The Hearts of Men

I’ve heard a lot of awful stories about men who leave women when they become ill, specifically women with endometriosis. Many women think that they’ll never find a mate because of endo, and the sad part is that they have good reason to worry. Endometriosis is a disease that affects a woman’s ability to have sex and have kids. So it’s easy to think “Of course no man would want me.” I think most people believe in love and seek meaningful relationships, but a lot of it still hinges on sex, doesn’t it? Relationships aren’t all about sex, but throw in an incurable illness (with no known cause) that causes sex to become difficult – not even impossible, just difficult – and all that love fluff tends to get thrown out the window.

I know a woman who was happily married for a very long time. Her husband was a devoted caretaker, and very patient with her pain and depression. From the outside, she looked like one of the lucky ones. Then he asked for a divorce. She was too sick, and he wanted his own life.

I met another woman who was married somewhat happily, except that she had endometriosis, and when sex was difficult, he sought it outside the marriage.

My husband and I are reading the book “Love and Respect,” and recently came across this quote:

“Almost all women stand by their men; very few men stand by their women.”

Of course, as Dr. Eggerichs points out after sharing this quote, it is a broad generalization. But in today’s society, stats show that when a man becomes ill, a woman becomes a caretaker. When a woman becomes ill, a man leaves. This is all with no mention of diseases that specifically affect women’s sexual and reproductive organs.

The outlook is often bleak, especially to unmarried women who receive a forever-diagnosis. I was engaged when I was diagnosed, and the first talk I had with my husband was the “It’s okay if you want to call it off now” talk. It just seemed like the right thing to do. It just seemed inevitable.

But I have a theory about men. It’s generalized, and it’s just my opinion, but I feel like it was mostly proven by the tragic events that unfolded on July 20th, 2012 in Aurora, Colorado.

I believe that men, for the most part, are good. Men are loyal. Men are protectors.

I even believe that the man who left his ailing wife, and the man who sought a sexual partner in addition to his wife, are both good men who would die for their wives.

But they left them! You say. Well hear me out.

When a gunman entered the midnight screening of the premier of The Dark Night Rises, and opened fire on an unarmed crowd in the dark in the middle of the night, it was like shooting fish in a barrel. They had no time to think, nothing to defend themselves with, and no safe way out. 70 people were injured. 12 people died. 3 of the men killed died protecting their girlfriends. Not wives, not fiances, their girlfriends. And it’s not like they had a minute to think “Hold on, is she worth my life? Are we going to get married or have kids? Am I ready for this kind of commitment?” No. They were on a date. Zoned out, watching a movie. Shots were fired, and they took action.

colorado shooting memorial batman

Men have an instinct in their brain that says “She needs my protection, I will protect her.” It’s society that has sadly bred the “She needs my protection, I will control her.” mentality.

On 9/11, business men and women were evacuating the twin towers via stairwell. I can imagine the chaos in those little corridors as thousands fled for their lives. This year, I saw an interview with one of the firemen as he recalled the things he did and saw that day. He said many of the men who emerged from the towers came carrying women in high heels. These women weren’t being stupid, they just ran for their lives. Once they realized the heels were going to be a problem, they could have wasted precious seconds to get free of them. But instead, in many, many instances, the man behind them simply scooped them up and kept running.

These are stories of men who risked everything and in some cases, gave all for the sake of a woman. In some cases a signifigant other, in others, a stranger. But there are even younger men who, without thinking, have made the same sacrifice.

On Valentines day in 2008, a student went to his girlfriend’s class to sit with her because it was Valentines day. That’s already pretty sweet, giving up an hour of your day to be in the vicinity of your girlfriend during a boring class. But someone opened fire. He wasn’t even supposed to be there, but still, without thinking, pulled her to the ground and shielded her with his body. They were shot – one bullet that went through both of them – but she lived.

All of these men are heroes. But I don’t think it’s particularly extraordinary. I think that in any snap-judgment situation, it is in most men’s nature to protect rather than run.

Life is somehow more complicated, though. When looking at life with a woman in pain, it’s easy for a man to reason out how he has more potential on his own, or that he could find a more fit and able mate, so he leaves. Again, I think this is a society thing. Many men say “I love her, but…” what they’re thinking about is money, sex, success, everything that life today says we’re supposed to be thinking about.

