Still I remain tied to the mast
Could it be that I have found my home at last
Home at last
Steely Dan, “Home at Last”
I don’t generally follow gossip, tabloids and the like, but when clients who are equally unlikely to be talking about tabloid headlines start mentioning something, be it Michael Jackson or Tiger Woods, I tend to pay attention in terms of what it could mean for us as a culture—and how it might related to the collective consciousness… and unconsciousness.
Although many a man (and woman) would say that men cheat because they are dogs, I disagree. I think men cheat to the extent that they suffer narcissistic wounds—unclear about who they are, what they want, how to heal their wounds and how to suffer productively when suffering (or at least a modicum of frustration) is inescapable. Men who know themselves, and then find themselves in a relationship that for whatever reason truly does not work, are at least more inclined to leave honestly than to betray.
Yet men also cheat because often they really don’t know better. There was a famous seducer of women who, after a life of liaisons rivaling Don Giovanni, confided his well-earned conclusion: The f-ing you get is not worth the f-ing you get.
Rather than speculating on Tiger’s reasons for cheating, I would rather view Tiger as an emblem of the everyman (merely writ large due to fame) in the hopes that a little insight just might help one or two sad, angry and/or confused young (or middle aged) dads (or dads-to-be) to somehow keep trousers zipped in the service of themselves, their kids and all our collective children.
Part of what makes Tiger is a highly paid superstar is that he carries the collective projections of many people, and this is part of why he gets the big bucks… and also the big fishbowl. Like rock-stars who attract groupies, the iconic figure must wrestle with the dark truth that the groupie ultimately has sex with their own animus (the ideal masculine within the feminine; see http://tiny.cc/5xZKP for more on what that is all about) and not necessarily with the actual meager human behind the curtain of projection.
Meanwhile men carry their own counterpart: the anima, or idealized feminine within. [Note, I feel that men also have an animus, and women an anima, and the mechanism of projection of our ideal onto the other, and the challenge of seeing the authentic other rather than our own idealized projection, also functions pretty much the same way in gay and lesbian relationships]. For more on the anima see http://tiny.cc/ehY3B. For now suffice it to say that few men consciously realize that they even have an anima within (much less what it is about). This lack of awareness of our own selves (i.e. lack of consciousness and individuation) leaves men and women alike highly vulnerable to unrealistic expectations of romantic love, to chronic fantasy and longing for that love that will complete us. I like to think of the anima/animus as a butterfly that unpredictably lands on whoever it chooses, illuminating that person with love-potion like allure; however, the moment that butterfly flits on to someone else, the charm is broken and the would-be soul-mate suddenly becomes an unfamiliar “other,” even repellant now that they are no longer imbued with the magic of our own projected phosphorescence.
The anima and its confusions go a long way to account for why men, particularly narcissists, bed a woman and suddenly feel disillusioned and no longer enchanted… yet they suddenly think that the one who just passed by the café window is the one… until they get her and the butterfly flits onto the one in the passing car. The tireless seducer is often the boy-man with enough charisma to attract legions of women, and also with the naiveté and unconsciousness to keep up their never-ending Quixotic quest for the perfect one. This need for perfection that is never attained is a compensation for feelings of inadequacy within that miner for a heart of gold… and it quickly gets old (at least for everyone else).
Don’t get me wrong, I am a romantic and believe in true love; it’s just that I see love as being about falling in love with the real person that our butterfly may lead us to, but who is not merely our self; understanding that we have an anima/animus to complete us, whether or not we are in a relationship, is part of individuation. It’s not that we have to be fully individuated to love, it’s more a matter of understanding that loving others for who they truly are, and learning loyalty, frustration tolerance and compassion for others are all ways that we can individuate. In fact, parenting, with its ready opportunity for often thankless giving, is the individuation opportunity par excellence. And when we regress into an infantile position of just striving to “get our needs met,” when we could instead hunker down and go through something tough, but profound, with a partner in parenting, we squander an opportunity for individuation.
Paradoxically, it is through things such as parenting, service and sacrifice that we find true community, love, meaning and purpose—good feelings that last arriving out of the graceful negotiation of colic, sleep-deprivation, sex-deprivation, money-deprivation and the like. Tough experiences can be deeply bonding, but young parents sometimes need a little support from the group to understand and normalize feelings of frustration, irritation and temptation.
Still I remain tied to the mast…
This is a reference to Ulysses (Virgil, not Joyce) where Ulysses is on his way toward hearth and home after a grueling war (and we’ll leave what he shall find when he gets there for another day). Old Ulysses knows that the Sirens, sexy nymphs calling out to all horny passers-by, will tempt all his men with their alluring and irresistible song to come to them—seduction that wise Ulysses knows would leading to disaster where ships crash onto the rocks and men never make it home. Ulysses wants to hear the song, but not be wrecked, so he has his men lash him tight to the mast (perhaps even symbolically binding him to his own wood, so to speak), and orders the rest of them to plug their ears. This allows Ulysses to sail past the Sirens safely and still dig the concert, while at the same time preventing him in his hot-blooded passion from turning the ship toward that old Greek gentleman’s club where no good ever comes of a visit.
We need to strive for non-judgment; cheating is its own negative consequence—it makes people feel bad, guilty, and deepens the very feelings of loneliness and isolation that the cheating was hoping to allay. Betrayal hurts those who have their trust broken, but all of us are capable of less than admirable things given the wrong circumstances. Something I’ve learned in my work hearing the intimate behaviors and feelings of many people over many years is that the famous seducer knew what he was talking about—it really is not worth it to cheat. For one thing, even if you are not caught, you carry the knowledge that you cheated, and when your partner goes on loving you, you know that they would feel hurt and angry if they knew the truth—and this makes you feel false and distant, no longer deserving of the love and trust you are given. And if and when you are busted, you feel reviled, ashamed and deeply lonely.
