Chapter Six: Men Are Like Rubber Bands

Posted: August 11, 2011 in Chapter Six: Men Are Like Rubber Bands

A scene from John Gray’s 1996 infomercial. Women and men, who have been identified as viewers of Gray’s “first series,” are listening to Gray speak. They seem to be listening intently. Gray focuses on a blond actress and thus we witness the following:

Gray: “What moved you to order the tapes?”
Actress: “Well, I had been married for thirteen years and I ended up in a divorce. And, believe it or not, we went to five therapists before we finally came to that conclusion. (She bites her lip.) It, by far, was the most traumatic event in my whole life. (Voice cracks.) And so I promised myself that I would never let that happen again. (Voice more strained, bites lip.) So I saw your tapes and I had to have them. (Voice cracking, emotional.) And it’s changed my life because my relationships now . . . I truly know how to communicate. (Holding back tears.) I really appreciate it.”
Gray: “That’s such a special share, that I just want to come over closer, if that’s okay. (He walks over to her, she smiles.) Just want to sit here . . . (He sits next to her and, looking down at her, places his left hand on her right shoulder and begins rubbing his hand in a circular pattern over her shoulder.) I just want to thank you for sharing that and would you share with me what made the difference when you’re listening to the tapes? Did you feel a sense that ‘I’m okay’ for what then . . . (She wipes away tears.)
Actress: “It was the understanding that I don’t need to be fixed.”
Gray: “Right.”
Actress: “I can be a whole woman without some man telling me that I need to change.” (Gray nods. Cut to Gray hawking his tapes.)

Whoa! I don’t know what tapes they were talking about, but they sure don’t sound like the ones based on Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus (which, by the way, is the name of the tape series)!

In this book, Introduction and Chapter One is all about women being passive receivers and men active givers. Chapter Two tells women that offering “unsolicited advice” to a man is the “ultimate insult.” (20) Indeed, keeping quiet and not offering a solution is “warm acceptance and trust” on her part. It is a “very special opportunity to love and support” her partner. (20) Chapter Three introduces the “cave”–a special place where men retreat to solve their problems. When men go to this place, women need to know that “this [is] not the time to have intimate conversations but a time to talk about problems with their friends or go shopping.” (40) Chapter Four tells women that men need to “feel appreciated, trusted and accepted.” (46) That when men are motivated to give, then they will give their best to their partners. Gray also tells women that “instead of blaming a man for giving less, a woman can accept her partner’s imperfections, especially when he disappoints her, trust that he wants to give more when he doesn’t offer his support, and [encourage] him to give more by appreciating what he does give.” (49) And, in Chapter Five, we learn how a woman can express her feelings without making her partner “feel attacked, accused, or blamed.” (88) That is, a woman should offer him “loving acceptance (i.e., say nothing), ask him to rephrase any concerns with which she may have a need to discuss with him, reassure him that he is not being blamed for comments uttered in frustration, and, most importantly, what a woman says is never what she actually means. We also learn how men could be supportive to their partners: When feeling a need to retreat into the cave, they should always say, “I’ll be back.”

No, no! Women don’t have to change at all–just adopt an attitude of passive resignation. What he’s giving is all he’s got to give. If he’s not giving more, then you’re not trying hard enough to love and support and accept him. Hmm, does Gray ever outright ask a woman to change? Yes, I think he does.

Fascinated by his cave metaphor, John Gray uses Chapter Six to expound on why men retreat into their caves and, naturally, how women can make life easier for them by learning to understand why men need to have some time alone. The reason, we are told, is because men are like rubber bands.

“A rubber band is the perfect metaphor to understand the male intimacy cycle,” writes Gray. “Men instinctively feel this urge to pull away. It is not a decision or choice. It just happens . . . It is a natural cycle.” (92) As men experience this instinctive urge to “fulfill [their] need for independence or autonomy,” they pull away much like a rubber band that is stretched to its limit. (93) Like the rubber band, a man has nowhere else to go but back. When he has done so, like the rubber band, “he will return with a lot of power and spring.” (94) If a woman expects her partner to be close and intimate all of the time, the rubber band will turn limp and flaccid. His “power and strength,” like the rubber band, is gone. Simply put, if a woman quietly accepts her partner’s instinctive urge to pull away, she will be rewarded by his eventual return.

