Book Review: Men Who Can’t Love

“The Groundbreaking New York Times Bestseller”

I know the title is awful.  Sort of sounds like something the divorced women’s club from Jerry Maguire would be chirping about.  But I swear to you I’m not like those women.  I love men.  I think men are beautiful creatures.  In fact, sometimes I love them too much.

I started flipping through this book in a Barnes and Noble one day.  It’s about me.  I’m telling you, the authors of this book lived in my brain for a year and then wrote about what happened to me.  It’s not really about men who can’t love.  It’s about the phobia of commitment and it can be applied to women as well.  If you are someone who has been hurt before and you still have a lot of unanswered questions, read this book.  By the way, it was written by a man.

I was in love with a guy named “O” not too long ago.  After a year of seeing O, he moved from Montreal to the UK to start a new business.  O told me that the long distance would prevent us from continuing our relationship.  Shortly after, he began a long distance relationship with the woman he was sleeping with in Montreal before he met me.  Nearly two years later, they are still together and she recently moved to the UK to be with him.

Rejection is hard no matter what.  It’s very hard to long to be with someone who would rather be with someone else.  In my case, however, I have had to suffer through not only the feeling of rejection but also the not knowing why.  The pain was unbearable.

O and I seemed to have so much fun together. We sat on the same side of the table in restaurants. He told me how beautiful and nice he thought I was – all the time.  He made me feel irresistible when he held me close to him in bed.  We didn’t have any serious disagreements.  We supported each other’s endeavors.  We liked each other’s friends and we made each other laugh.  To me, it seemed like the beginning of something special.

Then we went away together for a long weekend.  After the trip I didn’t hear from O for five days.  When I confronted him he told me we were done.  He blamed it on the need to give his new business his full attention.  He said his “heart was closed.”  He never shared why he felt we would be incompatible as a couple.  He said it wasn’t me.  Then, shortly after, I heard he was taking his new girlfriend on a holiday he and I had planned on taking together with our best friends.  A woman he had reassured me in the past was “smart and funny” but whom he was “not physically attracted to.”  I was shocked and devastated.

Is it because he didn’t think I was smart enough? Not funny enough? Was I just a physical thing for him?  Was I too weak? Not supportive or understanding enough? It’s hard not to torture yourself with all this self-doubt.  I searched for a rational explanation to try to understand what set him off.  I needed closure.

While reading Men Who Can’t Love I realized that there were, indeed, things about me that pushed him away.  But I also learned that it’s because I AM certain things, GREAT things, and not because I’m not enough.

According to Carter and Sokol, there is something called “the commitmentphobic response.”  This relationship dynamic can be very “destructive and damaging” and can cause a great deal of pain.  Typically what happens with this dynamic is that the commitment phobe is extremely threatened by the person who is ready to commit.  Sometimes this even occurs right after the first date (see “The Break Up Email” post).

I really related to the book right from the very beginning.  In the first chapter, Jamie gives her account of her experiences dating Michael:

“I was overwhelmed by the level of emotional intimacy.” She explains.

“He seemed to like me so much that it outweighed any reservations I might have had.”

“I found myself going to amazing lengths to prepare special treats and to look good.”

In the very early stages, I was not as interested in O as he seemed to be in me, but he won me over with the intensity of his attention.  I constantly felt high from his seeming attraction towards me.  I had such a good time turning him on with cute outfits and thoughtful, little presents.  He was the most affectionate and most romantic “boyfriend” I had ever had.  It honestly felt like a dream. This is apparently very characteristic of the commitment phobe in the initial stages.  Unfortunately, when the behaviors are reciprocated, they run for the hills.   The panic is especially intensified when “to him something about you spells out wife, mother, togetherness – forever – and it terrifies him” (Carter and Sokol, 3).

Prior to me, O was in a five-year relationship with a woman who has a child.  This made me assume that he was an extremely dependable and loyal man.  We never made it past the stage of infatuation so I’ll never know if that’s true about him or not.  The book says that a person can be in a long-term relationship and still never let their partner deep into their heart.  Even “a marriage in and of itself does not a commitment make” (Carter and Sokol). I believe, now, that it’s possible that O never really completely opened his heart to the woman he was with for five years.

My mother always says that everything happens for a reason.  So far, I haven’t quite figured out what she means.  But I have figured out a few other important things: Whatever his limitations, I don’t want to be with a man who is capable of cruelty. That is for sure.

When I found out about O’s new girlfriend, I had never felt such heartache in my life.  Shamefully, my normally very good judgment and reason flew out the window.  I called O to express how hurt I was and, knowing it was me, he didn’t answer the phone.  I left many voice messages that I now regret.  In response, he indicated in emails and text messages that he felt there was nothing ever between us.  Among some other heartless things, his exact words in one message read, “there was no spark.”   Now, I’m no Albert Einstein but I know what chemistry feels like.  In fact, the attraction between us was so strong and obvious to us both that he referred to it as “fireworks” when we were together.  How can a person go from “fireworks” to “no spark”?

Not that this is an excuse, but the book explains that “when a man feels trapped, closed in, or suffocated, he simply doesn’t see clearly, and his behavior…is genuinely outrageous.”  O said everything hurtful he could think of that would make me go away.  He even went as far as telling me that he is “inspired and in love” – things he never felt with me.  Well, it worked.  I haven’t seen or spoken to him since I read those words.  And I haven’t wanted to.

So I hope I have stirred up something in at least one of you with my personal story and, perhaps, motivated you to find the strength to let go of yours.  The hardest part is accepting that the person who caused you so much pain will probably never realize their responsibility in it.  In order to realize that, they would have to open up a whole can of worms for themselves and it’s easier to deny and run from your personal conflicts than to work through them.  So, instead, take comfort in knowing that so many others have gone through something similar.  You are not alone and you are not crazy.  Be good to yourself, protect your heart, pay attention to signs, don’t try to change other people, and watch out for relationships that appear to be a storybook fantasy (they are not real).  And read “Men Who Can’t Love!”

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Petunia Johnson

Petunia Johnson's tell-all, confessional called “The Juice” is a collection of true stories based on real experiences Petunia has had throughout her journey to find “The One.” With her raw and poignant style, Petunia moves her readers with her sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking dating stories on her journey to finding love. From Montreal to New York City and back, it seems like Petunia has been through it all. She writes about the challenge of dating a guy ten years her junior as well as when she was confronted with a racist date. Nevertheless, in the face of adversity, Petunia always maintains her integrity and seems to stick to her belief that the right one will come along. In her intro, she pays tribute to her girlfriends who have supported her through life’s challenges and mentions that the name “Petunia Johnson” was what, growing up, her best friend used to refer to her “most sacred, female part.” Check out her story about what happened when she fell for her teenage crush later on in life and pay attention to the foreshadowing of a future heartbreak that we can’t wait to read about! Want more Petunia? See what Petunia is up to on Twitter and Facebook!
  • Alice X

    Thanks for sharing this story. You are right, the people who hurt will most likely never realize the extent of pain they cause.