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some good insights/advice, but fatally lacking depth and honesty
on May 15, 2016
I found Venus on Fire, Mars on Ice (Vofmoi) to be very good - even superior to previous Mars/Venus books, because of the additional insights into the correlations of thoughts/behavior with hormones and brain chemistry. It’s an excellent description of the tools men and women need to use to have healthy relationships, but these tools seem to be crafted for female use, not so much for male use. John Gray’s audience, being primarily frustrated women, continues to make him famous and wealthy, so maybe he does not notice that his message falls on nearly deaf male ears.
In particular, Vofmoi barely mentions the need for men to become better men - by strengthening masculinity, making it more concentrated. He gives advice primarily to women. What he suggests, but fails to explain, is this: If men do not become more masculine, then women will continue to fill this masculine role, and the imbalance will persist. John Gray seems to know this, but still does not write to men:
“Still, the biggest problem in modern relationships is not men who are not enough like women. It’s women who have become too much like men.” p. 136
“Women who have become too much like men” is only half the imbalance, the symptom half; while actually, and this is what he misses, "men who are not masculine enough", is what is causing these symptoms. This is not adequately addressed in Vofmoi.
I will attempt to illustrate this inadequacy with a three point critique of Vofmoi: Cave Time, Honesty, and Achievement/Assistance.
POINT #1: CAVE TIME
Refer to the following paragraph on page 86 of Vofmoi:
“The take away message is this: Women have the power to bring out the best in a man simply by cutting him some slack. Don’t give him the advice he doesn’t want or need. And don’t complain about what he fails to do. When a woman is undemanding, it gives him the clear message that he is doing his job – which is to make her happy. He’ll feel entitled to go into his cave, but he’ll come out much sooner than if she were hounding him to do something.”
These well-articulated observations are certainly true, but they are better positioned as a natural outcome of a man taking the lead and simply being masculine. Ladies first. Let the man supply what she needs FIRST. By speaking to the woman and having her take the lead doesn’t do enough to strengthen masculinity other than to pave the way for an ostensible cave time testosterone boost. In fact, it seems to require that she treat him with “kid gloves”, as if he is too weak to handle her demands, complaints, advice, etc. By implementing this approach, a woman is necessarily cognizant of her man’s weakness, even if she wasn't prior to this approach, which then dampens the positive effects of the strategy. I’m not saying that it doesn’t work – I’m confident that it does work, and work very well, especially in the many cases of Venus and Mars changing places, which is probably characteristic of much of John Gray’s clientele. I’m just saying that it can work even better, especially for those of us whose relationships are relatively balanced (or for those of us who think they are), if we incorporate it as a natural outcome of a man taking the lead. The woman need not be conscious that he is leading, but over time she will feel his strength and trust the man, resulting in fewer demands, complaints, advice, etc. I would not ask a woman to “cut him slack” to any degree whatsoever. Instead, I would challenge men to see her complaints, advice, hounding, bitching, etc, as an opportunity to demonstrate his strength. When a woman needs oxytocin, a man should make it his priority to get it for her, before he does anything else (just like when Vofmoi says when a woman needs food a man should get it for her before he does anything else). The following is the progression that makes more sense for men when taking the lead:
A. Do not go into the cave…….yet.
B. Look her in the eyes and listen, as stated on page 92 of Vofmoi, “I mean real listening, the kind in which a man is actively caringly absorbing what his woman has to say”.
C. Keep your mouth shut….except to clarify her points, using as few words as necessary, demonstrating that you fully understand what she is saying and that you are not patronizing, nor ignoring, nor apathetic toward her.
D. Assure her that you are in control. The process of deciding what actions to take, if any, need not be vocalized. Smile with confidence (As mentioned in Vofmoi, some behaviors need to be repeated until they become second nature – if necessary, fake it until you make it), and hug her if she lets you. If not, fine. Also, to break the tension, it is good to make her laugh, if you can – it shows you’re in control (which makes her feel good), and laughter can be great medicine (which also makes her feel good).
E. Once A-D is complete, you now deserve cave time, although you may no longer need it, because you feel successful, which boosts testosterone in itself, maybe even more than cave time especially if your habit is to go into the cave prematurely, while she is in dire need of oxytocin. Cave time cannot possibly be very effective if you’re sitting there alone, trying to forget how pissed-off your wife is and how much of a failure you are, or simply watching sports like a spoiled little boy. Still, cave time is really nice, and particularly rewarding if you have succeeded at A-D. Cave time tops off the testosterone levels nicely, but it should be the icing on the cake, and come after A-D.