However, please indulge me for a moment while I examine this rubber band metaphor in a bit more detail. Now, according to Gray, a man satisfies his instinctual need for autonomy by stretching away from his partner. His need for independence satisfied, he springs back to her. (94) However, further along in a drama starring Jeff and Maggie, we’re told that as their relationship blossomed, “Jeff was strong and full of desire. His rubber band was fully stretched.” (95) When Jeff felt himself becoming limp from intimacy, he felt a need to pull away. So, I ask you, how does this metaphor work, exactly?


A man stretches away when he needs autonomy. Yet, Jeff was “fully stretched” at the height of his desire for Maggie. When he was getting limp from too much intimacy, it is then that he felt a need to pull away. But Gray just said that when he pulled away he was at the height of his desire and felt limp. But then, if he’s limp, how can he be fully stretched? (92) I don’t know, it’s just a thought, but perhaps “Dr.” Gray might want to make sure the metaphor actually works before he uses it. But I digress . . .


Ultimately, however, we learn that whether he is stretched or limp, Maggie’s first reaction is one of fear. Panicking at the thought she may have “done something wrong” or terrified that “he will never come back,” Maggie runs after Jeff. But Maggie doesn’t realize that this is “just part of his intimacy cycle.” (96) Indeed, once Maggie learned that this was instinctual or natural behavior for a man, “her trust in this process grew [and] she just accepted him at those times, [knowing] the sooner he would return.” (97) Indeed, keen on this biological interpretation, Gray again tells us that a man cannot help doing this. “Just as we do not decide to be hungry,” writes “Dr.” Gray, “a man does not decide to pull away. It is an instinctual urge.” (98)

How interesting, then, that this instinctual behavior is often caused by the woman herself. Usually “because something she says or does often triggers his departure.” (98) Well, this is very convenient, isn’t it? The man is not responsible for pulling away, because it is an “instinctual urge.” (98) And he does nothing to spur this exile because the woman “often triggers” his instinctual need for autonomy. (98) Further along, Gray informs us that at another time in this natural cycle, it is not so much what a woman says “but when she says it.” (99) As I see it, a woman in Gray’s universe is damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t. The bottom line that she has no choice but to accept this instinctual behavior–behavior that she has prompted by either what she has said or when she has said it.

Put on your slippers, ladies, you’re about to take a walk on the proverbial eggshell carpet.

Gray’s advice for the instinctual behavior that she has just triggered, is to “let him pull away. After some time, he will return.” (99) But just how long is “some time?” An hour? A day? A week? A month? A year? Regardless of the time line, a man’s return is a woman’s reward for her patience. This is the time that she should talk to him. However, she should not demand that he talk, but should just begin sharing her thoughts and feelings with him. Gray assures us that “as she appreciates him for listening, gradually he will have more to say.” (100)

So which is it? Does a woman keep quiet, or does she talk? If she talks, he pulls away because she is talking about feelings. But then, she doesn’t know what part of the intimacy cycle he’s in, so does she risk talking and possibly spark another need for instinctual departure, or should she be quiet and take the chance of hurting his feelings because she’s not saying anything and, therefore, provoke another departure. Through all of this, of course, the man is doing nothing but stretching away and springing back–which he cannot control because this is instinctual. The woman, on the other hand, reacts and interacts at her own pleasure–or peril.

Should a man be uncommunicative, either before or after his retreat into Autonomyland, Gray informs us that you can not reject a man for not talking. A man has to “feel accepted just the way he is . . . He does not feel accepted when she wants him to talk more or resents him for pulling away.” (100) This is the same lesson from Chapter Four: you’ll get what I give you. It is her fault if he pulls away because she likely triggered it (even thought it is instinctual), but it’s part of his natural cycle; meaning that she has nothing whatsoever to do with his return only his retreat. Indeed, Gray stresses that “in the beginning, she should even discourage him from talking.” (100) But what if he wants to talk? If she discourages him from talking, she may cause him to pull away yet again!

