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Finding Balance In Relationships With Men

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For many people, achieving balance means cutting back on extremes. In the fall of 1990, I took on a huge project in my career. To balance that out, I decided to run the 1991 Long Beach Marathon. These two extremes equaled balance and sanity and a fertile state of mind for me.

That winter I became fascinated by the possibility of balancing the masculine and the feminine in my own behavior and ways of being. That eventually grew into a desire to balance them everywhere: in relationships, parenting, organizations, systems, our society, even, our world.

Over the years, I've come to value masculine and feminine energies, expressions and points of view in both women and men. I wasn't always that way. Like many women, I was proud of my own masculinity, though I didn't call it that. And I would quickly deprive men of theirs, though I didn't call it that either. I called my own masculine ways of being and expression, "self-sufficiency" and "independence," "competency" and "wherewithal." If I ever thought about emasculating men, it was in terms of "keeping men in line" or "not letting them get too full of themselves." Like our culture, I celebrated masculinity in women, but denigrated most things male.

None of this was conscious of course. Until it was called to my attention by two conversations which changed my life forever. The first was an interaction between a friend of mine and an older man. My friend asked, basically, "Why do men change?" Referring to the common complaint that men are on their best behavior in the beginning of a relationship. The gentleman's response was to call my friend a "Frog Farmer." He went on to explain that some women turn frogs into princes; a Frog Farmer turns princes into frogs.

With a sudden vision of rows upon rows of frogs with tiny human heads, and my ex-husband and ex-boyfriends looking up at me from the front, I realized I was, indeed, a Frog Farmer. And a very successful one too. This moment set me upon a quest to study men and find out how I brought out the worst in them.

Six months into studying men, the second conversation happened. I received a phone call from Ellen Hurst. This was significant to begin with because I have a policy of only accepting advice from people who have what I want. And Ellen was the only woman I knew whose husband of almost twenty years clearly adored her and was still courting her.

Ellen began the conversation with, "Alison, we need to talk." She said, "Men are attracted to you like bees to honey. But when you're done with them, it's as if they've been with a vampire." You can imagine my surprise. Ellen lay out for me every way that she had seen me "castrate" men, or knew that I had by the result. As she explained each method, I could only agree. But I wondered what the problem was. It had always been my understanding that this behavior was encouraged by other women to protect ourselves from the effects of unchecked testosterone.

Then Ellen asked me to stop. Just like that. Cut it out.

Confronted with this request, I realized that everything I had learned about men in the previous six months had been absorbed in the contexts, "Know thy enemy," and "The best defense is a good offense." I had used all my discoveries about men wanting to be my hero and wanting to make me happy against them. I had become an even more effective emasculator.

I still wasn't sorry. It seemed necessary to emasculate men--to keep me safe. That was when I saw the sixteen year-old running my life. The saucy teen who had concluded that men "are bigger and stronger and they'll hurt you." In the instant that I saw that inexperienced, unknowledgeable, scared little girl, I knew that I would never experience the true power of a woman until I allowed men their own power.

I told Ellen, "Okay, I'll stop." Her response surprised me. She said, "I'm not asking this for you. I'm asking you to stop castrating men because I believe when women stop castrating men, men will give us everything we ever wanted. Including peace and the end of hunger."

Letting men be masculine was the beginning of balancing the yin and the yang for me. It was also the beginning of a fantastic journey that has spanned almost two decades. In the process I found out that men are both the prince and the frog. And that we have a lot to do with which one we get.

In the weeks that come, I hope to share the fruits of my adventures with you. Some are shocking revelations, some are hilarious observations, some are comforting tidbits; some insights explain the mundane, some assertions may illuminate the sacred. Whether you're committed to a better romantic relationship, or to better schools, to more success with your family or with your company, understanding the profound effect of femininity and masculinity can only help.