and publicized that the majority of women have fallen for it: not just the extremists. Nothing is more indicative of the paradox of today's notions of love than the woman who complains bitterly about all the shortcomings of men, makes her hostility and contempt for them clear on a regular basis, dismisses their attempts to show love in the way that they know best, then cannot figure out why she cannot get one of these awful creatures to fall head over heels "in love" with her. Watching such a woman it is easy to take the equally hostile position that; even if the distorted claims of the feminists were true regarding how men consider women's mental capacity to be limited, they were apparently not without justification: women do not exhibit much intelligence when it comes to recognizing how their own behavior contributes directly to their circumumstances.

The most bewildering thing to men today, is how women expect them to take this outpouring of hostility and hatred and magically transform it into warm feelings for those women. Women seem to believe that they can bully men into loving them by hating us. It doesn't work that way. Hate breeds hate. LOVE breeds love, and any woman willing to love men, or one specific man, will find herself well loved in return. As long as she does not mistake jewelry and sport utility vehicles for love.


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Sunday, May 01, 2005

EOTM: Romantic Nonsense

There is no influence more destructive to contemporary male/female relationships than the modern fictions regarding romance and romantic love. Romantic fantasy is the female counterpart to heroic fantasy for males, to which it is closely related. Both are immature indulgences of fantasies of personal power and public recognition or confirmation of that power. In fact, the term romance itself derives from a form of medieval tale of heroic or marvelous achievements designed to appeal to the imagination and provide some pallative for the generally humdrum and burdensome lives of most people. Hm. Not much seems to have changed since 800 AD.

Romance as it is commmonly used today is nothing more than a pretty name for the mating dance among human beings. It is essentially sexual, but its sexual nature is hidden under some very erroneous conceptions about the nature of love. Due to the fact that sexuality is so repressed and negated in many cultures, while remaining an inherent ruling force in the lives of the citizens of those cultures, romance has developed as a sterilized form of sexual expression stripped of the "dirtiness" and shamefullness of being honest about what it really is.

The conflicting and impossible notions of romantic love are nowhere better illustrated than in the over 25 million romance novels consumed each month by American women. The heroines are always beautiful, never plain, and the men they entrance with this great beauty are always wealthy and powerful rogues. There are no dull accountants, greasy mechanics, or laborers with rough and calloused hands. These rogues walk the perfect fine line between just enough respect for the woman's wishes that they never force her beyond what she wants, while they always force her beyond what she says. If the "no means no" dictum were applied, virtually all these men are rapists, but noble ones: the kind of men that the heroines really want to ignore their symbolic protests. The perennial popularity of the old classic "Gone With the Wind" among women, while men generally regard it as stupid, shows the enduring nature of the Rhett Butler type of character in women's fantasies.

Romantic characters are always larger than life. This causes no serious problem for those who retain the ability to distinguish fantasy from reality, but it wreaks havoc on the lives of those forget that the fantasy is essentially escapism and begin to regard it as a prescription for how life is or needs to be conducted. Characters in romantic fantasies bear no resemblance to real people. If they did, it would be history not romantic fantasy. Unfortunately many people today have lost touch with reality and have become as unrealistic in their notions of personality and personal conduct as they have become in their notions of physical beauty.

A woman aqaintance of mine recently made a profoundly disturbing statement. I had been listening to her for several months bashing men and making it clear that any man who was going to get access to her (presumably gold lined) panties was going to have to be prepared to support her in the manner to which she wanted to become accustomed. (ie. carry her around on a satin pillow.) She got quite a thrill out of the nickname "Princess" which she had acquired. One day I noticed her sitting by herself looking morose. I walked over, sat down beside her, and provided her a conversational opening to talk about it if she were so inclined.

