I found myself sitting around a table of men last night, one of whom seemed very upset. Looking at him, one might’ve assumed he’d spent the day on a battlefield somewhere, ripped to shreds and defeated, but alas, he was only at the office. It was clear that he needed to let off some steam, so we asked him if he wanted to talk about it. And after going through all of the things that were bothering him, he vulnerably exclaimed that he was frustrated.
Amongst the many high sensation moments of his day was one in particular wherein the team of women he managed all felt hopeless. They were miserable and frustrated in their work, and try as he might, they wouldn’t stop being miserable. He passionately explained how badly he wanted for them to be independent and solve their own problems, and then enthusiastically described all of the ways he told them how to do that using the coaching skills he’d recently acquired at a leadership training. But put into action and experience, none of those tools were working, and he didn’t understand why. They seemed so fool-proof.
I couldn’t help but be curious. After all, I also wanted to know why it was that nothing was working. Were these women really just doomed from the beginning, and intent on torturing him? We chatted about it a bit and I noticed that it seemed he had done an amazing job at attempting to motivate them. However, it seemed he forgot to ask if a motivational speech was what they wanted. Upon further inquisition we discovered that he had committed a cardinal sin that almost every willing man unknowingly commits: he went straight into Mr. Fix-It mode, and instead tried to save them from their own misery.
I went on to explain the honorable ways in which men shoot themselves in the foot with women, and at the very top of that list is any attempts made at fixing us.
We are all raised with the fantastical story of a damsel in distress who has been locked in her ivory tower by an evil witch, and who is then saved by a charming prince on a white horse. It sounds like a wonderful story. She has needs and he can meet her needs. They are a perfect match, because he feels useful and gets acknowledgment (“Oh Prince Charming, I don’t know what I would’ve done without you!”), and she feels cared for and worthy of love.
Except this is no longer the reality we live in. The underbelly of that story is that the evil witch Prince Charming is saving the damsel from is her own shadow self trying to come up to the surface. It’s literally where all her power is locked up. And the seemingly sparkly clean intention behind Prince Charming’s need to rescue her is to use her as tangible proof of his own worth; so long as he can keep saving her, and getting acknowledgment for doing it, he has value.
And this, my dear beloved man, is what we call codependence.
So. What to do?
I’ll give the bad news first: women do not come with a manual.
Part of the mystery and wonder and awe of the feminine is precisely because there is no manual, and yet, this reality — our inherent unpredictability and the inherent confusion men experience as a direct result of it — tends to lead most men to want to give up entirely on understanding us before they have even begun.
It’s at this point that most men attempt to control as much of their circumstances as they can in order to feel even remotely sane around us. And without fully realizing why, this is precisely where we tend to turn up the volume on our unpredictability. Perhaps we secretly want to torture him. Or maybe we don’t feel heard. Depending on his own perspective, he may believe the former, but it’s more often than not the latter.
If a woman manual were to exist, it would be an intangible one, without the tools that so often leave us feeling confined and cornered into showing up in one specific way; a way that often conveniently protects a man’s ego and keeps him comfortable. The manual would have one page, wherein there would be a detailed description of how he, using the incontrovertible power of his attention, learns to play us better than we can play ourselves. How does he do this? By noticing, and then subsequently being inspired by, all of the brilliant ways a woman has learned to communicate with him and the world.
Fixing us means you think we are broken.
It may feel like a noble cause to save us from our torment and suffering, but what is actually being communicated when that happens is that he believes we are broken. Any time anyone attempts to fix someone, this is what is actually being communicated. It’s a standard example of the starting gate rescuer position on the drama triangle : rescuer saves victim in order to feel needed, and victim continues to feel broken, helpless, and in need of rescuing.
The good news is that we are not broken. None of us are. And the sooner we all are willing to acknowledge that, the sooner we all will free up a whole lot of energy that is better spent connecting with one another.
The caveat here is that many of us believe ourselves to be broken and in need of fixing from time to time. It’s one of the many ways we like to not take responsibility for ourselves and our power, and most of us are raised thinking it’s perfectly normal to let others take responsibility for it, for us, instead.
This is incidentally a surefire way to either get rescued or to find proof of our unworthiness of love, depending on the result. And herein lies the biggest conundrum that works a lot like the chicken or egg question. If I believe myself to be broken, then it only follows that a man will also believe I am broken and want to come and fix me (cause => effect). The result is that I am left feeling disempowered, and continue to feel broken (and by the way it’s almost a guarantee that I’ll use this as evidence of my lack of power later).
What’s a man to do? Well, he refers back to his intangible one-page woman manual: using the incontrovertible power of his attention, he learns to play us better than we can play ourselves. He doesn’t go on our ride and believe our story of hopelessness. He reminds us of our awe and wonder and mystery, and he let’s us save ourselves.
Men are being called upon, now more than ever, to expand their range.
It’s easy to blame women for being so confusing and hopeless. Like it or not, the feminist movement has happened and there are a lot of women running around with a lot of power, living out their story of needing to be saved from it.
Refusing to save the powerful damsel in distress from herself, while staying connected to her and loving her anyway while she figures out how to save herself, is likely to cause some disruption to the type of comfort many men yearn for, both in their professional and romantic relationships with women. It requires of him to be reconciled with his own unpredictability, as well as his own awe, wonder and mystery, so that he can consciously hold her there. It requires of him a willingness to not be needed, but to ask her instead what she needs.
And it requires of her to know.
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