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In this field guide to twenty-first century dating, Dalma Heyn gives women the tools they need to find the partners they want
Why are so many strong, vibrant women going out with men who sabotage their strength and vibrancy? In her third book, bestselling author and psychotherapist Dalma Heyn provides the roadmap to lovers she calls “drama kings,” men who, still stuck in the man-centric culture of the twentieth century, are emotionally unavailable to these twenty-first century ...
In this field guide to twenty-first century dating, Dalma Heyn gives women the tools they need to find the partners they want
Why are so many strong, vibrant women going out with men who sabotage their strength and vibrancy? In her third book, bestselling author and psychotherapist Dalma Heyn provides the roadmap to lovers she calls “drama kings,” men who, still stuck in the man-centric culture of the twentieth century, are emotionally unavailable to these twenty-first century women. Drawing on first-person interviews and case stories of real relationships, Heyn helps women identify the men likely to derail relationships, confront their own expectations about love and relationships, and negotiate the minefields of today’s dating world—so that they never again have to choose between having love and staying strong. This ebook features a new introduction by Dalma Heyn and an illustrated biography including rare photos from the author’s personal collection.
—The San Francisco Chronicle
"Ms. Heyn has a keen nose for social change. She has detected a plague of drama kings and records their pernicious attributes so that wary women can spot them in time and bar the door."—The New York Times
"Heyn probes a new trend: women who value independence and personal fulfillment above domesticity and wifely duty. Heyn describes take-charge women's changing expectations of what a relationship should be." —Psychology Today
All the Kings' Women
Love me in full being.
—Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Love Poems
MAUREEN FISHER SAYS SHE has it all. At thirty-eight, she is healthy, the mother of an adored teenage son, Timothy, and the marketing director of the biggest sports equipment store in Florida. She and Timothy live in a small house forty minutes from Tampa. Timothy's father, Maureen's ex-husband, Christopher, lives close by, popping over several times a week when Maureen works late so Timothy won't be alone. Maureen's relationship with Christopher is good, now that their divorce is well behind them and Timothy's well-being is their only concern. She has three dear, close friends; a Tibetan terrier; and aging parents she is happy to support.
Has it all? Let's see: Did she forget to mention a man?
No, she didn't forget. Maureen knows she doesn't fit the picture of the woman she was supposed to have become at her age, complete with the lifetime husband, or lifetime partner, or a potential one, or at least someone. Yet there is no one on the horizon, and she is as content as can be. She's not even looking.
I only began to recognize that I'm truly happy—maybe even happiest—without a guy when I did some serious thinking about what's right for me. I had to deconstruct all the myths about women's happiness; challenge all the assumptions, the promises, the dreams laid out for me by my family, my friends, even the stories I grew up on. I had to learn to read those newspaper items—"Distraught Woman Can't Find Man!" "Unmarried Woman Shoots Self!" Because not to have a man at thirty-eight means I don't have the one thing I've been told all my life is the only thing. So for that part of me that was taught I'm not a fall human being without this "other half," it's like having a missing psychic limb.
But that's programming, not my own reaction, and I'm not manipulated anymore. I've been with a slew of goofy guys, and I didn't want to stay with any of them. Some were appealing, some tyrannical, and some just ridiculous; some were fun and sexy and wild; and some were not so good for Timothy. I went through sadness, weirdness, desperation, until it hit me like a slap: I don 't have to try so hard to be in a relationship! I don't have to suffer for a man! I live wonderfully without any of them!
I'm not saying forever on this—I love men, I love sex. I love being in love. But I've found the notion of one man way more appealing than the reality of being with any of the men I've been out with.
Tracy, at thirty, feels enormous pressure to marry a man she's dated for almost a year but who she nevertheless believes is "clueless" about her. She's a loan officer for a commercial bank in Topeka; he's a musician a few years younger. All her friends are either already married or about to be. She says it takes everything she's got to ward off the onslaught of advice about how best to transform Dan—the "pretty crazy" guy she "sort of loves—into husband material.
I hear about having relationship talks, playing hard to get, giving him ultimatums, dumping him outright—the thing is, it's all like Republicans talking to Democrats: See, I don't want what they want. I don't want to bludgeon him into understanding me any more than I want him bludgeoning me into understanding him.
I'm in the most conservative business in the world in a very conservative town. I wear little navy suits to work and pumps with clear panty hose. Dan looks like Nick Nolte in one of his drunk-driving mug shots, with the hair, the wild eyes, the dissolute bit. But here's the thing. He calls and says, "Hey! Let's go hiking today," or wakes me up at 6 a.m. on a Saturday after a gig with, "I fixed our bikes. Let's go for a ride." I love that. We don't talk much, except about practical stuff—the amount of air in the tires, the best conditions for hiking. He expresses his emotions through his guitar and physical activity.
And her emotions?
Tracy enjoys wrestling with her own complicated, contradictory feelings "all by myself"—another thing that confounds her friends.
I don't need to share my ambivalence or investigate his. I don't need to beat ambiguity and doubt into submission—I can live with it. I don't require Dan to understand my messy psyche. Who says a man is supposed to understand me? Who says a man and woman can't get enough from each other by having fun together? And who says I have to marry or have children?
