“He who knows others is wise. He who knows himself is enlightened” – Lao Tzu.
I dedicate this column to my father, Noel Eric, a dashing flying instructor and big game hunter in the 1950s. In his twilight years he made peace with Nature and his Gods. However, he overlooked the need to show his son how to navigate the blind turns in life, booby trapped with unfulfilled longings, remembrances and misconceptions.
This year would have been my twenty forth wedding anniversary. Sadly it is not for I was divorced four years ago. What went wrong after all those years of sharing one’s life with a fabulous woman? This question has haunted me in the ensuing solitary years on the road, while I have been writing for posterity the dreams of others lost in life. The recurring nightmare had infiltrated three affairs which, in truth, ended on the very day they began.
Am I a loser? Do I blame this on the collision of cultures or shifting values of society for failing this individual? The answer was yes until I met an enlightened writer from Byron Bay, Alan Close, at Napi Orti, a reggae bar on Jalan Monkey Forest to confabulate on why so many men are unsuccessful in relationships.
Alan Close is the author of: The Romance of the Season (1989); The Australian Love Letters (Dramatized biography of Raymond Chandler, 1995); An anthology of short stories, Men Love Sex (1995); And the latest book, Before You Met Me – a memoir of one man’s troubled search for love (2008). He has also written for newspapers on men’s issues and has recently conducted a writing retreat in Ubud – Writing and yoga Interplay.
The conversation that transpired with Alan was a series of revelations that kicked one in the solar plexus and knocked all preconceived notions on how relationships work and why they fail so often. He began the evening encounter with a quote from Carl Jung –
“What isn’t said in a family home sinks into s child’s bones like a poisonous viper”. In essence it means that children learn what their parents aren’t saying to each other and that becomes their lesson on how to live.
“We choose a partner who embodies the part of ourselves that we disown and we want to be made whole by this person and yet no other person can make us whole. So we very quickly grow to resent the very thing we are attracted to,” said Alan.
Apparently in Australia nearly half of all marriages end in divorce. The children invariably end up staying with their mother. According to Alan, these are some of the contributing factors:
-We have lost the gentle art of putting our own needs second.
-We abandon the rules of marriage and instead are left to our own devices and therefore without rules it is difficult as most people do not possess the awareness and self responsibility.
-Usually women put their needs second. This normally works but it makes them lead unhappy and unsatisfied lives.
-It takes men to acknowledge that women need fulfillment…by doing things both ways.
-We’ve lost the subtle art of accepting people for who they are. Men want women to be different and vice versa.
-And is fidelity an issue? Yes, men need the license to ‘feel’ the freedom to roam socially and not be trapped. Women are scared that if men don’t do things the women’s way they will automatically want to leave them.
In the 1970s, the rise of bra burning women libers reflected the need of the hour. The familiar chants still resonate throughout the feminine world; All men are bastards; All decent men are married or gay: I wanted to have a child (sob!) not marry one!
The 40 plus white women in particular were the first generation of feminism and they had to fight hard battles to gain choices – the pill, control over fertility, and abortion. Individual men bore the brunt for the crimes of their forefathers. The attitude of these women is based on the assumption that men don’t know how to be adult.
In his latest book, Before You Met Me…, Alan has attempted to understand why he was always in distress in relationships. He had to unravel his assumptions and this he did by retracing his life back to his family, recalling his childhood and how his parents related to each other.
“My father was a pacifist, my mother domineering, angry and frustrated. This is what I knew as ‘normal’ so when I grew up I put myself in such relationships. I didn’t know how to ask for what I needed. I probably choose women who didn’t know how to hear a man ask for what he needed. I took to writing as a cure. It has taken me ten years to arrive at where I am today – in a healthy, stable and fulfilling relationship. The truth is women know how to do relationships and men don’t”.
On hearing the last sentence one can’t help but recollect the many ‘arranged’ marriages in India. How these men and women have ‘accepted’ each other’s frailties and have striven to create a life of comparative contentment.
So how does one make a relationship work? Here are a few pointers from Alan Close.
-Respect for each other.
-Both parties must be committed to examining and unraveling their expectations and assumptions, especially those that disempowers either themselves or their partners.
The complex simplicity of relationships has befuddled me. Alan’s analysis of relationships and suggestions based on his personal life, in some way, irons out the creases in one’s perceptions of how a relationship should be conducted to ensure a significant, lasting continuance.
There have been moments in the past when one has been accused of being too passionate, too intense, of living on the edge of sanity, thereby overwhelming a partner and searing her life with fiery emotions. Is this a manifestation of my childhood impressions of my parents’ relationship? According to Alan, who is privy to a glimpse of my personal shenanigans, it is apparent that I am my father’s son for my father was precisely this and my mother, a docile, gentle loving woman.
So where does one go from here? How does one reinvent the wheel?
Maybe a way out of the cul-de-sac of egocentricities and warped inheritances is to follow in Alan’s footsteps by beginning to purposefully unravel the past and to reshape oneself on the ‘potter’s wheel of failed relationships’.
This could be successfully attempted, I suppose, provided one embarks on this mind bending adventure with the premise echoed in the words of the Greek philosopher, Socrates – “I know that I know nothing”.
Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om