An appeal to create the next generation of good men.
My heart has been through so much this week. If you’re a follower of The Good Men Project, maybe yours has, too.
First, my heart broke open at the overwhelming response to my post titled The 7 Deadly Signs of a Dysfunctional Relationship. I knew I had lived with these and that my descriptions were on target, but I had no idea my words would strike not just a resonant chord but a sensitive nerve for thousands of readers who recognized these unhealthy, happiness-eroding, joy-killing, and often depression-inducing behaviors in their own past or present. The comments blew me away.
My follow-up post, When Your Partner Stops Giving: The Silent Pain of Emotional Withholding, inspired by a reader’s comment on its predecessor, garnered a range of equally heart-wrenching responses and led me to the decision to turn the two articles into a book. More on that in a minute.
Yesterday, with the book proposal mostly written and my heart returning to its normal rhythm, I came across a blog post by my dear friend Ashley Mitchell celebrating her five-year anniversary with her husband and sharing their simple secret for a successful marriage: working at it every single day. I cried as I read Ashley’s post to a friend stuck in an awful, abusive situation, and as my heart filled with hope I put Ashley’s post up here to remind readers that it doesn’t have to be dysfunctional, that two people with kind hearts and good intentions and healthy behaviors can make a relationship into the sacred source of love and support it is supposed to be.
Then, this morning, Gregory Jaquet’s post, Inside a Violent Man’s Life (originally published here in January) smashed my heart to bits. I read his introduction and saw the links to not one but two 15-minute videos. It’s a sunny day here in Connecticut, the first in a while, and I was about to go out for a walk. But something told me I needed to devote 30 minutes to watching the videos, in French with English subtitles, to see how the filmmakers had rendered domestic violence and abuse on the screen. What I saw made my heart sick—that awful feeling when you’re watching something horrific about to happen and you know you can’t stop it. I wanted to shake Fred, the narcissistic, controlling, disrespectful jerk of a husband, to punch him hard in the gut as he made his wife tell her best friend she couldn’t come to their fifth anniversary dinner, told her what dress to wear, and demeaned her in front of their guests. I wanted to kick him in his balls and watch him squirm on the floor in agony, so he could know the pain he was causing the woman he claimed to love. And I wanted to stand behind Marie, the wife, to help her summon the courage to speak, as Fred glared at her, asked scornfully if she had something to say, and she shook her pretty head and sat down dejectedly in her seat, terrified of his wrath if she expressed her feelings and spoke her awful truth.
In the second video, Marie seeks refuge in her best friend’s apartment, while Fred stands outside the door pleading politely with her to forgive him, then seconds later pounds furiously until a neighbor asks what’s going on. He appears to leave, but waits on the street for hours, where Marie can see him through the window, in the downtrodden posture of victimization, acting out the role of the spurned lover, holding up a bunch of flowers, and begging Marie to take him back. As I heard Fred’s footsteps approaching the door followed by the buzzer, I screamed to Marie, as if she could hear me through the screen of my laptop, “No. NO! Don’t do it. DON’T open the door! Later, she descends to the street where Fred is waiting for her, and it appears they might reconcile, but we see her in the next scene painting her own apartment, finally free of the torture she suffered under an abusive man. Marie’s conversation with her friend Geraldine just after she arrived reveals the trap she’s stuck in, which is the trap that captures and holds hostage every person—man or woman—stuck in the cycle of domestic violence:
Geraldine: “Anyways, you have to make a decision.”
Marie: “I have to dump him, right?”
Geraldine: “You should have done it a while ago.”
Marie: “I’m scared of him, but I’m also afraid to be alone. I’d like to be strong enough, but I’m not. I swear I’m not. I hate him but I love him at the same time. He’s the man of my life.”
Geraldine: “He’s also the one ruining it!”
The “but I love him” is the line that always kills me. I always want to ask, “Why? What do you love about him? Do you love the way he treats you? Do you love the humiliation you feel? Do you love being embarrassed in front of your friends or cut off from them? Do you love being told you’re lazy and no good at anything? Do love being beaten or forced to have sex when it’s the last thing you want? Do you really love all that?”
But I know it’s more complicated. Abused partners often love a person they once knew, a person who was nicer and kinder and sweeter before the abuse started. A person who shows up every once in a while with flowers and a seemingly sincere apology. A person with whom they usually share intense physical chemistry. A person they still hope the asshole they’re with will become. And they believe the abusive partner when he or she says, “But I love you.” They fall for that line every time, until they finally realize or more frequently are shown that what they’re experiencing is not love and never was. That “I love you” never starts with but. That it may be need, it may be addiction, it may be sexual desire, but when someone harms you—whether with words or fists—I tell you, I am shouting this loud and clear: IT IS NOT LOVE! IT IS NOT LOVE! IT IS NOT LOVE!
The words below from a blog post I wrote nearly two years ago explain why.
There is destructive love, and there is supportive love.
There is crippling love, and there is enabling love.
There is mean love, and there is kind love.
There is disgraceful love, and there is gracious love.
There is selfish love, and there is generous love.
There is enslaving love, and there is freeing love.
There is crushing love, and there is embracing love.
There is taking love, and there is giving love.
There is needy love, and there is needed love.
There are two, no . . . there is only one kind of love.
There is only good love.
Because love that is not good is not love.
Love that is not good is something other, something unholy, an impostor, a pretender to the throne.
Love that is not love is an ugly beast, its twisted face, misshapen body, and foul odor masked, cloaked, and perfumed, desperate to fool us then sink its claws into our tender flesh.
This is perhaps the most painful truth in life to face: Love that is not love . . . is not love.
But when we do face it, we liberate our battered hearts, begin to heal our wounds, and open our scarred selves to a lifetime of light and joy.
The kingdom of love is a throne for two, each first among equals, each ruler of his or her own heart, each a willing subject, side by side, hand in hand, together before the altar, bowing not to one another but kneeling, souls bared, before God.
I can write about this until I’m blue in the face, until my fingers are sore and raw from typing, until the scattered fragments of my heart fuse together with a violent force, like the pieces of Iron Man’s suit as they speed through the air to encase him mid-flight. I can write about this—and the book is coming—but I need your help. I need your stories. Your tales from the front. I need you to share your private hell with me, to trust me with it so I can create a body of work that will help others who are suffering, so I can write more effectively and speak more eloquently and make more of a difference for sufferers and survivors than I am currently making. Please join me. Please be willing to help the countless Maries out there get the help they need to escape from their Freds. What could be more important than restoring a shattered life to some measure of wholeness? Than helping a battered mother who lives in constant terror find sanctuary for herself and her children? Or helping a man whose partner demeans him until he wonders if he’s better off dead? This problem affects 25% of women during their lifetimes, approximately 20% of men, and over 3 million children every year.
You can read about the grim statistics here and in many other places, but they’re just statistics until you realize the impact they have on the future. On our future. Here is the one that jumped out at me most prominently.
“Without help, boys who witness domestic violence are far more likely to become abusers of their partners and/or children as adults, thus continuing the cycle of violence in the next generation.”
And here we are at The Good Men Project, working every day to influence that generation. Well, there is a lot more work to be done.
Please roll up your sleeves and join me.
Please help me stop the next generation of boys from growing up to continue the cycle. My heart breaks for the women and children they will grow up to hurt and whose lives they will ruin, and for them as they ruin their own lives repeating patterns that could have been broken through education and early intervention.
Please help me write my book.
Please send me your stories.
Please help me create the next generation of good men.
You can contact me at [email protected] All communication will be kept in confidence.