The Tiger Woods scandal is an excellent example of why I don’t watch the news on TV or take a regular newspaper; instead I read bloggers who filter through all the chaff and discuss underreported but vitally important events rather than gossiping about the sort of people my father once described as “trailer trash with money”.
But this link caught my eye.
The story is sadly familiar: a rich, famous and powerful husband cheats on his undeniably gorgeous wife, apologizes and wants a second chance.
In the case of Tiger Woods, the reason for his “transgressions” may stem more from the fact that his own life is missing something than from problems with his wife, experts say.
“People who have affairs typically do so because something is lacking,” says psychotherapist Stacy Kaiser. “You can be the world’s best golfer, role model and endorsement spokesman and still not feel good inside.”
Helen Fisher is one of the few to point out that this is a moral issue, not a psychological one, and that his motivations have their origins in biology, not in neurosis.
Let’s face it: most men, given the opportunity and free of restraining moral codes, would have a harem like that of Mr. Woods. His urges are completely normal. His behavior shows only that he had the opportunity and lacked Judeo-Christian morals about sex. (I have no idea what Mr. Woods’ own religion is, if any.)
Earlier generations would have laughed heartily at the spectacle of educated people trying in apparent bewilderment to come up with an explanation for a man feeling anything so unaccountable as a desire to sleep with multiple women.
This caught my attention because just a few days before, I read a blog thread which I cannot now find in which people were speculating about the reasons behind the habit many people regrettably have of shedding good friends in favor of shiny new ones. Most of the proposed reasons drew on things like neurology (our brains try to save us time by making snap judgments which are not always good ones), evolutionary psychology (which posits that such unethical behavior often has survival value), natural youthful immaturity (which most people, one hopes, will outgrow in time), or the general decline in moral standards.
In the midst of this, a new commenter butted in to condescendingly inform everyone that this behavior is extremely rare and would only ever be displayed by people with serious psychological problems, and informed the blogger and other commenters who had reported their own anecdotes about this behavior that they “needed to get out more”, a course of action which, he implied, would inevitably lead to their encountering millions of people who never shed old friends because fresh new people come along.
Of course, everyone has observed this behavior. It is particularly common among the young. Who, besides the commenter mentioned above, does not remember the ever-shifting alliances of their grade school classmates? Who, besides this commenter, has not observed college students jettisoning their values and the old friends who shared them because they started hanging with a different crowd with a different code? Who else has not seen attractive young people going through members of the opposite sex like a hot knife through butter, jilting loyal admirers who would make excellent spouses in favor of someone exciting and unreliable?
To most of us, the reason that people do this is fairly obvious: it brings short-term satisfaction. That is why it is such a common behavior. People with an internalized moral sense, who understand that “Nature is what we were put in this world to rise above,” will resist the impulse, but it is still there, in every one of us. Not only those with serious psychological problems.
This commenter was trying to claim that impulses that everyone has and that many people act on are actually rare and require, not self-restraint, but therapy.
This utopian premise, that human relationships naturally function smoothly and any problem is a sign of an exotic mental malady, has become very common. I quoted this a couple of months ago:
Sociobiological theory also has profound implications for the nature of the family. Generations of psychologists have presumed that evolution (or some very powerful force) must have intended the family to function more smoothly than it generally does. A naive model of the nature of the family assumes that it is harmonious under ideal conditions, since that is allegedly how it was designed. But it was not so designed. Like the male-female pair, it is an association among individuals with partly distinct evolutionary purposes. Family members are often at odds with each other’s ultimate (not merely temporary) purposes, and their relations are naturally conflicted rather than naturally harmonious. This conflict is not friction in what should or could be a smoothly functioning system but is intrinsic.
~Melvin Konner, Only The Reckless Survive and Other Secrets of Human Nature
The problem with the utopian delusion that relationships “naturally” go smoothly and that if they do not, it is a sign that something is inherently wrong with one of the parties, is that it makes the behavior of sloughing relationships at whim even more common. Before the pseudo-science of psychology led people to start making this assumption, everyone knew and understood that relationships are difficult. It was simply the nature of reality. I would hazard a guess that the commenter mentioned above has himself ended numerous friendships because trivial problems in their interactions proved to him that his friends had terrible psychological problems and wouldn’t be fit for friendship until they had more therapy. Such premises help our soaring divorce rate, not to mention our soaring rate of romances that never lead to marriage; the slightest problem convinces people that “s/he is not The One” and they drop them to look elsewhere, for that perfect soul mate with whom there will never be any problems whatever.
I am one of those who the commenter would deem in need of getting out more, because I have had “friends”, some of whom I thought were good friends, ditch me for the most superficial reasons. One dumped me for not liking the Lord of the Rings movie. Another ended a brief but intense friendship because I sent her a link to an essay that she didn’t agree with. I had a two-week friendship which I thought looked promising, but I made a mild complaint when she was two hours late meeting me and she kicked me to the curb. (This evokes the old saying: “If you lend a friend ten dollars and never see her again, it was probably worth it.”)
These “friends” all had an image in their minds of what friendship is supposed to be like. To them, it is an ecstasy of perfect harmony in which the other person never causes you a moment of irritation, never misunderstands you, never disagrees with you, and never makes any demands upon you. If not for the notion that relationships are naturally harmonious unless sinister forces, like psychological problems, “society”, or something interfere with their normal smoothness, these women probably would not have considered these sufficient reasons for ending a friendship. I might add that all of them have unsurprisingly tempestuous relationship histories. The last one had been divorced three times.
When people understand that friction in relationships is inevitable, they are far better equipped to deal with it. This is related to my complaint about the contemporary attitude that there is no reason for people not to marry someone from a very different background. I am not decreeing that such marriages are always a mistake or never work. I am denouncing the current notion that it is old-fashioned and unenlightened to believe that they will inevitably be fraught with problems. If two people from different backgrounds fall in love, they might be able to work out their conflicts, if they are prepared for them. But if they have been told that there will be no conflicts, this means they are making a commitment with no clue what they are getting themselves into. I don’t think lying to such a couple helps them in any way.
Another way in which normal human behavior has come to be seen as pathological is in assumptions about children. Go to youtube and watch some old cartoons about Little Lulu or Lil’ Audrey, or read some pre-1970 Family Circus or Dennis the Menace cartoons. Download some Baby Snooks radio plays. The mischievous child used to be a stock character. Everyone understood that children will inevitably misbehave, get into trouble, and make messes. Some of the cartoons dramatize the childish fantasies that inspire some of the mischief, or clearly show that the mischief comes from an incomplete understanding of the world, not from maleficent intentions, let alone deep-seated neuroses. The proper response was to scold them, punish them, and maybe laugh about it with the other adults.
But now Calvin is the only such character still around, and the assumption seems to be that children are by nature perfectly behaved, not even requiring instruction in desired behavior. Mischief which a couple of generations ago would have been answered with a swat and an order never to do it again is now reason to drag the child to a shrink for Ritalin and analysis.
The problem, of course, is that therapy and psychiatric drugs cannot cure perfectly normal behavior. But this era is so confused that we no longer remember what normal behavior is.