Why Does the Caveman Act like a Caveman?

The Why of Things Series – Part I

“I have always been much better at asking questions than knowing what the answers were.” (Bill James)

In early times and most primitive societies, men did little more than hunt (which was dangerous), keep on the lookout for potential threats (which were many), and occasionally war (against other ferocious cavemen) while women did everything else, from raising children to tanning hides, making clothes and shelter, gathering food and wood, cooking, healing, planning for seasonal changes, etc. That dynamic kept our species alive for millions of years, so it must have had something going for it!

Drawing of the original Caveman, feeder and protector, and the original Caveman's partner, fed and protected (while doing everything else around here so that our species actually makes it through)
The Original Caveman

But fast forward to today: The world has changed, humans and societies have evolved, and in most modern cultures, the distribution of housework and parenting tasks has evolved with it. Yet, the Caveman seems to have missed the memo, and keeps acting like a caveman—with the exception that hunting and warring have been replaced by sports, TV and “Caveman time” (i.e. buddy time with other Cavemen).

The Modern Caveman: Lazy husband with remote control and beer
The Modern Caveman

WHY?

That’s the ambitious question I’ll attempt to address in today’s post. But before I do so, a few disclaimers:

1- THE THEORIES BELOW ARE JUST THAT: THEORIES. Every Caveman is different, and I don’t presume to know them all, understand what shaped them, or know what animates them. Besides, I’m far (very, very far) from having all the answers. Like you, I’m still trying to figure things out in an attempt to fix things at home. So take the information in this post with a grain of salt.

2- SOME “CAVEMEN” ARE WOMEN, AND THE THEORIES BELOW MAY NOT APPLY TO THEM. I know a few myself, and honestly I have little clue as to why they act like brazen Amazons. Theorize as I might, having limited first-hand experience with it, I’m pretty much in the dark. So if you do [have first-hand experience with it], don’t hesitate to shed some light for the rest of us in the comment section!

3- I MEAN NO OFFENSE. I can’t say it more plainly. So if you’re a “lazy husband” stumbling across this blog by mistake, please find it in your heart to be magnanimous. On the other hand, if your partner sent you a link to this blog and you’re wondering why, do your relationship a favor and… [How to I put this?] Keep an open mind and think hard! Again, no offense.

With that said, let’s take a look at what/who’s to blame for Caveman’s behavior

1) THE CAVEMAN’S BIRTH CULTURE

I’ve mentioned earlier that in most MODERN cultures, the distribution of housework and parenting has evolved over the centuries. Well… by contrast, in many traditional cultures, it hasn’t (or at least, not as much). If your Caveman was born and raised in one of those more traditional cultures, there’s a good chance that it accounts for much of his behavior—and many of your problems—regardless of where the two of you are living now.

The reason is simple: In most traditional, male-oriented cultures, men and women have clearly defined roles that they seldom step out of. Without going into deep analysis (and grossly exaggerating the facts) those are cultures where men have all the rights, privileges and excuses, and where generations after generations of women are raised to do TWO things and two things only: Attend to men’s needs, and raise their daughters to do the same.

My Caveman was born and raised in a “machista” culture (if you don’t know what a “machista” culture is, I invite you to read about it here; it’s edifying). The first time I visited his birth country, I witnessed a conversation between two men yelling across the river in the early hours of the morning. It went something like this:

Man #1 (visibly drunk): HaHaHa! I’ve just drank my paycheck away!

Man #2: What about your wife and kids?

Man #1: Let them worry about what to eat!!!

Man #2: HaHaHa!

The innocent that I was back then thought “Wow! I’m lucky that my boyfriend was raised in a family that values hard work, honesty and responsibility!” It didn’t immediately occur to me that everything ELSE he was implicitly taught by his birth culture was also deeply ingrained into his very being. As I learned later, some things are borderline unshakable…

You can’t be raised in a culture that’s been teaching men for centuries that taking care of children is woman’s work, that housework is woman’s work, and that it’s demeaning for a man to participate in it (or, for that matter, to spend too much time with his family), and later become a nominee for the “Annual Helpful Husband of the Year Award”. Nope. Not happening. Ever. Sigh.

