Women Make Bad Religion

by Paul Dunion, Ed.D.

Some say it all began when European troubadours returned from the Holy Land, enthralled by the prayerful melodies of the Sufis. Constrained by an abstract theology that could not embrace the romance and sensuality of Sufism, the troubadours directed their musical innovations toward women, rather than God. These melodic images may very well have placed men on the Quest for the goddess. Maybe it all began when Homo Erectus man witnessed women giving birth which vaulted her to celestial status.

Who knows the actuality of its origin? What we do know is that men can easily transform women into goddesses. They can also quest such a goddess, seeking some form of redemption or salvation from the divine female. The search for the goddess is often undaunted by prior disappointments, where women proved their sheer mortality over and over again. Men are convinced that the divine one remains in waiting and with a little luck, will surely be found. Thus, rituals, prayers, visions, and a fervent devotion reflect the religion of the Quest.

What men usually call falling in love is another description of being in the presence of the goddess. What a man knows is that she’s the one. Once that identification is branded in a man’s heart and brain, there’s no turning back. She may be a convicted ax murderer. It doesn’t matter. He believes that he is finally in the presence of she who offers salvation and that’s all that matters.

What can we make of this idolatry that men bring to their vision of women? Why do men seek the perfect woman? Can a man feel satisfied with a mortal woman or does he inevitably feel like he’s settling? And what form of salvation do men believe women hold for them?

Men are asking women to save them from themselves. They want to be saved from some present demon or some old ghost that continues to haunt. It’s often easier for a man to see the current demons while the old ones remain somewhat mercurial.

Philip, a 55-year-old literature professor came to see me. His demons were in the present. He had been married to the same woman for 22 years. He reported a lengthy history of secretive affairs with students at the university.

“The affairs just aren’t giving me what they once did. Even the younger women don’t seem to give me any real fulfillment,” explained Philip.

“Do you know what it is that you have been seeking from these women?” I asked.

“I thought I did. I just don’t know anymore,” added Philip.

“What’s that got to do with anything?” he reacted.

“I’m just wondering if there’s a man or woman in your life, with whom you feel a genuine connection,” I suggested.

“No, there isn’t. I haven’t had a best friend in years,” he responded, with his voice dropping off.

Philip was experiencing an isolation common to many men. The combination of homophobia and sexualizing relationships with women can leave men estranged from both genders. Their answer is to find a goddess who will meet all of their affiliation needs. Of course, the strategy is doomed. No one person could meet all of a man’s relational needs.

Philip began to understand that he was also asking his student goddesses to save him from aging and ultimately from dying. This is a popular request of goddesses who are ten or more years younger than a man. Unfortunately, this issue is often trivialized and thought of as ridiculous. However, in a culture where men have no permission to age and die with dignity, even bright and educated men like Philip respond to the aging process with a deep desperation. On some primitive level, they actually believe that a young lovely woman can really save them from their ultimate decline.

Philip talked about experiencing a temporary reprieve from his loss of youth as he lay next to a beautiful 35-year-old woman. However, Philip was seeing that some of his disillusionment with his affairs was that these women were not saving him from aging. He also began to identify his real Quest, which was to make peace with his own death.

The combination of homophobia and agism also made it impossible for Philip to acknowledge his own beauty. Heterosexual men are not supposed to see the beauty of their own gender, which translates into they’re not supposed to see the beauty of any man, including their own. The dependency a young man feels upon women, who are charged with the responsibility of validating his attractiveness by choosing him, quickly turns into desperation as he ages.

There are several other elements in Philip’s story where he was asking the goddess to save him from himself. The first was that he spent most of his life denying his sensitivity and softness, since they did not fit with his masculine image of himself. Philip wanted these women to carry his sensitivity for him. He saw sensitivity as an honorable trait but not one he could own and still be a real man. When he saw the goddess as loud, crass, intense, or intrusive, he decided that she was failing miserably in her role as savior. She was a sensitive goddess turned bitch and no use to Philip.

