Into the Cave (of Men)

‘ “…The only way to understand persons is by Catholic anthropology, united with indisputable evidence in science, including that of psychiatry and psychology.”  This was said by our late Holy Father, John Paul II.  He was asking that the scientific community direct its efforts towards making some profound advances in our understand of how we are created, male and female.’

This is how I began a post back from September called Scientifically Female.  I choose to begin this post with that particular quote as well because it is again relevant to our discussion. 

One of the wonderful benefits of deepening our understanding of our Femininity is that often times, we are afforded the opportunity to understand masculinity better as well.  Men and women are, afterall, created in compliment to each other.  This complementarity makes it hard to not learn about one when we are studying the other.  So I thought we could take this opportunity to understand the men in our lives a little more – and understand ourselves in relation to them!

In a previous post, “Wombing,” we began to discuss how we (men and women) have different perceptions of the same thing.  In a sense, we exist in two different realities!  For instance, we said that women tend to see their homes, or rooms, or cubicles even, as extensions of themselves – places where they invite others, and want to make everyone feel welcome.  Men, however, do not view the same space in this way.  When they walk in the door from work, they see a place where they can let down, detox, and be the ruler (as in head of the family, or in the case of single men living alone, the benevolent dictator).

For a man and woman who come home at the same time, and are in the same room together, these are two different “modes of being” that are occurring simultaneously, in the same space.  Now I must point out that these are subconscious processes.  I don’t know of anyone who walks in the door and says “Ah My womb.”  (Well OK, I do, but only to make my husband laugh…and volunteer to help me clean up).  What we are discussing here occurs on a different level in our brains – part of our psyche. 

Well I’d like to dive a little deeper here – into the Male psyche – to see just what else goes on there!  (Ok so I could insert quite a few jokes here, but since the point is to understand men better so as to love them better and work with them better and complement them better, I shall refrain!)

I would like to talk about a male phenomenon that I call “Caving.”  Yes I know, I am throwing all these newly coined words at you here – women “womb” and men “cave ” whats next!?    “Caving,” nicely put, is what a man is doing when he is doing nothing.  (Doing nothing can be categorized as idly channel surfacing, browsing [harmless] websites, fiddling on Facebook or Twitter, driving nowhere in particular, or just staring at the wall.)  OK Laura, I’ll take the bait – where did the term ‘caving’ come from?

To be honest with you, I don’t remember the full story!  What I do remember is that my husband and I had listened to a recording of a talk given by one of psychologist friends that explained the male need for silence – or at least for “brain silence.”  We learned that in order for men to de-stress and ‘refocus,’ they literally have to become almost “brain-dead!”  (again, such an opportunity for a light-hearted joke!)  In order for them to become “brain-dead” enough for the cortisol (stress hormone) to simmer down, men have to zone out.  They zone out by literally doing nothing at all, or by doing such things as channel surfing, web surfing (harmless kinds – it’s no excuse for hurtful or secretive behavior), or even driving.  Exercise has also been proven to lower the stress hormone, Cortisol, and still allows men to ‘turn off’ their brains.  These things that seem like activities to us are really just motions they are going through while their brains partially shut off.  Really.  This is not some sort of cop-out that was made up by a guy desperate to have time to himself!  

It’s hard for us to imagine shutting off our brains – precisely because we can’t!  Our brains are always going!  Even in our sleep!  There were brain wave studies done to this effect.  When you ask a guy what he is thinking and he says “Nothing,” chances are, he means it.  Guys can literally think of nothing!  Their brain waves (in the thinking department) pretty much flatline!  Women on the other hand, can’t achieve this amazing feat.  Our brains are constantly thinking –  picture the brain wave chart looking something like the schematics to a roller coaster 🙂 .  I wish I had known this earlier in my marriage.  I spent way too many nights worrying and wondering why, when I asked my husband what he was thinking, “he wouldn’t tell me!”  Now I know that when he said “Nothing” he wasn’t hiding something from me, he was just being normal!  But back to the story of how “caving” got it name…

Ok, so, when a guy is zoning, staring at the wall, or mindlessly (in the literal sense) paging through a magazine or coffee table book, flipping channels or whatnot, what is REALLY going on in his brain?  (Besides being partially shut down!)  Well, as my husband put it, it is “refocusing” or “unfocusing.”  We all know guys have a great ability to hyper-focus.  To concentrate so hard on one thing that they block out everything else (yes, I have a name for this too – but we’ll save that for a different post 🙂  )  lets just suffice it to say that this “hyperfocusing” is normal, God-designed, and good.  So anyway, when a man has been engaging his brain in this intense focusing, he needs time to ‘come down’ and reorient himself – to literally allow his brain to switch gears. 

