Thursday, July 18, 2019

The Case of the Compulsive Wanker

If this case does not cure you of therapy, nothing will. A man who calls himself the classic married guy writes to New York Magazine’s pathetic advice columnist, Ask Polly. His problem is that he wants love and wants to be loved. As of now, his closest approximation to sex is his compulsive wanking. (If you do not know what means, look it up.) 

Interesting point, the man has been in therapy for six years. You see, he was the victim of sexual abuse, inflicted by his step-father. Said step-father believed that CMG was something of a wimp. So he wanted to toughen CMG up… by berating him for not being very manly, by wrestling with him, and perhaps even by abusing him sexually. So, when he goes to therapy his therapist persuades him that sexual abuse is the meaning of his life, that he wants sex so badly because his stepfather made it the meaning of his life, and that he needs to seek loving affection, thus, to give up on manning up and becoming more like a woman.

Some people will imagine, as Polly does, that sexual abuse always produces such outcomes. One might also rejoin that a therapist who tells you that sexual abuse is the meaning of your life will inevitably produce such outcomes. The letter tells us nothing of where his mother was in all this. It does not tell us whether said stepfather intervened, in a clumsy and even abusive way, because Mom was worried about son’s manliness quota. 

Surely, any man who thinks that a woman is going to make him a man is making a serious mistake. Perhaps Mom knew this. Surely, the therapist seems not to have a clue. Neither does Polly.

Now that our compulsive wanker has been brutalized and mutilated by six years of therapy, he is writing to Polly in order to hear her confirm that he has not wasted his time and money on an empty quest for mutual girl-style affection. Polly is up to the task, but that is the problem. 

You can tell from the letter that CMG defines himself by sex and love. You can also tell what is missing from his self-presentation: his work in the world, his career, his status and standing among men. Beyond a passing reference to his dropping out of his graduate program, he says nothing about his job or career prospects. We assume that his therapist, like Polly, ignores this basic constituent of manliness… because they want him to define himself as a victim of sexual abuse… and to become more like a woman. The therapist has obviously failed at her job; he would do better to leave her than to ask for another woman, like Polly, to persuade him that he has been scammed.

I quote the letter in full.

I’m the classic Married Guy — met my first wife on literally the second day of college, started dating a week later, and married a few months after graduation. When that marriage began to unravel after almost a decade, the disruption it caused to my framework of personal value sent me into a downward spiral. I left my grad program, went AWOL on an internship I had worked years to get, and wound up unemployed and alone in a shitty studio apartment in my hometown. My plan was to play video games and smoke weed until my credit cards were maxed out and I’d have to kill myself.

Then I met a woman, and you can guess what happened next — two years later, I was married again. To our credit, this time around has been more emotionally healthy and better overall. My first wife was the bubbly optimistic type, and her relentless positivity helped me suppress my darkest thoughts. My current wife is dark and moody, and we bonded over our deeply pessimistic worldviews. At first I thought I was breaking my old patterns — I could finally express the “bad” feelings I didn’t want to acknowledge and started going to therapy to deal with my traumatic childhood.

During the course of therapy I began to realize that my Big Pattern wasn’t avoiding my past per se, it was using my wives’ validation to avoid past feelings that would have destroyed me. My stepdad was primarily an emotional abuser and would insult and demean me daily, mostly about my failings as a man. This was punctuated by weekly-ish physical abuse in the form of surprise wrestling matches, with the stated goal of teaching me to defend myself and “man-up,” and random yearly-ish sexual abuse, wordless, confusing, and terrifying. The main fantasy I used to escape this reality was maintaining faith that I would eventually meet The One — a transcendent, luminous woman who would love and accept me as a Man.

Six years of therapy have helped me understand my patterns better – I realize I choose women who are happy with me, rather than women who make me happy; solving my wives’ relatively easy problems gives me a sense of purpose and accomplishment, and allows me to ignore the vast tangled expanse of my own issues; I can’t feel good about myself in isolation, and need my wives’ validation to feel worthy of love. In short, I’ve been close to drowning in a pool of my own shame for nearly my entire life, and having a wife is the only strategy I know to barely keep afloat. But now I want to swim.

