Ariadne's Thread - The One, Male "Deal-breaker"

It's a method of puzzle-solving, and what men secretly need from women today...

Posted Jun 05, 2012

Many women ask me why a man won't respond to them romantically in quite the way they would like.

Whether they are single or married, the answer has many possibilities. All of them are crystal clear, however, when seen through the lens of the steps of human courtship that we are just as beholden to as animals that mate in the wild.

If we knew where our "sticking points" were, we could identify them, practice them and master them (as we do in my live trainings for men and women around the world.)

Still, while many of these attraction and compatibility problems are unique to you and can be fixed in your own unique style, there is a universal problem that is unique to humans, probably unique to western culture, and has only one solution.

That makes it easy on us.

It's the same dynamic that women ask me about regarding men's challenges in the workplace - the data rolling in suggests that men are more troubled occupationally than ever before, while women are doing better than in all history prior.

"What do I do when the man I'm with has a challenge with work?" I hear. "Do I back off or do I give my all to help?"

Usually they'd like to help in every way they can because it feels like the right thing to do.

It doesn't matter if a man you know is a majorly challenged guy in the areas of romance or work - or rather adept at both. He likely has some major dreams and ambitions, some of which he is willing to bet everything on to achieve.

Men's levels of willingness to risk may vary widely, but there are just certain things that they can't scrimp on, or ignore or avoid. There's something you need to know about in the field of Greek mythology.

Yes, I said, "mythology" of all things...

We are about to learn about a massive romantic growth opportunity for you in a skill that I am going to call, "Ariadne's Thread."

It turns out that while women have many "deal-breakers" on whether to date or marry a man, there is one "super-deal-breaker" that men carry around in their own unconscious minds, often outside their awareness. 

Ariadne's Thread is the only cure.

One of the major principles I've used over the years is that ancient stories that last have a lot to say about the universals in human behavior. They also contain more than just a gender-neutral message. They speak to what is uniquely feminine and what is exclusively masculine, because myths don't just have gods as characters. They have goddesses too.

Psychologists in training frequently learn about the Oedipal phase of a child's life - one of those universal myths - and those trained in Jungian Psychology are already adept at applications of myths far beyond the Oedipus. Whatever the case, the rest of us can learn to use myths and ancient stories in a more powerful, practical way in everyday life. They are most useful for problems that seem illogical about our behavior, irrational and confusing, which might attest further to why I suspect that they have something to say about gender instincts - what live in the wild habitat of the evolutionary psychologist's "reptilian brain."

Those confusing things about the behavior of men and women in relation to each other are an especially useful application.

There are many women who have tried what we are about to learn, but have actually gotten burned by a man instead of being enlightened about male behavior. They were with the wrong man, in the wrong place at the wrong time, and they never forgot it. But some may have made the romantic error of assuming that many or all men are the same as the one man they happened to be with.

Sometimes they didn't bother to look at what their own actions were, or what the steps of attraction and courtship were that they left out of the romantic process.

So often we hear of a need for "closure," where to the male mind that term might not make much sense. When something's over, it's over. Breakups are messy and incomplete, and when all is said and done, intimacy - and any claim of rights to intimate knowledge of the other is broken too.

What if instead there were an automatic way to get into men's and women's minds - to understand why the relationship didn't work out?

There is, and it doesn't invade anyone's privacy either.

Ironically, it's often more about what we leave out of the courtship process that trips us up, instead of what we do have active roles in. It very well could have been Ariadne's Thread that they forgot, or never intuited the existence of.

This story may even bring closure to those mysteriously ended relationships of the past.

theseus and the minotaur
Theseus and the Minotaur

Ariadne, Theseus and the Minotaur - What It Means to Our Relationships

In this remarkable tale, you will find direct and practical tools in the areas of love and work - something that one could call "feminine instincts" - unique and powerful to women, and "masculine instincts" - empowering to men.

The story of Ariadne, Theseus and the Minotaur begins when King Minos of Crete discovers that his own wife has had an affair with a bull of all things. The bull represents pure, animalistic male mating behavior - the kind of guy you might call an "alpha-male" who comes along to poach you from your date, your boyfriend or even your husband. He will be seductive, charming, and even tempting, but even entertaining this - should your man find out - poses the risk of not only your relationship, but injury to the soul of your man, himself. The same is true of you, should you find yourself cheated on some day.

The word for this effect on men and women - and what the bull caused King Minos - is called, "shame."

In the case of Minos and his wife, her liaison with the bull resulted in her actually getting pregnant, and giving birth to a monster called the Minotaur.

The damage to King Minos was then complete - not only cheated on, but charged with raising and supporting the offspring of a literal male animal of an affair partner. He was shocked and embarrassed beyond belief, placing the creature that is half-man and half-bull in a labyrinth maze to live, and be hidden from the world. There the King would send his most reviled enemies and prisoners to be lost until they die at the hand of the Minotaur.

