There is an aphorism making the rounds on the Internet which goes like this:
The biggest coward is the man who awakens a woman’s love with no intention of loving her
Now, this quote is from Bob Marley who wasn’t exactly a one-man woman. In fact, he was your classic male sexual predator. He had 11 acknowledged children (10 biological, 1 adopted) with seven different mothers. That’s seven different mothers each of whom, if we can believe what he said, had their love awakened by him before he went tomcatting on to the next. So, he is not exactly a credible source.
In fact, his statement is disingenuous to say the least. Men are born sexual predators, and they have a biological urge to copulate and spread their seed as widely as possible. In most countries women have been significant countervailing forces; and their concerns for stability, hearth and home, and an economically productive mate have reined in men’s worst libertine behavior. In many other countries and certain American communities, men are far more promiscuous. The moral, family values of society, church, and community which have been foundational and persistent throughout the history of most cultures have less of a hold, and sexual mores are far more lenient.
This latter paradigm – the sexually predatory, promiscuous male – has been and still is men’s bio-genetic imperative for millennia. Most men, as much as they may sniff at dysfunctional communities where absent fatherhood is the rule, wish that they had been born into such a permissive culture.
Men think about sex all day every day. They look at women, fantasize about women, dream about women, and chase women. No amount of pastoral teaching, Biblical hammering, feminist vitriol, or moral injunction does any good.
Father Murphy was big on sex, and every Sunday he launched into a fiery sermon about sexual profligacy. Wayward men were vipers, insinuating themselves between the sheets of innocent young women, promising them like the Devil himself a new world of sexual delight and emotional freedom. Here he recited passages from Genesis, twisting God’s words only a bit and blaming men for women’s downfall; but he soon regained his footing and started in on treacherous, deceitful women who enticed goodly men and precipitated their fall from grace.
Father Murphy was such a powerful sermonizer that all of us children quaked in our boots, sure that we were headed for eternal hellfire, perdition, and the loss of the sight of God. As soon as we stepped out of church, however, the dirty thoughts which we confessed every Saturday in confession, returned. Nancy Bolton’s sweet, full breasts. Susan Farmer’s round and inviting ass. Even with no sexual experience, hard-ons came in seconds. A whiff of perfume or a glimpse down a classmate’s sleeveless blouse was enough to send the hormones racing through our blood. We wanted to fuck Nancy, Susan, Molly, Lisa, Jane, and every other pubescent, alluring, and irresistible girl in the 8th grade even if we didn’t know what fucking was.
In other words, we couldn’t help it. A cavalry of Father Murphys riding like the Horsemen of the Apocalypse couldn’t stop our randy thoughts.
The nuns with their black robes, clackers, and rosary beads – the most undesirable women in the world – couldn’t shake any sense into us.
Many observers have commented on the sexual reticence of the Fifties, a time of moral probity, the nuclear family, and the faithful husband. Sexual profligacy was at a low ebb, they said, and the unwritten rule of Kinder, Küche, Kirche kept women tethered and men faithful to them. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Savvy men knew that legions of women stranded in loveless marriages, tied to house and home were easy pickins; and back doors were left open every afternoon of the year.
The Sixties took the lid off of sexual constraints and both men and women could sleep with whomever they wanted whenever they wanted as often as they wanted. As those of us who matured in those years, sexual libertinage wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. “Too much ice cream”, said a friend of mine. The excitement of the chase, cheating, and prowling were set aside in favor of “Love the one you’re with”. He was happy when that period of licentiousness finished and he went back to the age-old traditions of love, marriage, cheating, and divorce.
Men cheat. All men cheat. All men cheat all the time. It is a hormone-driven axiom. There is a scene in the Cher movie Moonstruck where a late middle-aged Olivia Dukakis, frustrated with her wayward husband, asks her daughter’s fiancé the question:
Rose: Why do men chase women?
Johnny: Well, there's a Bible story... God... God took a rib from Adam and made Eve. Now maybe men chase women to get the rib back. When God took the rib, he left a big hole there, where there used to be something. And the women have that. Now maybe, just maybe, a man isn't complete as a man without a woman.
Rose: [frustrated] But why would a man need more than one woman?
Johnny: I don't know. Maybe because he fears death.
[Rose looks up, eyes wide, suspicions confirmed]
Rose: That's it! That's the reason!
Johnny: I don't know...
Rose: No! That's it! Thank you! Thank you for answering my question!
