by Michael Seabaugh
A divorced friend of mine recently told me about an adventure he had with a woman from his high school class. “Trust me, this one was really gorgeous,” he assured me. Their high school’s 40th reunion was about to take place and the ethernet was buzzing with classmates reconnecting.
“I had heard she was newly emancipated from a marriage,” my friend said, “so I called her to see if she was going to the reunion. It was great, talking about all the good times we had shared. I couldn’t believe it when she asked if I’d like to meet up and maybe rekindle a little of that magic. I told her I was a bit older and balder than when she last saw me. She was so sweet about it that I even admitted to going up several notches on my belt size. She said she thought tubby bald men were cute.
“‘Anyway,’ she said, ‘I’ve put on a couple of pounds myself!’ “So I hung up on the fat bitch.”
Okay, that was a joke, one of the many that mine the rich humor lode of the male mind. You may have even laughed when you read it, recognizing that men aren’t from Mars, they are eternally from the locker room.
Recently I attended a lecture at Victoria Hall by nationally renowned adolescent psychologist Dr. Ron Taffel, who was trying to help parents and professionals understand not the mature man-mind, but the adolescent mind. According to him, they might not be all that different. “I can’t remember a single thought that I thought when I was a boy,” he admitted. “That is probably because, like most boys, I didn’t think. Come to think of it, what three things I did manage to think about when I was 13 were the same as when I was in my 20s, and even older. It doesn’t change.”
The mostly female audience laughed out loud, and the men in the audience smiled their sly smiles of recognition. Everyone relating to Dr. Taffel’s admission were probably thinking along the lines of what a keen female observer of the male mind once told me: Men’s minds are simple — one-third devoted to games, another third to business (or other transactions where there are winners and losers), and two-thirds to sex.
“Okay, that doesn’t add up,” she allowed, “but neither do the minds of most men.” Perhaps it is too easy to riff on the male mind as stuck in a perpetual South Park episode. But in truth, this idea of adolescent brains encased in aging bodies really doesn’t tell the whole story. Many men actually manage to take on the responsibility of families and/or make meaningful contributions to society. Every now and then, one even becomes president.
Former president Bill Clinton, who was in town recently speaking to a sold-out audience at the Arlington, presents an interesting case study in this regard. Here is a man who led the free world for eight years, who can articulate and command the most complex issues facing our world today. And yet he jeopardized his place in history by impulsively accepting a pizza delivery with benefits. (Sex and high-carb food…what adolescent boy can resist that?)
At the Arlington, Clinton drew an interesting distinction between organizing our thoughts based on ideology versus philosophy. This past August, he spoke about this in more depth in a speech in Seattle: “If you have a philosophy, you are inclined by your values in a certain direction. But you are also interested in hearing arguments and looking at facts. You actually think you might be wrong every now and then. But if you have an ideology, then the facts are irrelevant. The result is determined and then you just fix the facts to fit them.”
I found this interesting because I have noticed that when men start rounding the bend of life, they have several options as to the route their minds can take. There is always the well-traveled Peter Pan road (more toys, newer and shinier playmates). However, for those who are looking to embrace their maturity, there is the choice between two other pathways. They can choose the road of ideologue, becoming more entrenched in their certainty (and presumably safer behind their ideological gates). Or they can take the philosophical path: remaining curious and open to the ongoing mysteries of life.
As a young man, I noticed a certain kind of older man, one who was so sure he had figured everything out and who felt he had the right to pontificate endlessly about these certitudes. I even had a name for them: The Gray Bearded Loons. Later, I came to understand this kind of man-mind (both in myself and others) as a product of fear and also as a compensation for the perceived loss of power that often comes with the waning of testosterone.
Even back in the day, these puffed up guys always seemed brittle and a bit foolish to me. I suppose they were trying to reestablish their authority through wisdom. They never seemed wise to me, they just seemed old.
Dr. Michael Seabaugh is a clinical psychologist with a practice in Santa Barbara. Visit www.HealthspanWeb.com for more information on the topics covered in Healthspan. He welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.