In a sense, the Minotaur may represent male shame, a lingering reminder of it with a life of its own, and a deadly destructive force in men behind all crimes of passion, war, and even bullying in the world.

In other material, I propose a female variety of shame by looking at the story of Medusa - who was once a maiden raped by the god, Poseidon, and left to die by the goddess, Athena.

Since stories are always open to interpretation, far be it from me to tell you what they should mean to you. But follow along and you might come to some conclusions of your own about how we could define emotional words very precisely - so much so that they retain both scientific and practical power for your everyday life.

For example, the word "passion" often means "vitality" - feeling of being alive and vibrant, in fact for women, a synonym for femininity itself.

The opposite of this word would feel like being "less alive," or "deadened" - out of juice, like a person who has just run (and lost) a marathon, or tried to swim the English Channel and is about to drown in exhaustion. This feeling of damaged masculinity or femininity is called "shame" in our definition, and all people have at some point felt this.

If you get my meaning so far, you'll see that I am proposing "shame" as a gender-specific form of human emotion. What shames men and what shames women generally may be very different experiences to each gender - from very different scenarios - even if some other things can be shaming to both. One might think of clumsy public speaking or rejection by a friend in this regard.

For you, it may have been a time you were cheated upon or broken up with. For another person, the most shaming memory might have been a time that he lost a game at sports, was "dressed down" by an employer, or rejected by a woman (or cheated on, himself.) Whatever the case, all men and women have at some point suffered a loss of masculinity or femininity. This devitalized, shame-based feeling is what was left.

When it happens to a man, those are the Minotaurs in his life, and they nonetheless are powerful creatures if he knows how to harvest that power. (Hint: it will take a heroic, Theseus part of him to do so...)

Back to our story...

Things then got worse for King Minos. He sent his only son to an Olympic sporting competition in Athens, whereupon this son was killed.

The King vowed a price to be paid for this incalculable loss upon the shame he already had. He demanded of the Athenian King Aegeus that on a yearly basis, seven men and seven women of Athens be sent to Crete to be thrown in the Labyrinth with the Minotaur, to be sacrificed in order to keep the peace.

One year, King Aegeus' son, Theseus, decided that the sacrificial bloodshed must stop and he would go undercover as a sacrifice to Crete, to personally slay the Minotaur in the Labyrinth. He was bold and ambitious, and planned on winning this quest by sheer strength and might.

But upon meeting with King Minos and his family, Theseus fell in love with Minos' daughter, Ariadne, who smitten herself, decided to help the young hero even though he is counted as an enemy.

She devised a plan to give him the best shot at survival in his heroic ambitions - a thread of such strength and length that Theseus could unravel it as he walked the maze. He could then use it to trace his steps back to safety (if he manages to defeat the Minotaur.) And all thanks to the creativity of Ariadne.

This is an incredibly powerful metaphor in numerous ways - for how many times have you found yourself in a major career challenge that's complex as the labyrinth - promises made, and legal agreements signed in which you find yourself tied or trapped to something that doesn't work for you. And you don't know how to get out?

Maybe a man you know has been in this situation too. Men and women have this in common.

How many times have you felt trapped in a relationship that doesn't work? Or lost in terms of your career - doing a job instead of following a life's purpose, and unsure how to unravel it all to get back on a plan that empassions you, thrills you at being alive, and has not a shred of shame in it - or self-betrayal?

This is "hell" for men and women - to be lost in the labyrinth of work, or love - confusion that for all the ambition in the world, they cannot get clear on what to do.

You need Ariadne's Thread to save yourself, and then you'll need it to save your relationship.

Ariadne's Thread

What if you could unravel the most recent decision you made about the work, to trace your way one step backward?

Maybe you took on an extra task at work or a job outside of work.

Undo it. Go backward and free up your time.

Maybe with the wrong man for you, you committed to go on vacation. Undo that. Cancel it.

What was the next thing before? What else can you put in reverse?

Did you volunteer to be on a committee or to start planning an engagement? Undo these next.

The time and energy freed up from not worrying about them will make you even stronger without yet tipping off your employer or incompatible lover to your dissatisfaction.

What if you took the next thing in reverse and then the next thing?

It is only in this way that you can most methodically, most accurately, most thoroughly and successfully get out of the personal labyrinth you are trapped in...

In fact, there is a method of puzzle-solving often used in crosswords, soduku, and other kinds of games, war strategy, and political strategy - where the elimination of all possible failed options are marked off, leaving only the remaining viable pathways through.

This is also named, "Ariadne's Thread" as a strategy.

This same thing can be applied to the "Medusa" situations in a woman's life, and the "Minotaur" situations in a man's life. If you have a challenge right in front of you, it helps to know all possible contingency strategies for your exit from the conflict you will have to fight to free yourself.