Women are always looking for the answer and have never found it. The Olympia Dukakis character feels she has had an epiphany and ignores the fact that the ‘answer’ has come from her clueless, sexless future son-in-law. It is a pop-psych answer, one among many, none of which have any relevance to the real reason men are such sexual predators – Y chromosomes, hormones, and millennia of social habit.
However Johnny Cammareri was right in one respect. Older men chase women to chase away death. Antony made a fool of himself out of an insane love for Cleopatra. Coleman Silk, in Phillip Roth’s The Human Stain says about his love for a much younger woman, “Granted, she's not my first love. Granted, she's not my great love. But she is sure as hell my last love. Doesn't that count for something?”
Older men know that love with a younger woman is restorative, rejuvenating, life-affirming, and joyful. A close married friend of mine was deeply involved with a woman thirty years his junior. He was besotted and the happiest I had ever seen him. He couldn’t believe his good fortune. He loved his wife of 35 years, but this was something different, he said. “It was like a gift under the tree on Christmas morning”, he said. Unexpected, perfect, and right.
I told him, like Nathan Zuckerman, Silk’s friend in the Roth book, that the relationship would never last. The age difference not to mention the social, intellectual, and emotional ones, was too great. It didn’t matter, my friend replied. “No matter what happens, I will always remember this as the happiest period in my life”.
In the Woody Allen movie, Husbands and Wives, the married Sydney Pollack character falls for a much younger woman. She is a ditz, but he is so taken with her youthful beauty and exuberance that he overlooks everything. Eventually, of course, he realizes the error of his ways – not that he was wrong to cheat on his wife, but that he was blinded by hormonal and existential imperatives to fall for a dummy.
In another Woody Allen movie, You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, Hopkins reprises his earlier role when his character – an older, sophisticated man – falls for a young woman. He is so enamored and sexually enthralled by her that he overlooks that she is a prostitute.
Allen himself has a recorded history of falling for young women, and these films are unmistakably autobiographical, at least in part. He knows that older men will always fall for younger women in their attempts to recapture their own youth and to keep the Grim Reaper at bay.
Romantic love is of course a relatively new concept, dating back according to most scholars to the poet Petrarch (b.1304) and his sonnets to ‘Laura’. Knights in shining armor, princesses in the tower, love and unrequited love, chivalry and valor dedicated to love were expressions of the courts of the Middle Ages. The serfs, of course, labored away in loveless marriages determined by economics; and the idea of romance never occurred to them as they struggled to make ends meet.
Shakespeare two centuries later wrote a lot about romantic love, but he clearly was no fan of the institution. One critic wondered what would happen to the ‘happy couples’ in the Comedies after the final wedding scene of the plays. “Most likely they would end up in divorce, or whatever ingenious way out Elizabethans could think up”. He was right because the couples in the Comedies were almost always mismatched. The women ran rings around the clueless men but settled for them because of status, wealth, and security.
Women were not given a completely free ride by Shakespeare. There is plenty of misogyny in plays like Cymbeline where Posthumus launches a diatribe not only against his betrothed whom he suspects of infidelity, but all women. Othello who has murdered Desdemona, caught, and brought to trial, tells the judge that he should be happy that he, Othello, has rid the world of a faithless, deceptive woman. In other words, Shakespeare knew as well as anyone that men tomcat, and women let them in the back door.
So Bob Marley’s comment that men are cowards for loving ‘em and leaving ‘em is whistlin’ Dixie. Only the most confident men will come right out and say that they are married, that the affair is temporary, and that they will return to their wives. Most others will leave their wedding rings in the glove compartment, hem and haw when their paramours ask about ‘family’, and invent cockamamie stories to hide their uxorious past.
Confident men know that honesty is merely a challenge for women. Many women who find their married lovers irresistible or even the men of their dreams will never give up trying to get them to leave their wives. The sexual battlefield is littered with the bodies of women who have tried and failed.
‘Coward’ is far too strong a word to describe men who try to get women into bed under any pretense. Dishonest? Sure. Deceitful? Definitely. A man who cheats on his wife and lies to his lover has a lot to answer for. If it’s any consolation, these men ultimately lose both ways. Their liberated, independent wives give them the buzz off, Charlie; and their impatient, credulous lovers finally wise up and leave them on the curb.
Yet men being what they are, guys who have been kicked out will get right back up and chase the first skirt they see. While they may at first drown their sorrows with Wild Turkey and a chaser at O’Reilly’s, such self-pity will never last long. Any woman who gives them a second look will be enough to get the juices flowing again.
Now, does that answer the question?