F. “F” is for F#%@! Once A-D is complete, now is usually a good time to show some lust, either before or after cave time, it doesn’t matter. A "quickie", as Vofmoi mentions, is a great way to look at it. For many years men have been subjected to pressure into agreeing that sex should be an “innie” for both men and women. The problem is, this is simply biologically false. This Oprahfication of the Western male, to persuade men to adopt the view that sex is an expression of love, rather than an expression of lust, puts all kinds of unnecessary pressure on the act of sex. The man must perform for his woman, forsake his urges to have sex with other women, suppress his natural biological masculinity; or else he has failed in his “responsibility” to express his love. Absurd! Honesty about male lust resolves this misunderstanding and renders powerless the policies of admonishments which are founded on this misunderstanding.
Other than merely to remind her to talk first (which she will do anyway when she feels the need), there is no need to advise women to take the lead at all. However, Vofmoi repeatedly appeals to women to take the lead, and even states this explicitly:
“Perhaps these women, the ones who succeeded in the workplace without ever denying themselves the right to be women, can guide us gradually to the future that I envision: One where both men and women achieve loving relationships that grow not in spite of their differences but because of them” Vofmoi, p. 137
If the majority of your readers are women in severely imbalanced relationships, it makes sense to speak to them in a book and give them the tools that help. It’s easier to get women to read than men. This is a good endeavor, plus it sells lots of books. However, the downside of this is that by asking women to lead, Vofmoi simultaneously and unintentionally draws the women’s attention to the fact that men are failing to lead. So in effect, insofar as “leading” is mostly an expression of masculinity (and I personally cannot see how it can be otherwise), Vofmoi contradicts itself. On the one hand it repeatedly recommends that women lead (be more like men), but on the other hand Vofmoi identifies the result of this recommendation as the problem. Once again,
“Still, the biggest problem in modern relationships is not men who are not enough like women. It’s women who have become too much like men.” Vofmoi, p. 136
I agree strongly with this statement. It strikes at the core of Yang valued over Yin.
….but I would add,
“and it’s the Oprahfication of men; i.e., men who have become too much like women”.
….which speaks to Yang being diluted, weakened, fat, and apathetic as it has grown to an unnatural, unhealthy size – barely mindful of the value of Yin. Men and women have achieved a sick resemblance to each other at younger and younger ages, emotionally, psychologically, and physiologically. Vofmoi is very effective at describing these symptoms, but could be much better at treating the causes.
In this light, I feel that the message and prescriptions of Vofmoi could be stronger and applicable to larger set of relationships, particularly if we could get the attention of men and compel them to do the leading. A healthy relationship is characterized by a balance between Yang (leading) and Yin (following).
The question then becomes how can we get the attention of men sufficiently so that they are actually willing to read a book, go to a seminar, or do any introspection whatsoever? This is an interesting question. Maybe it will answer itself as we continue to examine Vofmoi and the truth…….
POINT #2: HONESTY
Vofmoi barely mentions the value of being honest, which is a tremendous lost opportunity.
“Certainly a man in touch with his feelings is attractive, but his sensitive side has to be balanced with masculine strength and confidence”. - Vofmoi p. 136
Yes, and this balance is best achieved by a man who is accurate and honest about his thoughts and feelings, telling the truth with composure and competence.
The practice of “telling the truth no matter what” (see Brad Blanton's book Radical Honesty as a starting point), when done correctly, is a tremendous booster of testosterone for men and of oxytocin for women. The simple act of gently and positively telling the truth affirms masculinity. Especially in cases where telling the truth is difficult due to fear or embarrassment, the more gracefully and confidently a man strides over these obstacles the greater the surge of success (testosterone!) will be. In fact the more that this truth-telling upsets the woman in the short run, the more she will naturally be impressed by, and attracted to, his integrity, strength, and confidence on display in the long run. Telling the truth, and sticking with it, in the face of any and all negative reactions from the woman is the only way for a man to actually prove (not merely verbally attest to) his trustworthiness and commitment to the relationship. When the woman sees for herself that nothing will stop her man from being honest (not her jealously, not her anger, not her mother, not his fear of Oprah), then she knows her trust in him is wisely placed. She feels secure, taken-care of, protected (oxytocin!).
