I love men

… but I can’t help wondering why some of them are such assholes when I read articles like this:

When Dr. Marc Chamberlain, a Seattle oncologist, was treating his brain cancer patients, he noticed an alarming pattern. His male patients were typically receiving much-needed support from their wives. But a number of his female patients were going it alone, ending up separated or divorced after receiving a brain tumor diagnosis.

Dr. Chamberlain, chief of the neuro-oncology division at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, had heard similar stories from his colleagues. To find out if these observations were based in fact, he embarked on a study with Dr. Michael J. Glantz of the University of Utah Huntsman Cancer Institute and colleagues from three other institutions who began to collect data on 515 patients who received diagnoses of brain tumors or multiple sclerosis from 2001 through 2006.

The results were surprising. Women in the study who were told they had a serious illness were seven times as likely to become separated or divorced as men with similar health problems, according to the report published in the journal Cancer.

When I was diagnosed with cancer 10 years ago, my partner at the time couldn’t have been stronger or more supportive.   He (and my family, of course)  gave me the strength to zoom through an unexpected and hideous situation with a sunshiny-positive attitude.

However, as my treatment came to an end and it became apparent that the future looked bright (as in, I’d have one), my partner, who hadn’t even thought about such things for years before we even met, totally fell apart and went on an extended drug binge that led to our breakup.   What the fuck? I wondered at the time.  How can someone go from being the proverbial Rock and Tower of Strength to a pitiful puddle of insipid drug-addled decrepitude and weakness?   What confused me most of all was that he knew me well enough to know his behaviour was slam-dunk grounds for breakup.

Whatever prompted my ex to spiral into self-destructiveness during my illness is probably similar to whatever it is that motivates guys to bail on their sick wives.  Maybe the pressure of being strong in the caregiver role is more than they can hack because they’re so accustomed to being cared for themselves.

(h/t balloon juice)

20 Responses to “I love men”

  1. 1 Daniel Thursday, November 12, 2009 at 2:40 pm

    Maybe if you would have stuck by him during his problem just like he stuck by you during your time of cancer you would have a better opinion of men.

  2. 2 JJ Thursday, November 12, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    Daniel – It’s a bad idea to mouth off without knowing the whole story. The key words are “led to” — you don’t know how many chances I gave him, do you now?

    And my opinion of men in general is just fine: this post is only about the ones who are assholes. I’m not sure why you’d think that means *all* of them…

  3. 3 deBeauxOs Thursday, November 12, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    Wow! Daniel, are you a smug, gynophobic, reading-comprehension-challenged prick in real life or do you just play one on the internet?

  4. 4 fern hill Thursday, November 12, 2009 at 6:17 pm

    Wow. Again. My sweetie (male, with pretty serious health problems himself) was very disturbed by this. Very. Surprisingly very.

    Me? No so much. John McCain. Newt Gingrich.

    Stay healthy, sisters.

  5. 5 MariaS Thursday, November 12, 2009 at 7:22 pm

    jj –
    Maybe the pressure of being strong in the caregiver role is more “than they can hack because they’re so accustomed to being cared for themselves.”

    “Right” you are lefty one!!


  6. 6 JJ Thursday, November 12, 2009 at 7:59 pm

    Maria – Care to enlarge upon that point? Because I don’t get what you’re trying to say, hon. Sorry.

  7. 7 JJ Thursday, November 12, 2009 at 8:01 pm

    deBeauxOs – Meh, he’s probably too young to get it. Everything is so simple when you haven’t been around the block yet.

  8. 8 JJ Thursday, November 12, 2009 at 8:08 pm

    fern hill – That’s a good sign, that he was disturbed 😉 Any good guy would be.

    At Balloon Juice, John Cole, who was also very disturbed by the story, called it “the Gingrich Effect”.

    It’s weird, I always thought it was my ex and his own personal problems, I never even thought that it might be a guy thing — or rather, a “certain type of guy” thing. The emotionally needy ones maybe find it hard to deal with their partners being stricken ill, and feel uncomfortable in the role reversal.