She sighed and said, with tears in her eyes and in the best pitiful and breathy delivery I have heard since Olivia Hussey in Franco Ziffarelli's Romeo and Juliet, "My heart is sooo empty". Damn fool, I, took this as an honest statement from someone in emotional pain. After listening to her for several minutes recount the depth and intensity of her pain and all the circumstances in her life contributing to it, I tried to provide some gentle feedback on some of the things she was doing to make it unlikely that a man who might be able to fill some of that emptiness could find his way through the minefields and machine guns she had surrounding her heart, so he could lay his paycheck at her feet, or would be motivated to do so. Her response was most enlightening, and at the same time scary and disheartening.

After several minutes justifying her actions based on her past treatment by men, during which I kept saying that I wasn't questioning whether she was justified in her actions but rather simply pointing out that they didn't seem to be getting her what she wanted, she made the incredible statement that the best "relationship" she'd ever had happened entirely in her own mind and didn't require the participation of the male at all. This woman had completely lost the ability to distinguish the reality of relationship with a flesh and blood male from the fantasy she created in her own mind, and distinctly preferred the fantasy to any reality she had experienced.

Several years ago I might have followed that comment up with an argument trying to get her to see that the very term "relationship" kinda implied the presence and participation of another human being, but after thousands of hours of such argument I have learned the complete futility of it. "Don't try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time, and it ANNOYS the pig!" (Robert Heinlein) I simply said "Oh" and walked away sadly reflecting on the fact that this attitude seems so prevalent in women these days.

Normally, when an adult so loses touch with reality that they have relationships with non-existent people we call it mental illness. We think it is "cute" for someone below the age of 10 to have imaginary playmates, but we worry about someone who can drive a car, vote, and own a gun who can't tell the difference between a flesh and blood person and one whom they've made up. I wonder what would have happened if this woman's imaginary lover had told her that in order for him to truly love her forever that she had to kill the president.

Of course I'm being facetious, but this is the perfect illustration of the source of so much of the breakdown of relationships between men and women which is being blamed on men's "oppression" of women. I suppose that, to someone who lives in a perfect world inside her own head, it is oppressive to demand that they face reality. However it is a form of oppression that I consider perfectly acceptable when making decisions about the people I want to play significant roles in my life, whether that be a mate, a friend, a public policy maker, or certainly a surgeon. How many people would lay down on a table and put a knife in the hands of someone who said "The most successful operation I ever performed was in my own head and didn't require a patient"?

It also illustrates precisely why men find it nearly impossible to take women seriously unless that woman has some form of power over them, as well as why men are not anxious to give women that power. Men are far from "perfect" beings and will never make "perfect" husbands, lovers, or whatever else it is that a woman is looking for a man to be; particularly not when the standard of "perfection" exists entirely within the head of someone who cannot distinguish reality from fantasy. If I were "perfect", perhaps in 2000 years I would have a religion named after me. However, I'm completely aware that I'm not "perfect" and have no desire to be the next messiah for people to kill other people in my name. I have even less desire to allow people to kill, imprison, enslave, entrap, or dictate to me what my life "should" be based on what their imaginary playmates tell them.

Every man I know has a deep and sincere desire to love and please a woman (except those who have that desire toward a man). And supposedly that is what some women want as well. However, since neither I nor any other man has any chance of competing with a figment of someone's imagination, designed in every detail to be perfect and fulfill her every whim. I am no longer willing to tip-toe through the minefield and face the machine gun fire to lay my paycheck at her feet, so I can find my way into one of those empty hearts. I sit on the sidelines and watch women barricade themselves into their misery.


Now is when the story really begins to get scary.

Some weeks later a mutual acquaintance told me that the woman had claimed I had been making a pass at her. What made this delusional, no hallucinatory, was the fact that the day we spoke was 4 weeks to the day after I had slid my motorcyle into a guard rail, breaking a collar bone and sustaining internal injuries. My bruised lung did not show up right away, but ended up sending me to the emergency room exactly one week before this conversation, with my Dr. afraid that I had a pulmonary embolism. Getting back on the bike and having another wreck was about the only thing I could have been less interested in than any between-the-sheets athletics. To this day I am not sure whether the woman lied intentionally about it, or whether this was just another relationship which happened entirely in her mind and didn't require my participation. I'm just damn glad that she hallucinated ( or lied ) that it was a pass and not a rape. Even trying to be friendly and kind to a woman seems to be becoming risky.

