Today I want to talk about an issue that has been very damaged and damaging over the years. To my mind it is the single most important, multifaceted and misunderstood issue we have to deal with in the world, not just today but any day for all of time and history. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call it the hub of our very existence in this mysterious realm known as “Life” that we find ourselves inhabiting. What I’m talking about is the issue of the male and the female.
Now, to begin with, there are many obvious threads here since I’ve stated the issue itself. But I want to by-pass some of those altogether. Clearly all life comes from the combination of the male and the female, so in that sense it literally is the hub of our very existence. Clearly we have had a long and harrowing history of the subjugation of the one sex by the other. And clearly we live in a world now where the lines between the sexes (and the genders) are being blurred more and more as the years roll by. In all these ways and more, one can see (clearly) just how important, relevant and vast this issue is. But I don’t want to spend much time on any of these. No; today I want to move beyond the concerns about gender equality and women’s lib and sexual orientation and the right to determine one’s own identity, and get right to the heart of an even more pressing and fundamental matter. Today it’s all about the relationship between men and women; in a general sense, but more specifically in the romantic sense.
Here’s my reason and my reasoning: every conceivable circumstance, problem or concern that the human being faces or has faced over the course of our long history has at its base the relationships between people, and even more so the relationship between the male and the female. I think a little honest reflection or introspection will make that evident. People are the real driving forces of the world, not Nature or the Seasons or the Environment. We prove that day after day, year after year, and often precisely by triumphing over the forces of “Nature”, “Seasons” and “Environment”. And of all the relationships that drive the world, there is one that stands head and shoulders above the rest in terms of sheer importance. It’s not the relationship between a father and his son, a mother and her daughter, a boss and his employee, a teacher and his student, a ruler and his subjects, or any combination of the above. It is simply (or rather, O that it would be “simple”!) the relationship between a man and a woman. A man and his woman. A woman and her man. That’s about as personal as you can get. That’s also about as horribly perplexed as you can get, unfortunately.
The one thing humanity hasn’t been able to conquer is itself. And this is a great tragedy. After all, if we make the world go round, how can the world be a good and happy place if we just can’t get along with each other? And that’s been precisely the problem with men and women. Here’s the deal: the primary relationship, both in terms of chronology and import, was the one between Man and Woman. God made Adam then gave him Eve. And even if you don’t believe that part of the story, it doesn’t change the fact that the human family started out with a man and a woman–how else would we all have gotten here? And how else have we kept on getting here since? But then the relationship has never been totally or even primarily utilitarian, has it? No, men and women have always had demands of each other that go far beyond that of simply making babies. In fact, one could almost say making babies is incidental. (Almost.) More often than not, our reasons for wanting and having sex have nothing to do with the need for “carrying on the species”–and we have a lot of sex! And, in the end, what we really want isn’t just sex either! Ask those who have lots of it. The thing itself feels empty and old after a while, if there isn’t something deeper behind it. Ask those who have been abused and objectified by it. Sex pulls from something else to get its value; trying to place the real value on sex itself often does more to rob value from the people and things that should have been valued most in the first place. We have specific demands and expectations of each other that go way beyond the realm of concepts like “the survival of the fittest” or our “usefulness” to each other. Those demands and expectations are where the beautiful and the ugly really start to happen in our lives. And far too often things get real ugly, real fast.
Look around. It’s plain enough to see, if only you are willing. All other things spring from the family. The society. Culture. Religion and religious perspectives. Social trends. Fashion. Morality. Economy. All of it starts from the home. How? Simply like this: people drive all these things I just mentioned, and people all come from families. These aren’t concepts that just are, all on their own. Or, rather, they are; but they depend on us to breathe life into them, if you will. “Society” is meaningless without people. So is “religion” or “the economy” or “politics” or “culture”. Wherever you have people, you will of necessity find these things too; but they are always shaped and directed by the people who are engaged in them. And if it is clear that the “circle of life” is real (thank you, Lion King), and that humans come from humans and give birth to other humans in their time in a potentially endless cycle, why aren’t we more careful and thoughtful with our romantic relationships? Because everything reduces right back to the male and the female–and we are decidedly not utilitarian beings.
When all is said and done, love and trust and understanding and respect are what men and women have always craved from each other, and what too often they fail both to give and to receive.
In the way of consequences, the landscape is dotted with examples of what failure can bring. We’re filled to the point of throwing up with statistics. Kids from broken homes are umpteen times more likely to do this or fall victim to that. Domestic violence rates have gone up by X percent. Y percent of wives feel that their marriages are well short of satisfying and are not far from pulling the plug. This many men have restraining orders taken out against them monthly, or that many men have to be dragged into court for child support.
