My last post explored the choice we face as men: we can pursue this pleasure in the real world or in the virtual world. We can undertake this quest for female affirmation in a noble way or indulge in its addictive dark side.
Porn provides a bootleg version of this thrill. Even though those depicted are virtual women merely acting a part, the signal the brain gets is this: "She is so happy with me and only me that she wants me and only me in the most intimate, vulnerable, primal way!" That rings the bell of the brain's ultimate high striker carnival game. "I guess I'm the man then! Life is fantastic!"
The harder, but ultimately more satisfying, route to this ultimate form of satisfaction occurs in the real world. We can't just crave and click and come. We must dig deeper and muster much more of ourselves. It requires the investment of heart and soul.
Rising above the reptiles, we proceed thoughtfully and with loving care. We observe our intimate--or our potential intimate--to learn more about who she is and what makes her tick. We drop old assumptions ("I'll never make her happy") and treat her as the complex individual she is. She is not stingy with approval, but may merely have some struggles of her own that are getting in the way. As we observe and brainstorm and look for opportunities to understand and lift and care, things begin to turn around.
The reward is discovering that a woman is responsive to our overtures and deeply pleased by our efforts. Getting there is a process.
Fortunately, as men we are custom built to tackle this endeavor and ultimately succeed at it. We are hunter-gatherers, explorers and warriors. We can hunt for what makes her happy and gather data about what we learn over time. We can learn about her and discover the secrets that only a curious, loving eye can reveal to us gradually in the natural course of life. We can exercise the patience to pursue this quest over time. When discouraged we can soldier on with our sites firmly set on the wondrous future reward. We can soldier on because we're on a quest and we can envision ourselves arriving in the Promised Land.
Dopamine is familiar as the brain chemical involved in fueling addictive behavior. That chemical is also involved when we engage in goal-seeking behaviors of the healthy variety. Whatever reward we are going for, as Robert Sapolsky puts it in Why Zebra's Don't Get Ulcers, "dopamine plays an important role in the anticipation of pleasure and in energizing you in order to respond to incentives." Specifically, "dopamine and its associated sense of pleasurable anticipation fuels the work needed to get that reward." (p. 339, italics added)
The systems in the brain that give us the motivation and skill to accomplish all this with our woman in real life are the same ones that can also "get good" at pursuing porn. Those neurological networks can be on the hunt throughout the day for opportunities to look at porn and gather downloads for future self-pleasuring. It can explore and discover all kinds of smut within the online world of twisted, misguided sexuality. And it holds onto the dang habit like a valiant warrior would even after it's clear that it causes us more pain than pleasure. There it is, our hunter-gather-explorer-warrior nature with the pedal to the medal, heading in an unhelpful direction.
Fortunately, we can catch the brain when it automatically wants to pursue porn and set it on the track of pursuing legitimate, real-life loving. The idea is to catch ourselves when we get triggered and remind ourselves what we really want. Then direct our attention toward the noble pursuit of looking for opportunities to understand and satisfy our real live woman.
I learned a lot about this process from a man named Thomas Ladanye. He taught adult education classes about finding happiness and fulfillment. When he talked in class about his wife, Violet, and her talent as an artist, he exuded a sense of pride. More than once women would approach him and say, "I would give anything to have my husband understand and appreciate me the way you seem to cherish Violet."
Feeling it was safe to open up to him, they would mourn that, in his words:
- They sometimes didn’t feel appreciated for their contributions to the marriage and the family.
- The things they personally wanted to do somehow didn’t seem to be as important as the things husbands and children wanted to do.
- There never seemed to be enough time for themselves.
- Even though they loved their husbands very much, they still felt a lack of “oneness” in their marriages because their husbands seemingly didn’t know and understand some of their important thoughts, feelings, and concerns.
Thomas described how this all changed for him in an article entitled "How I 'Discovered' My Wife".
"I vaguely noticed that we almost never talked about anything but family or household business. Increasingly, I left decisions about the children to her while I merely mumbled ratification or voiced an occasional objection.... By neglecting my responsibilities as a father, I was increasing her burden as a mother; and I was doing very little as a husband to strengthen her in her mother’s role. I used to smugly tell others what a loyal, understanding wife I had, probably thinking that I was doing fine as the head of the family since she wasn’t complaining."
Eventually, some "a-ha" experiences started to wake Thomas up.
"I remember feeling surprised when I recalled how often I prayed that our children would reach their full potential... but I had never prayed for the same blessing for my wife. I was surprised again when I realized that I tended to arrange time in my schedule for my own hobbies or just-for-fun projects because it was important for me to be 'well-rounded,' but I wasn’t applying the same principles and guidelines for my wife’s life."
When he first encouraged Violet to study or learn or practice something she would like to do, she refused to consider the idea. "She thought she already had so many important responsibilities that she wouldn’t have time for 'outside' interests." Eventually, however, she decided to take a religion class.
"Any misgivings soon changed. Often she returned from class bubbling with excitement, eager to share a newly learned principle or to discuss the stimulating lessons. We began to have something to talk about besides work and the children. Taking care of the children that one evening weekly for a few weeks gave me increased appreciation for her contribution in the home—and let me catch up on lost contacts with our children. They sensed the differences in her and looked forward to hearing about her class too. The happiness was contagious.
"Later, from time to time, she took correspondence courses on other subjects... and finally mustered up the courage for a dream she had cherished for years—art classes. I wondered that, in over two decades of marriage, I had missed this important part of her, and was proud to see her art talent develop. She blossomed in confidence and our relationship was enriched and bettered, and our awareness of each other strengthened."
For your partner, it may not be religion or art classes as it was for Violet. If you asked her right now, she might not be able to even answer what pursuits and interests might be most meaningful to her. The intricacies of her heart might be revealed over time and with care not only to you, but to her as well.
Perhaps your relationship seems a far cry from Thomas and Violet's. Thomas, who died in 2011, wrote that article forty years ago and the experiences he described happened over the previous decades. Many women now pursue their own interests and careers and hobbies with a vengeance. Nonetheless, most of the women I talk to still long to be understood, respected, taken seriously, and listened to by their man. Just as men's prime directive seems to be "please your woman," one of women's seems to be "get support from your man."
So, even if you have the sense that your woman can get everything she wants and needs on her own with or without your involvement or support, try this experiment. When you're tempted to pursue porn, seek to discover your wife instead. Treat it as a mystery with the fullest pot of gold imaginable at the end. Keep notes on what you learn and then, please, share your discoveries with the rest of us. We have our own mysteries to solve, and yours may have completely different elements and clues and solutions than our own. But reading about what you learn along the way--even early on in the journey--will inspire the rest of us to keep working at it.