The American Man – Broken or Spent?

A good man is hard to find?

Ask most single women – especially unattached single mothers – and I think they’ll say yes.

But is the American male broken or bent? Damaged or spent? Are social and professional expectations really so outrageous that Anthony Weiner, Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Edwards, and so many others are representative – or only representative of a particular segment?

Public Figures, Exposed

A writer I read from time to time (and frequently disagree with), Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, explores the broken American male in light of these public figures. His most recent Huffington Post piece is an interesting read, and generates any number of questions.

He says:

Men today are broken. We have created a hyper-competitive society where the worth of a man is judged by one thing and one thing only: his professional success, measured in how much money he has, how much power he wields, and how famous he’s become.

Rabbi Boteach refers to his 2008 book, The Broken American Male, calling for:

conversation about the sky-high levels of male violence, depression, porn-addiction, and infidelity

I haven’t read this book (yet); I’m wondering what insights it might provide, and the conclusions it will draw from statistics on divorce, infidelity, and presumably the Rabbi’s considerable experience in counseling couples. But looking at what might cause the American male to break – or bend – toward the activities Rabbi Boteach cites, I also contemplate the American woman and how she fits into the picture.

Fear, Finances, Women in the Workforce

None of these behaviors occurs in a vacuum, and nor does the Rabbi imply that they do. But how tightly intertwined are they with unrealistic expectations of marriage, onerous economic burdens, (female) investment in education and career, lack of social safety net like universal health care, employment environment issues (inflexibility, insufficient time off), and more? Each of these contributing in varying ways to our sexual and social disarray?

There are those who simplistically blame women in the workforce (and more globally, feminism); I draw my own conclusions concerning the precarious situation of jobs (with benefits), and how all these stresses play into the behaviors of “the average Joe,” but equally, the average Josephine. I also wonder about socioeconomic and demographic factors (this article seems inclined toward the more privileged end of the White spectrum). And I persist in my worry about our pursuit of “presence” and the pop culture position that personal happiness trumps all else.

So are we broken? Bent? Spent?

Frankly, I’m not sure the American male is any more broken than the American female. But I strongly believe that all these factors drive men and women both to a breaking point. Over and over again, with no end in sight.

Dating Demographics, Good Men

I’ve written about some of my dating (mis)adventures, as a divorced woman over 40 and now (dare I admit) over 50. I’ve met some men who are a real piece of work. Okay, make that many men who fall into that category, approaching women as a commodity as these gents wield a startling sense of entitlement.

Let’s just say, online dating proved to be a shock to my system.

Yet in my dating forays I recognize these individuals more quickly now, shrug them off, and then I move on. (Commodity conclusions of my own, or honed antennae?)

I’ve also encountered some inexpressibly wonderful men. Good men. And most of these good men, at one time or another, have engaged in some of the activities that the Rabbi refers to. We are none of us without our peccadilloes, and I myself make no claims to being an angel.

Sex, More Sex, and More

Men and women care about sex. We’re drawn to sex. We’re wired – as sexual creatures, to varying degrees.

Some women ask why men cheat to which other women reply, flippantly, because they can.

But does this mean they’re broken? And if women cheat, are they broken as well?

This is hardly a carefully constructed argument about the state of, well… affairs, when it comes to men and women in relationship, in their own situations of emotional dissatisfaction, in extreme scenarios of abuse of power and position, or random acts that we deem sexually inappropriate.

But in this quick read that I recommend, and my own morning musing here, I daresay the topic is worthy of continued discussion or, as the Rabbi would say – a real conversation.

  • Do these public figures represent the worst of our best?
  • As Rabbi Boteach suggests, is our competitive “success” culture to blame?
  • Are both men and women too exhausted to exercise what some might consider higher moral character?
  • Are these behaviors nothing new – simply magnified by our digital devices that rob us of our privacy – and at times, our common sense?

Image reproduced with permission of the artist, at


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  1. says

    As you correctly infer, “broken males” is not gender specific but characteristic of our broken society and applies equally (in its own way) to females. The secular trinity – sex, money, power – are the false gods of the competitive society that’s been sold to us. Who can get the most, counting by the numbers? I’m all for sex, but not in the way represented by the folks you mention here.

    Live as independently of the system as you can, with good friends and ideally one good partner. Don’t concern yourself with what others think of you beyond those trustworthy friends – listen to them and then act on your own. Good friends will respect your decisions (assuming mental health), without having to agree with you.

  2. says

    I do wonder if our reliance on all things technical has led us a little astray. Do we even value face-to-face discourse any more? Are we capable of giving anything our full attention? As always, you give good food for thought.