Yes, there are some scumballs out there. I know a couple. There are men who would sooner throw their wife in front of a bullet than take one for her. There are women who care about nothing but themselves, and take advantage of men’s desire to protect. There are perfectly happy couples with no men and vice-versa. But I really believe that most men have this trait, this protector-instinct, that goes all the way back to the hunter/gatherer days.

caretaker

Nobody really questions that women are born caretakers, and that any wife or mother would fight and die for her family. Most people also agree that any woman would stay by the bedside of any person she loves – husband, child, friend. And it’s equally accepted that men should be freer, should “sow their wild oats,” and all of that nonsense.

What I’m getting at is this: Men, if your wife/girlfriend becomes ill in some way, please think of two things: One, if, God forbid, someone opened fire somewhere and you could shield her, would you? Two, when you have grown old, if you become physically disabled or succumb to Alzheimer’s, would she take care of you?

in sickness and health

I know it’s hard. Heck, sans illness marriage is hard. So many people fail. Those people want a happily ever after, but that’s not what marriage is. Marriage is the once upon a time. If it’s not illness, it will be something else. Change will come, hard times will find you. You and your wife will both change and grow. You may become poor. You may become rich. You will fight. You will disagree. You will both be mean and nasty and you will hurt each other more deeply than anyone else can. That’s only because you love each other. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t care what the other did or said. So whatever it is, when it comes, try and put yourself in that primal, snap-judgment place. A gun is pointed at her. You could be in the middle of a huge fight, but when it comes down to it, in your very core, I believe you would still try to save her.

That you would be willing to give up your life, yet not willing to spend your life helping her…this is a great paradox.

And this goes both ways, but for the sake of simplicity I’m not going to be obsessively PC and write men/women or that SUPER annoying s/he every time. But when considering any problem in your relationship, women too should look to the future and see that “together forever” means old age and probably illness. That any day, a gun could be pointed at your man’s head, and you may have a chance to save him (if he doesn’t jump on you first).

The world is a dark place. People shoot first graders at their desks. Kids bring guns to school. Entire organizations of people conspire to spread terror and take as many lives as possible. And illness is very similar – it shoots without bias at young and old, rich or poor, loved or lonely. Hold on to each other. Give your heart fully to your partner, your friends, and your family. Tragedy reveals our inmost character, and with each new act of senseless violence, the masses have risen and shown us that there is a hero in each of us. In our chests beats the hearts of lions. When bombs go off, huge crowds of strangers run towards it. As Mr. Rogers so famously said, we are all helpers.

The world makes me sad. The hearts of men keep me hopeful.

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19 thoughts on “The Hearts of Men

  1. Rachel – I too know women with my illness or other chronic illness who have been left by the side. Their spouses went to live a better life. I am one of the fortunate ones whose husband bends over backwards to make life easier for me and has stuck with me through multiple surgeries and some pretty horrendous reactions. I am grateful that you shared this. I will be reposting.

    1. Thanks. I’m no feminist, but girls today have a million reasons to think they’ll never find love. There’s so much pressure to be perfect, and illness just doesn’t fit that ideal. Another quote from that book – “Be kind to your children, but especially kind to your daughters.”

  2. Reading this brought tears. I do have endometriosis. I had a hysterectomy to try to save my first marriage. I would have given anything for him and I gave up my future and dignity time and again. He was like the second man you mentioned. I was in pain and he’d tell me he loved me, while bringing other women to our home. Yes, OUR home. I was expected to just deal with this. So I gave up my ability to have children (I have 1 and he did all he could to take her away too) to try to ease some of the pain I was in. Within 2 weeks of surgery, he was angry that he couldn’t get what he wanted. Within months, he was right back to other women. I was done. I left. I was made out forever more as the bad guy and not fit to be a mom and everything.

    The second husband acted like he’d stand by me, but did much the same, and then left to be with a woman who could give him what I can’t…a child. I’m terrified of that happening again. In MY experience, men don’t stick by their women. They take advantage of them. I hope the one I’m with now would be quite different. We do take care of each other. I like to think there are some good, loyal men out there. I do know mine would give his life for me. That’s a given.