The Caveman's partner is asking the Caveman to take care of Junior while she does the groceries. He answers: "I'm not a babysitter".

2) SOCIETY AND GENDER-BASED DIFFERENCES IN UPBRINGING

No need to be a feminist to acknowledge that to this day, even in modern societies, boys are still raised differently from girls—at least in most places. French artist (and engaged feminist) Emma, author of The Mental Load, explains it this way:

We’re born into a society in which very early on, we’re given dolls and mini vacuum cleaners, and in which it seems shameful for boys to like the same things. [A society] in which we see our mothers in charge of household management while our fathers only execute instructions. And in which culture and media essentially portray women as mothers and wives, while men are heroes who go on fascinating adventures away from home” (source).

Extract from The Mental Load by Emma (reproduced with permission) showing a man off to save the wold while his very pregnant wife stays back home with their child.
Excerpt from The Mental Load by Emma. Reproduced with permission.

At best, that difference in upbringing creates partners who sit on a sofa awaiting instructions. At worst: Cavemen, who may or may not spend their life sitting on a sofa but who are definitely not awaiting instructions—and even less executing them!


Excerpt from The Mental Load by Emma. Reproduced with permission.

3) ANTIQUATED RELIGIOUS BELIEFS

I’m probably going to get trashed for this one but it must be said, so deep breath, here we go:

In most major religions, virtuous women are traditionally obedient/submissive (to their husband), and have few rights and many obligations in their household. I don’t think I’m breaking any taboos by saying that not many early religions scored high on women’s rights… Our holy books (plural) are literally filled with antediluvian ideas advocating for women to be submissive, quiet, punished, sold, enslaved, beaten, mutilated, stoned, etc.

Of course, and thank God (pun intended), most religions have evolved over the centuries! Today, in most of them, women are no longer considered the silent pieces of property they were back in the days. However, there are still those who teach and advocate for those ideas*, those who believe in them (you’ve got to admit: they’re awfully convenient to the male zealot!), and those who “submit” willingly because they believe they’re following God’s mandates.

*Don’t believe me? Check this out.

Religious text reading: "Thou shalt wash the dishes (preferably silently). Thou shalt clean and scrub. And do the grocery shopping. Etc."
The Caveman’s Partner’s Commandments

Note to readers: On the off, unlikely chance that you’re in this case and reading this blog, here is my friendly advice to you: As content as you may be about your life, you may want to ask yourself the following questions (especially if you also work outside the home to bring bread to the table): “Did God really intend for me to do it all by myself? And if so, why?

I know… I’m one to talk!

4) THE CAVEMAN’S MOTHER

It may sound a bit harsh but I’m fairly convinced that behind every single unhelpful partner, there is a woman who raised him not to “help”. Whether she did so because it was expected of her in her time and/or culture, because she was a loving, devoted mother (or a slightly overbearing one), or because she didn’t know any better, the result is the same. A partner raised being served is a partner who still expects everything to be done for him! Actually, one might contend that one of the main reasons he ever “settled” in the first place was to be taken care of. Lucky us, right?

The Caveman and his mother: Teenage caveman sitting on a sofa playing video games. His mother is bringing food for him.
Behind every single unhelpful partner, there is a woman who raised him not to “help”

When I met my husband, he had been living on his own for a couple of years. He cooked, did his laundry and his groceries, cleaned his place (sort of), paid his bills, etc. It didn’t occur to me that the minute I would enter his life, he would start relying on me for everything and more.

Yet, that’s exactly what happened! And so much in love, I was, so eager to prove myself and display my many housewifely talents, that I started doing more than I should. BIG MISTAKE! To this day, I don’t know what would have happened if I hadn’t. Maybe I wouldn’t have my two wonderful children, but maybe, just maybe, I would be married to a more evolved Caveman.

