Sunshine Mary’s recent post Discerning Well triggered something of a firestorm in the comment section. The comments quickly developed into a verbal war of sorts, with men and women mostly taking opposite sides. Overall, the vast majority of the female commenters found the story contained therein to be beautiful and uplifting. On the other hand, most of the male commenters took a different view and considered it something of a tragedy. This reaction surprised the blogmistress, and I think most of the commenters too.
Now it happened that I was one of the male commenters who became involved in that post and the furious debate that broke out (Ok, I was actually sort of the instigator of the debate). As time passed and the debate continued, I eventually bowed out. This post is my attempt to try and explain to my female readers (many of whom read Sunshine Mary’s blog) why it was that her post touched a nerve in so many men. I’m writing it because men and women think very, very differently, and it is easy for us to misunderstand one another. Hopefully I can clear up some of the confusion. While I can’t say that it will put women at ease, I at least hope that it will provide some measure of understanding.
The female commenters were caught up in the joy and happiness of the messages, and so focused on that. Those are natural, understandable emotions. Indeed, appropriate ones for a new marriage. But for the men, something else was at play, something more potent, something more primal:
I didn’t figure this out at first. For a while I thought I was being rational in my responses. But eventually I came to realize that emotion was driving me, not reason. So I stepped back to catch my breath and ended up never jumping back in. Eventually, after much discernment, I came to understand how fear was driving my reactions. This fear wasn’t obvious because most of it was sub-conscious, well below the surface of most of my awareness. But it was still present and affecting me. Now, this fear wasn’t that of outright terror. No, it was a subtle kind that gnawed at the back of my mind. I could feel the effects, but not really the presence. And I would venture much the same was happening with most of the other men as well.
So what were the sources of this fear? A few, in no particular order include:
– Fear of never finding a wife
– Fear that I might find a wife but it would take me decades
– Fear of living in a marriage marketplace where women have all the power
– Fear that the only women interested in marrying me would be unacceptable to me
– Fear of becoming so full of despair and bereft of hope that I would take any woman who expressed any interest in me
– Fear of never having children of my own
Those are just a few of the fears that I can think of off the top of my head.
Before I go further, it is important, vital even, for women to understand that men have certain biological imperatives programmed into them. And many of these imperatives are bound deeply into our sub-conscious, such that they affect us although we don’t realize it. This is largely what was at play here. Again, set aside whether these fears are rational or not. When the sub-conscious is involved, reason is a rarity. I was doing a lot of projecting.
Lets start with the scenario that if I wanted to marry I would have to settle for a post-Wall woman in her forties. This touches on a fear of not fulfilling one of those core biological imperatives, that of having children. When it comes to procreation, men have two different strategies that are on something of a sliding scale. On one end you have sexual variety, otherwise known as sleeping with as many women as possible. This strategy emphasizes numbers over quality, in terms of possible children. The other end is what I call paternity, where a man focuses on just a few children born of a single mother that he heavily invests in. This is quality over quantity. In marrying such a woman, I would probably be dooming myself to biological death; it would be a step that would all but guarantee that I never have kids and never pass my genes on. Now, because of my faith, I have already repudiated sexual variety as a strategy, thereby forcing myself to the far end of paternity. As a result, I have (consciously and unconsciously) become very much invested in that strategy, it has become a core part of my sense of identity. Thus, marrying a woman who almost certainly can’t have children thereby threatens me at a very deep level. Naturally enough, fear will result.
While I could write in depth about all of these fears, it isn’t necessary and so will limit myself to that one example for now. [I suppose if there is a call for it I could continue my analysis via updates or in the comments.]
Understand ladies that we men have our fears too. Oftentimes they will be different from yours, or we will express them in different ways. What you were seeing in that post were deep-seated male fears manifesting themselves. All of us, men and women alike, will be affected by fears and anxieties that lurk below the surface from time to time. One thing I noted is that pretty much all of the women who posted in that thread were married, many with children. Women have different imperatives than men and some would have been touched by that post as well. But women might feel those imperatives threatened in different ways. Hence, the disparity in reaction. I am curious what reaction unmarried women, and women without children, would have had to that post.
As for myself, once I realized what I was experiencing I sought for a way to calm my fears and let go of my anxieties. I kept in mind the words of our Savior:
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.
Towards that end I stepped away from my computer, opened my Bible and read my go-to book, the Book of Psalms:
In thee, O Lord, do I seek refuge;
let me never be put to shame;
in thy righteousness deliver me!
2 Incline thy ear to me,
rescue me speedily!
Be thou a rock of refuge for me,
a strong fortress to save me!
3 Yea, thou art my rock and my fortress;
for thy name’s sake lead me and guide me,
4 take me out of the net which is hidden for me,
for thou art my refuge.
5 Into thy hand I commit my spirit;
thou hast redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.
6 Thou hatest those who pay regard to vain idols;
but I trust in the Lord.
7 I will rejoice and be glad for thy steadfast love,
because thou hast seen my affliction,
thou hast taken heed of my adversities,
8 and hast not delivered me into the hand of the enemy;
thou hast set my feet in a broad place.
9 Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;
my eye is wasted from grief,
my soul and my body also.
10 For my life is spent with sorrow,
and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my misery,
and my bones waste away.
11 I am the scorn of all my adversaries,
a horror to my neighbors,
an object of dread to my acquaintances;
those who see me in the street flee from me.
12 I have passed out of mind like one who is dead;
I have become like a broken vessel.
13 Yea, I hear the whispering of many—
terror on every side!—
as they scheme together against me,
as they plot to take my life.
14 But I trust in thee, O Lord,
I say, “Thou art my God.”
15 My times are in thy hand;
deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors!
16 Let thy face shine on thy servant;
save me in thy steadfast love!
17 Let me not be put to shame, O Lord,
for I call on thee;
let the wicked be put to shame,
let them go dumbfounded to Sheol.
18 Let the lying lips be dumb,
which speak insolently against the righteous
in pride and contempt.
19 O how abundant is thy goodness,
which thou hast laid up for those who fear thee,
and wrought for those who take refuge in thee,
in the sight of the sons of men!
20 In the covert of thy presence thou hidest them
from the plots of men;
thou holdest them safe under thy shelter
from the strife of tongues.
21 Blessed be the Lord,
for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me
when I was beset as in a besieged city.
22 I had said in my alarm,
“I am driven far from thy sight.”
But thou didst hear my supplications,
when I cried to thee for help.
23 Love the Lord, all you his saints!
The Lord preserves the faithful,
but abundantly requites him who acts haughtily.
24 Be strong, and let your heart take courage,
all you who wait for the Lord!
[For a secular alternative, and to understand the meaning of this post’s name, see here.]