    1. It’s so strange how many men really would give their lives in an instant but won’t stand by a woman in need. I’m so sorry that you’ve lived this, and I hope this man takes care of you. I hate that we live in a society that encourages men to use women and women to be tools for men. Women need men and it’s not a weakness to take advantage of, it’s a source of honor. Sadly, honorable men are in short supply. Hugs to you. I do hope that, at least, the hysterectomy helped with endo. I have lots of friends who it worked miracles for. I envision myself having one someday, but to be honest the idea scares me. Heck, my laproscopies (wrong spelling I’m sure) scared me. Surgery is freaking scary! And you’re very brave and strong for doing so. I hope you’re reaping the rewards. Hugs again.

      1. It was terrifying. I had so many nightmares beforehand. I still often feel like I’m broken or not going to get a fair shake at romantic happiness because of this need men have for their own offspring (I’m fine adopting.) However, it helped a lot with the endo. I still have pain at times, but I can live a fuller life now than before (other than the fibromyalgia, which often is seen in women with endo.)

  3. It’s a tricky topic, and very hard when talking in such sweeping generalisations. But yes, I agree with you – men seem to be geared to act, but can’t handle the long hard grind and don’t have the selflessness that is needed to compromise and sacrifice when you are a carer. It reminds me of my ex-boyfriend who put lots of effort into grand romantic gestures, but wouldn’t come to visit me regularly. It was too far, he couldn’t be bothered, why don’t I go visit him more…

    But there are lots of men out there with the compassion and stamina to make it work for someone they love.

    1. Very very good word choice in “stamina.” And your ex is another great example that this goes beyond illness and caretaking, that any long term thing will be hard for a man. I actually just had a mini epiphany that while you knew you were in deep trouble if Dad disciplined you, Mom actually doled out more punishment as it was her that took care of the everyday offenses. Also, my Dad could work through the night for his entrepreneurship, but couldn’t stay up if me or my sisters were up sick or with nightmares.

      I do think it’s good that women and men have different strengths because then we can appreciate blah blah blah but it still feels like the “you have to have bad to appreciate good” metaphor. Sure, I guess….but I still like good better!

      I think also, especially at our age, there is a maturity question. It’s been scientifically proven that men mature much slower than women, and it’s my personal opinion some never mature at all. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Men may not be born with this “stamina,” but mature men can learn it! ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. i happen to be one of the lucky ones. we have been together for 21 yrs. thanks to heart failure and some other issues we have not been able to have conventional sex so we have found other ways to be intimate. he has been so kind and loving through this difficult time and we know it is going to be progressively worse as time goes by. in the end i will be gone and he will have to carry on his life without me. he says he cannot imagine life without me and i know he means it.

    intimacy is so much more than sex. although i agree with you on the importance of sex i disagree that it can only be achieved in some traditional way. us old folks have to get creative:)

    1. Yes yes yes! You put it in to words so much better than I was able to! I can admit that when I was a teenager being told I’d have difficulty with sex, I was devastated in that immature way as I thought that sex was the end all be all of love and intimacy. We can still have conventional sex, but there are some days that I can be feeling fine and for some reason it’s just not a good day for it. But even on days when I can, I still often prefer the cuddling and kissing. In teenhood we have a sort of physical hierarchy with hand holding being the least important and sex being the WHOA. SERIOUS. level. I do definitely think this is the order in which a couple should proceed to break down the intimacy walls, but in a long-term relationship I really see them all equally. There have been times when my husband took my hand in his and it swept me off my feet. I also think that the closer you are as a couple, the more you value all kinds of intimacy. There is intimacy in sitting in silence drinking tea. You don’t need sex – it is important, but highly overvalued these days.

      Side note: My husband and I bought ourselves this adorable little book called a “Cuddle-Sutra.” Yeah, we’re that couple, haha. It has all kinds of cuddle positions, types of hugs, and ways to hold hands. It’s TOTALLY ADORABLE and I highly recommend looking it up. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      /end ridiculously long comment

  5. wonderful post. i think you’re right on about a number of things. although there are certainly exceptions, women are natural caregivers, and men natural protectors. i think sometimes when those roles are reversed, we don’t know how to handle it.

    1. Very, very true. It’s interesting to also think about women finding themselves in a protector role. Most women have the “mama bear” thing going when it comes to kids, but in the company of adults, I’m not sure what I’d do in a disaster situation.

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