The important lesson here is: Ladies, as a favor to the next generations of women (and the world), let’s not raise Caveman Junior!

5) NARCISSISTIC PERSONALITY DISORDER

I’m nowhere close to well-versed in psychiatry but over the course of my life, I’ve crossed path with a couple of women diagnosed with NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder) and as it happened, both were “Cavemen” who saddled their partners with 99.9% of housework and parenting. Now, what’s the chance of that? (i.e. Is it a coincidence?)

In case you’re wondering, NPD is a personality disorder with symptoms that include a preoccupation with success/power, a grandiose sense of self (i.e. an exaggerated feeling of self-importance), a sense of entitlement, exploitation of others, and lack of empathy. Yep! I just described half the Cavemen on the planet!

A woman is facing six men. #1 is selfish. #2 is self-centered. #3 is egocentric. #4 is a narcissist. #5 is a Caveman. #6 has NPD. To the woman, they all look the same.

If you suspect that your Caveman suffers from NPD, it’s not impossible—especially if he’s not the only one in his family with deep narcissistic traits, as NPD is said to have a genetic factor. However, before putting all your hopes in therapy, be aware that it has a very low rate of success, as NPD sufferers typically do not consider themselves to have a problem.

Now, that’s definitely one thing they have in common with the Caveman!

6) PLAIN OLD SELF-CENTEREDNESS

We’re not talking about “self-centeredness” or ”egocentrism” as a personality disorder or a cognitive bias here (although it can be) but as plain old, unhealthy SELFISHNESS; the kind that makes someone consistently put themselves and their personal needs FIRST, with no regard for the needs, feelings or desires of others.

According to modern psychology, self-centeredness/selfishness stems from a lack of empathy originating in one’s upbringing. In short: As we grow, we learn that other people have feelings, and we develop empathy (i.e. the ability to understand and share the feelings of another). For reasons XYZ (most often lying with his/her birth-family environment and teachings), the self-centered person doesn’t and remains selfish.

Like the Caveman, self-centered people are hard to spot from afar, and it takes knowing them intimately to recognize them for what they are. Dr. Mark Drummond, Psychologist, explains:

You can’t really tell that a person is selfish immediately; it usually takes forming a serious friendship or relationship with them before it becomes explicitly clear that they are self-centered. If you are romantically linked to someone who is self-centered, it’s almost as if you are stuck in a catch-22; if you leave, they will convince themselves you were not good enough, but if you stay, you validate their behavior by giving them the impression they are worth staying with, despite their abusive ways. […] It’s important to be realistic and understand that the self-centered person will never consider your needs. The self-centered person can have moments of generosity and charm, but for the most part, they are unaware of your needs and uninterested in meeting them.” (source)

I don’t know about you but I’m reading the bolded parts, and all I see is my Caveman! “Can have moments of generosity and charms”. Check! “Never considers your needs”. Check! “Unaware of your needs and uninterested in meeting them”. Double check!

Friday night with the Caveman: The Caveman heads out with a smile to play soccer while his wife is staying behind with the children and the vacuum cleaner.
Friday Night with the Caveman

As I’m typing those words, my kindergartner is watching Frozen, and I’m hearing Olaf in the background saying “Love is putting someone else’s needs before yours” (call that providence). And I’m wondering: “Can someone self-centered truly love anyone but himself”? More importantly: “Should I listen to a Disney snowman?”

Scary stuff…

7) A MEDICAL CONDITION

It seems far-fetched, but it’s not a completely crazy theory, so bear with me… There are some conditions, such as substance-use disorder, insect-borne diseases, or even vitamin deficiencies that can mess up with people’s mind and make them behave worse than they usually would.

