Review of The Enchantment of Opposites


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REVIEW OF THE ENCHANTMENT OF OPPOSITES

FROM THE SHS MAILING LIST

The Enchantment of Opposites: How to Create Great Relationships
by Patricia Huntington Taylor
Traveling Artists Press / Oakland, CA. 1997.

It's always fascinating to read, for the first time, significant writings from authors whom you knew first in social contexts. Patricia Taylor has been a frequent contributor to this mailing list, and I was quite pleased to receive a review copy of her new book.

In essence, this is a book for male/female couples about relationships, intimacy, and getting along.

The history of the "heterosexual relationship self-help manual" has been an interesting one in the last half of this century. In the 50's, what books of this type as there were tended to emphasize rigid gender roles, with a highly patronizing attitude towards women. In the 60's, 70's, and especially 80's, a new trend in this genre emerged which emphasized the inherent sameness of men and women, and put forward very egalitarian images based on the concept that our differences are largely due to socialization. In the 90's a new trend has emerged: relationship self-help manuals that posit essential differences between men and women, and teach that to truly get along we need to understand and acknowledge rather than fighting these differences. The difference between this 90's essentialism and the 50's is expressed by the author on page 129: "Men and women can enjoy the practice of treating each sex differently. It is the chauvanism, or attitude that females are in fact inferior, that makes women angry."

It is not my place to comment on whether men and women ARE fundamentally different emotionally and socially, or whether perceived differences are largely due to culturization. However, assuming the existence of differences and explaining their natures is precisely what this book is about, and it is also precisely what its closest analog (Men are from Mars: Women are from Venus) is about as well. If you have a fundamental problem with this hypothesis, then Enchantment of Opposites isn't the book for you. If you don't, then you'll probably enjoy it immensely. In any case, setting this issue aside for the time being, let's proceed...

Enchantment of Opposites flows, in order, through seven "games" which the author proposes as making up the seven parts of the "Enchantment of Opposites master game" itself. They are: "The Self Game", "The Win/Win Game", "The Co-Creation Game", "The Man/Woman Game", "The Hero/Goddess Game", "The Encatment Game", and "The Community Game". These "games" essentially trace a path beginning with taking responsibility for the outcomes in your life, through intimacy with your partner, and into greater involvement in community.

The author uses the term "game" for each of these with the intent of draining some of the emotional weight behind "intimacy", "responsibility", etc, and allowing the reader to more easily read without judgement; I believe this was a wise choice given her goals.

Each section is stuffed with relationship and self-help advice, which ranges from commentary on "what we're like" to suggested communication exercises for couples. In terms of the quantity of advice offered, this book leaves Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus in the dust. A valuable design choice was the creation of little one-sentence summaries of the content of the previous section, each of which is worded quite memorably; there are probably close to one hundred of these, and if you don't have time to read the whole book in one setting scanning these will give you at least a general sense of what the author is getting at.

Since this review is being posted to a mailing list devoted to the study of human sexuality, I should point out at this time that there isn't any explict how-to advice about sex in this book, or frankly any discussion of the subject at all. However, since one of the mantras of sex educators in this decade is that communication and trust are the most important elements in quality sex, it's likely that if this book assists your relationship (with your partner or yourself) in general, it will enhance your sexual life as well.

I must confess to having hit a few snags while reading Enchantment of Opposites. For example, on page 74:

"'Womanese' is the multi-tracking, multiprocessing, parallel processing language spoken by women. Multi-tracking means operating on many tracks at once. It reflects how women think. Many thoughts can coexist in the mind of a woman. Her thoughts are not truly random; they have an internal logic and cohesiveness, but the logic behind the interconnection of her thoughts is non-linear. We call this type of thought 'supra-logical'."

I guess what made me pause on this one is that it doesn't really mesh with my everyday experience. I've met many women during my 26 years who can "out-logic" me without even trying hard. I know that on this mailing list there are many women participants whose skill at "linear thinking" (if I understand what the term means) exceeds my own, and so if I want to avoid having to post follow-ups and retractions I've learned to cool off a little when very emotional so that things can be at least a little more logical. Also, I worry that if as a man you really believed that the thought processes of women were this alien to you, that it might discourage you from trying to understand them. The author DOES explain her ideas in this area further, which helped, but I was still left hoping that life isn't really like this, and that our fundamental "thinking sytles" aren't really this different. However, I can't prove that they aren't any more than the author can prove that they are. This book is a distillation of advice, not a distillation of research.

However, whether this is "real" may not be the point. Enchantment of Opposites is designed to help heterosexual couples interact more functionally, and in that goal I suspect it will succeed. Many of the exercises in this book are ones that at various points I have done before with my primary partner, and they have definitely helped our ability to understand each other. Although it may be that differences between the "average man" and the "average woman" are due to socialization, the author may be correct in describing them; if society changes and these differences collapse or shift, then it will be time for a new self-help book, but for the time being I suspect many male/female couples will find the author's assesment of their desires and motivations to hold a ring of truth.

There's another reason this book may be interesting to some folks here. In the Acknowledgements section, the author thanks "Victor Baranco and the teachers at More University for their valuable information." My understanding is that More University had a lot to say about male/female relationships in addition to having a lot to say about sex. ESO may have hit some of the primary points of their sex technique teachings, but I suspect (without confirmation) that this book hits most of the main points of their views on relationships. In any case, it's not my place to speak for the author so we'll have to let her speak up on the degree to which this is true.

So, ultimately, what's my call?

Basically, if you liked Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus you'll love this book. In many ways it's better written, and certainly contains more advice. All those folks would be advised to read it, along with folks who are curious about what More University and Human Awareness Institute have to say about "relations between the sexes."

A SECOND OPINION FROM A DIFFERENT SHS MAILING LIST SUBSCRIBER

Patti's book has given me a new set of tools and perspectives to work relationships with. I am convinced that one is never to old to learn, and that there are always new, useful concepts to explore. "The Enchantment of Opposites" is full of interesting, useful ideas.

That said, I must warn you that I, very likely many of my loves, and possibly you will find a lot that is initially irritating about how this information is presented in "The Enchantment of Opposites." It comes from a heterosexual, monogamous perspective. It speaks about the way "men" and "women" think and behave as if individual variations on these themes, let alone gays, bis, and polys don't exist. The book uses the metaphor of a "game" to analyze interactions between partners, which begs one to consider the techniques recommended in the book to be insincere and manipulative. (The trick, of course, is that techniques of this sort only work if the persons using them are sincere.)

Usually when statements by someone I consider to be thoughtful and well meaning back me up, I take it as a sign that I have some work to do. After reading the "Enchantment of Opposites", I was forced to admit that a lot of what the book proposed was reflected in the reality of my relationships.

For example, the book asserts that men are producers and women are consumers. Men are happiest when they are producing something that their female partners want, and women are happiest when they are pushing their men to produce at their peak. As much as I wanted to resist this idea, it is certainly true in a number of my relationships, and trying to force it to be otherwise often results in conflict. The worst relationship crisis I have had in the past few years was not about my being rejected by a partner, but about my feeling that I no longer had anything of use to provide for that partner.

Another assertion in the book is that things go best when men offer women a menu of choices which they can accept or reject. With some notable exceptions, I have found this to be true. I often have a lot of trouble getting my female partners to tell me what they would like to do or have, while my male partners seem to be a lot more at ease expressing their desires.

"The Enchantment of Opposites" has a lot of ideas to offer those of us who are trying to make our relationships give us as much of what we want as possible. It also should provide the basis for a lot of healthy discussion.


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