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Men and Commitment

The following is an interview with psychologist George Weinberg about men and commitment.

Q: Why are so many men afraid of commitment?

A: Men are not really afraid of commitment, but of something deeper.  They’re afraid of losing their “masculinity,” and they believe that this is what commitment implies. This may seem incredibly infantile and even insulting to women. But it’s true. Men feel that if they fall in love and stay with one woman, they will lose their “manhood.”

Q: Isn’t that a little bit crazy on the part of men?

A: Definitely.  But it really isn’t our fault. Men spend their whole lives showing that they’re strong and silent. They fight for independence the way women struggle to connect.  By the time a man is in his late teens or his twenties, he’s so happy to be away from his mother and on his own that he wants to keep it that way.

Q: But men fall in love.  And a lot of men want to get married, isn’t that true?

A: Yes it is.  And that’s why I wrote WHY MEN WON’T COMMIT.  There’s a terrible contradiction inside men’s hearts, which is what women have to contend with.  My practice is mostly men – very successful men.  Every day in my office I hear men talking about how terrible they feel when a relationship ends – even if they were the ones to end it.  The woman was really important to them, but they never let her know.  And when things went a little wrong in the relationship, they ran away.

Q: Why?

A: Because it wasn’t “masculine” to talk about it. Or even to admit to themselves how much they cared for the woman and how lost they felt when things were going wrong.  Since men have so much trouble talking about their feelings, most of them are looking for the “perfect” woman – a ready made relationship.  When something goes wrong with a woman, it seems easier to leave her and start over with someone new.

Q: What can a woman do?

A: The key is understand how men perceive their masculinity.  Actually, most of their “masculinity” is symbolic. Men see little symbolic signs that they can keep it or that it is going to be taken away. A woman who understands this can make gestures – many of them also symbolic – that cost her nothing, but that make the man feel masculine and secure with her.

Q: Does this mean that women have to give half their lives to the project?

A: Absolutely not.  Women should be giving a lot less and asking for more.  That’s the whole point.  The woman who understands a man’s over-sensitive points ends up doing a great deal less than a woman who turns herself inside out for a man but doesn’t know what he’s really responding to.  My book is a roadmap for women to understand how men really think. It shows where the hidden landmines are, and it shows how to avoid them.

Q: So you’re saying that a woman can get any man who loves her her to commit?

A: Yes, if he genuinely loves her.  She just has to do the small things that give the man a green light to go ahead–to commit.  Once she takes these steps, a woman can also tell if a particular man is one of those losers who simply can’t love.  Then, at least, she’s free to walk away, knowing that she did everything she could.

Q: So how does a woman figure out how men do perceive this precious “masculinity”?

A: The first thing to know is that “masculinity” is very fragile. Men are actually the weaker sex.  They may talk louder and act tougher.  A lot of us seem to be control freaks.  But we are really scared.  We’re much more lost when it comes to knowing ourselves – who we are and what we feel.  We’ve been taught not to discuss these things or to think about them.  And in a love affair, we’re at a real disadvantage.  Men get totally confused when they’re in love.  This is why we’re so paranoid and we run away when things get close.

Q: So what gives men the green light to commit?

A: There are four basic ways that men judge whether they can keep their masculinity in love and in marriage.

— First, they ask if they can still travel light.

— Second, they want to be sure that they are absolutely special to the woman and not just filling the role of needed husband.

— Third, they want to be sure of a woman’s loyalty in a way that women might find it hard to understand.

— And fourth, they want intimacy just as much as a woman does, but at the same time, intimacy terrifies them.

Q: When do men start to make these judgments about whether they can keep their masculinity with a particular woman?

A: From the very first date right through the relationship and certainly until they get married.

Q: What does it mean to “travel light”?

A: As I said, men value their independence in a weird way, above practically everything.  It’s central to their masculinity to think “I can do whatever I want without reporting to anybody.”  Of course, the man knows he’ll have to make concessions if he’s part of a relationship.  But he worries, how far will it go? Will I still be able to hang around with my buddies without her?  Will I have to account to her for all my time?  Will she spend all my money and weaken me?  Will I be locked in by promises and agendas? Will I look like a jerk to other guys?

The woman who understands that the man feels like this can do very small symbolic things so that he will feel that he’s still independent and masculine.

Q: Like what? Surely, you’ll expect him not to act like a single guy with no obligations.

A: True.  But when he mentions that he wants to go a ball game with the guys, you can just tell him to have a good time. Don’t make a face.  And on your second date, don’t contract him to hire a tux and go to your friend Katie’s wedding in three months.

