Sunday, April 26, 2009

Each Man's Castle

Years ago I saw an episode of one of those candid camera style video ambush shows that stayed with me. Many of these types of shows strike me as fundamentally cruel: people are walking along minding their own business when some embarrassing trick is played upon them for the amusement of the audience. But this particular episode serves as a Rorschach test revealing the difference between the way men and women view social interaction.

The ambush works like this: an attractive, dressed up woman approaches a man in a parking lot, and asks for help. The tire on her car is flat and she doesn't know how to change a tire. So the victim chivalrously sets about changing the tire. About half way through this process, the darkened window of the car rolls down to reveal another man sitting in the car doing pretty much nothing except listening to music.

I told this prank to my wife, and her first reaction was probably representative of most women: the man in the car ought to be out helping change the tire. But this is a relatively small source of the outrage that the victims and, vicariously, the male audience feel. The outrage has its primary source in the understanding that the victim's assistance is not unadulterated altruism.

Women hear this and say, "What did he think? That he was going to get lucky? That he was going to get a date?" Well, no. Or at least, not necessarily. The victim may have made no assumptions about the woman's availability. He might have expected nothing more than a smile and "thank you," and he may have been equally willing to lend assistance to another man in that situation. But the nature of the social dynamic that the situation creates is one in which the victim is invited to play a social archetype, the knight-in-shining-armor, to a beautiful woman. To rephrase it in PUA or evo-psych terms, he is "demonstrating value" by changing her tire. It doesn't matter whether he consciously expects, or would even accept the offer, to get laid for his efforts: the social dynamic itself activates these regions of the brain.

Likewise, the inevitable punchline. The discovery that the woman has her own able-bodied man sitting in the car reveals to the victim that the dynamic he thought was in play was not: as Dogbert might put it, his paradigm shifted without a clutch. And his inchoate rage belongs to a man tricked into providing, without compensation, aid and comfort to another man's woman, and indeed to the other man himself.

I speak from personal experience. The story I am about to tell is one in which I take no pride in the way I handled. On the contrary, it was closest that Mrs. Φ and I came to breaking our engagement; certainly Mrs. Φ would have been within her rights to do so.

In our social circle at the church we attended, there was a beautiful and vivacious young woman on whom I had developed a substantial crush (for want of a better word) some six months before Mrs. Φ had attracted my notice. This was hardly remarkable; I probably had a crush on all attractive women who weren't overtly hostile. And, as usually happened, by the time I could find out whether this girl -- let's call her S -- had a boyfriend, she did: an older, more successful "alpha" in her own career field at work. (Significantly, he didn't attend our church.) I was phlegmatic about this discovery; after all, S would have been a substantial reach for me even if she had been unattached.

Flash forward by around ten months, and three events happen in rapid succession in I forget which order: I begin seriously courting the future Mrs. Φ; Mrs. Φ begins sharing a house with S; and S terminates her relationship with alpha dog.

Mmmm . . . funny how life works.

The result is that I began to play a supporting roll in this drama as the comfort-guy. Not that she literally cried on my shoulder, and the truth is that my involvement was mainly though not exclusively experienced vicariously through Mrs. Φ. But I was privy to the stories of the emotional abuse and (it was credibly alleged) sex addiction, and so I felt as if I was part of the support group. I didn't object to this roll at the time. I reasoned that S had recognized her relationship mistake, corrected it, and merited my assistance in moving on with her life.

And then . . . the other shoe dropped. Mrs. Φ calls to tell me that not only would S be returning to the arms of the abusive alpha, but that they had been actually married the entire time!

This revelation left me blindingly, irrationally angry. It wasn't just that both S and Mrs. Φ had deceived me as to the true nature of the relationship. It wasn't even that alpha dog's apparent victory amounted to a net psychic loss for team beta. It was that I, personally, had been tricked into providing, without compensation, aid and comfort to another man's woman.

It is from this perspective that I view the associated problem of how to adjudicate the paternity of children conceived in adulterous affairs, as we debated over at Hit Coffee last week. It explains why I react so viscerally to the injustice of demanding that a cuckolded ex-husband pay child support for another man's offspring. I am unpersuaded by the assertion that a man who was deceived into thinking such children were his own has "enjoyed the rights and privileges of fatherhood;" this is like saying that Bernie Madoff's clients "enjoyed the priviledge of watching their investment portfolios grow every month" when the scam was still going. And it is why I especially regard as morally insensate such female comments as "so what? . . . It’s his kid, biological or not." (Indeed, such an attitude can be found almost exclusively among those constitutionally immune from the injustice at hand.)

1 comment:

trumwill said...

Indeed, such an attitude can be found almost exclusively among those constitutionally immune from the injustice at handMan, woman, liberal or conservative, it's always easier to be cavalier about the risks others assume.

In this case, I think that false paternity is a sort of deep violation that women cannot truly appreciate.

Abusing a man's sense of honor and trust to her own ends is more than just a fib. But if he is informed, or does find out, and chooses to move forward... then he's signed on to be a part of it. He's signed on to be that child's father. So on that part, at least, I am in agreement with Sheila. That only works, though, if he has a choice. For that to happen, he needs to know.