The Banking Crisis and American Men

In February of 2009, as news broke that a greater percentage of the paid American workforce was now female than male, in some quarters there was a tiny, fleeting sense of victory as another tradition was broken. But such a celebration can only be abstract and very, very hollow. We must always remember that men and women are supposed to be on the Same Team, notwithstanding all the rhetoric of the ‘battle of the sexes’! When one group suffers, the other group inevitably suffers too. So, when it comes to relations between the sexes, really there is no place for talk – or thought – of victory.

The male face of the current Financial Crisis is unusual among the more recent recessions of the past half-century. According to an article in the NYT, “a full 82 percent of the job losses have befallen men“. That is incredible! The days of bread lines and rail car hobos of the Great Depression were the last time we saw huge numbers of men basically ejected from the social fabric of the nation. This recession, however, is the first time we’ve seen men differentially affected. Men’s dominance of the construction, finance, and manufacturing sectors means they’ve been the ones hardest hit. Some have written about this but, I believe, not enough attention has been paid to the enormous effect this will have on families – not just financially but on the emotional health of the family and its members. One of the few articles I’ve seen on this that explores male joblessness in depth is this one in the Atlantic Monthly: How a New Jobless Era will Transform America.

Men and Work

I think that men have a unique relationship to work beyond the fear of living under a bridge and begging for food that all working people share. For men with families, work means contributing. Men feel a bit left out when kids arrive and contributing in a financial way is their way of showing love to their woman and physical protection for the children. Women tend not to appreciate the depth of emotion that inspires men’s willingness to go out to thankless, often dangerous jobs. Men also size up other men as ‘contributors’ or ‘moochers’ so when men loose their jobs, they often experience a huge loss of face in the eyes of their peers. The feelings of shame and uselessness are enormous for men – and that’s all in addition to the usual experience of frustration, humiliation, and invisibility that comes with jobhunting.

For single, childless men, work is a status-marker that affects marriageability (or at the very least, access to recreational sex). Men who are licking their dating wounds or have gone through an angry divorce are often convinced that women only want rich men. It is normal to feel the seductive call of depressive ‘all-or-nothing thinking’ along with the agony of rejection but that doesn’t mean it is accurate! Most women are not actually fixated on rich men, but it is true that woman are generally thinking they want to avoid being poor and pregnant at the same time. This means it is true that unemployment affects a man’s marriage prospects and to some extent, his dating options. It is tough enough to be jobless but to have to do it loveless, and while begging for help from retired parents, is aw-ful.

So, male joblessness is a big, big issue that needs to be discussed and most importantly, addressed in concrete ways by government and business. We need to consider it as as psychologically profound and devastating as large-scale fertility problems would be for women’s sense of well-being and social place. When it is happening on the scale that we are seeing today, we all need to take a deep breath, pull together and think about what we can do to get all our unemployed men back in the game!

No kids in the parents’ bed

I know this is practiced in some countries and they have not exploded in social chaos. Intuitively, of course it makes sense to have the baby nearby in order to breastfeed. I am sure there is research indicating its positive effects….on the child. Not on the marriage!

My view is that children are happiest when they feel their parents are a unit – not identical people but a unified protective barrier between them and the broader mysterious world. If the relationship between the parents is given the prominence it deserves, the children will feel secure even if they are not getting their own way.

Women: Men hate sharing the marital bed with kids. If you have a man who is making positive sounds about co-sleeping, you are kidding yourself if you believe him. This is just one of those things that men feel obliged to lie about. No one wants to seem selfish – especially in those early months of parenthood. During that period, men feel insecure about their status in the family and suspect that women actually know what they are doing as a mother since the women have spent months reading books on the miracle of gestation and developmental psychology and therefore certainly sound knowledgeable. Men generally feel sort of useless during this period so they can often end up agreeing with things they really don’t like. Realize this may be a problem and that trying to discover his real views on the topic will be difficult no matter how stealthy you think you are being.

For a man, a baby in the bed is an indication that there is no space whatsoever for marital relations in the house. None, not even physically. For him, it underlines his newly marginal status in the house. He cannot seem to provide anything anyone wants: He can’t even provide the one thing he thing he can give: sex. He thought you liked the sex! He will suspect that the co-sleeping will go on for months, maybe years and that his needs (which he thought were also yours) are now irrelevant. This is the point at which men start to spend more time at work. Everyone likes to feel useful and to contribute in some way but men especially need to provide in some way. Women: make a space for him to contribute the loving! That would be the marital bed!

Most men do not have the diplomatic skills to describe the new conflict between the needs of the kids and the needs of a husband without sounding like an ogre. They are also being extra careful since they are hoping to have sex! Women: it is your job to assume there is a conflict of interest here and to create a solution without judgement. Try to put yourself in their position.