Well, she concedes quickly with a grin, pretty much everyone. But that's their problem, she believes. "I love kids, but I may not want one of my own."
So when friends ask her when she's going to get serious, she tells them she's very serious—just not about turning this good-enough-for-the-moment Drama King into Mr. Right. She's done three things that help, she says. "One, I broke out of the mold that says love is forever. Two, I broke out of the mold that says I'm supposed to be pushing marriage on any bachelor I find. And three, I broke out of the mold that says being alone is being lonely."
She wants, these days, to have fun. Her old craving for what she calls a love twin, a soul mate, feels regressive to her now, "like something I hunger for when I'm feeling the weakest and the most needy, a throwback to a time when there was no such thing for women as a life of one's own." Her desire for a soul mate is most intense, in other words, when it's an attempted shortcut to, or substitute for, a soul of her own.
She lives in the moment and has learned to love doing things by herself. She knows she's with a Drama King and accepts it for now.
There are things I can't stand about our relationship, and others that I may never get again: He's sort of a lunatic—not sort-of; really a lunatic—and I put up with a lot of unprocessed stuff from him, a lot of narcissism and aggression. But then, sex is great; he's a passionate guy. And unlike every other man I've met, he likes me exactly the way I am—and I'm a moody, cranky, bossy thing. He doesn't call me selfish for putting myself first in my life, and he doesn't attack me for sounding—as I often do, I'm told—like it's my way or the highway.
Tracy sums up what feels new to her about herself. "I'm the real me. I don't do what I'm told; I do what feel. And my life has taken off. I don't need a man. And not needing Dan has freed me to ... want him."
Anabel has been married and divorced and remarried and divorced—from the same man. Now, at forty-four, she has gone out with "every conceivable kind of maniac" and continues to do so with gusto, convinced that "that's what's out there." She loved being married, "or else I wouldn't have tried so hard with Frank," her on-again-off-again ex-husband. As for wedlock again, though, she's in no hurry "to get back on that horse. When people say, 'What a pity you're not married; you'd make someone a great wife,' I tell them that my greatness as a wife isn't the point. That 'someone's' greatness as a husband is." She sees no man in her troupe of Drama Kings that qualify. Still, she's always up for a relationship that is—she rolls her eyes heavenward—"healthy" and "normal."
And this, she says, is the problem.
The healthier I get, the more self-sufficient and contented I am that way, the more I seem to attract the world's wackos. There was Tom, the most commitment-phobic yet most desperately needy-but-God-forbid-he-admit-it kind of guy, who kept saying how uncomplicated he was but kept falling asleep at dinner and going home by 8:30. There was Harry, the chef, who made me feel I was too inept to go near my own cutting board with a knife in my hand. There was Jon, who came over at noon every day for a month, whether invited or not. Wouldn't stay. Just deposited his white van, which looked disturbingly like O.J. Simpson's, in my driveway at lunchtime for a nooner. Come to think of it, he even looked like a young O.J."
Anabel, who says she identifies with a slew of pop-culture heroines—from Carrie in Sex and the City to Donna Moss in The West Wing to Grace in Will and Grace—is a dermatologist in Houston. She's considering coming out with her own makeup line, and Estée Lauder is interested already. She has three black Labs and two Siamese cats. Attractive men, she says, are always welcome into her menagerie—for lunch or whatever—but will never replace it.
What I can't get over is that the more stable and confident I become, the more content with my own life, the more I'm open to something new and healthy and positive and equal in a relationship—the lack of neediness men have long claimed they want, after all—the more the men seem to regress and try to drag me back to some old dynamic I thought we were all through with. Then, when these bizarre relationships end, I keep going forward, growing stronger and stronger—but the men keep going backward in time! So there I am, suddenly, feeling like on the one hand I'm Xena, Warrior Princess, but once in a relationship, I'm like Anna with the King of Siam, expected to bow lower than he does.
What convinces her that she's gaining strength and going forward after these "bizarre" relationships end?
Well, I'm successful, for one thing. And I feel better after each guy. I have more fun, incrementally. I constantly shed old stuff and feel cleaner, leaner, clearer. Even if I feel punched in the stomach for a few days and take to my bed over a weekend or two, I'm not devastated, not at my core. I feel like those cartoon characters who fall headfirst into the pavement, get smashed flat, then jump right up, shake themselves off, and go zooming into the next adventure.
Look: I just bought a house! I love it and I'm proud of myself and I love my weird life and I don't care that I'm house poor and without a guy. I don't see myself as failing, you see, but as succeeding. I don't see the end of a relationship as some moral deficiency on my part. I'm getting the hang of love's ... temporariness. I've grown big time in terms of how I relate to men. In college, in the dorms, I mothered the guys and picked up their stupid socks and tried to help them grow up. Now I don't. If I decide to see a guy, I take him as he is. And if he lives like a slob or behaves like a child, I don't go there. And if he's altogether horrible, I let him go.