In my worst Lyme years (I had untreated Lyme Disease for many years), I often had crisis when I didn’t remember where I lived, suffered from severe dyslexia, and was prone to wild mood swings. So a few years ago, when my husband started leaving the baby outside the house along with the trash bag and having uncontrollable rages, I suspected that there was something more going on than his endearing Caveman personality. As it happens, he tested positive for Lyme Disease and the same mix of co-infections that I have (make of that what you will; just be clear that whatever conclusion you reach, the CDC will refute it).

More recently, when I noticed that my Caveman was behaving worse than usual when not drinking, I put my finger on yet another piece of the puzzle—and immediately put him on a bunch of mood enhancing, alcohol-craving-control vitamins. Unbelievably, this is what happened after a few days on Ashwagandha, Kudzu root and vitamin B-1:

  • Day 1: I get home from work, and my Caveman is already there, putting groceries away. For the record, the man hasn’t gotten home first (let alone done groceries) in about three years!
  • Day 2: I get home and he’s cooking! If that’s no suspicious, I don’t know what is…
  • Day 3: I get home and he’s vacuuming—without me making him! Now, how is that even remotely possible?
  • Day 4: He picks up our daughter from school and takes her to karate. “Seriously!? Who are you, Mister, and what did you do with my husband? More importantly: How long can you stay?

Note to readers: It may be a coincidence (and it may not last), but there’s enough evidence to make me wonder about the alcohol-use disorder/vitamin-deficiency theory. I’ll report back in a few months…

Stress, depression, thyroid disorders, menopause/andropause, hormonal changes, parasitic infections, bipolar disorder, and many other medical conditions are also known to affect a person’s mood, their energy level, and why not, their willingness to contribute to housework, and the way they respond to requests for “help”.

Not that I’m trying to cut the Caveman slack, but it’s as good a theory as any…

Image of a sick man lying atop a huge medical red cross

8) LACK OF INCENTIVE

It cannot be said enough, so I’ll say it again: The Caveman is a primal-need-driven individual. He eats when he’s hungry, sleeps when he’s tired, recharges (preferably with other Cavemen) when he’s stressed, and his preferred incentive is (no surprise there)… SEX.

To put it plainly: If he “helps”, he expects a reward, and you’re in for it! Take that from him (intentionally or not), and you’ve got a partner who’s no longer motivated to “help”!

True… You’re still maintaining his home, taking care of his children, washing and ironing his clothes, preparing his meals, paying his bills, etc. But in his mind: You’re not doing the ONE thing he wants you to do! Now, it’s not fair (especially when you consider that he probably wouldn’t be happy either if you did only that), but that’s how it is.

The worst part? It’s a vicious circle: He doesn’t help, so you’re not in the mood, so he helps even less, so you’re even less in the mood, etc.

No-help-no-sex vicious circle diagram: If the Caveman helps, he expects a reward. If he doesn't get it, he helps even less. When he doesn't help, his partner is not in the mood.
Nope. Not a crop circle.

The way out of it? We’ll talk more about it at a later date but in short: Bite the bullet! Or, if you have a medical condition that gets in the way (think “neurological issue”, “vulvodynia”, “tissue damage”, etc.), get creative! In the spirit of keeping this blog PG-something, I won’t get into details, but there’s a bunch of information online. May the Force be with you!

9) LOST HOPES/DREAMS

You wouldn’t think of disillusion as a possible culprit for the Caveman’s behavior, but it could be part of it. I can attest to that! As I mentioned earlier, my Caveman was raised in a “machista” culture. However, after a few years under my careful tutelage, he was no longer what he started as, and he wasn’t yet what he is today. Indeed, there was a time in our relationship when he was helpful and hopeful.

Below is a picture of that time; one that I particularly like because it reminds me that my Caveman was “that man” once, i.e. a man who took pride in his house, and took care of it with a smile. Plus, he looked kind of hot!

