Sunday, February 21, 2010

Tiger Woods and the Single Guy

To me, the most interesting guest on the many talk shows about Tiger Woods, was John Gray, the author of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus—because what is so clear is that both genders see the situation from a different perspective. Another guest discussed how hard it would be for Woods to repair his image with women.

I'm not sure women can understand the extent to which men are conditioned by a culture that demands that they succeed and win at all costs, and that their payoff is sexual gratification with the women in beer commercials and girls gone wild videos. For men, this fantasy is the same as the need for a perfect body is for women—a compulsion they know is self defeating but is deeply programmed.

So for many single men like me, there is a sense of compassion and understanding for Woods' situation. While his breaking of vows of marriage is indefensible, I can understand how it happened and I took his statement at face value.

What struck me the most was his discussion about Buddhism and his reference to "attachment." That is what leads me to feel that he is sincere—because only a sense of surrender to something higher can heal the illusions men carry of what will make them ultimately happy.

Let me admit that I have been in therapy for my own wounds, not nearly as dramatic as Tiger's but for me very powerful and difficult demons.

When I was in college I came home and told my dad, "money isn't important to me. I don't need it to be happy."

This was a blow to a man who had struggled his whole life to make it here in America after a horrific ordeal in Europe, and who saw money as freedom and the key to fulfillment.

Despite what I said to my dad in college, I eventually began to see things the same way, and embarked on a mission to "make it". Somewhere along the line I found myself with a nice bank account but it was never enough, and I had no idea of how to love and be loved.

I also bought into the notions of my peers, and my father, that seeking my own sexual pleasure was a worthwhile lifestyle. At a low point I tried to connect to women who I only believed would be with me for what I could provide or give them materially, and my feelings of unworthiness led me to dull my emotions in any way I could.

My romantic fantasies were such that I believed that only another person's love would complete me and make me a man among men. Women were a prize or possession, not human beings with energies and feelings with whom I could deeply connect. And many women I met ratified those feelings and fears by only granting me their attention and devotion if I fit the image they had in mind as a provider.

Now, in my own work on myself with a therapist, I am trying to ascertain exactly who I am and what will fulfill me—because I tried many of the things Tiger tried. While I wasn't outed by the media, I realized on my own that it wasn't working. In my case, I broke up a relationship to pursue my "independence" and deny my need for deep connection—and all it did was make me confront my own loneliness and isolation. I hit the wall and needed help.

And that brings me back to Woods.

From a very early age his own bond with his father made him need to prove himself and make it—and he certainly did.

I would not be surprised if like me he had to deny his childhood wants and desires and become a man very early—his obvious drive and discipline as well as the sense of control testifies to that.

Then his father died, and the main reason he had for living died too—but he kept doing the only thing he knew –competing and winning and he tried to fill the void with the traditional roles of a marriage and a family.

And at the same time he finally felt he had the right to try to satisfy the need to fulfill what he believed were desires that would make him happy—he said that he felt he had earned that right—regardless of the consequences. We can view that as narcissism to be sure, but it is also quite natural.

What Woods has discovered, I believe, is that in his ability to control others economically their love was completely false. Those that truly loved him, and he could not control, were now deeply hurt and distrustful and this sudden awakening left him more alone than ever.

His activities with women, while disgraceful for a married man, still seem to me the acts of someone desperately looking for meaning in his life. He seemingly had everything and it still wasn't enough. Certainly his confrontation with himself came only when he was discovered, but in his position that was inevitable.

As a single man, my own struggles in this area—mainly stuffing down my feelings and trying to make inappropriate women love me and fill me up—did not hurt anyone but myself.

Woods of course played with much higher stakes and his actions had far graver consequences.

But to me, and many people remarked how depressed Woods looked, Tiger seemed like a guy who finally realized he needed help. He had abruptly realized that what really mattered were the people whom he really loved and who loved him—and that he might lose them.

Unfortunately for him, his actions have driven these people away and created deep feelings of hurt and distrust. And then, when he was discovered, his own sense of shame was such that he began to doubt that he was worthy of their love.

To him right now, I suspect he doesn't know quite who he really is, and while others urge him to just play golf and win, it has temporarily lost its meaning for him. The self he worked so hard to build and sustain is no longer viable.

For a single guy in L.A., it is hard to develop and maintain a network of people to fill those deep needs of connection and mutual love. People come and go and they are best friends for the evening.

As an only child, like Woods, I was doted on and spoiled on one level, and very alone on another. I learned to meet my own needs in ways that proved to be empty and vacuous. I believed money and control could get me what I wanted and needed and that my own personal comfort was paramount.

And, like Tiger, I spent a long time trying to live up to a notion of manhood and achievement that I assumed would fulfill me, only to learn that it left me empty.

So much of my life was consumed by a fear that I might not make it, or measure up, or succeed and when I did I could not enjoy it or let it fulfill me. Now I am trying to learn to get filled up with love, not fear, and to accept it naturally instead of trying to seize or control it.

Like me, Woods needs to learn to trust others, ask for help, and yield control and become vulnerable.

That doesn't mean all of his sins should be forgotten or even forgiven—but he is still just a human being—and he deserves some measure of understanding and compassion.

Which brings me back to Buddhism. This week the Dalai Lama is here, and to me his message is, simply put: be compassionate with others and yourself. Observe your own tendencies, emotions, fears and beliefs, and don't fight them but accept that they make you human and be kind.

My own struggle is finding fulfillment outside of the roles that I took on unconsciously. Meditation and therapy has made me able to observe (but so far not completely change) how deeply ingrained these "scripts" or "programs" are, and how removed my real core self is from the compulsion to follow these impulses.

I'm trying to connect to the person I was before all that programming and conditioning, and it's hard.

For one thing, those beliefs came from and are connected to those I loved most in the world—my parents. Every act of going against many of these tendencies feels a bit like betrayal. My father's voice is there often telling me – be tough, keep working and struggling, don't show any weakness.

My former girlfriend once asked me what my mantra or central belief was, and I said, "don't screw up." She suggested I replace it with "let love in." But it is very difficult trust in love and lose what you think is a measure of control.

In fact, it's so hard that lots of times I want to go back to stuffing down those feelings or dulling them, or avoiding them with work and achievement.

What I've begun to discover is that I need to connect to the little boy I never really got to be because I was so determined to live up to what others wanted. I need to protect and stick up for that core part of me and connect on a deep level with those that truly love me---and not succumb to the pressures of a world that want me to be a winner while I lose my deepest self.

It's an ongoing battle, and fortunately I have gotten help--and I won't have to please millions of people by sinking a high pressure putt and selling products for large corporations.

I also have no pressure to be a role model for others. But I now believe that each person who awakens to the need to be loving rather than self serving is an integral part of human evolution. Tiger is no different—except that with his presence and fame, if he can transform he can also be a powerful force for the awakening of others.

Hopefully it won't be by taking on another role and pontificating, but rather by becoming a quiet and humble example of how compassion for others and oneself can lead to peace and contentment.



Rick A. said...

Wow, what a gripping and totally honest perspective. It must have been quite a catharsis to write. It was one even to read...

Tom Bunzel said...

Thanks Rick - I appreciate the feedback and yes it was cathartic.