Recently I was lucky enough to attend a John Mayer concert. As I was excited about it, I mentioned it to quite a few people. In response to my enthusiasm two of my clients and several of my students remarked that they didn’t like him. Curious, I inquired as to why. The response that those who disliked him gave related to his behavior in regard to women, not to his musical talent. I have to admit I think I relate to John Mayer. As my latest attempt at a committed relationship has come to an end I will discuss why I relate to him, and what I believe might be going on in his mind as well many other men’s.
Some time ago, while spending time with a close, personal, female friend, she said in passing she really wanted to understand what happened to me. She doesn’t understand how I view relationships as I do. (See my blogs / articles “Is Marriage an Outdated Concept”, and “Honesty and Infidelity”). She also doesn’t understand why I can’t seem to remain committed to one woman for a substantial period of time. I suggested she do a case study of me. She joked that the title would be “The Mind of a Player.” I do not believe I am a player, and I would certainly take no pride in the title. But it is a word that has been used to describe me in the past, and it is a word my client used to describe the behavior of John Mayer. I don’t know Mr. Mayer and have little to go by except what I’ve read and what he says in his songs, but I will try to develop his defense here.
Originally I thought of presenting this topic as an interview. I even thought of making it anonymous (and one of my colleagues suggested so). This would be to try not to let my readers know it is my thinking that is being discussed, while at the same time discussing some of the issues I’d like to help others understand. I decided not to present it this way. My role model for therapy is Irvin Yalom, and in his books he doesn’t seem to hold back things that might be perceived as unflattering. He is a master therapist, and I have not yet established myself as anything close to that. But I will follow his lead. This paper is not about me and what happened in particular. It is focused more on some of the issues some men face when in relations with women, and perhaps explaining what goes through their heads.
First, I think most heterosexual men really enjoy women. When this is said, what is meant is that they feel that women make life much more enjoyable. Heterosexual men like to be in the company of women. We may not want them around all the time, but generally speaking we would prefer they are around more often than not. Maybe it is biological, to simply spread our seed as we are programmed by evolution to do. Perhaps it is a mother complex that results in us seeing that nurturing archetype in the women we meet, and wanting it for ourselves. Perhaps we are just socialized to adore women. Or, and I believe this is the most contributing factor, maybe Freud was right and sex is one of the strongest drives we humans know (aggression being the other). Regardless of the reason, it is my contention men enjoy women.
Men sometimes enjoy women so much it leads to infidelity. And although this is not the topic of this article, it does relate, so it is briefly discussed here. Recently I received a flyer for a conference for professional therapists on “Why Men Cheat.” A better title would be why men don’t cheat. It is my contention more men do than do not. I am well over 40 years old and have known many men. The vast majority of them admit to infidelity. I’ve also known many women, and they have reported being cheated on (and yes, some have mentioned their on infidelity, but that is not the focus of this article). Granted, some of these people with issues of infidelity are clients. But it is important to understand that the majority of clients are not significantly different from the rest of us. You may also say, “Well, birds of a feather flock together.” This saying is not without merit. Many of the people I have known behaved similarly to me, and this is true of most people. We are attracted to those like us. So perhaps my view is skewed. That is my disclaimer.
Because often insight into others starts with insight into oneself, I’d like to start by exploring what goes through my head when I meet a woman who I find attractive. I believe this generalizes to many men, especially those who seem to change partners rather readily. When I meet an attractive woman, I do not always think about her in a sexual way, at least consciously. That may seem hard to believe, as men think about sex quite frequently (it is generally accepted that most men under 60 think about sex daily). Instead of sex I generally think of the more long term possibilities: would she be with me? Is there a chance she might be a good fit? Could I see myself with her for a long time? When I look at my own thoughts it seems evident I am looking for a partner or a soul mate. This actually befuddles me, because cognitively I don’t believe in soul mates. Life experience tells me the soul mate fantasy is nonsense, at least for me. Yet for some unknown reason I do think that way.
There is a great book by Robert Johnson that addresses the search for a perfect mate. He uses Jungian theory and the story of Tristan and Iseult to discuss how men become obsessed with certain women, albeit temporarily. It is called “We”. It beautifully addresses how people believe in a perfect mate, and how some often chase this ideal indefinitely. This sometimes results in leaving one relationship for another that seems better. In the end, they are chasing their projection of perfection, and obviously are not finding the perfect woman. If we take my thoughts and the theme of this book, it would seem this phenomenon could be generalized to many men.