“A woman needs to trust that her partner cares for her as much as she cares for him. She needs continual messages that assure her of his love, understanding and respect. This kind of support directly boosts her female hormone levels, which in turn lowers her stress level.” Vofmoi p. 162
I could not agree more. When he then says, “I love you, and will never leave you, no matter what,” these words now really mean something, they have significant weight. Without the trust and intimacy, these words feel (to the man) and sound (to the woman) hollow, clingy, and weak. But when he has proven his masculine integrity, demonstrated through honesty, he can promise his love without any other specific behaviors, and in this way he retains his behavioral freedom and the women gets what she needs from what she now perceives to be a powerful and free man. This is a huge turn-on for women. Would it not therefore be the source of gigantic surges in oxytocin for women, as well as the source of reductions in cortisol for both men and women? In order to fully appreciate this approach, it is crucial to understand the power of freedom (for men). It is also important to understand that the growth of intimacy (for both men and women) is contingent on the perspective that happiness and harmony are rewards, not goals. (Note that Vofmoi uses “intimacy” synonymously with “sex” on page 10. If I were to edit the book to make it more appealing to men, I would be more rigorous about making distinctions in the meanings of words. Words mean things, and when we are lazy with them, with our “map making”, we will end up feeding misunderstandings and conflict.) In just a few sentences, the importance of honesty could have been explained in Vofmoi without changing the main arguments whatsoever. I found the conspicuous absence of these sentences to be alarming.
POINT #3: Achievement and Assistance
On page 63-64 of Vofmoi is a discussion concerning two examples of differences between men and women, called Achievement and Assistance. Both of these descriptions apply accurately to today’s male, whose psychological and physical presence is unhealthy, diluted, and fat:
Achievement: Vofmoi describes how the feeling of success raises testosterone, and this is why men like to take credit for achievement. While this may be accurate, it describes a product of Yin/Yang imbalance, the Ideal over the Real, but does nothing to remedy it. In fact, all it does is explain a symptom (even excusing it!) without mentioning the cause, which is egoic pride (Yang clearly over Yin; rational over intuitive; masculine fat and weak). The corrective action then is the closing of the Ideal/Real gap, which will draw energy away from ego boundaries which are founded on separation between the ideal and the real. Once his ego boundaries relax and recede into their proper contingent context, a man is confident and powerful here and now, and he has a greatly reduced hunger for the recognition of achievement or for achievement itself – at least for the modern day version of “achievement” which, if we are honest about it, is equated with “making money” – a shallow reflection of how empty we’ve become and how deep this imbalance is. Rather, a strong man can love. He still has the energy to work hard to support his family, and he also behaves in life with humility (valuing Yin), with no ballooned pride in need of continual recognition. (Yang is smaller, but stronger). By addressing the cause in this manner (fundamental dishonesty, the separation between the ideal and real); the symptoms simply do not appear, so there is no need to describe or analyze them, let alone treat them.
Assistance: The same reasoning as with Achievement applies here, but I’ll explain it a little differently. When a man refuses to ask for help, it’s because he does not want to be seen as weak or incompetent. Little does he realize it, when a man is so concerned about his image, he already is weak. This has happened because he expends energy trying to keep an image alive in the minds of others. The less energy a man expends on his image, the more energy (testosterone) he has to love his woman – like, for instance, to delay cave time and execute A-D,E,F above. A confident, strong, real man is not so self-conscious (image-conscious) and fragile that he becomes embarrassed into silent ignorance when he doesn’t know something. He very simply asks for help, no big deal. When there is a healthy dynamic balance between masculine and feminine, a man will feel fully comfortable with whatever it is that he knows and does not know. When a man can confidently “live in the question”, any question, he is demonstrating a strength far greater than a man who is afraid to express the truth when he does not know something. Women are more attracted to honest men. The man’s fear is a turn off, and he cannot hide his fear in the long run, because it saps his energy, and this will be revealed eventually through the numerous manifestations of testosterone deficit.
Vofmoi’s descriptions of Achievement and Assistance should not be accepted as inevitable, just because there happens to be a hormonal correlation in today’s society. I think we can ask for something better and more powerful than to excuse the cause and treat the symptoms only.
In the best case, as an effective drug to treat symptoms, Vofmoi helps people improve their relationships, putting smiles on their faces, which is nice.
Without putting more attention on how to treat the imbalance, by strengthening masculinity, I am afraid that the net effect of Vofmoi is actually negative. By delaying deeper awareness, it will give the imbalance time to become stronger in response. Whenever people feel good (relatively symptom free) and they are not doing anything about the source of disease, then this offers the opportunity for the disease to grow untreated. I think that this is the likely overall effect of Vofmoi. It is a very easy-to-understand set of insights that serve as a short term band-aid, but whose net effect is destructive in the long term.
“This kind of research is often ignored or dismissed because people feel they have no power to change their lifestyles or reduce their stress. The good news is that we can change the way stress affects our bodies even if we can’t change the world.” Vofmoi p.27
I see this insight as an acknowledgement that there is a deeper cause, and the suggestions that there is nothing we can do about it (we can’t change the world), sounds like an excuse, a rationalization by someone trying to feed his pride, fame, and wealth. Combined with the conspicuous absence of honesty, my red flags go up.
So, some good insights, but only three stars.