In some ways I’m making big strides — I moved into my own apartment two years ago while still committed to my marriage. I told everyone it was so I could get better sleep and alleviate my PTSD symptoms, which was true but only half the truth. Since then I’ve been able to fall asleep alone at night (huge accomplishment for me), completed a group therapy for male survivors of child sexual abuse, and told my story at an art exhibit for survivors. And then early this year I finally separated from my wife — it lasted less than two months.

In those two months I was profoundly miserable. I thought I had gently eased myself into living alone, but to be honest, the lack of sex was the hardest thing to deal with. I developed a form of eczema on my penis from a combination of stress and self-abuse, according to my doctor. I feel like a creep for admitting how much I feel I need sex, but it’s so much more than “just sex” to me. My therapist tries to encourage me to seek satisfaction in nonsexual relationships, but they feel empty to me. Nothing comes close to replacing the complete emotional/physical/spiritual validation of sex with a woman I love and trust deeply. While I can fantasize all day about casual sex with random people, I know from experience that casual relationships make me feel unsafe and insecure.

The way I think about it is: Friendships are satisfying when you can share your deepest insecurities with another person and feel seen and accepted for who you are. That’s hard enough as it is. But what if your deepest insecurity is sex, and only having loving, committed sex can make you feel truly seen and accepted? I don’t know how to break this cycle. 
Married Guy 

So, his stepfather’s overly macho version of masculinity sent him scurrying into the arms of women. He is looking for consolation and comfort, for protection from the duties that come with being a man in the world. He is looking for refuge. He does not want to be a man but wants a woman to love him anyway. Apparently, his mother was so concerned about his general wimpiness that she allowed her husband to try to beat some strength into him. Now, he has found two mothers who will affirm him regardless of his lack of manly achievements.

So, Polly begins thusly:

Just keep in mind that I’m not a therapist. It goes without saying that you need to keep seeing a therapist. You should continue to trust the guidance of experts. If anything here doesn’t feel helpful, cast it off immediately. Trust your own instincts. Use anything that works, and reject anything that doesn’t feel accurate or useful.

We notice that trusting experts and trusting your instincts are in contradiction. Evidently, serious thinking is not Polly’s strong suit. 

Polly also sees him as a sexual abuse victim and explains that his abuse made it that words are meaningless. We do not know where she got that; it is a perfect non sequitor, worthy of someone who cannot think at all:

One of the worst aspects about the kind of sexual abuse you experienced is that it teaches you that words are meaningless. Everything your stepfather told you was either untrustworthy, inaccurate, warped, or an outright lie. He told you that he was focused on you for purely charitable reasons: He wanted to help you become a man. That wasn’t true. He told you that he was teaching you to fight. That was only partially true; he was also maybe getting off on wrestling with you. And when he wasn’t wrestling with you or teaching you a lesson, he was insulting you. His emotional intimacy amounted to emotional abuse. So most of his words were lies.

The real point is to attack the big bad stepfather. We know very little about the man, but we do know that it is impossible for everything he said to be wrong. No one is wrong all the time. No one is right all the time. We might separate the method from the intention, but we also know that more than a few young men have found moral sustenance in such quasi-military training exercises. If they went too far in this case, they went too far. But, that is no reason to ignore the fact that CMG has been seriously unmanned by his therapist. And now, by Polly too.

Of course, Polly knows nothing about such male activities, so she reduces it all to a pool of emotion. In this case, true love. Stepfather, she opines, was a liar. We do not know where she gets that, but it is suitably lame.

My guess (from a great distance, mind you) is that you decided that his sexual abuse was a manifestation of his love for you. His sexual abuse meant that you mattered. His sexual abuse revealed the truth of who he was: a liar who needed you. His sexual abuse meant you weren’t powerless after all. You had something he wanted, you had value, you were loved underneath it all.

Eventually, Polly descends into her own mix of girl talk and psychobabble. It’s all about feelings… because she’s a girl and she knows:

Words don’t feel like love to you. Words feel like a lie. You might not recognize this consciously, but when people talk about how they really feel, you might suspect that they’re lying. You might also suspect that if they could tell the truth, they’d only insult and demean you. Intimacy itself feels untrustworthy to you. People tell you they care and they want things for you, but you’re sure that they only want things from you. You suspect that you’re being used by the people you care for, so you don’t want to show up and listen to them and know them better.

