Have you ever noticed how when you bare your heart and soul to a man he retreats? Into his cave. And doesn’t come out. For a very, very long time. Or if he’s going through a personal funk, he draws inward, locks you out, refuses to answer the door. If he’s your husband, he gives you that look when you walk into the room—that look that says, “talk to me or come near me, and I will totally blow up at you.” And if he’s your boyfriend, he stops calling, stops e-mailing, doesn’t return your efforts to reach out.
And you sit there…stumped. And wondering. What did I say? What’s wrong? And why won’t he let me help? Why won’t he let me in?
After you’ve lain awake for a couple of nights, staring at the ceiling, trying to figure him out, he reappears…as if nothing has happened, says, “Hey, you want to go out to that new bistro tonight and hear that band play?”
Did I imagine it all? You ask yourself. Maybe he’s right, and I read into things, and nothing was wrong at all.
Chances are, 90 percent of the time or more, you did not imagine it, he is not right, you were not reading into things, and something was definitely wrong. But men aren’t like us. Where we question ourselves and every girlfriend who will listen when something goes wrong in our lives, they deny and avoid, pull back into the safety of the man cave where women can’t get to them and make them talk or feel…well, most of the time.
But every once in awhile, whether it’s due to lack of sleep or desperation, they seek us out, practically beg for our understanding, our empathy, our love in spite of every foolish, wayward, abnormal thing they’ve ever done. And we have to be there. Fail to be there, and you’ve set yourself back six months at least. Because men don’t forget these things. Their pride is easily wounded. Reject them when they’re down, and they’re not likely to come crawling back again anytime soon.
So what happens when you’re having one of those days when the empathy isn’t coming or when he’s the one putting you into the funk? Where’s our cave, I ask?
Well, ladies, the hard truth is…we don’t have one. Just try to exercise your right to a cave, and watch what happens. He will follow you into every room, claiming you don’t listen to him or respect him. He will tell you for months afterward that “you’re never there for me.” Or he may call you four or five times a day or send you kind of heartbreakingly desperate e-mails, rife with the words of love he thinks you want to hear (and you do want to hear them—that’s the kicker). And if you don’t respond to these entreaties, ladies, what will he do? That’s right…into his own cave he goes.
He just will not let you have your cave. In fact, the whole idea that you even want one, much less have one, absolutely terrifies him.
So what’s up with the double standard?
It’s really not their fault there is one, so let’s start there. Men are not typically raised to be empathetic, open, or giving. To behave with that kind of attitude puts them at great emotional risk. You may be asking yourself now, Well, I put myself at emotional risk all the time! Yes, you do. But you have that wonderful asset called girlfriends. No matter what happens in your life, one of those women in your network of mutual rescuers will be there for you, prop you up, and push you on your way again.
You don’t honestly think men go to their male friends and say, “Man, I don’t think my girlfriend loves me the way she used to, and I’m really bummed about it,” or “My wife has been really down for a couple of months. Do you think I did something wrong? What should I do?” Now, I do hate making generalizations, and there may be a man or two out there who asks these kinds of questions of his buddies, but if there is, I’d like to meet him.
The sad reality is, ladies, all these guys have is you. It’s not just sex and companionship they want (though I know it seems like that at times). Whether they will openly admit it or not, men need women for the emotional sustenance they provide. We are the one place they generally feel pretty safe going to when life is a mess, that is, if you haven’t attempted to build a cave for yourself in the backyard.
If you have, however, my advice is to fill in the hole and put away the shovel…or at least build the cave at a single girlfriend’s house. Because while the guys may indeed behave like Neanderthals at times, they really do need and want you on a level they don’t understand (and probably don’t want to understand) themselves. Assume your role as caregiver to the cave dweller with love and care, and when you need your own cave, just make sure your husband isn’t around when you retreat into it…and remember to be back by dinnertime.