If you have a committed man in your life who feels lost at times, you can do this same technique in assisting him. He can walk that maze with the confidence that he will indeed get out after his battle with the Minotaur - his own beat-up masculinity. His shame at failings in the workplace. All his energy will be available to him to fight the battle at hand instead of worrying about the next step to finding his way out of his lost feelings.

It will be a great deal of work for him, and struggle and sacrifice to solve his problems, but in the end, he will not have been able to do it without your assistance with those emotions of being lost.

He doesn't need you to wield a sword or to fight in his place. All he needs is a thin string of connection to you, your creativity, and the subtle act of hidden support that Ariadne embodied.

Of the thousands of men I've treated who try to find words for the absence of this dynamic in their relationships, and can't, this phrase absolutely comes the closest. And it's nobody's fault. We swim in a culture of empowerment - one which urges women to take up swords and use the physical might of Athena the warrior goddess.

But men don't miss her. They miss Ariadne and much more. They can hardly think about how to stop the career Minotaur from ripping off their heads while their eyes are darting around - trying to spot which corridor of the maze will be the right one to choose to escape.

Some may say that women don't need men anymore to stand on their own two feet, but men most certainly still need women.

The One, "Super-deal-breaker" for Men

If Theseus were to be so absorbed in his ambitions - swatting away at the Minotaur in the Labyrinth - even if he were to win, and beat this shameful beast, he may then find himself utterly lost without a sense of purpose. He'd be stuck in that maze until the day he dies - never to return to the land of the living where he could enjoy the fruits of his heroism with the love of his life.

It's the same hard lesson that Ebenezer Scrooge learns in the Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens - that career ambition can make a man feel great as he's doing it, but in the end it doesn't mean nearly as much as having the right woman with whom to share it.

He still may feel lost and without purpose, even when he reaches his ambitious goals.  Yet, if he doesn't have a woman with whom to share it, then even his greatest acts of valor don't really feel all that important somehow.

It's a feeling not exclusive to single men. Married men can feel it too.

It's what men really need when they are challenged at work while in a relationship with you - out of town on business, but still in need of knowing that you care from afar - outside that maze, holding the other end of that thread that will save their lives, but allowing them the freedom and solitude to collect their thoughts - to be in the Labyrinth alone, in the thick of battle to the death with that Minotaur.

In fact, it is their battle with a career challenge - and victory over it - that can be a most potent salve for their inner shame, their wounded masculinity in life.

The one "super-deal-breaker" on marriage and commitment unique to men is in whether or not you are excited about their careers and dreams, but can strike a balance that lets them feel the freedom to choose their weapons and strategy of battle. It's neither total involvement, support and communication, nor utter absence from their career lives.

Instead, it's somewhere in between. The life-saving connection that is hardly noticeable, yet strong as steel.

In a lasting relationship, some recommend "giving a man a long leash," but what they really need is Ariadne's Thread.

Some have said decades ago that "the way to a man's heart is through his stomach."

Not true.

The way to a man's heart and soul is through his career. It is the battleground of his sense of identity, the vessel for his sense of purpose, and the victories won there, his most masculine measure of his rank, and role in society, and worth. Which in the end are all for you, to impress you, benefit you, and the children you may decide to bring into the world.

When a man finds his Ariadne, he falls in love with more than just your physical beauty, your background, your family, or even your wonderful personality and how well you get along. Quirky or unusual, not your typical type, challenged himself, but if you offer him Ariadne's Thread, he just may become the man you have been waiting for all your life.

Ariadne's "Divorce"

Is Ariadne the sum total of what a woman is to a man, or all she needs to emulate to get the relationship she wants?

No. More of her spirit is simply what men might miss most today, and what our culture might need more of breathed into its suffocating dating and relationships. She's not the be-all and end-all of relationship cures.

In the end, Theseus abandons her on an island, where she meets and marries Dionysus - the god of celebration and drink. So blind, unwavering support of men without placing boundaries and limits on that loyalty may not be the way to go either. A woman must have standards, an intuitive feel for the man's compatibility, reliability and strength of character.

When there is a track record of not finding these in a particular man, it's time to let go the Ariadne instinct in favor of more dominant, discriminating, feminine fortitude.

The women who have been wounded by a man they supported understand this all too well - the warrior instinct of Athena, the huntress instinct of Artemis, the mother/leader instinct of Hera all come to her aid in navigating a relationship, so as to not meet the fate of Ariadne's last chapter.

Men who are not right for women will eventually declare themselves in behavior that makes the other irrevocably unhappy.

Yet much of the pain in today's relationships is in fact reversible - and caused by forgetting, or losing Ariadne's gift, the thread of life in a woman's approval, admiration and support. Bring a little back to life and watch even your difficult man melt in your arms.

Paul Dobransky, M.D.

Director of for women, and  for men.