Men are not the lugs society tends to portray them as. If men come from families where relationships were terrible, and have hung out with other men who cannot trust women or love, they never learn the possibility of relationships based on something higher than just getting one’s needs met. This is often further compounded by a diet of porn and even mainstream media that warps the image that men carry about what it means to be a man.
An old Chinese Koan: Two old friends make a pact that whoever dies first will do what they can to communicate from beyond the grave about what, if anything, happens after death. The first friend dies and weeks later the phone rings and the second friend recognizes his voice, “What’s it like?” he asks eagerly.
The first friend happily tells him, “I wake up in the morning and I have sex; I have breakfast and then more sex; a little lunch and then sex; dinner and then I have sex. The next day I do it all over again.”
“Are you in heaven?” the second friend asks, to which his friend replies, “No, I’m a bull in Wyoming.”
Okay, so it’s not a Koan. That doesn’t mean it isn’t filled with wisdom. After all, the dog (or bull) aspect of a man might think that a life of sex with different partners is a life well-lived, but in truth it is an unevolved life in which one is a slave to one’s own biology.
Many guys would say that they cheat because that’s just the way guys are. This is interesting, because this is the way men have been shaped to believe real men behave. The lack of real support and community amongst men leaves many guys very hurt and confused when their wives get pregnant, and when children arrive. To many a man, the painful transition from being strongly desired in the early stages of a relationship to being seen as a life-partner who is loved, but not always sexually desired, just crushes their egos—leaving them vulnerable, angry and hungry for attention, and gratification that will make them feel special and powerful.
And what about the women who seem pathetically ready to take the meager crumbs of a “relationship” with a man who already has a wife and kids? Our culture needs to deepen its understanding of the father-hunger so many girls are left with when their dads fail to stay and parent. There is much in the literature about how boys need fathers, but girls also need them; in fact, the father who leaves often becomes the ghost image for many a woman who is then unconsciously attracted to married and/or older men. Sometimes a woman who never knew her father might take a look at all the disappointing men she has known and realize that they are, taken together, probably a fairly accurate composite sketch of the father she unconsciously seeks—the very one who can never commit, nurture or help her heal due to the wounds that led him to leave back in the first instance.
I have noticed that one of the key emotions leading to cheating in relationships is not desire, but rather anger. When men feel denied attention, particularly sexual attention, this may trigger unconscious wounds stemming back to childhood and issues of deprivation with their own mothers. Think about it, a man marries his lover but when she becomes a mother, she cannot help but remind him of the first mother he knew—and this is not always a good thing. As Bruno Bettleheim said, “We marry someone who will love us as a parent, and then hate them for everything our parents did to us.”
Women too, might suddenly find themselves sharing bed with “daddy,” and this sometimes needs to be consciously sorted out, especially if there have been wounds in relationship to their own fathers.
Men and women need to be understood; both have all sorts of desires, all sorts of human and perfectly lovable insecurities. The tiger (or tigress) tied to the mast is much more appealing to the average man or woman than a sort of creepy-tepid Jimmy Carter talking about the lust he has in his heart—yuk! We want our Wise Old Man archetypes to keep their lust to themselves; young tigers, on the other hand, we can accept as having lust, but we still want them to show us how restraint is done. Being a man doesn’t mean not wanting all sorts of things, it means manning up and getting your buds to tie you to the mast when necessary, helping you stay on the course of fidelity, rather than taking you to Vegas to join them in the debauched misery from which none of us might ever get truly home. To some extent Tiger has let us down by being… just like us—leaving us maybe thinking, “then why shouldn’t we get a hundred mil too?” And then we remember that no one ever said that Tiger was a superstar husband and father, he’s just really good at golf.
Perhaps it takes a village to raise a child, but in that village there needs to be a few men to put arms around dads-to-be, and newly-minted (and sexually frustrated) fathers and help them through this developmental rough patch with a little class, restraint and compassion—for themselves and their partners.
In our ideal village, positive and loyal men might gather around at-risk fathers and clue them in on what he’s to expect when she’s expecting, and in the early stages of parenting. Guys need to think about how sexual they might feel after bouts of all night colic nursing and nipples tartare. Men need to be able to see themselves as successful in their roles as fathers (and they need to learn to conceptualize the family as the group and not just the lovebirds); sure, “date night” is important, but men also need to be able to handle not getting laid sometimes as developmentally normal and not as a punishment or personal rejection.
Many men are lonely, many people, both in and out of relationships are lonely. Sure men want sex, but they really want to be loved, they want to feel successful and they want to be taught how to be men. Men lack role models to represent loyalty and a normal degree of frustration as part of being a real man, rather than feeling ripped off if they are not the center of the universe with needs perpetually met like some king with a big-love harem.
Our culture that speaks too often of “getting our needs met” (while falsely creating an endless stream of bogus needs) is the very narcissistic culture that we must outgrow. Tiger faces a developmental task, not a moral one; the reason he would be wise to learn loyalty, or get a mast and some ropes, is that it will lead to good feelings that last, while lurid sex can only lead to where it led—far off the fairway and Escalading into trees.
As Jung said, “that which we cannot be conscious of materializes and meets us as our fate.” To the extent that Tiger might be a symbol of all of us, the tree is both a symbol of the mast, pillar, phallus, carnal knowledge and life—but it’s also a symbol of soul.
Whatever Tiger ends up doing in the privacy he deserves, I hope that we can reclaim our own tiger selves and bind them to the path of soul, working from the heart and not the underpants alone, at least when it comes to taking good and conscious care of all our collective children—those beings so much easier to passionately conceive than to enduringly parent.