He just “is.” She must both “act” and “not act.” Either way, she’s between the proverbial rock and a hard place, because, in the final analysis, he is the one who decides whether or not he is being “accepted just the way he is.” (100) However, if you, as a woman, still fell stymied by this curious scenario, then Gray offers a scholarly and well-researched explanation: “[you are] forgetting that men are from Mars!” (104)

Lisa and Jim are introduced as a couple who feel guilty if they indulge their own selfish pleasures without sharing them with one another. Lisa feels guilty without inviting Jim to participate in something with her. Jim feels guilty if he leaves Lisa. But after Gray’s magical insight, Lisa “released her resentment toward Jim. She realized that she been expecting too much from him . . . [and] how she was contributing to their problem.” (106) Lisa had come to the realization that Jim just naturally needed time to be by himself! Once she had accepted him “just the way he [was],” she realized that she was “not only preventing him from pulling away and then springing back but her dependent attitude was smothering him.” (106)

Consider again Gray’s assessment of the situation: Lisa finally “realized . . . how she was contributing to their problem.” (106. Enhancement mine.) Oh, I see, Jim’s likewise co-dependent behavior was not a contributing factor because he is driven by instinct–much as a female praying mantis bites off the head of her mate. Coupled with Lisa’s “smothering” and “dependent” behavior, he couldn’t help but be caught in her emotional web. He is completely absolved of his emotional behavior. After all, he is just responding to her. She is obstructing his natural cycle. Hmmm, it doesn’t sound like Jim is on the higher end of the food chain, does it? He is helpless. Driven by instinct–and, let us not forget, the actions of his female partner–he becomes limp and unresponsive. When Lisa changed her “dependent” and “smothering” behavior, however, Jim began to respond to her changes. He had determined that he was being fully accepted for just the way he was. As I read it, if he didn’t respond, then she would have failed. (Actually, the behavior being exhibited by both Jim and Lisa sounds rather co-dependent, if you ask me. But I suppose since this term has been snatched up by a myriad of twelve-step programs and authors, Gray probably didn’t see the practicality–i.e., money-making potential–in a phrase of this sort.)

Women routinely obstruct the natural cycle of intimacy for men by exhibiting what Gray terms “chasing” and “punishing” behaviors. If she chases, by either physically pursuing him or emotionally smothering him, he will pull away. He feels “controlled.” (107) She may try to pull him back by trying to please him. “She becomes overly accommodating. She tries to be perfect so he would never have any reason to pull away. She gives up her sense of self and tries to become what she thinks he wants. She is afraid to rock the boat for fear that he might pull away, and so she withholds her true feelings and avoids doing anything that may upset him.” (107-108) But isn’t this what Gray has been tacitly advocating all along?

Just as the “perfect metaphor” didn’t work, neither does Gray’s so-called analysis. Gray just told us that what she says, as well as when she says it, will often trigger a man to pull away. She should encourage, but not demand, that he talk. She should discourage him from talking. She should accept the way he is. When he feels accepted, then he will respond. If he has not responded, then she isn’t doing her job. But, then, what exactly is her job? Damned if she does. Damned if she doesn’t.

For the first time in his book, Gray breaks from his paradigm of female passivity and assigns women real power. Yes, real power. However, the power that she has is altogether negative! Consider that the first time a woman is “active” is Gray’s universe, she is “chasing” her man. In the next, and most revealing, scenario, she “punishes” her man for obeying his instinctual urge.