This interaction highlights so many of the issues which are ripping apart the ability of men and women to manage even the barest resemblance of peaceful coexistance. The acid tests of sense and reality have given way to the primacy of "how it feels": the subjective placement of self at the center of an island universe into which everything falls and nothing escapes. Women have social permission to be "black holes": to take everything and give back nothing; not even the understanding that sexuality is the last thing on the mind of a man whose body is broken.

But, more than broken bodies, men today are walking around with broken spirits. Faced with a world filled with women who are so indoctrinated in their entitlement to victimhood, men have been taught that they will be attacked for asking for anything; much less having the arrogance to expect something in return for caring about, giving to, and trying to love women. For many women the old principle of reciprocity, the "give and take" which allows groups of people to co-exist without slaughtering each other, is imposition, "oppression." The "modern woman's" version of "give and take" is "everyone else gives, I take."

Having fallen for the foul lies of "male power and privilege" and having been duped into believing in the ultimate and ubiquitous "bogeyman" of "THE Patriarchy", many women are trapped in a frenzy of theft and looting. In their fervor to "get" men, and "get" their fare share from men who they have been tricked into believing have it, women have blinded themselves to the ways in which they steal from and victimize other women.

A perfect example of this was provided recently by a high profile web feminist. Ever anxious to find evidence to further the fictions of universal victimhood and oppression for all women, she "deconstructed" a popular piece of media tripe, "My Best Friends Wedding", for insidious anti-female messages. According to Diane Glass, web feminist:

"Here are three main messages, hidden behind the movie's comic script:
  • "You can't be friends with men AND their lovers.
  • "Men can have careers and love. Women cannot have both-they have to choose between the two. Why? Because men can marry younger women and when they do, men do not have to make sacrifices of any kind. (this in itself is an interesting to ponder. It seems femininity is lost as a woman ages. Could it be that femininity is naivety and an immaturity that blindly follows?)
And finally,
  • Modern women end up with gay men.

Pretty serious stuff to be taking from nothing more than the fact that the character portrayed by Julia Roberts could not, in only 4 days, break up a wedding that had been in the works for some time and involved vast social networks of very powerful people. Ms Glass goes on to make 2 more points in her deconstruction that, themselves, would be impossible to prove without the unassailable axiom of universal victimhood of women:

"Choices for modern women are fraught with the harsh choice of platonic love, Broadway tunes and friendships with men that never journey to the heights of the devoted and pure love, this movie suggests, that traditional marriage offers."


"The message is clear: Women sacrifice regardless; it is freedom for a price and compromise is the role of women, modern or traditional. "

While these are all compelling laments of victimhood, my "traditionalist" view is that there are certain social realities which make this characteristic of life in general: not just the lives of "Modern Women". Herein lies the fundamental conflict which drives gender politics. Absolutely central to this conflict lies the desire to "have it all", which seems to go with an unwillingness to pay any price for it whatsoever. This violates what I consider to be a fundamental principle of economics, as well as life: "There just ain't no such thing as a free lunch". In the end someone has to pick up the check.

My contention is that compromise is the role of anyone, male or female, who wants to live within a social structure. Implicit in the contract to receive the benefits of being able to live relatively free of anyone else's predatory desire to take from us something we have and they want, is the agreement to be bound by the same social constraints and NOT to steal from someone else something they have and we want. All of the body of law and social practice revolves around this one principle. Everyone is constantly faced with choices of whether to be a thief and a looter, or to act with integrity and work to gain what they desire through the mechanism of effort applied over time. The concept of "entitlement" is a compelling one to the person who feels entitled, but is far less attractive to those who must pick up the check.