Older children in the marital bed, I believe, indicate covert conflict between the parents – unless there has been some serious recent family trauma eg: fire, abduction etc. Children, like animals, sense opportunity for more attention and they will take it. Because banishing children makes parents feel guilty and harsh, the kids will tend to keep that opportunity they’ve taken. Bad idea. If there is a conflict between the parents, more sex will probably help soothe it; if there are kids in the bed, there will be less sex and certainly more resentment by the man.

I believe the parents’ bedroom should be understood as a kind of temple to their relationship. It is a special place where they get to know each other as man-and-woman, as individuals at play, at negotiation, in their vulnerability – in short, as equals. This cannot occur if the woman brings a small, short, cute army of neediness only she can satisfy into the room with her.

Has your wife lost interest in sex?

Being single and not having a sex life is demoralizing but being married and not having sex is worse.

Sex is fun but sex is also communication and if nothing is going on, that is telling you something. First, you are not alone. Sexless marriages in North America are widespread. Some say up to 40 million Americans are in a sexless marriage, getting it on fewer than 10 times a year. This is a problem!!

Maybe this was always true and we are just hearing about it more; maybe there was more sex before TV; maybe people are asking for too much fulfillment from one person. Maybe in the case of some couples it is a biochemical/medical problem. Whatever the case, more people are opening up about it in articles like this one or this one.

Differences in the structure of sexual attention?

My view is that sexless marriages are the product of differences in the way men and women’s sexual attention is structured. Though women are famously excellent at multi-tasking in most areas, they cannot do it with sex. I can assure you, it is not possible for women to combine worrying with sexual arousal. Men seem to be able to perform at the same time that they worry (sometimes about their performance) and they might even try to distract themselves in order to slow things down to match their woman’s state. Multi-tasking in bed seems to be a male ability. It is not a female ability.

When your wife complains about not having ‘enough time’ or ‘being tired all the time’, this is because it requires a lot of energy to juggle thinking-about-sex and thinking-about-everything else. It makes her feel sort of irritated – not because she is irritated with you – but because women just can’t juggle sexual attention with other things. Women do not float between desire and the normal hubbub of life. For women, sexual attention does not flicker around the edges of our focus, ready to be ignited at any time, the way it does for men. For women, sexual attention is like an on-and-off switch; she is either totally there or totally not-there but she cannot be both.

For women, sexual attention is focused and sexual sensation is diffuse. For men, it is the reverse: sexual attention is diffuse but sexual sensation is very focused.

In daily life, this means that women require a larger window of free time outside the bedroom to get out of the worrying state where they attend to the kids, the laundry, the dinner etc. If your wife does not have free time (or feels she does not have free time), she is not going to be able to get into The Mood with ease.

This is intensely frustrating for the husband and creates an escalating cycle of avoidance, guilt and shame in the woman.

What to do?

1) The problem of chores: Create free time for your wife. This is not about your wife winning the battle of the chores. This is about you creating a workaround to compensate for the limitations of the female sexual attention structure. If you can afford it, hire someone to do household chores. Stop having battles about dishes, laundry, and yardwork. Scrimp on something else eg: car, flat-screen TV, vacations etc. The goal is regular sex . You won’t care about the TV if sex is back in the house!

2) The problem of martyr behaviour: If the two of you cannot afford it, you should try to relieve her of some of these chores or at least do some of them together. She may not actually believe you are serious for a number of weeks so be persistent; women have long memories of missing contributions. She may have adopted a martyr role and might behave bizarrely if you try to lessen her load. Ignore this and persist.

3) The problem of children: If she is at home with small children, she is tired. You will need to enlist other people to get her a good block of time without them. She will want to spend some of it just sleeping or ‘wasting time’. After a few weeks or so, she will remember that she is also a woman and not just a mommy. The obvious option is to trade childcare with another couple; the other couple is having the same problems you are.

You will probably have to organize this since she will not want to seem like a bad mother or a frigid wife. If the children are older, they need to do some of the housework in return for car-rides and lessons. Nagging them should be your job. The goal is to interrupt her involvement so that she can focus on you. You can still get aroused after dealing with chaos;she cannot.

4) The problem of domestic pride: Many women have a belief that they should be able to do everything (at the same time as they complain about having to do everything). They quietly compare themselves to friends, neighbors and relatives. They read magazines that have a thousand ideas about how to do a thousand household things. You must fight your woman’s pride regarding the running of a household. You must fight her impulse to put her needs last, especially her sexual needs – which are connected to your sexual needs!

Remember: the running of the household is less important than the sexual bond between the husband and wife. She will be happier if the electricity between you two is allowed to flow than if her friends admire her ability to juggle all her responsibilities perfectly. She may not be aware of this. Avoid discussing this since it will probably remind her of the shame and guilt she already feels. Just push her in this direction with your behavior. Women can be very articulate in their analyses of relationships but that does not mean their assessments are correct.