  9. 9 Cornelius T.Zen Thursday, November 12, 2009 at 9:10 pm

    Good morrow, JJ!
    Yes, it is a guy thing. Follow, if you will:
    You are called upon to assume a heroic role. You build yourself up to assume that role. You display incredible strength, courage and patience. Everybody tells you how much they admire your strength, your courage, your patience. You begin to believe that you are, indeed, everything they say you are.
    Suddenly, all that strength, all that courage, all that patience is no longer needed. The crisis has passed. The damsel is rescued. The dragon is slain. There is no longer any need for the hero.
    That’s when you realize that you are not a real hero, because a real hero doesn’t do it for the adulation, the admiration, the glory. The real hero does it because it must be done, and only the hero can do it. Thst’s what riding off into the sunset is for. That’s when you leave the silver bullet, bellow, “Hi, Yo, Silver! Away!” and gallop off madly in all directions.
    Only, you’re not Superman, you’re not the Lone Ranger, you’re only the other person. It’s over, and everything you did is soon forgotten. Major downer, kids.
    That’s when a real hero understands that he or she is always needed, because you never know when another crisis wil arise, when another dragon will present itself. The real hero is always there, always ready, always willing, always able.
    Your partner no longer felt needed, and what he saw in the mirror wasn’t dressed in primary color Spandex or didn’t wear a mysterious mask. Not your fault, not his fault. He simply did not undertand what it takes to be a real hero.
    It is a guy thing – and we guys never seem to learn – CTZen

  10. 10 JJ Thursday, November 12, 2009 at 11:19 pm

    CTZen – As always, you make a lot of sense.

    Your analysis makes even more sense wrt my personal situation because I was always extremely independent and self-reliant, never needed help for anything, and getting sick sort of changed all that, albeit temporarily. It was right around the time I started thinking about going back to work (while still in mid-treatment) that my partner went sideways.


    I also wonder if some guys freak out because they feel helpless to stop the illness that’s happening to their loved one. Men are kind of told they’re supposed to be able to do anything, save the day etc., and usually this can be accomplished by changing a tire or fixing a toilet that won’t flush. But not with illness.

  11. 11 Torontonian Friday, November 13, 2009 at 12:45 am

    CTZen makes a very telling point and I was going to say something earlier about the same thing happening to Olympic athletes after the games. Everything the person sacrificed
    is over in less than a minute and there is a large empty
    future ahead for most of them. After it’s all over, what do you do for an encore?

    The same can be said of any pro athletes. I’m sure any players’ association will be able to supply stories like what you’ve experienced.

    I’ve seen it happen to professional musicians.

    It happens in every field of endeavour where a great outpouring of specialised skill is needed.

  12. 12 deBeauxOs Friday, November 13, 2009 at 4:45 am

    JJ, it seems as though MariaS agrees with the conclusion of your post although it’s hard to know for sure because of her convoluted writing style.

  13. 13 MariaS Friday, November 13, 2009 at 8:09 am

    Hi JJ – I was agreeing with your last sentence.
    In my opinion, I think most men like to feel superior to women even if they go about denying it until they are blue in the face. There are very few men who are “feminists” if you know what I mean. These men are so confident of their own masculinity that they will let their women be as strong and dominant as they want to be – in fact they will encourage the woman to “go out there and conquer them”. Lucky the women who got themselves such guys.
    By showing your neediness during your illness, to your guy, you let him feel superior to you. They love to be needed and they love to think that they are better than a woman not only in the brawns dept but in the brains arena too. Most men don’t go for brainy women. They prefer the dumbest and the neediest of females. Your intelligence was mitigiated by your neediness when you were ill … so that made him feel superior and in control. Once you recovered and got back to that independent spirit… “goodbye JJ”. You think wrongly that you were the one to initiate the break-up – think again.
    Have a nice weekend and better luck next time.

    And oh, BTW, killing fetuses is wrong, wrong, wrong. If no protection, than better to keep one’s legs together, much better.
    Ultimately, it is the woman’s choice, but a wrong choice if she opts to abort.
    Sorry, had to put that in…. heh heh
    I love to disagree, most of the time.

  14. 14 JJ Friday, November 13, 2009 at 10:04 am

    Hi Maria – A little later it occurred to me that you might have been agreeing, but I know you love to disagree 😉 so I thought I’d wait for clarification.

