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GOING OUT | SINGLE IN THE CITY

The all-male clan of the Cave bears

March 20, 2003|Maria Elena Fernandez | Times Staff Writer

I hate the Cave, and I'm not talking about the strip club on Hollywood Boulevard. I mean that elusive psychological place that men run to when their emotions get the best of them. Is the Cave just an excuse for cowardice, or is there value in temporary isolation and self-examination?

John Gray, the Mars and Venus guru, swears by the Cave. He says women must understand that men do not process emotions and conflict the way we do, so men usually need to detach themselves in order to work out their issues. Although it goes against our nurturing natures, modern women are learning to respect the sanctity of the Cave. The problem is that too many of us have lost good men to the Cave.

Fortunately, I have not been confronted with the darkness of the Cave in some time, but when a sweet friend recently broke up with his girlfriend and retreated to his cavern, I started wondering if there is a price to all of this self-awareness. In this age of therapy and self-help books, we are all striving to be in touch with ourselves. But modern women still want a man who can be all things: a soulful provider, a protector with heart or, as the man in my life puts it, "a sensitive man who can grunt." But to become emotionally capable, men need to do time in the Cave and, sadly, that search for a higher self often leaves the woman in his life with a broken heart.

A man who believes he has personal issues to work on rarely stays in his relationship, no matter how strongly he may feel about the woman or how understanding the woman is after he emerges from the Cave. Good men reason that they don't have the time or emotion to invest in the relationship because they need to focus on their soul-searching. The problem is that women rarely perceive this as an act of nobility. What is troubling is this notion that we cannot be part of a couple until all of our personal issues are resolved. Isn't there always going to be an issue to explore? Isn't there value in a couple growing together by working together to help make each individual stronger?

Maybe I'm idealistic. I am, after all, the product of a true and lasting partnership. My parents, both in their mid-60s, have been together since they were teenagers. Together, they have weathered my father's political imprisonment in Cuba, exile in a foreign country, the challenges of raising two daughters in a different culture and running a business.

Is my father always capable of communicating his feelings? No. Does he have days when he hides in the garage where he runs his business and doesn't say much? Yes. But a couple of years ago, during a conversation in which he was comparing the men of my generation to the men of his, my father told me, "I don't understand the fear. In life, there are so many real things to be afraid of. But if you love a woman, how can you be scared of sharing your problems with her?"

Those are the thoughts of a man who has loved the same woman for 50 years, a woman who is a master at knowing when her husband is most approachable and when he should be left alone. If only more of us could be so lucky. If only more of us had the chance.

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Maria Elena Fernandez can be contacted by e-mail at maria.elena.fernandez@latimes.com.

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