Repairing Relationships

Building intimacy and joy into your relationships

What Does "The Man Cave" Say About Your Relationship?

Is "The Man Cave" Harmless Or A Symptom?

In an earlier America, men did not cut themselves off from their friends and relations once they found a new romance. The concept of courtship was originally designed  to link honest men and women  of compatible temperaments and shared interests and weed out mismatches. There was no need for guile, for withholding the reality of one another until some far-off day after irreversible commitments had been made.

In the 1800s, the prospective American bride was integrated into the groom's life and vice versa. If either could not abide the other's friends and relations, it was considered proof of incompatibility and the courtship would be abbreviated. That was the point of courtship. Instead of dating like an ostrich with one's head in the sand, the fact that two people might not be compatible for a lifetime commitment filled with challenges (like primitive living conditions, immediate children, poor health care, economic depressions, epidemics, high childhood mortality, pestilence, drought, floods, famine and violent attacks) was faced with eyes wide open.

This common sense approach to courtship and marriage was forgotten in the early 20th Century American zeal to be modern. Today many American males deny the truth that they and their prospective mate might be just a teensy bit mismatched. After practicing approval seeking and conforming in every way to their partner's vision of the perfect man, many American men slowly find this chameleon act creating tremendous stress in their once-serene life. A solution for many is to create a special place coined "The Man Cave", where they can once again be themselves. They can watch their sports and violent action movies, wrestle, text dirty jokes, scratch themselves, freely surf the internet, chew tobacco, pop open a cheap beer, eat unhealthy foods like pork rinds, Slim Jims and corn nuts and putter around. It is often located in the smelly garage, cobweb strewn attic or dimly-lit basement, or, if he's lucky, a well-ventilated den. It is more often than not adorned with a work bench, power tools, surf posters, tarnished trophies, fishing gear or athletic jerseys.

The Man Cave allows the man a refuge from his lifetime role of "Mr. Sensitive" or "Prince Charming." Writer Bryan Curtis reports of  "....one man caver who told the Nashville Tennessean, "I feel like when I shut the door, I'm isolated from all the frustrations of being a dad and a husband" and another who told the Muskegon Chronicle, "It's just that I'm comfortable down here and it's kinda mine." http://www.slate.com/articles/life/the_middlebrow/2011/10/man_cave_masculinity_men_crave_their_own_spaces_.single.html

 Like an actor in his dressing room, the deceptive man can retreat to his Man Cave and take off his costume, wash off his greasepaint,  kick up his heels and relax with a  languid smoke before he has to return  for his next scene. He has a fully committed partner waiting in the wings who believes with all her heart in the character he is portraying. Even though they may share little if anything in common, a mirage relationship can function at a low level of happiness for years or decades using this oasis to quench the mirage man's parched soul.

The problem for a woman who wants a healthy relationship is that the Man Cave is a symptom of a basic structural flaw in their union. As DYI Network TV show host Jason Cameron observed, the men on his show "Man Caves" had no say on decorating the rest of their house, representing their giving total control of the relationship to their spouse. http://www.diynetwork.com/man-caves/show/index.html Instead of expressing their true wishes, dreams and hopes and negotiating as two equal partners in a healthy companionate relationship, these mirage men capitulate as they have done since the romance began. Their real self is represented by one small place that is the antithesis of the rest of the home.  Can the woman even tolerate, much less love,  the real man symbolized by that dreary basement or stinky garage?  To heal such a deceptive union based on artificial intimacy and approval seeking, the woman must go back to that first glance at that smoky bar or that chance meeting at the bookstore and decide if there is enough here to rebuild a healthy relationship from the foundation up, based on compatible personalities, shared interests and candor.

J.R. Bruns, M.D., is co-author of The Tiger Woods Syndrome, a book about repairing relationships.

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