Another very plausible possibility for chasing this perfect someone is that deep down we all know we are ultimately, and irrevocably, alone. This is true no matter who we couple with, no matter how happy our relations. We come into the world alone, and we leave the world alone. No one takes the death journey with us. This realization, which seldom if ever becomes completely cognizant, is very painful. So to deny it, to repress it, to ignore its powerful presence, we simply keep seeking that person who will be completely with us. Even the words soul mate denotes a person who travels with us beyond death. We think we find them, but after a period (although it is possible this illusion never fades) we realize this person is not (but we don’t realize no person is) our soul mate.
A third possible reason some men look at potential partners as soul mates is that the sex drive is hiding itself in a more suitable and socially accepted way. In other words sex is what lies under the soul mate fantasy, but looking for a soul mate is more acceptable to my (and many men’s I presume) superego.
These explanations are not always true. There are times when sex is the main and only motivator. Sometimes men use it as an attempt to escape pain, loneliness and boredom. There are certainly times when I feel like there is no way I will enter a committed relationship again. At these times I just want to be with women I enjoy. I do not want to fall in love or become too attached. Being with several different women can help prevent too much intimacy while at the same time continuing the enjoyment of women. Additionally, sex is a way to make life more interesting. Let’s be honest it is fun and there is a biological need for it.
Now some men do not care about any of the women they sleep with. Their motive is just a matter of conquest. They might mistreat women, and certainly do not care about their feelings. These men are what I would consider players. Sleeping with women is a game, and they are only out to win.
People seem to think that John Mayer’s behavior would be best described in the player denotation. At times perhaps this does describe his behavior. People seem to think that he is just using these women. Many who discussed why they didn’t like him with me said it is because they feel he did Jennifer Aniston wrong. They seem to see her as a victim of his player behavior. It is my contention he just experiences thoughts and feelings similar to those I described above. In the song “Love Song for No One” he says, “After all the crushes have faded, and all my wishful thinking was wrong, I’m jaded, I hate it.” This seems to indicate his awareness of the phenomenon where he thinks he’s found his soul mate and then discovers it isn’t. And he seems displeased with this knowledge.
In no way am I trying to deny that women aren’t hurt when things don’t work out. What I am saying is some men hold onto hope that this time, with this woman, it could be different. This time love will last. This time they’ve found that one woman that will hold their attention and their love for eternity. But often they are falling into the false beliefs I described above. The infatuation and projection that has been guiding them wears off, and they then begin the search again.
Lately John appears to be gaining understanding of his predicament. In “I Don’t Trust Myself (With Loving You)” he warns, “If my past is any sign of your future, You should be warned before I let you inside”. Now if he is anything like I suggest he cognitively understands that the feeling that brings people together and has them thinking commitment and happy endings doesn’t last. And, if he is like me and the thoughts I propose men are casualty to in this article, some part of him holds onto the hope, despite a conscious decision not to entertain it, that he’ll find that mate for love everlasting.
Another argument for John Mayer not being a player has to do with what his music generally deals with. Anyone even vaguely familiar with his music would agree it is predominately about falling in and out of love. Most of his songs have to with either the bliss of finding someone you adore, or the pain associated with the ending of the relationship. This theme, although possibly just his niche, is more in line with the theories discussed above than someone who is simply interested in being with as many women as possible.
Finally, there is John Mayer’s honesty, which seems the strongest argument against his being a player. He is honest to a fault it seems. He often puts his foot in his mouth when discussing his previous lovers. But from the limited amount of reading I have done I have seen little evidence of being a player. He seems to be infatuated with those he is involved with, but as discussed above, this wears off and he moves on. Overall I admire his honesty, although I agree he often says too much without thinking it through. But in the end I would prefer that to dishonesty.
It seems in the end whether someone is a player or not depends on your definition. The definition used here relies on intent. If the goal is simply to sleep with women as part of a game and for the conquest, then the player denotation is warranted. If instead you define a player as someone who sleeps with a lot of women but motive is not taken into consideration, then it would seem a lot of men are players. Perhaps many men have the tendency to be players at some point in their lives, for some of the reasons mentioned above. Whether or not this warrants the label “player” is debatable. By the definition used here John Mayer has likely behaved like a player at times, but would not meet the criteria for the label.