When he returns from his self-imposed (excuse me, instinctually driven) emotional exile, she “pushes away his physical affection . . . She may hit him or break things in order to show her displeasure.” (108) This makes a man afraid. If he is afraid, he may never “come back” again. She may punish him emotionally by forgiving him “for neglecting her.” (108) As a result, Gray argues that “he feels incapable of fulfilling her and gives up.” (108) Further, she may mentally punish him by refusing to “open up and share her feelings . . . by not giving him a chance to listen and be the ‘good’ guy.” (109) He returns only to find himself “in the doghouse.” (108-109)

This punishment by a woman is wholly unwarranted, because he has only pulled away because it was biologically unavoidable! As a result of her sordid punishments, however, “he may become afraid to reach out for her love again because he feels unworthy, he assumes he will be rejected. This fear of rejection,” warns Gray, “prevents him from coming back from his journey into the cave.” (109) It seems that when a women does exhibit her true feelings, she runs the risk of turning him away and forever alienating him. He is not expected to change his behavior. He can’t. You cannot punish a man, or expect him to modify his behavior, because he is following his instinct.

If, however, a man does attempt to control this instinctual behavior, he is cornered into making excuses or “unconsciously [creating] arguments to justify pulling away. This kind of man naturally develops more of his feminine side but at the expense of suppressing some of his masculine power . . . Without knowing what has happened he loses his desire, power, and passion; he becomes passive or overly dependent.” (109) Hmm, you mean he’s becoming more like a woman, “Dr.” Gray? After all, this is the way women have been characterized in this book from the very beginning. In this chapter, Gray characterized women as “smothering” and “dependent.” Earlier chapters established passive behaviors, the familiar muted acceptance and, in some very memorable interviews, passionless ambivalence, as inherent female behavior.

Once again, it seems to be men who have all of the control, and women have to do all of the necessary changing in order to accept and accommodate the instinctual behavior of her partner.

“The wise woman learns not to demand . . . she trusts . . . she does not punish . . . she does not chase . . . she understands . . . she patiently and lovingly persists with a knowing that few women have.” (111) Although men are told that when they are “not needing to pull away, the wise man takes the time to initiate conversation by asking his female partner how she is feeling.” (110) Gee, that’s really nice. And then the women, happy that her man is “back,” begins to talk about her day, things she likes, maybe some things she’d like to do with him. But then instinct calls. He feels “the call” and says to her, “I need some time to think about this and then we can talk again.” (110) You see, he is ruled by instinct and though this sounds harsh to the common sense-thinking-responsible-adult, a man learns through reading this chapter that all he has to do is reassure his partner that “when he pulls away he will be back.” (110) He is released from all adult responsibility and adult consideration of another human being because he is following instinct.

Do women have any humanity in Gray’s universe? Do they deserve any type of consideration for their being? How is it that women are expected to be so accepting? If a woman, according to Gray, “punishes” her man by withholding physical affection, could it be that the woman has been wounded by her partner? Ignored and cast aside because instinct tells him that it’s time to hang with his buds, flick the remote control, or brood over the lawn mower? But she is not permitted to express how she feels. No. That would not be accepting. That might not be motivating. And it certainly wouldn’t be trusting. Women must trust that when men are off on their own that they’d really rather be with their partner, but instinct won’t let them.

So, when he “returns,” she’s wounded. She’s been truly hurt by his inattention. And then he sneaks up behind her and offers a hug or nuzzles her neck, but she’s hurt. She doesn’t want to respond. No, she loves him, but she needs time to think now. “No, honey, I’m not in the mood right now. I’m tired. I need some time to think.” What might “Dr.” Gray say to this sincere, albeit guarded, response to her partner? “Honey, you don’t want to have sex? How about a blow job . . . or a hand job?” And she must, according to Gray, acquiesce because her feelings, her protests–what he would deem her “punishments”–are “all excuses. It takes two minutes! That’s all complete baloney and that attitude ruins marriages.”

“I can be a whole woman without some man telling me that I need to change,” says the marginal actress. But if you don’t want to accept this crass behavior, Gray tells you to accept. If you don’t think this behavior deserves patience because it’s just rude, Gray tells you to be patient. If you think it’s just an adult shirking responsibility, Gray tells you to trust, because he can’t help it–he’s driven by instinct. And when you reveal your displeasure, your disappointment, in the self-centered behavior of your mate, Gray tells you to be quiet. This is a punishment. You’re not allowed to punish because that may hurt him. He can’t help it–he’s responded to an instinctual urge.

Wake up. Gray has just told men to stay the way that he believes they are. Gray has just told you to change.
21 June 1997


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