As I am writing this my husband is behind me working very hard on some music that he is writing.  He is certainly in that state of intense focus (I know this because I very scientifically tested his focus state by talking to him and then reading him the last paragraph I wrote.  Then I told him a naked elephant was in our hallway.  Next I said”So what do you think?”   He looked up from is work and said, “Huh?  Were you talking?”  Definitely in the zone there.)  Well when he finished his work he laid back on the couch and stared at the ceiling.  Just layed there staring.  I looked over at him and said, “Are you OK?”  His reply?  “Yeah, I just have to cave for a minute – that was a lot of thinking!”

That was pretty much how Caving got its name.  One day my hubby was staring at nothing and I was afraid something was wrong.  I kept asking him, “Whats wrong?  Did I do something?  Did something happen?  We need to talk!  Why won’t you tell me?!  Are you mad at me?  What did I do?  What happened?  Why won’t you tell me?”  Until he finally, in a fit of exasperation said, “Nothing is wrong, I am just “CAVING!”  I just need to do nothing for a few minutes!”

Then it clicked in my head.  He was doing the brain “shut off” thing.  He was in his “Cave”, hibernating his brain for a little bit.  His exasperated explanation broke through my very female interpretation of his silence and allowed me to see that he just needed to do his guy thing, shut down (in the mental sense) for a little while and then he’d be fine.   You could think about it in computer terms too – when the Operating System gets too overloaded, it shuts down, and then needs to reboot. 

I also realized something else important the day that “Caving” was coined. My erroneous, albeit female, interpretation of his silence caused me to act in a way that actually increased his stress!  Thus making it harder for him to detox!  By demanding to be told “what was wrong,”  by taking his zoning out personally, by bombarding him questions and trying to get him to talk to me I was treating him like a girl!  When us girls are upset, stressed, overloaded, or the like we need to talk (and talk and talk and talk).  That is what lowers cortisol in our female brains.  That is what helps us to refocus and re-engage.  That is what detoxes us.  Not so for him!  Talk about a major breakthrough in marital communication!  I now understood how to better relate to my husband, and how to better meet his needs – to love him as the man he truly is, not as the man I may think he should be.

Now when dear hubby has a rough day, or when he is stressed, or has just finished a ton of work, he can say to me, “Laura, I really need a few minutes to “cave”  but then we can talk….”  or I can say to him, “I really need to talk to you about something  tonight – can you tell me when would be the best time to talk about it?”   This way both our needs are being met, both of us end up with less stress, and better able to serve the other.  Both of us are happy.

Now, a post wouldn’t be complete without a thought as to what this “Caving” phenomenon teaches us about our Heavenly Father!  Does God ever take a time out?!  Thats a scary thought!  But I can assure you that, no, He does not.  I think the closest He comes is “resting” on the seventh day.  God takes a minute to reflect on His creation and He proclaims it is good.  While God does not ever “shut off” or have to detox, He does make it a point right there in Genesis to “rest.”    When it comes down to it, thats what “caving” is –  resting the brain.  What is important though is that after the rest, the man is ready to re-engage and tackle a new problem, or work harder at a project, play with a son or daughter, or chat with a wife.

Just as rest was not God’s final intention, neither is “caving.”   “Caving” allows men to recover, to shut off , and come out of ‘hibernation’ raring to go – to  take action fully engaging his wonderful, amazing, God-given brain.  Caving is the “rest” before the action; whether its to solve a problem, or lead His family, “Caving” is designed by God.   If we, as women understand this, then we can assume our complementary roles and better encourage (and not inadvertantly discourage) the men in our lives to be how they were created to be, which of course, is part of what being a female is all about! 

Until next time, may God continue to bless your beautiful feminine hearts!

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2 thoughts on “Into the Cave (of Men)

  1. What about female ‘cavers’ ? I believe I am one- I need a lot of alone time, and I truly hate talking about my problems unless a nice fast solution is in the offing. (And when a fellow woman unloads on me, I get very impatient, and have to bite back my automatic “Well, what can we do about it ? ” ) I’ve never invited anybody into my apartment, and it is, to put it bluntly, not really designed to accomodate more than one person.
    The problem I have with the boxes, “men are like this” and “women are like that ” is that, much of the time, the descriptions for womanly characteristics don’t fit me, while the descriptions for male ones do. (BTW, I’m straight as straight can be….)

    • Thanks, Donna. You raise a good point. I agree that “boxes” are difficult because we never all fit neatly into one. The things I speak about are generalizations and “on the bell curve.” I too sometimes need “cave” time – I think we all do. The difference is that for men this is a vital psychological process verified by science. For women, it is more murky – our need for caving is based more on hormones and personality. But its still vital to us! I was coming at it from a psychological perspective. In the future I will be more clear about that. As for you feeling that you fit more of the characteristics generally attributed to men – what a gift! I have no doubt that God has wonderful things in store for you and a great adventure for you to embark on – when all those qualities which you have been blessed with will be thoroughly put to use! Thanks for reading and sharing! May God Bless you!

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