  3. says

    Great post. I don’t think it’s a ‘broken male’ type of thing, agree with Paul, it’s not gender specific.

    I do think that a person’s behaviors are often time enabled. You enable by staying, after knowing about previous affairs, addiction, etc… Hanging onto hopes that people will change. But most times, change does not occur; why should they if the enabler is still keeping them around; where’s the motivation?

    As far as public officials, I never really cared what goes on in their bedrooms. Many people in corporate america cheat on their spouses but still go to to work and do a stellar job. I do think these things are magnified and it really should be their business.

    Overall, the solution is to love yourself, and get standards that pertain to values when looking for a mate.

  4. Linda says

    I agree with your other commenters that it’s not necessarily gender specific. When I read the Rabbi’s article, what stood out for me was the apology and honesty portion. For once, I would like to see a public official be honest. I realize that may be a stretch :) But even with my own friends, mistakes happen, and if you are just honest and say what happened then we can deal with whatever it is. I really don’t care what goes on behind these politicians closed doors, but if they are caught, then just fess up and don’t string us along with the perpetual lies. I would respect them more if they did that.

    I think I went on a tangent… but I hope I made some sense!

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Wonderful point, Linda. The Rabbi’s article suggested an apology – not of the “caught with my pants down” variety, but authentic. That would be a change. (And wouldn’t we do better to focus the media spotlight on other issues, rather than the philandering of these powerful men?)

  5. says

    If cheating was widely accepted behavior, would we be talking about all those wacko’s who prefer one significant other as weird and out there? Just free-wheelin’ here before I run to my sax lessons.

  6. says

    Socialization plays such a big role in this. We’re taught (men) and told so many different things. Until you are out of work you don’t realize how hard not being able to support your family is.

    You don’t realize how many conversations are tied into work and how draining it can be when you are on the outskirts of it.

    We are taught to be tough and to hide our emotions but we are also told that you can be tough by sharing them too. The thing is, if you share too much people come after you for it.

    It is a funny thing and not in the laughing kind of way.

    I don’t think that there is any more infidelity now than before. I am not convinced that there is much more of anything now other than information.

    Thanks to the net and technology in general we have a glut of information that is at times overwhelming. There are so many messages being sent out at us.

    Had sort of a funny conversation with a group of parents. A few of the mothers were talking about their boys and dating. They wanted their boys to be respectful of women, yet they also wanted them to be like the alpha males.

    They wanted girls to chase them. They wanted their boys to have to fight them off. It just seemed sort of contradictory and incongruous to hear them talk.

    I am not single, but I hear enough stories from those that are that I still see women responding to men who are somewhat obnoxious in their approach. That is not to say that the nice guy is getting trampled on, but the initial part hasn’t changed.

  7. says

    Making a bloodsport out of the indiscretions of celebrities speaks volumes about our society. It goes to the heart of our decadence, and our jeopardy.

  8. says

    Inappropriate behavior has been around forever. I think you are correct when asking whether they are magnified by our transparent culture. With the introduction of social media, lives have become more open books. It’s also a perfect place for those who have narcissistic tendencies to showcase their exploits and indiscretions. Add the feeding frenzy of the media when these things are discovered and we have a toxic recipe for destroying many lives.

    As for the broken American man, I agree that there are just as many broken American women…for different reasons. And perhaps it’s not limited to America. A few years ago I helped a young male colleague decide between two job opportunities. One was his passion and the other was more prestigious. He was clearly conflicted and finally realized that he (men) calculate worth based on career title. Once he accepted that the title was not worth sacrificing his happiness and sanity, the choice was easy.

  9. sandy says

    So this is it? I find myself married 40 years, in love alone, confused, depressed, and betrayed. Where did he go? When will he ever return, and in what ways is God speaking to his heart? He was a good man, could still be, but can’t reach out, and somehow a lot of his anger, anxiety, affair, down right meanness makes sense to him. I think I could rally and try to make sense of insanity, Alzheimers disease, but in love with someone who is conceited, show-off, ‘free-spirited,’ femmafatale (office hottie,) loose, in it for the validation the chase gives of just about anyone in the office or anywhere else, plays hard to get but not really?

    A maestro in bed for sure, 30 years younger, and directs her acting (liar) so everyone realizes the one in the spot light (her) is what it’s all about. She has this ‘serve me’ attitude: aren’t I amazing, just ask me. that raspy, breathy voice, will draw them all in. Fooled? They want to be. Where did 40 years of bliss go?

