Dear Dr. Hurd,
After a particularly alcohol-filled weekend on the town, my girlfriend and I decided that we would attend AA in our hometown. We don’t have a huge problem, but we need to learn how to moderate. It’s been a long time coming and I was very excited.
After our first meeting, however, my girlfriend refused to return because the meeting moderator and our “sponsor” are both guys. They’re really great guys and just as popular with the women as the men (if not more so). But she insists, “I don’t trust men! I want a woman sponsor or I’m not going back.”
Furthermore, she has this same attitude about other professionals with whom we do business. There is absolutely no basis for her attitude. I read your other columns and I know that we can’t force people to change. But something’s got to.
Dr. Hurd replies:
How sad. She’s cheating herself out of the talents, personalities and skills of fifty percent of the population.
Imagine what would happen if, based on prejudice alone, one of these men your girlfriend dislikes said, ‘I want nothing to do with women. I don’t trust them.’ It would certainly fuel her dislike of men even more, even though that’s exactly what she’s doing.
I can’t say for sure, but perhaps your girlfriend was treated badly by one or several key men in her life. If that’s the case, then her emotions are (when applied to those men) largely justified. But there’s no logical reason for extending those feelings to every man on the planet.
Some will say, ‘But feelings are not always logical.’ Well, that’s true. And the point is’what, exactly? It’s amazing how people use this ‘argument’ in support of thoroughly unsubstantiated claims. Clients try that with me only once, because my approach as a cognitive-behavioral therapist dictates that logic, facts and common sense must always trump what you happen to be feeling.
Reason trumps emotions, when the two conflict. Reason tells us, ‘Not all men are the same.’ Your girlfriend’s experiences with some men does not mean all men are that way, according to reason. Her best bet is to use reason to speak back to her emotions. How many times will she need to do this? As many times as required.
To some, this is completely foreign, even appalling, advice. ‘But she doesn’t feel that way! What’s she supposed to do if she keeps feeling the way she does?’
The premise of this question is that feelings trump facts and reason. But in certain cases, we must decide. Are we going to use our emotions to try and shape reality? Or will we use knowledge of reality to try and shape our emotions?
Some people find an odd sort of comfort in holding on to their feelings. For example, it’s easier to feel that ‘all men are bad’ rather than putting thought into evaluating a particular man’s character and individuality. The simplicity is comforting, to some, until they bump into reality and experience the pain of a contradiction.
You’re right that you can’t change you girlfriend’s attitudes or actions, and you shouldn’t try so long as she’s unwilling. I suggest that you go ahead with your own commitment to attend AA, if you think that group can help you. Who knows, maybe she’ll eventually join you if she sees that it helps.
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