Seeking the goddess also allows men stay on the Quest. Philip loved remaining on the Quest where he was essentially immune from all the folly that accompanies real love. On the Quest he was exempt from being accountable for what he gave and how he received. His questing allowed him to step beyond the inevitable vulnerability that characterizes genuine intimacy. The Quest allows a man to postpone any real encounter with his fear of abandonment, fear of inadequacy, fear of getting lost, and whatever other fears he associates with real relationships, for his focus remains on the dream of a once and future queen. Men can remain on the Quest, thus remaining in relationship with an idyllic image rather than with a real woman, insulating them from the hazards of genuine intimacy.

Bruce, a 44-year-old investment broker, was complaining of a marriage he claimed was empty when he came to see me. Our sessions soon revealed that there was nothing specific bothering him about his wife, Nancy. He expressed a vague dissatisfaction which alerted me to the possibility that Bruce might be in the market for a goddess.

“Bruce, I’m not sure what it is about Nancy that is bugging you,” I pointed out.

“She’s okay. She’s very caring and very supportive. Something isn’t quite right. I don’t know what it is. Something is missing,” Bruce explained.

“Are other women getting your attention?” I asked.

“Why, yes, they are,” Bruce meekly responded.

Before long Bruce was reporting that the goddess had been found on the second floor of his office building. I almost never try talking a man out of his vision of Aphrodite. It’s like telling Moses that he really didn’t see a burning bush. Besides, my experience suggests that the goddess vision awakens something essential in a man’s psychology.

I’ve seen men become vital, passionate, adventurous, bold, and ready to experience life on new levels when encountering the goddess. It’s safe to say that a goddess vision may very well imply that something critical in a man’s psyche is beginning to awaken. The challenge is to allow for the goddess experience and then with a little luck and support, redirect his focus back to himself, where he can offer a helping hand to what awakens in him.

It can be very difficult for a man to mortalize a woman whom he has deified. Bruce needed to touch, smell, and taste the alleged goddess before he could truly see her humanity. An affair ensued. However, it didn’t take long for Bruce to become disillusioned with the goddess on the second floor. In his disillusionment, he was much more willing to look at the quester and discover what was stirring in him.

Bruce discovered that he wanted his goddess to save him from his childhood. As long as he had hope for the arrival of Aphrodite, he could hold onto the belief that the mother, whom he always deserved, was making her way to him. Bruce, like so many boys, coped with maternal neglect and abuse by deciding that these negative experiences were testimony that there was something inherently wrong with him.

The arrival of the goddess would be a clear sign that he was truly deserving of love and attention. This desire to prove his deservedness was coupled with a desire to remain loyal to his mother and her neglect of him. The goddess’s fall from grace reaffirmed that no one could actually attend to him better than his own mother. Men bring a painful pattern of deprivation upon themselves when they need a woman to help them prove that they are lovable, while also needing to demonstrate that no one could take the mother’s place.

Bruce also realized that the fallen goddess gave him a great place to direct the anger he harbored toward his mother, without having to jeopardize his maternal relationship. He could maintain his maternal loyalty and medicate the depression resulting from the internalization of his anger. However, depression is inevitable when a man immerses himself in deprivation.

Bruce gradually became more willing to take responsibility for his childhood, realizing that the woman on the second floor couldn’t save him. He decided to work on his marriage to Nancy and explore having a relationship with a mortal woman.

Philip and Bruce both decided to step away from the Quest and closer to their own souls. Each grieved the end of his quest in his own unique way.

When men begin to see that they’ve been asking women to keep them alive forever, carry parts of themselves that they are afraid to carry, be their entire support system and redeem a wounded childhood, they can begin to have authentic relationships with themselves and with women. Men can allow for the death of the goddess, understanding that women may make wonderful friends, lovers, colleagues, and partners, while making for bad religion.

Paul Dunion, Ed.D.

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