Be confident that she needs to feel that sexual flow as much as you do. Just work with the limitations of her sexual attention structure.

Is society affecting your sex life?

Are society’s ideas about sex shaping or even interfering with your sex life? Here is a podcast from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation‘s Ideas series that explores this topic.

It is an hour long and is downloadable. It features American sexologist Leonore Tiefer talking about the medicalization of sex. (podcast here).

She suggests that sex has changed from an experience between two unique people interacting in their very own way with their very own wants and habits to a kind of urgent search for normalcy. She argues that pills like Viagra create a kind of standardization of sex even as they improve sexual function. And we know what standardization tends to bring: winners and losers. Can we increase stress in the bedroom a little more?! In my mind, is modern dating not fraught with enough room for failure and modern life not anonymous enough? In the podcast, Tiefer wisely asks: How is this stress on Performance affecting men? What does it mean to be a man in a sexual context?

I think she is onto something here. I wonder: what was sex like for people who didn’t have a lot of partners, very little access to media (perhaps even illiterate), and no real way of knowing what was ‘normal’? Probably more focused on what worked for that real partner over there instead of trying to divine what the ‘average woman’ or the ‘average man’ likes and to reshape oneself for this mythical partner.

It seems to me that even though lovemaking skills are important, we should all remember that each person is unique – male and female – and that there is no audience. It’s just you and your partner. Let’s get the notion of Performance out of the bedrooms!

Get through a Breakup

Here are some grown-up strategies for feeling better sooner.

1. Get some physical contact
We are primates. Mating has biological effects other than making babies. In Northern European and North American societies, non-romantic touch is uncommon. If your girlfriend/boyfriend was your main source of physical contact, a breakup is gonna hurt because we literally go through a biochemical withdrawal.

Solutions: do all or some

– pet your cat or dog more. Get or borrow a pet from someone.

– get a regular massage if you can afford it for a while to take the edge off the pain.

– if possible, make a booty-call and have a spell-breaking fuck!

2. Beware of All-or-Nothing thinking

Yes this is difficult. After a breakup, most people think the opposite sex is a hopeless waste of time or, at best, completely impossible to understand. Women are all whatever; men are all whatever. Be rational: that cannot be true because you are smart. If women are all one way, you’d have figured it out by now, adapted your behavior, and would always be successful! Your failure is actually your assurance that variety prevails and that there is someone out there for you, someone who will respond to your method and your way of interacting, someone who is ‘crazy’ or ‘dysfunctional’ in a way that is complementary to your form of imperfection.

All-or-nothing thinking, if it is a regular habit, is very hard on you. In addition to being an inaccurate picture of the world, it is a key element of depression. It is both a symptom of depression and creates depression.

Resist the urge to determine why you do this or to think about childhood factors. Now is not the time for self-analysis or wallowing. You are too biochemically vulnerable. Save that for a few weeks from now! Instead, take a look at this helpful website on breaking depressive habits. One of the key ideas is that brooding causes changes in dream activity and makes it harder to get deep sleep. This then leaves you with too little energy to do anything but overthink and so creates a cycle of helplessness. There is also a good book written in a similar vein which can be ordered through the British Amazon if you don’t like the (very excellent – no I don’t work for them) audio and book combo available on the above website.

3. You must do some form of exercise!

This may be the last thing you feel like doing anytime, let alone at this moment. But you must force yourself, even if you are embarrassingly unfit, overweight or feel horrible. Studies seem to indicate that even very basic exercise is often as effective as anti-depressants for mild to medium depression. Even if you are just feeling bad, it will work in your situation. As little as a 30 minute walk everyday will lift the horrible feeling. That, you can manage! You may even feel small shots of joy after a week or so. Really. See this article or this one. Guys especially: Since sexual dysfunction can be a side-effect of anti-depressives (and of depression itself), this is a good method to try first. Interestingly, new research seems to indicate that exercise creates new neurons in the brain, as do anti-depressants.

4. Get adequate light

If you are staying up all night playing Guitar Hero or eating ice cream, you are making your situation worse. We need light for our bodies to work right. Go to a tanning salon instead! No, not every day but the light and heat will make you feel better. If you have money to spare, consider also buying a lightbox. Remember how invincible you felt after a tropical vacation? That was the light’s effect on your body. That is the way we are supposed to feel all the time.

Incidentally, in all of Canada, the northern US and much of northern Europe during winter, you are probably not getting enough daylight – especially if you have an office job. The angle of the sun makes it impossible to get enough vitamin D. If you are brown-skinned and live in those places, your vitamin D levels are even lower since you have natural sunscreen in your skin. Take supplements.