As I noted, she wants him to become more like a woman:

In other words, your entire life is an act when you’re a man. You can’t be real or soft or vulnerable if you’re a man, according to your stepdad. You can’t ask for what you want, or have needs at all. You can’t show up and just speak words out loud about how you feel. It seems like you’ve overturned and rejected this philosophy, to some extent. You wrote down your feelings very clearly to me. You managed to go to group therapy and participate in an art exhibit. That’s dramatic progress.

And the answer, she continues, is real emotional intimacy. Again, the man seems not to have a job or a career. He seems to have been washed out of the marketplace… so Polly wants him to seek emotional intimacy. It’s his problem, not his solution:

You don’t want real emotional intimacy with other human beings because emotional intimacy means being insulted and demeaned. You don’t want to know other people’s needs, either, because what they say they need is never accurate. You can feel useful by helping to solve their “easy” problems, but you don’t want to know what their more complicated problems might be. Maybe you even prefer to see your wife as simple, as inferior, as never even coming close to your fantasy of what a woman could be, because that way you’re safe. You don’t want to know more about your second wife’s feelings because you believe, in your heart, that knowing more would mean discovering that she doesn’t care at all. Knowing more would reveal her to be insulting and demeaning and untrustworthy. Knowing more would reveal her as another liar. You don’t want to know. You have kept your wife at arm’s length because to do otherwise would be too scary.

And also:

Now you feel unsafe and miserable when you’re not having sex with someone you trust. But you also don’t have an honest, emotionally intimate, two-way relationship with the person you trust the most, your second wife. You’re afraid that she doesn’t TRULY love you. You say having sex with someone you trust keeps you from feeling miserable, but I don’t believe that you trust her completely. You devalue her in order to keep her feelings from mattering to you. If you had sex with her AND you had real intimacy, that would be too much. That would matter too much. You would feel too afraid of losing that. You have to believe in a fantasy instead, because it keeps you safe from disappointment and also safe from annihilation.

Polly concludes that he deserves to be loved just the way he is. Now, this is called maternal love. Mothers love their children unconditionally. Fathers do not. Her advice is pathetic.

The cure is knowing this in your heart: You deserve love just the way you are.

Take some of the magic that’s been infused into sex and move it over into the realm of WORDS: Two people, showing up, telling each other the truth. It can be transformative. But you’re too afraid of words and honesty to know that yet! Jesus, have I been there!

When I was younger, I was always too anxious to be present and hear people when they told me things. It was too frightening to show up and care. But once you understand and FEEL WORDS in the moment — which is the hardest thing for a child of abuse to do — you will feel alive and good and electric in a way that doesn’t just evaporate once it’s over.

It’s just as delicious as a fantasy. But it’s better, because it’s real. To look at someone and understand what they mean? To feel that your pain and your suffering matter, and so do theirs? It’s like the art exhibit you did, or the therapy, combined with the best sex you’ve ever had. You don’t need the sex part to feel that. Trust me. You just need to be open, skinless, alive, and really, truly ready to feel what this world has to give you.

Maybe you aren’t there yet. You’re still anxious and afraid. That’s okay! I’ve been through a quarter of what you have, and it took me years to FEEL WORDS and FEEL FEELINGS and SAVOR THEM and MAKE THEM LAST. In the meantime, take this to heart: You don’t have to serve a purpose for other people to love you.You don’t have to be a man. You can just be a person. You can feel shitty and pathetic and unworthy, and you will still deserve love.

I won’t quote any more because it is too painful to watch her embarrass herself. She is going to whine on about feeling feelings and feeling loved. Unfortunately, this passes as advice in one of America’s premiere magazines. 


UbuMaccabee said...

"My plan was to play video games and smoke weed until my credit cards were maxed out and I’d have to kill myself."

I'm done here.

Sam L. said...

I couldn't stand (or sit) to read this.

CJ said...

This is the Age of Bad Advice, but Polly takes it to another level.

BTW, was this “typo” intended or not?
Interesting point, the man has been in therapy for sex years.