I know that not all guys are the same, and stereotypes are dangerous.
But after what I’ve seen and learned, I don’t know why all women aren’t lesbians. Guys sure make relationships harder than they have to be.
To avoid countless comments about the dangers of stereotypes and generalizations, I’m going to share my specific experiences derived from 47 years of penis ownership, and 23 years of marriage.
Through the work I do, however, I have exposure to the stories of hundreds of other people struggling to flourish in their relationships. While I’m sharing here the specifics of my marital interactions, please know that I believe a lot of my behavior to be nearly universal among the males of this species. Also, please know that while I used “penis” and “exposure” in the same paragraph, there is nothing graphic or perverted to follow. Unless, of course, you find a man talking about his feelings to be perverse.
My wife and I have struggled mightily, and most of it was my fault. For two decades, you could not have convinced me of the significance of my role in inadvertently trying to destroy my marriage, but now, I am a believer.
The problem lies, I believe, in our cultural bent away from honesty, vulnerability, and open communication among men. We are taught from an early age that crying is for sissies, and emotions are to be reserved for females when they watch Lifetime Channel movies. “Get up and rub some dirt on it,” boys are advised when wounded. “What are you whining about?” is the inquiry that meets any display of unmasculine discomfort. “Suck it up” is a universal truism ingrained in all males at the slightest sign of pain.
So, we learn to push that sh*t down. Just as we pick up the not-so-subtle hints about stifling our emotions, we also learn the various tools for emotion stuffing. Work, sports, food, sex, mindless television, and exercise are all “things” we use to make those feelings go away. I’ve used them all. But for me, nothing was as effective for drowning my emotions as alcohol.
I drank to make it all go away.
How does this relate to my marriage? You can probably fill in the surface-level blanks for me, can’t you? I worked when I wasn’t drinking, and I drank when I wasn’t working. There were brief interludes of sober time when I wasn’t working—like Sunday mornings or when I was really sick. Otherwise, I was devoted to the mantra (that I learned from my boss), “Work hard, play hard.” No one ever taught me to marriage hard. So I didn’t even try.
Here are the traits of an emotion-stuffing, hardworking, drinker that should cause concern for any woman interested in a healthy relationship with a man.
Oh, that’s right. I promised not to generalize. This is my problem. You probably don’t have anything to worry about with the rest of the male population.
Here are the traits my wife most hated (and rightly so) about me.
1. Narcissistic Tendencies.
I’ll be honest. Before we elected a clinical case study to rule the free world, I didn’t even really know what narcissism was. Now that I understand the definition, I definitely believe I flirted with the diagnosis myself. But it wasn’t for evil or selfish reasons. I was just focused. I thought about working hard, providing for my family, and drinking alcohol to unwind. It wasn’t that I intentionally traipsed on my wife’s feelings—I didn’t bother to find out what her feelings were because I was too busy stifling mine.
Understanding her wants and needs on an emotional level would have required an inquisitiveness and instinct that I didn’t possess for many years. I was all about me and my needs. It wasn’t because I was mean or evil; I just didn’t have the bandwidth to get out of my own head. The alcohol certainly kept me locked into my own egotistical focus. “Me work hard. Me smart thinker. Now give me your hair so me drag you to bed.”
2. Exaggerated Confidence.
That brings me to another particularly unattractive trait that most men possess—I mean, that I possessed. I thought I was pretty smart. That doesn’t mean that I thought my wife was stupid. On the contrary, actually. She was smart enough to marry me, after all. I just thought that my epiphanies and declarations were of interest to her. It turns out, there were not.
You see, I often contemplated grand schemes to improve our business, changes to her methods that would make her a better parent, and new plans to my drinking strategy that would result in less intoxication, regret, and resentment. And I assumed my wife wanted to hear the details about every one of my cranial breakthroughs. What I didn’t understand was that my ramblings were boring, repetitive, and unfulfilled. My wife didn’t want to hear about my new plan, because my last plan didn’t work particularly well. She always felt third in my priority list behind work and alcohol, and me talking her ear off about work and alcohol was an ineffective approach to changing her opinion.
3. Unrealistic Expectations.
After my borderline narcissism, and my confidence that I had the plan to fix anything that came our way, my wife was left feeling unattracted and uninterested in me in a pretty well-rounded way. So when I would suggest that we get romantic and attempt to spice up our sex life, that might have literally been the last idea she wanted to hear exhausted from my beer hole.
You see, part of pushing down emotions for men is being unable to see the truth hiding in plain sight. I’m sorry, did I say men? I meant me.
I could not see the wedge my self-centeredness had driven into my marriage. I thought my obsession with work and alcohol consumption was somehow desirable. It never occurred to me that the woman who witnessed me burping and farting through a football game on Saturday afternoon would not be eager to get frisky on Saturday night. I mean, I grabbed her boob when I walked through the room once in a while. If that didn’t light her fire, I didn’t know what would.
Here’s the bottom line. I was an emotional four-year-old with the class and charisma of a guy who believed his wife owed him something for his undying dedication to keeping her around. When I snapped out of it, quit drinking, and tried to prioritize my marriage, I was shocked to learn how much damage I had done. Shocked! If I had woken up and found a third eyeball had grown in the middle of my forehead I would have been less baffled than I was to learn how close my wife was to leaving and taking the kids.
I didn’t see it coming, and I didn’t understand how much trouble I was in even once the alcohol was no longer there to help me ignore the situation all around me. Me. This was my problem. How did I let it get so bad? How was I so stupid not to see it building and growing and festering and metastasizing?
I’ve got bad news for any guys who are reading this article that I clearly wrote for my intended female audience. It’s not just me. It’s most of you, too. “Most” implies more than 50 percent. How arrogant of me to generalize like that? Okay, I retract the use of the word, “most.” I’d like to replace it with, “vast majority.”
Stereotyping or not, we are cretins unprepared and ill-equipped to scrape up the emotional maturity our partners deserve in a meaningful, intimate relationship. It’s as though the concept of evolution ceased to apply as soon as our tails fell off and we started using socks to prevent hair growth on our own ankles. “Oh, you can do that?” said Darwin. “I guess you’re on your own from here.”
But here’s the thing. We can change. We are capable. At least, I was, and I feel pretty representative, what with my bald ankles and all. The first step in my process was pretty challenging, but also completely necessary. I had to get rid of the booze. Not cut down. Not exert more control. I had to stop drinking because my emotional maturity was stunted at the age when I started. It was time to grow up, and the alcohol had to go.
Maybe this story doesn’t apply to you. Maybe your husband is kind, a good listener, empathetic, and has hairy ankles. Maybe he leaves the room to burp or fart, and maybe he doesn’t grab your boobs or focus on his own needs and desires. This is my story, not yours. God, stop generalizing and leaning on tired old stereotypes.
But just in case this story resonates, I hope you have hope that change is possible. Because it is. It isn’t quick, it isn’t easy, and intimate love and devotion to alcohol cannot coexist. But it can get better if you’re willing to do the work.
I’m an alcoholic. But I’m here to tell you that we aren’t the only people who can benefit from removing alcohol from their lives. To think that only alcoholics can thrive in sobriety is narrow-minded and ignorant. Poison isn’t good for anyone, and it certainly isn’t good for a marriage.
Show Darwin he was wrong to give up on us. Evolve. Join the soberevolution.
If you’d like to learn more about the story of how my marriage survived my manliness, please read our free e-book, He’s Sober, Now What?