5. Force yourself to interact with other people

It is normal and healthy to need approval and recognition from other people. Our species is naturally social and like other primates becomes unhealthy without social contact. Ignore the common nonsense about ‘learning to love yourself first’. We feel better getting some recognition from others. Just accept this and go get some recognition! Do some volunteer work. Anything. Feeling useful will make you feel like a god. Men: there are a lot of people out there who need your help; lots of old ladies and shut-ins who need things lifted and fixed, lots of single mothers who are taking care of too many people and letting their own needs slide, lots of boys who are having trouble with schoolwork or getting into drugs, lots of churches doing community work that are short of men, lots of immigrants who don’t know where to get cheap furniture or how the banking system works. You will be a hero to any one of these people.

If even three people thank you for helping them in some way, honestly, you will feel like you’ve arrived. It doesn’t matter if they are rich and powerful or the kid down the block. It will affect you the same way. No task is too small to bring this on. You will be amazed how quickly your self-image will change and how life will mysteriously develop meaning again. Why do you think so many other people do volunteer work in the first place?!

How to turn women on: Are women visually aroused?

There is a belief among men that women are non-visual. This is an idea that men need to throw away. See:

It’s true: very few women spend time ranking pictures of good-looking men so there is seems to be some kind of difference on the topic. Men’s experience trying to get their girlfriends to enjoy pornography also suggests some kind of difference between the sexes but…. do not think for a second that women do not enjoy the men they meet in a visual way. Appearance is definitely a turn-on for women. Don’t worry. It’s not about buying the right suit or wearing expensive stuff. It’s about displaying your manliness – and that’s easy if you are a man! If the sexual spark is dimming in your relationship, pay a bit more attention to this in yourself. (Maybe it will inspire her to take some better care of herself – without having one of those delicate discussions about her losing weight or wearing more dresses…).

Doing physical things helps women notice what is masculine about you – your remarkable compact power. We do not have this and find it miraculous and fascinating in you. Watching you build something or move something is like a fashion show for us. Modern desk and screen-centred life does not showcase your most amazing attributes! Do not let computer work and video-games hide your beautiful masculine power!

Reminder: Skewed survey data will give you a complex!

Research on attractiveness and sexuality is usually from surveys of American undergraduates. If you are worrying about your baldness or some other inevitable attribute of being a man, remember that women your own age generally find their male peers attractive. A twenty-year old (eg. undergraduate psych student) woman may not find baldness attractive but most of the women in your social circle probably don’t even think about it as they look for a happy relationship. After a breakup, it is hard to remember that straight women actually enjoy men but it is true! Whatever it is that makes you a man is basically attractive to straight women.

Why women always want to go out somewhere

It’s because we want to see you in a suit. Really. You all look good in a suit/dress jacket. We want to see you in a suit/dress jacket. We want to see you interacting with strangers so that we can glimpse the part of you we never see when we are alone together. That evocation of your ultimate unknowability – the mysterious person you were before we got together and who you ultimately still are. We also want an excuse to dress up in something nice and then….we want to get home and undress each other! Find excuses to take your lady somewhere that requires you to dress up and you will improve your sex life. This is what women mean when they want to ‘do something romantic’. Simple.

Obesity hides much of what makes you manly

My theory is that men who are overweight exhibit feminine features such as breasts and a pregnant-like belly. This together with the usual male features is confusing and therefore not especially attractive. The main point for guys who are wondering what women want in this department: avoid looking feminine. Think about it: it is also the easiest thing: If you accentuate your masculine features, you will be physically attractive to lots of women. Sure, attraction is complex and maybe you are not model-material but remember that straight women are, by definition, attracted to men who look like men.

Women notice uniquely masculine features eg: shoulders, jawlines, muscles. Stay reasonably trim and these will all be obvious enough for women to appreciate. You do not need to be Mr. Universe. In fact, you cannot look like anything but a man – provided you make a point of avoiding behaviors that foster weight gain.

There are zillions of pages about weight loss and obesity and if you are struggling with this, you’ve already read them. The most interesting things I’ve read about this are on how naturally thin people are less susceptible to peer pressure around food. Just because everyone else is eating doesn’t mean you have to. Check your body and find out if you are full or hungry. Only you know what your body needs! According to a recent study, the obesity epidemic of the last twenty years is very clearly about increased food intake (supersizing?) and not about more screen time or sitting in traffic.  Indeed, the US Dept of Agriculture indicates that food consumption is up 16% since 1970.

Additionally, I have noticed many people who wrestle with weight gain have a compulsion to clean their plates. Antidote: Practise leaving food on your plate (and in future, put less on the plate).  Better yet, buy  smaller plates. Also, try to enjoy vegetables and avoid seeing them as a necessary pre-dessert evil. Watch cooking shows and learn how to cook vegetables. Some drinks and a few vegetable side dishes can very easily turn you into a star in your social circle. Sidenote: curry and beer are amazingly compatible! Also, side dishes like tapas or mezes are a great easy start.