There’s more besides the statistics, too. Women’s lib came from the refusal of some men and women to continue brooking the atrocious attitude that men have generally taken towards women since the distant the past. Feminism was a similar, vigorous response to the general mistreatment of women at the hands of men. Many and varied though the reasons for people changing their sex or sexual orientation may be, at least some people do so in response to some distressing or tragic experience involving the opposite sex. There’s an alarming amount of general animosity between the sexes even now. It’s alarming to hear how some men talk about women or some women talk about men. It really makes you have to stop and wonder sometimes! And all of this goes right back, directly or indirectly, to the entire issue of men and women and how we relate to each other. Especially in a romantic relationship. It’s one thing to grow up around women who tell you all men are dogs, or around men who tell you never to trust a woman with your heart. That’s bad enough. But it’s something completely different to get into your own relationship and “discover” on your own that all your old advisors were actually “right” to tell you that! Something is seriously wrong here!
We’ve gone ahead and created a whole host of monsters, and then we’ve gone and created an arsenal of monster-slayers to try to fix the problem. Except, our monster-slaying weapons are neither wholly efficient (again, look around) nor clinical. Far too many innocent souls get mowed down when we indiscriminately swing that “custom-made” zanbato-style sword around, trying to cut down the various injustices associated with men and women.
Let’s face it–the special, one-on-one relationship between a man and a woman has a much bigger sphere of influence than we’d often like to admit. We were all children once. We should know this well. But we often don’t think about it enough. The first real people we got to observe were our parents. (God help us if one was missing for any reason, or if their relationship was rocky.) That in turn affected how we viewed people outside our little family circle. Naturally, we also got introduced to more and more such relationships between men and women, till we started trying them out for ourselves. We get our first girlfriend or boyfriend in primary school and it’s cute. We get into high school and things get a whole lot more real in that department. And even more importantly, this exposure to others’ relationships and what we learned from it inevitably shaped our own approach to our relational endeavours to some degree.
The truth is, nobody ever enters a relationship as a truly “blank slate”. No, your slate has been in a constant state of active use from the very beginning, through observing and assimilating the experiences of others. It’s just that it gets much more complicated and much more real to you when you now have amassed your own personal experiences. But we’ve seen it happen a million times before–people always enter new relationships dragging some elements of their pasts with them. Some people have to deal with the breaking of their own hearts from a previous relationship. But even when that isn’t the case, people sometimes enter with scars related to what others have experienced, and which have planted doubts, fears and insecurities which are just as real and as potent as if they had been the ones who went through it all. It’s not something to take lightly.
So this is the state we’re in. To put it in terms of an old cliché, “Men/Women–can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em!” It’s odd, isn’t it? For all the hurt and pain and bad blood between men and women, we still can’t help but want each other. The same woman who will cling to radical feminism and profess that men are the cause of all that’s wrong in the world is very often the same woman who has or wants a man in her life! The same man who is bitter towards women and sees them as nothing more than conniving vixens is very often the same man who doesn’t want to be alone! With or without the general misunderstandings and toe-crushing that has characterized the two sexes since the dawn of time, the proof is in the pudding–we still have, and actively pursue, relationships with the opposite sex.
We literally can’t do without it. No, seriously, we can’t! There’s no use even to argue it. Men and women need each other and are ultimately drawn right back to each other without fail every time, no matter what. It has little to do with personal preference, really. It’s biology, but it’s more than just that. It’s emotional, but it’s more than just that. It’s not even something that can ever be fully explained or understood, unless you talk to God about it when you get to Heaven. People have been trying to understand it for millennia. A lot of good it’s done us up until now. We’re no closer to getting it than when we first began. You’re free to favour a celibate existence and you’re free to pursue a same-sex relationship. You’re free to close your heart off from men or women because of their perceived evils and choose to merely flit about from flower to flower like a butterfly. That’s what that little something called Choice is. But men and women were designed for each other. That is why, fly high or fly low, this will always and forever be the presiding trend throughout all mankind.And that is why, despite our best efforts, when we cling to our policy of involvement without emotional attachment, there’s always that one person who brutally challenges or crushes our resolve and puts us off our game. Celibacy, homosexuality and general detachment have always and will continue to bow before the simple magnetism of the male and the female. You will always have these 3 groups in the world, but they will never overpower and outlast the original design. Nature always finds a way, and hope ever springs eternal.
That leaves us with just one problem–the single, solitary essential that we make a mess of the most, hands down. It leaves us with the problem of how to really, truly have a good, meaningful relationship. How do we achieve what men and women were meant to achieve together? How does a man love a woman? How does a woman love a man? That one question–and the various attempts and mis-attempts to answer it over the course of several millennia–has been the single most impactful consideration in the entire world. Success has led to resplendent beauty. Failure has spawned horrifying tragedy. Life is in relationship and people make the world go round. Both people and all other kinds of relationship come from that one, prominent and basic interconnection–that of the man and his woman, the woman and her man.
If we could have gotten this right from the beginning we wouldn’t have needed a women’s liberation movement. We wouldn’t have needed feminism. We wouldn’t have had people shutting down and retreating from each other, and from themselves. We wouldn’t have seen the kinds of atrocities we have seen committed by both sexes, both in the past and in the present. (God only knows what the future holds.) And until we do get it right, we’ll continue to have this constant warfare between man and woman, and this constant cycle of wonderful highs and crushing lows. What we keep messing up is this: everybody wants to love and be loved by somebody, but how many of us really took the time to understand what it would mean–and what it would cost–to achieve that?