brucekluger.com

    Psychology Today, March-April 2006

    Talk it Like a Man
    Men know how to fix it, even when what’s busted is a buddy's broken heart.

    By Bruce Kluger


    My friend Walt said “Good riddance.” My brothers
    called her “the harlot.” And most of my other male
    buddies advised me to go out and get laid.

    There’s no bonding quite like the male bonding that
    occurs when your wife runs off with a married man.

    The year was 1989, and my life had come to a
    head-snapping stop one hot summer evening. I’d
    returned home from work to discover a disturbing
    tableau: most of my wife’s belongings were gone
    from our one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan. So
    was the cat.

    Later in the evening, the phone rang.

    “I need some time to think,” my wife said cryptically.

    “When are you coming home?” I asked.

    “I don’t know,” she said, then quickly hung up. Eight distressing days later, I
    received a letter from herpostmark unknownin which she declared her love for
    a married man who frequented the bar she tended in midtown. Six weeks shy of our
    second wedding anniversary, my marriage was over.

    I was in shock, of course, and spent the next several months trying to rebuild my
    life. I started seeing a therapist. I read self-help books. I dove headlong into a
    manic home renovation project, transforming my apartment from a love nest to a
    bachelor pad.

    I also received a lot of smart counsel from women. I shared. I listened carefully. I
    cried.

    And yet as grateful as I was to be escorted through this emotional minefield by my
    intuitive female A-teammy ex-girlfriend Sally, my divorced neighbor Lynne, even
    my Momit was the guys in my life who cut to the chase:

    “Take off for a long as you need to get your shit together,” said Barry, my boss at
    the magazine where I worked, “and come back only when you’re ready. Full
    pay.”        

    “Where do you want to go?” offered another colleague, Michael, the V.P. of
    advertising sales. “Las Vegas? L.A.? Book your flightI’ll put it on my department’s
    dime.”

    Women take care, men take charge is a maxim that has been applied to everything
    from family dynamics to board room politics; and in July of 1989, I instinctively took
    those words to heart, as I found myself gravitating more and more to my male
    friends whenever I felt stuck. Even though their problem-solving strategies were
    clearly not as touchy-feely as those of my female friends, at this moment in my life
    they satisfied a more pressing need in me: to feel like I was back in control. As a
    result, I was grateful, even relieved, that my guys seemed less interested in
    plumbing the back story of my matrimonial mayhem than they were in simply
    propping me up and sending me on my way.

    Untangling the knotty psychological underpinnings of any crisis takes a lot of work.
    But so does sanding a floor. And as often as I could, I called on my boys to help me
    do that kind of heavy lifting. Their company gave me comfort.

    What’s interesting is that men’s notorious fix-it mentality gets a bad rap, at least
    according to the myths espoused in Cosmo articles, which often recommend a kind
    of relationship-microanalysis that would leave even Dr. Phil collapsed in an
    exhausted heap.

    That’s why sometimes the best game plan is to quit rerunning clips from the
    previous season’s play, and just get back out onto the field. Meanwhile, the more I
    came to rely on men to help me recover, the more I discovered a hidden
    brotherhood that reached beyond my circle of friends. Cabbies, waiters, even the
    endless parade of workmen who now traipsed in and out of my apartment, all
    seemed eager to share their own stories, as if we were veterans of the same war. I
    enjoyed the availability and anonymity of this new corps of advisorsand let’s face
    it, commiseration is a wonderful thing.

    “You think you’ve got it bad?” said my Jamaican apartment painter after taking in
    my saga of heartbreak. “Wait’ll you hear what happened to me…” What I’ll never
    forget is that as he recounted a tale of domestic turmoil that made mine sound like
    an episode of The Brady Bunch, his toddler sonthe product of the very same
    busted-up relationship he was describinghappily played among the paint cans on
    my living room floor.

    If this guy can make it through that ordeal with a child in tow, I thought to myself,
    surely I can do the same.

    For the first time since my wife had left me, I felt a glimmer of hope.

    But it was my friend, Dan, who would ultimately drive shotgun with me on the road to
    recovery. By startling coincidence, Dan’s wife had left him high and dry just a few
    weeks after my mine, so we formed what we called our Lonely Hearts Club. Every
    Thursday night we’d meet at an Italian restaurant on the Upper West Side for pasta
    and mutual sob stories. We’d share a few platitudinous insights from our latest
    shrink sessions, processing the past and arm-chair analyzing each other until our
    food arrived. That’s when we’d concentrate on the futurewhether it was our
    ongoing race to see who was going to sleep with a new woman first, or our
    obsessive discussions about the second half of the baseball season.

    Women often remark that sex and sports are classic examples of men’s
    shallowness. But for Dan and me, both topics had one thing in common: They gave
    us something to look forward to. In the end, I suppose, we were tag-teaming against
    a common enemystagnationand in the process letting each other know that we
    weren’t alone.

    Before long, the Lonely Hearts Club grew. Stu and Walt, both of whose marriages
    were in dire jeopardy, joined our regular get-togethers, routinely leaving us all slack-
    jawed with mind-blowing accounts of the abuse they suffered at home. Rarely did
    anyone offer prescriptive advice; rather, we all just listened. For me, the stories
    were a chilling reminder of the power of denial, and how turning a blind eye to the
    warning signs had led to the crash-and-burn of my own marriage.

    But we also laughed a lot, talked about women, and hugged each other when we
    said our goodbyes.

    Then after a few months, the club gradually started to disband. I met a woman. Dan
    moved to California. And Stu and Walt drifted off to begin the slow and sad process
    of ending their own marriages.

    It has been 16 years since the last meeting of the Lonely Hearts Club, and I’m
    happy to report that all four founding members are now marriedthree of us with
    children. And while I can’t say for sure that our respective happy endings are the
    direct result of any profound revelation that came out of our Lonely Heart
    roundtables, I can say that without the divine company of those special Boys of
    Summer, my journey would have been that much lonelier.