Hidden Agenda

According to Austin author William July II, there's a term for commitment-phobic men -- and it's not the profanity you might think. July euphemistically calls these heartbreakers "hidden lovers," men who put on their game face because they're afraid of losing face.

"It comes from the Western idea of what being a man is," says July, whose latest release is called The Hidden Lover: What Women Need to Know That Men Can't Tell Them. "Being a man means don't show your feelings too much or you'll become vulnerable and at risk of losing control of the situation."

Not that being a man's man is all bad. "Many of the masculine traits we celebrate are indeed admirable and important," July writes in the book, "such as decisiveness, single-minded focus, determination, independence and strength."

Whoa, cowboy. These are masculine traits? "Growing up," July says by way of explanation, "these are the things you're supposed to learn about being a man."

Ah, the society argument. To see how men are conditioned, July writes, "observe some of the games boys play: arm wrestling, hard-hitting tackle football, foot races, wrestling, king of the mountain." That is, competitive games that discourage weakness.

Of course, plenty of girls are playing rough in the school yard these days, too. And although the book is about men, July admits that women can be hidden lovers too. "All this stuff about relationships comes down to human issues, and anybody can have these various issues," he says. It's just that for women the problem is less common, while all men have the tiny hidden lover monster inside, hanging out and waiting to pounce.

"Right or wrong, we've come to generally expect things from men and women," says July. "Over-identifying with those things is where you get the…hidden lover."

To women, July simply offers advice on how to handle these skittish Cyranos. First, don't overanalyze them -- that'll make them head for the emotional hills. Instead, create an environment in which they can feel comfortable enough to speak freely.

July's best advice, though, is that a woman should be prepared to leave her hidden lover if he doesn't shape up and get to talkin'. Of course, she might also take off if, when the guy finally does open up, he starts spouting the thoughts July claims are floating in the hidden lover's head.

The author suggests that many emotionally constipated men feel that women not only treat them like ATM machines but can't stomach the truth when it comes to financial problems (the poor hidden lovers must be the sole breadwinners). These guys also would prefer that women not ask them to pick up groceries while they're watching the game, and that they not disagree with them publicly. No wonder hidden lovers keep their mouths shut: Lots of them would get the boot after the first five minutes of this kind of honest sharing.

July's already got another book in the works, Confessions of an Ex-Bachelor, in which he'll be revealing men's "locker room secrets." Says the author, "the guys are gonna be pissed." That is, if they're not already pissed at July for giving them a bad name.

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Cathy Matusow
Contact: Cathy Matusow