What you're hearing here is a cosmic change in women's attitudes toward relationships. If I had heard one woman speak the way Maureen, Tracy, and Anabel do when I was researching my last book, I would have thought I was in another country. Back then, in the mid-1990s, I heard women tell stories of the unassailable centrality of their intimate relationships, an importance that dwarfed everything else in their lives. I did not hear anyone say she believed that moving through a succession of temporary, imperfect relationships might be a good thing. Women spoke of turning themselves inside out to make even the least satisfying pairings function, obsessing over loves that often limped painfully toward the elusive "forever" they swore to attain—because to not reach it would have left them with a sense of failure, despair, and loneliness. They sometimes spent their entire adult lives in unions in which they felt afraid to speak honestly, dissembling for years, for lifetimes, because their deepest feelings did not fit what they were told they "should" be.
In the mid '90s, I listened to women who struggled to bring their true selves with them into intimate relationships; who were unable to negotiate the desperate impasses they experienced with their men but nevertheless clung to relationships to avoid the loneliness and stigma of being alone. The last thing I could then imagine was women feeling sanguine about impermanence; upbeat about being plunged into a bewildering and chaotic mating climate; buoyant when giving up on a guy or even being "dumped" by him; increasingly finding strength and joy within themselves and in their friendships, their homes, and their careers—and not dependent on an intimate relationship for those qualities.
Suddenly, I'm hearing women speak of growing stronger through relationships, even the ones that end; of finding themselves afterward feeling okay, hopeful, and even ebullient—and game for more. I'm not hearing about "failed" relationships or long-lasting devastation when relationships are over but about successful adventures, meaningful—if oddball—experiences; relationships that, even as they lurch, founder, and sink, leave the woman feeling freer, savvier, and more self-aware.
This is not to say a woman doesn't crave relationships or remain pain-free when they end—only that she increasingly doesn't wholly depend on them, as her mother or even her older sister might have, for her self-esteem, identity, or solvency. Even as the culture continues instilling a fear in her that each man may be her last, urging that she push to land him any way she can, she sees her divorced mother dating, her workaholic father dating, her widowed grandparents dating—so she doesn't believe it. She is one of the eighty-six million single adults who may soon define the country's new majority, so she has company in imagining life, even if temporarily, on her own. She is willing to hold out longer for the kind of relationship she wants—that, or go it alone.
Whereas I once heard denial about divorce—young women whose parents had divorced nevertheless insisting it could never happen to them—I now hear a more clearheaded understanding of the new meaning of forever. And where I once heard fantasies of being rescued financially and emotionally, I now hear anything but. In fact, I hear the opposite: a growing fear of having to emotionally and financially rescue men. Where I once heard open despair about the disappearance of courtship—with its comforting, well-worn cultural rituals and milestones that led clearly to marriage—I now hear about resilience and courage in the face of its loss. As Gloria Steinem, whose voice has so often presaged that of the next generation, puts it:
I used to indulge in magical thinking when problems seemed insurmountable. Often, this focused on men, for they seemed to me the only ones with power to intercede with the gods. Now it has been so long since I fantasized a magical rescue that I can barely remember the intensity of that longing. Instead, I feel my own strength, take pleasure in the company of mortals, and no longer believe in gods. Except those in each of us.
The loss of what love used to be, or might have been, is more than compensated by women's sense of having done vital internal work to build themselves, their selves—work that will serve them in their next relationships. They don't, in other words, feel stuck in this place of pain or loss; they move past it quickly. Something deep in the culture and deep in women has shifted—and it's an extraordinary, evolutionary shift. The man-centric view of the world has been realigned by today's women, and the effect of men's displacement from it is as revolutionary as when Copernicus squashed the notion that the Earth was flat.
It happened so quickly. The stories I used to hear from women in the 1980s, 1990s, and even a few years ago were so often about understanding, reforming, revamping, or redeeming men. I don't mean simply that love was important to them. Women valued relationships over themselves—as if, I sometimes thought, having a relationship with a man, any relationship, was felt to be crucial to an intact self, prerequisite to it. Hanging on to a Drama King, no matter how unhappy he made her, no matter how paltry his emotional and financial offering, was more important than being happy.
As Wendy, married at twenty-two and startled by her husband's increasing disengagement, put it a year ago, "His stonewalling makes me feel unvalued. It makes me feel unloved. So I try to make him talk instead of hiding out, but he only shuts up more—a response that only makes me feel worse."
Until recently, their stories featured an old, familiar dilemma: While men felt the pressure to be strong providers or else be accused of being failures, women felt the pressure to be selfless nurturers—relationship "experts" responsible for the well-being of a couple and fixing whatever ailed it—or else be accused of being failures at the one job they were supposed to do "naturally." Men felt uncomfortably bound to the workplace and women to their relationships—regardless of how much they might have wished that they could share both. If this setup left women powerless in the world, it left men relationally inept, devoid of the skills to connect with the women they loved. If women couldn't single-handedly break through to their isolated, conquering heroes, the men became angry, bereft, guilty, and more isolated. As Connie, a woman who appeared in both of my previous books, recently recalled:
Excerpted from Drama Kings by Dalma Heyn. Copyright © 2005 Dalma Heyn. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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