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What do men want?

Herb Goldberg revisits how guys approach relationships

by Roberto Loiederman

August 2, 2007 | 8:00 pm

In April 1994, at a Hillel lecture in Westwood, the topic was: "The Relationship Between Jewish Men & Jewish Women: Love or War?" On the "war" side of that discussion was Dr. Herb Goldberg, a practicing psychologist, professor and writer.

Goldberg told the 500 or so people in that hall that he had "worked in therapy with numerous Jewish men ... who had never married. While most of them wanted to have a relationship with a Jewish woman, the relationships many did manage to sustain were often with non-Jewish women, the 'Shiksa Goddess,' or 'Gentile Queen.'"

Goldberg said that the Jewish male gravitated to the 'Shiksa Goddess' because "she rarely, if ever, made him feel guilty, did not pressure him for marriage and was not preoccupied with status. For the Jewish male ... this was a relationship of instant gratification and low stress, compared to his experiences with Jewish women."

Interviewed recently at his home in Mount Washington, Goldberg says that he thought that the Hillel evening was "going to be great, we were going to have a great dialogue."

Instead, it got very quiet.

"What I felt was a hush," Goldberg says. "The reception got very cold. I felt that they [saw] me as very critical of Jewish men and women, what they would call a 'self-hating Jew.'"

Even though his lecture was an attempt to "make sense of the underpinnings of the Jewish male/female relationship," the issues he presented were those he's grappled with all his adult life: Why do men and women -- of any ethnicity or religion -- have so much trouble relating to one another? Why are the results so often toxic and frustrating, ending in rage, bitter divorces and custody battles?

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Herb Goldberg earned his doctorate in psychology at Adelphi University and until his recent retirement was a professor at California State University, Los Angeles. He's written a number of books about what he calls the "gender undertow," the unconscious elements that underlie men's and women's opposite reactions. His books have sold well, gone through many printings and been translated into various languages, including Hebrew.

Goldberg has now returned to his lifelong themes in the recently published, "What Men Still Don't Know About Women, Relationships, and Love" (Barricade Books, 2007).

Over the years Goldberg has developed a vocabulary with which to understand relationships. "Content" is what takes place on the surface -- our actions and words. "Process" is what's really going on underneath. Your process is not perceptible to you because "it's within your defense system, so you don't see it in yourself."

And here's the key point: "If you look at pure process on the masculine and feminine level, men and women have two absolutely different ways of perceiving the world."

To demonstrate the polarized ways that men and women see reality, as well as the contrast between content and process, Goldberg uses the example of the romantic date: "When a couple go on a date, the man is the actor: He makes the phone call, drives the car, chooses the restaurant, pays for dinner, makes the sexual advance ... while the woman simply reacts to the man's actions. If the movie is lousy, if the food is bad at the restaurant ... if the sexual advance is poorly timed -- who's responsible? The man. Because he made all the decisions."

So whatever happens, the man ends up feeling guilty. That is his process. And the woman? Because she makes no decisions and suspends her ego, she feels controlled by the man. She may not acknowledge it, but her unconscious process is that she feels angry.

"The actor/reactor dynamic, which characterizes the majority of romantic, intimate male-female interactions," Goldberg writes, "is as entrenched as ever and is at the heart of the dysfunctional, painful experience of relationships."

In spite of the changes that have taken place over the last 40 years, this dynamic is still in control. On the content level, both men and women have -- for the most part -- become liberated and aware of sexism and of the need for gender equality. So one would think that the experiences between men and women would be good.

"But what actually happens," Goldberg says, "is exactly the opposite."

Goldberg says that the actor/reactor dynamic exists even when -- on the content level -- the roles are reversed. "It doesn't matter if the woman is a CEO and the man is a kindergarten teacher or a poet. It's the how of the relationship, not the what, that creates its deeper dynamic." Which is why one of the stages -- sometimes the "endpoint" -- of many relationships is an "angry, blaming woman and a guilt-ridden, self-hating man."

Is there any way out of this scenario? Goldberg writes that it requires hard work. Most men still see the world as "a competitive jungle," so they have to be willing to overcome their fear that change will lead to "humiliation [and] vulnerability." Since women still see connection and closeness as the path to fulfillment, they need to overcome their fear that change will lead to "a loss of safety [and] security."

"What Men Still Don't Know" also has a lot to say about parenting. Goldberg writes about "mechanical fathers" who, on the content level, are actively involved in their child's life but are seen -- by the child -- as being out of touch; and mothers whose content is selfless devotion but whose process stymies their child's development.

Which brings us back to Goldberg's 1994 Hillel lecture. He told an audience that was already "cold" to him that in many ways the Jewish woman is the psychological clone of the classic Jewish mother: "engulfing, monitoring, guilt-making, blaming, sexless and angry." Is it any wonder that Jewish men "look elsewhere ... for comfort and happiness?"

"It's a very hard topic to talk about without ... stepping on land mines," Goldberg says. "I wish I could do it over again." His wistful reflection seems to have deeper currents than the Hillel event. Goldberg, 70, mentions that he's been married and divorced three times -- once with a Jewish woman.

"I struggle with those things too," he says. "I would have loved to have been in a good loving relationship with a Jewish woman. I would have loved to have accomplished that. I failed at it."

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At the door to his house, Goldberg points out that just down the street lives our mayor, who -- we all know -- has been going through a very public domestic drama.

In "What Men Still Don't Know" there's a section that deals with "masculine addictions" -- the compulsion men have to perform and achieve. For this type of man, writes Goldberg, there's never enough success, power, wealth, control or sexuality.

Such a man -- and there are many -- has a need for intense, fantasy-ridden sexual stimulation "to replace his emotional and personal deadness. Only a manipulative, ego-feeding, sexual novelty rather than a relationship can fill that 'need' and 'turn him on.'"

Goldberg writes that only by working hard to understand and control his masculine addictions, can a man can find pleasure in closeness -- and not just erotic stimulation.

The mayor, of course, is not the only person in the public eye who appears to have masculine addictions. And far from the only politician.

Still, one cannot help but wonder if he might not have benefited from reading his neighbor's book.





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