The sense of entitlement to an experience which is completely fictionalized leads to the suspension of all social rules and constraints, while at the same time paradoxically locks the person into more of a prison than those constraints ever did. I wrote the author to point out a couple of implications that she had not mentioned. First: that the man was not a character at all, but rather a plot device, a prop in the competition between the two women for "the man prize". Second: that the primacy of marriage to a woman's happiness is just as present in this movie as it was 40 years ago, simply updated with new clothing and hairstyles. Characterizing the message as being "Women cannot have both careers and love, they must choose" obscures the real message, which is that career is only a fallback position, not even a consolation prize but a palliative for those who fall and skin themselves when they lunge for the brass ring of "romantic love." In this case, the woman who fails to win "the man prize" is definitely "the loser".

Her third point, that modern women end up with gay men, is actually the same as her first, that you cannot be friends with men AND their lovers. Aside from the fact that this attitude dangerously denigrates the value of friendship and foolishly dismisses the value of Agape, non-sexual love, as compared to Eros, sexual love; it promotes a self-centeredness when it comes to love that is antithetical to love. Once again, the fundamental principle of reciprocity is absent. In relationships with gay men, women do not enjoy the built in power differential which sexual politics within a "romantic" relationship gives them. They must treat gay men fundamentally as equals, because they have nothing the gay man wants and needs which they can withhold as a means of exercising power. Gay men are even safer as friends for straight women than other straight women, because they seldom compete for the same "man prize". Most men's sexual affiliation is "either/or", so gay men and straight women never end up competing for the same man. Straight men and women can be friends on the same basis, but once romantic politics enters the picture the friendship is often doomed because the heavy agenda of expectations that go with romance suddenly begin to lead to dissatisfaction with the person who was previously just fine the way he/she was.

The archetypal "chick flick", "When Harry met Sally", is a perfect illustration. Early in the movie, Harry and Sally discuss how difficult it is for men and women to be friends: "because the sex thing is always there." Years later, after supporting each other through ups and downs in their love lives and careers, she calls on him for comfort after learning that an old boyfriend is getting married. Someone else has "won" her "man prize." Her value as the ultimate achievement of woman, i.e. to be called "wife" by some man, has been called into question. Harry is unable to hold the line on the friendship, and falls into the trap of proving her sexual value to her by the only means at his disposal: he goes to bed with her. The next scene shows Harry with his eyes as big as saucers and the perfect "oh shit! What have I done?" look on his face. The friendship is now doomed by the baggage of expectations of romance that go with the sexual script. Far more than MBFW, WHMS shows clearly that two people of the opposite sex, indeed, CANNOT be friends AND lovers. Once they go to bed, the old basis of the friendship is destroyed and Sally has complete social sanction to be as hateful as she likes toward Harry for not living up to his part of the romantic script.

In the romantic script, Harry clearly OWES Sally something for the bit of emotional comfort he attempted to provide her. This is where most men balk, and one of the primary reasons why so many of them do not call the next day. At this juncture, men have their choice of two roles in the romantic script: the lapdog or the cad. (Actually "cad" has fallen out of general usage today: replaced by the general purpse, one-size-fits-all "jerk".) Canadian journalist Wendy Dennis (sic) puts it this way: "If a man puts his penis into a woman's vagina, he must call her the next day." "Guys would get this in a second if they had vaginas, but so far they don't -- that's why I have to rattle on here." In other words, possession of the magic vagina gives women the power to "make the rules."

It's not that men don't "get" it, as the cliched complaint of women goes, it is that they don't "BUY" it. The stupid nonsense about men fearing the "vagina dentata", the cunt with teeth, is one of the most persistent pieces of childish foolishness. Men know that the teeth are in the steel jawed trap of the fictionalized script of romantic love/sex/marriage. The vagina is simply the bait. This is the arena where the most fundamental issues of male versus female power get played out. When a woman presents herself as not being after a (THE) commitment, the man is justified in assuming that sex is an equal exchange. In any real scenario of equality, the man would be just as entitled to a reassuring call the next day as the woman is. And, given the highly charged and politicized atmosphere of "date rape", men are actually in more need of it today than women are: to reassure them that she had a good time and is not getting ready to press charges.

