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Posted in: Gender, Psychology & Law

Published on Dec 10, 2007 by Phyllis Chesler

Written for Pajamas Media

Men Who Are Left Behind Would Rather Kill Themselves Than Ask for Help


Seemingly sturdy people are also quite fragile. Serious illnesses can utterly transform their personalities. The death of a beloved intimate can render strong and cheerful people unfit for life-as-usual for a very long time. Some are never the same again.

The pain people suffer (and inflict) when their spouses leave them cannot be underestimated. I live with a divorce lawyer and the stories I get to hear make The War of the Roses look tame by comparison. The person (male or female) with the most money usually “wins.” But, for every divorcing woman who falsely accuses her husband of sexually abusing his children and battering his wife–I will show you a divorcing, openly adulterous husband who “matches and raises” such tactics by embarking on a scorched earth policy to impoverish and destroy the mother of his children in every conceivable way. Some divorce and custody battles rage on for a decade or more.

Although I published the definitive feminist work Women and Madness in 1972, I still understood that men also suffer. However, I chose to focus on women whose suffering was either overlooked or punitively pathologized.

Nevertheless, over the years, I also met, interviewed, and taught men who had been the victims of horrific violence in childhood, who had struggled with alcohol and drug addiction, who were themselves violent, and/or who had been psychiatrically hospitalized. I also had male students who shared their problems with me: Excessive shyness, unbeareable loneliness, fears that they were “losers” or gay.

In 1978, I even published a book titled About Men. I really wanted to understand the “other” gender. But in truth, Women and Madness sold nearly three million copies and therefore more women than men reached out to me to bear witness to their stories and to help them in some way.

That is now changing.

For example, a good friend of mine (a sophisticated and charming man) recently turned to me for help. He was devastated when his wife of many years left him. He lost the job he prized, had fallen into a depression and had begun to take anti-depressants. His wife left him in a particularly callous way. After maxing out their credit cards (for which he, not she, was responsible), she told him she wanted “out” and left. Within weeks, she said she’d changed her mind, wanted to return and asked him to meet her at the airport. Gladly, he did so. And while he waited for her plane, his wife’s friends busily removed almost everything from their home, including his computer and his dog. (She had another computer and several other dogs).

“Why didn’t I see this coming? What does this say about my judgment?”

My friend is very sad. The earth upon which he thought he was standing was only an illusion.

Yesterday, another dear friend, “K,” unexpectedly called me. “K” is a successful artist and world traveler. Together with his wife, he is also the co-owner of several businesses.

“I’m in the cuckoo house” he said.

“Are you joking?” I asked.

“No, I tried to kill myself. My wife just left me for a richer man. She said that she doesn’t love me anymore. I’m not as rich as she needs me to be. She threw me out. Now, I want to die. And I am homeless.”

“No you’re not. You co-own your lovely home” I said.

“Maybe I don’t. She told me that I don’t co-own any of our businesses. Maybe she found a way of getting my name off the deed to the house too. You know we’ve been married for more than twenty years. What does it say about me that I trusted and loved a person who could betray me? I don’t want to live.”

I do not think that this friend was clinically “depressed.” Although more women than men suffer from depression, men still account for 1 in ten cases of diagnosed depression.

Suicide is something else. According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Men in the U.S. are about four times more likely than women to commit suicide. A staggering 75-80% of all people who commit suicide in the U.S. are men. Though more women attempt suicide, more men are successful at actually ending their lives. This may be due to the fact that men tend to use more lethal methods of committing suicide, for example using a gun rather than taking an overdose.” PRESS HERE

My two male friends are the sweetest, nicest men. (Why would I have any other kind?) And yet, they are almost without resources when their intimate lives fall apart. Unlike women, men do not discuss “feelings” with their male friends. In fact, they may confide mainly in their wives. When those wives leave them, they have lost their (sometimes only) best friend.

I am not suggesting that we generalize. Many women never recover from being “left behind” and many men have been having affairs for years when their wives finally leave them. Such men continue having affairs and marry again too.

What I am saying is that, unlike women, men are still ashamed to seek help. Some men may choose to kill themselves rather than admit to another person that they are “falling apart” and in need of help.

Read HERE for a guide to Men’s Health.


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