Q: What about his feeling special?

A: Here is one of those ways in which men give conflicting signals – they are their own worst enemies.  Men brag about their job and their finances to sell themselves. But then they worry that the woman loves them only for these externals.  Every man wants to feel that his woman would love him apart from anything else. And every man secretly would like to believe that if his woman didn’t choose him, she’d be alone.  No man wants to feel that he’s there because of his woman’s biological clock or because he’s filling a job opening for husband or significant other.

Q: So how does the woman convince the guy that she loves him for himself alone?

A: Here are a few examples. When you first meet him, don’t ask him a bunch of resume questions. Don’t grill him about his future prospects.  In general, praise him for what he is – not what he’s achieved.  And if things go wrong in his life, leave room to let him fail in small ways without feeling that he’s disappointing you.

Q: You say that men’s loyalty needs are hard to understand.  In what way?

A: They’re hard because they seem totally unreasonable. Guys treasure their own freedom, but they expect you to be totally loyal from almost the first minute.  In fact, men are secretly jealous of a woman’s former lovers, of guys at the office, of everyone in a woman’s life.  Men are easily shamed.  And this is particularly true around sex.  They want to feel that they are the greatest lover you ever had. And they want to feel that you see them as totally masculine and totally perfect.

Q: This sounds like men’s loyalty needs are impossible to meet.

A: They are actually easy to meet once you understand what they are.  I give specifics in the book.  The whole key is to do a few symbolic things that cost nothing.  Many women go too far, offering too much loyalty too fast and then becoming angry at themselves or at the man.  Or else lying to cover up things that they actually have a right to do.  Like having lunch with a male co-worker or staying friends with an ex-husband.

You can do a few simple things like speaking well of your man in public – like enjoying his successes and being interested in his life. These things assure him of your loyalty and cost you nothing. I also explain that sometimes, in this area, a woman may have to put her foot down early, as with any demand that’s unfair.  But even when you’re arguing with him, there are ways to be loyal and ways to be disloyal.

Q: Men often make it sound like intimacy is a horrible thing. But you say they want it.

A: We certainly do.  Your man wants to be masculine and real men don’t talk about feelings.  But he also wants you to love him as a sensitive, fragile soul and not just as a conquering hero.  Once again, it seems unfair.  More double signals.  He acts big and strong and maybe controlling.  But he wants gentle treatment.

Q: So how does a woman handle this?

A: Interestingly, the best way to promote intimacy is to demand it.  Insist that he tells you that he loves you and don’t let him say, “Isn’t it obvious.”  Insist that he talk about his feelings to you – not for hours and hours (that will put him on overload) – but for minutes at a time.  Insist that he share. Remember the details that matter to him and insist that he remember the ones that matter to you.  Many men have to learn intimacy from scratch. But they secretly know that it’s worth it, and secretly, they want to learn.

Q: Finally, you say in your book that a woman can get a man to commit without playing games.  What’s the worst game women play?

A: The jealousy game – the hard to get game. If you make a man jealous or act impossible to get, you draw his interest for a while.  You’re a challenge. You are getting the person to pursue you, to put you up high, to do cartwheels.  But even as the man pursues you, more than he has pursued anyone in a long time, maybe ever, he knows that you are punishing him.

He feels that he is working unnecessarily, that you are torturing him, and he’ll resent you for it.  When he finally catches up to you, he will make you pay. The resentment that he’s built up will come out, one way or another, and in the end, you’ll be the one who’s being punished.

George Weinberg, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and the author of nine books, including Self-Creation, The Heart of Psychotherapy, and Society and the Healthy Homosexual (in which he coined the term “homophobia”). He has appeared on many national radio and television shows, including Oprah and Live with Regis and Kathy Lee, and has written frequently for magazines from Cosmopolitan and Glamour to TV Guide and Reader’s Digest.

While other therapists tend to be students of women, Dr. Weinberg is a student of men. From childhood, most men have been taught to be strong and silent, never to show weakness. They’ve been discouraged from talking about their feelings, so they never learned the skill. Now, most are on a quest for the ready-made perfect woman. They feel that, in relationships, things can’t be worked out. When the slightest thing goes wrong, it seems easier to bolt than to talk.

It is easy to scare a man, but it is also very easy to capture his love without playing games. Why Men Won’t Commit: Getting What You Both Want Without Playing Games by George Weinberg, Ph.D., (Miramax Books ISBN: 0-7868-6913-5) shows women how to enter places where her man has not allowed any other woman to go and, if it’s right, to stay there in a loving, committed relationship.