    Your analysis is on the money, I’d say. People sometimes get what they want by initiating the other person to react, no doubt. My situation is a little more complex though — for whatever reason, he insisted he didn’t want to break up, but then would slide back into the unacceptable behaviour. So who knows? He might have been conflicted himself about what he really wanted. People who use drugs rarely have their heads screwed on all that well.

    You bring up an interesting point about what men find attractive in women, as far as intelligence, independence etc. Most guys will say they like these qualities in a woman. But then some of them (and only *some*, I wouldn’t say this is *all* men by any stretch) will immediately try to get rid of those qualities once they get into a relationship with that intelligent, independent person. But I don’t think this is a problem with men who are self confident (I just always seem to hook up with the ones who aren’t).

    Re abortion — I respect your right to hold the opinion that it’s the wrong choice, since you seem to agree that in the end, it is always the woman’s choice to make, not the state’s, not the church’s, not other people’s.

    Thanks for commenting 🙂

  15. 15 balbulican Friday, November 13, 2009 at 10:26 am

    It’s hard to draw big, broad conclusions about 50% of the population based on a sample of two, and most of the comments above carefully (and appropriately) qualify their theorizing about what happened in your case.

    Another possibility that doesn’t require a big Mars/Venus generalization is one I’ve gone through from both directions.

    Two partners, making the kind the of emotional accommodations and compromises over the long term that real people make in order to stay together. Happy enough most of the time, compatible enough to stay together, problems worked around rather than dealt with.

    Then a sudden crisis occurs, requiring extraordinary support from one partner to another. Because love is there you simply do what you need to do to support – your partner needs you now. There’s no question. Their need summons up all the love and compassion and patience you can deliver.

    But when the crisis subsides the landscape has changed. There is no old “normal” to go back to. Suddenly the cracks are there – some old, some new. Sometimes you can find your way to something new, sometimes even something better, between you – sometimes you can’t.

    An out of shape runner can manage a kilometer. It’s when they stop, when the surge of adrenaline subsides, that they feel the aches and pains.

  16. 16 JJ Friday, November 13, 2009 at 2:04 pm


    It happens in every field of endeavour where a great outpouring of specialised skill is needed.

    Actually, that’s a really good point.

    I experienced something like that after I ran my first half-marathon — it was the first distance I’d ever run that required an extended period of intense training, and a major time commitment to do so.

    Immediately after the race, I fell into a mild depression. Nothing serious, I just felt vaguely directionless and disoriented (even though the rest of my life proceeded as usual). After all the intensity of working towards a goal, there’s definitely a let-down period once that goal is achieved. Could be the same thing with dealing with someone’s illness.

  17. 17 JJ Friday, November 13, 2009 at 2:28 pm


    But when the crisis subsides the landscape has changed. There is no old “normal” to go back to.

    Great point.

    Once there’s been a crisis, no matter how well it might have worked out in the end, things can never be the same again. Maybe because under pressure people show sides of themselves that aren’t normally apparent. For some people that’s okay, but I can see how others might resent that things are “different now”, and they might think it’s because the relationship is going south.

    No doubt, things are different in a crisis, people are different. If someone is the type who likes things “the way they are” and doesn’t adjust well to change, they might be the type who can’t or won’t deal with changes in their partner (or themselves).

    Like Warren Zevon said, “You’re a whole different person when you’re scared”.

  18. 18 Torontonian Friday, November 13, 2009 at 2:29 pm

    “. . .Nothing serious, I just felt vaguely directionless and disoriented. . . . ”
    I remember several years ago when I volunteered in overnight shelters for the homess that I’d have a sense of “I should be doing . . .” in the weekdays after the seasonal closing down of the shelter.

    It’s a bit like bereavement or an emptiness in the daily calendar. A prior pattern had established itself that one
    can persist in thinking about it after its occurrence. Usually it would go away after the second week.

    There’s a film and I don’t know its name but it relates the
    story of a person who experiences a horrific accident and he
    begins to relate more to the recovery of the others affected in the accident and less to his own family. In other words,
    estrangement sets in. It is not the film Unbreakable;it’s another.

  19. 19 Jasper Friday, November 13, 2009 at 3:40 pm

    I glad you doing better JJ. That’s great.

  20. 20 Dennis Earl Wednesday, December 16, 2009 at 4:55 pm


    You’re thinking of Fearless. Wonderful film.

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