Men Who Love Too Much

You know the drill; right after the new associate is hired your marriage partner begins spending late nights at the office, first one, then two, then four. Finally, you notice that the suitcases are gone and you find a note on the kitchen table: Honey, color me gone.

Or you support the spouse through long years of law school or a medical degree program, sharing the search for paper topics, offering advice on delicate negotiations with faculty members, racing to the library in panicked all-night searches for data. Shortly after the joyful degree-granting ceremonies, though, the good doctor makes a house call, and never returns.

Or, the love of your life decides to take a break from the grind, try massage or art therapy or drama class, go smell the flowers in Sri Lanka. They assume the lotus position and months later, years later, you’re still waiting for payment of the VISA bill, forget a note of thanks.

The wonderful thing about women’s lib is that it has democratized the occurrence of the above situation, each of which has as its ambitious adventurer a women, and as its faithful domestic a man. We still live with the stereotype of the craven Casanova, slinking out the back door to two-time his dutiful damsel. We feel certain that a guy, any guy, driven by hormones more powerful than the loudest Concorde, will throw it all over, wife, kids, house, future, for a ten minute flop with a stripper named Suzi.

Wrong. My experience, both personal and professional, is that if you want to find a man you need look in only two places; at work or at home. Occasionally, and in a hypnogogic funk, you may find him traversing between the two. But even the time spent in transit will be restricted to the minimum necessary to get from point A to point B, or back. When Suzi flutters her alluring eyelashes he will be utterly absorbed by Karen’s soccer game and will not even notice. When the new associate sits fetchingly on the corner of his desk he will have eyes only for the family photos hard by her left thigh. Not only will he not plunge his teeth into temptation’s apple, he won’t even pluck it from the tree.

The truth is that, in the majority of circumstances, it is the woman who leaves, and more and more often she is leaving behind not only her painfully inadequate spouse but her children as well. A friend’s wife, a mental health professional, recently abandoned the offspring of her second marriage, twenty years after leaving the child of her first, to get it on with a guy twenty years her junior. Another friend’s wife, also a mental health professional, left to shack up with her long term female client, leaving their two adopted children. Now dad has to pay for ex-wife to live with former patient in a far-away city, as youngest adopted son ragefully steals his way into jail. Social work licensing boards are not interested in egregious violations of ethical conduct if the perpetrator lacks the required male sexual equipment.

Recently a colleague – a woman – wondered aloud why so many nice, nurturing, nebishes like myself end up twisting our spines trying to yank the knives from our backs, stilletos sunk in by spouses whose trust we thought we had earned through years of fidelity. Do nice guys have some kind of karmetric magnetism for knife wielding women? While I didn’t relish being included in this none too studly population, the question is a good one. For many men the choice is a simple, if painful, one; get used or get lost.

The problem is that even if a guy is willing to sacrifice most everything, including much of his masculinity, to save his family, it still doesn’t work. The women who used to love too much knew well that however precious is the gift offered to a narcissist it will invariably fall endlessly into a void of rage and pain. No matter how much you do, it is never right, no matter how much you give, it is never enough. When the time comes, the men who love too much, like the women of old, will be thrown in the garbage like yesterday’s lunch, there to be sundered by raccoons and stray dogs.

But besides that, everything’s fine, thanks, no bitterness here, no resentment, no grief among us guys who loved too much, just the rapidly evolving realization that the naive dreams we dragged with us into paired adulthood were just that; the naïve dreams of guys who believed that, when the bell rang, you could trust the person supposedly closest to you to watch your back, to take care of you like you took care of them. You imagine, some years hence, the cool compress on your forehead, wielded by a warm and familiar hand, as you pack it in with the Big C. Tis better to have loved and lost and all that, but at least you thought you were going to get to play nine innings.

One of the things we yupster rejects learned in all this is that just because we think a deal is done doesn’t make it so. Like they say, love is not enough, sometimes it’s not even close to enough, so you pick up what’s left and go on a wiser man, maybe even a better man. One of the buddies described above is worried that maybe he’ll love too much again; once burned, twice shy. But then again, what he fears most that he may never get the chance.