Men are fully aware that women frequently use sex to jump-start "romance". Prior to the expansion and blurring of concepts of rape, men had some chance of being avoiding being ensnared into a romantic fantasy by pointing out the contradictions between women's pre- and post-coital behavior and statements. Now that the subjective experience of women has become the standard of law, while men's experience is categorically denied and refuted, men are growing increasingly suspcious and distant.

Modern women really do have a raw deal right now, not because of any of the reasons mentioned by the web feminist, but because of the point of view she promotes. Women are just as bound by the "Feminine Mystique" as they were 40 years ago, and cannot be happy without experiencing "true love" which is totally fictionalized and doesn't exist, while they also have to live up to the old "Masculine Mystique" and experience "career success and satisfaction" which is equally fictionalized. The majority of men have never had careers, they had JOBS: stupid, meaningless, demeaning, boring, humiliating, JOBS! The statement that "men can have careers and love" is laughable to most men, as is " men do not have to make sacrifices of any kind." The very act of going to work each day; at a stupid, meaningless, demeaning, boring, humiliating, JOB! is regarded by most men as sacrifice enough in life to be able to ask for a bit of appreciation and peace and quiet in return. But in an environment of no reciprocity, that doesn't even pass minumum standards. Men must do this AND meet women's emotional needs as well, while men themselves are starving to death emotionally.

Men have been putting up with this for years, yet will seldom jump up to protect themselves and demand some reciprocity. They will, however, generally jump up to protect a woman who is being threatened and protect her interests. Thus they get to play the hero, and remain caught in the eternal drama.

Where they can generally do nothing however, is the case where a woman is being victimized by another woman. The credo of universal victimhood blinds women to they ways in which they prey upon other women, as well as the extent to which they are victimized by other women. In the movie, as soon as the competion for "the man prize" began, the male was set up to be the bad guy.

Had the "morally superior" "modern woman" in MBFW prevailed, there would simply have been another female victim. Only this time it would have been the stereotype of men rather than a traditional role of women which had victimized her. The jilted woman would have had far more right to claim victimhood, by being abandonded, than the "modern woman" has the right to claim victimhood by having to make a choice. The fiction that feminism has used to promote itself is freedom of choice for women, yet that freedom is now seen as a burden and source of victimization. Obviously, that freedom of choice should only apply to women who choose to be modern, and women who choose more traditional roles should be punished for that choice by the same loss of "love" which was the modern woman's punishment.

In other words, only women who make the "right" choice get to choose, in which case it is no choice at all, but simply a "new & improved" political orthodoxy to replace the "old & flawed" traditional one. Somehow the notion of equal rights has been twisted into the old familiar "but some are more equal than others". Obviously, those who are more equal are the ones who should "have it all" while the rest of us pick up the check. Sneering at the "traditional" woman's right to exercise her constitutional right to "the pursuit of happiness" by methods of her own choice, points out how patently elitist feminism really is.

The real reasons that "modern" and career women get left out in the cold when it comes to love are seen in the characterization of the dreaded "traditional" woman. The first 4 words used to describe this person were "gentle, loving, supportive", followed by "sacrificing". David Buss, in "Evolution of Desire" points out how these traits are universal across ALL cultures as the most significant traits influencing the choice of life mate, above physical beauty for men and material wealth for women. The credo of victimhood and the rejection of the dreaded "traditional" female role blind women to the fact that no one could possibly love someone who exhibited the opposite traits of being "harsh, un-loving, un-supportive, and selfish", yet these are the traits we see growing in women, and required of the "modern" woman.

There is no free lunch, and women now seem to resent the fact that they must pay for a man's love by loving him in return. The sense of entitlement to romantic love is the greatest factor in the world today which renders women unlovable.

Real men have no possible way to compete with, or even live up to the standards set by, "imaginary playmates". And I suppose that it really shouldn't surprise men that women would rather "have it all" entirely within their own heads than to have any of it in reality that they would have to pay for. Men have to take some of the responsibility for this. In being hooked by "hero" fantasies, picking up the check has a lot of power. Well, guys, our credit card has been revoked, our credit line maxed out. It's COD from here on out.


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