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Oh Sandy. I’m so sorry. I hear your rage, your outrage, your pain, your bewilderment. I wish I could do or say something to ease it. Perhaps some of those who read in this little corner of the Internet may offer you their counsel, and at the very least, their understanding.

      I have no answers except to say that many at midlife (the proverbial midlife crisis?) do stupid, foolish things. They may come to regret them or not. And we live in a culture where too many are in it for themselves, have lost their sense of honor, and pursue personal happiness at all cost. The wreckage that may be left behind is immeasurable.

      Are you trying to wait it out? To repair? If so, can you see your way clear to the man as more than this aspect of him, including the 40 years you’ve invested together? How can we help?

  10. Mary says

    I am 57 years old, married for 35 1/2 years. My husband has not had sex with me since 1991. For 6-7 years prior to that we had sex less than 5 times a year. He does not touch me at all. Once after a few drinks he told me his favorite fantasy was of two men. I have since found many papers relating to gay activities and places to meet, as well as web addresses in his history file of gay porn sites, though not lately as he deletes his history every time he leaves the computer. Leaving or cheating had never crossed my mind, as I had 5 children to raise. The first time I was in a bar as an adult, with a female friend, I was hit on. When he touched me, I had literally forgotten what it was like to be touched by a man. Just a simple touch. It opened my eyes. Since then I have met a man with whom I am happily having an affair. Yes it is my choice to cheat, but I feel like I had been abandoned years and years before. I even feel justified. I could have filed for divorce, but I spent the majority of the years raising our children, not gainfully employed. I would not make enough money to support myself, and honestly, I don’t hate my husband for his neglect. Now however, I think I want to move on. My retirement income would be pitifully small. I do not live in a community property state, in fact, I live in the Bible Belt. I risk being judged as the guilty party and could in fact get none of his retirement. I don’t want the house, I don’t want 95% of the furnishings, I do want some support. After 35 years, I feel like I have earned it. But what will the state think? Can anyone help me with some words of wisdom?

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Mary, I am so sorry you have been living through this situation, and for so many years. There are many reasons for sexless marriage, but the reasons aside, it’s painful to endure. After 35 years of marriage and 5 children, not to mention the circumstances you describe, I certainly understand your actions, as I believe many would.

      You are right to raise the issue of the state specifics. I will refer you to someone who may be able to help. I’m so glad you left a comment, and asked for assistance.

  11. Aimee says

    It is horrible that I hear more and more divorces happening with so many years invested. I myself waited, held off and married someone that I had an on and off relationship with for over 13 years- I didn’t say yes right away when he popped the question either still being cautious of the “why now.” He answered me with the all the wonderful things he could have said which wowed me but still cautiously wanted my parents approval. They said it solely was my decision and I thought I really could not see my life without him. Spent a third of my life with this man and always found myself not wanting to be away for too long when we split from what I call “our sometimes alpha personalities.” So we married in 2007, had a gorgeous wedding – planned carefully and it was our own. I lost my job in 09 and went to college full time. His father had dumped their blacktop business on my husbands shoulders in 08 as well – we both started extra stress levels- but to boot.

    His 2 sets of parents kept bugging in – meaning my husband would take off when dealing with things and run to his parents house – they would give him a key to their place basically enabling him. And getting to the worst part I am now dealing with divorce 4 and 1/2 years later where his parents lie about his whereabouts when he has chosen to start a new life with someone new.

    It is hard to feel so helpless and feel so rejected when I am physically fit, pretty, and smart. I just wanted my husband and feel like he could be working on things the same way he is working on his new relationship.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Oh Aimee, I’m so sorry you’re going through this. I wish it were an uncommon story, but it doesn’t seem to be. Even when we’re cautious and really take our time – as obviously you did – there are no guarantees. Then life throws things at us, as you describe, and sometimes we hold up as a couple and sometimes one or both can’t.

      It surely doesn’t help that his parents have their finger in things, but to find yourself where you are is heartbreaking and befuddling, and you may be asking yourself what you could’ve done differently or what you “did” that caused it – and there may be no easy or clear answers.

      It’s terrible to find yourself adrift, knowing your partner in life is unwilling to work on the marriage the way you are. All I can offer you is my understanding and my empathy. I won’t say “time heals all wounds” because in my experience, that isn’t true. But I hope you have friends and family who can comfort you, and I will say that sometimes life tosses a wonderful surprise as suddenly as it does the challenges. Those moments are worth waiting for and knowing they may come.

      If you need anything, there are many wonderful people who stop by here and read and comment and write their own blogs. They know what you’re going through, and how hard it is. You aren’t alone. If we can help, let us know.

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