Photograph of my Caveman before the Financial Crisis of 2007–2008, when he was hopeful and helpful around the house.
My Helpful and Hopeful Caveman, Once Upon a Time

In our case, it’s the 2007–2008 financial crisis that did it. In under two years’ time, my Caveman went from a proud homeowner to a hopeless, very much underwater homeowner who stopped doing anything around the house (“Who cares if the darn things fall apart, anyway? We’ll never get our money back!”). It only went south from there….

I know what you’re thinking (“Yeah, yeah… Another failed marriage blamed on Wall Street bankers!”) but honestly, I’m not 100% certain that you would be reading this blog if not for them!

10) LAZINESS

Although I’m sure there are plenty of genuinely lazy people around, I’ve yet to meet more than a handful. Take my Caveman, for example: As an employee, he was always a very hard-working, reliable worker. Now as a company owner, no one (least of all, me) would ever accuse him of being lazy! Yet, at home, he definitely qualifies as a “lazy husband”.

Although let’s be clear: A “lazy husband” is not necessarily a lazy man. He’s just a cunning man who’s learned early on that he could get away with doing less if he played his game well. As Joshua Coleman, Ph.D., self-declared “former lazy husband” and author of The Lazy Husband – How to Get Men to Do More Parenting and Housework, puts it:

I developed advanced techniques to avoid work and prided myself in their execution. I feigned exhaustion […]. I developed allergies to all household cleaning agents […]. My laziness was a work of art, a lifestyle happening, an inspiration to all my (male) friends”.

No doubt that the lazy husband is ingenious! But he can be dealt with. On the other hand, if your Caveman is genuinely lazy, you’re dealing with a different kind of beast altogether…

If your Caveman doesn’t help at home but on top of it, can’t hold a job and avoids every opportunity to self-improve (and depression is not to blame), you might want to start thinking of him in terms of a nonreformable dead weight instead of a Caveman (yes; I’m still hopeful there’s a difference).

Two identical men are sitting in an armchairs with a TV remote and a beer. One is a Caveman. The other one is a "lazy dude". The Caveman's partner cannot recognize her husband and asks them: "Which one of you is my husband? I can't tell..."
Caveman vs. Genuinely Lazy Dude: The Difference is not always so obvious!

For further info on the subject of truly lazy people, read Random Dysfunctions’ excellent article: How to recognize lazy people before getting involved with them.

11) KARMA (YOUR CAVEMAN’S OR YOURS)

In the spirit of leaving no stone unturned and exploring all paths, let’s talk about KARMA. Not the kind that makes you “pay” for something bad you might have done in another life, but the kind that puts people in your life (and inversely, puts you in theirs) to learn a lesson.

Is it possible that your Caveman must learn to become more responsible, less selfish, a better partner/parent, etc.? Is it possible that you must learn to put yourself higher on the list, surrender control, work on your self-esteem, etc.?

I can imagine what you’re thinking (“What’s next? Alien abductions/probing?”), but I dare you to ask yourself the following question: Is there really nothing to learn from the current situation?

The Caveman is heading out to play soccer with his friend, leaving his wife behind with the children and the vacuum cleaner. She thinks: "Spiritual growth. Concentrate on spiritual growth."
Friday Evening with the Caveman Revisited

12) US, THE CAVEMAN’S PARTNERS

Honestly, I’m not sure things would be different if I had put my foot down from the very beginning. For all I know, I might still be single—or a Peace Corps volunteer! However, there are a few things I’m certain of:

  • Doing things myself is faster and easier than trying to get them done by my Caveman—not to mention, I’m saving myself a painful argument in the process! That didn’t happen overnight; it took years before I gave up asking. Yet, the end-result is the same: The less I insist that he pitches in, the more he feels entitled not to.
Drawing of a true conversation with my five year old on a day one of our cats jumped into a drawer. "Get out of the drawer, Jakey or you're gonna break it and mom is gonna have to boss around". "What do you mean, honey?" "Well, you know... Something breaks so you ask daddy to fix it, and he doesn't want to, so you fight, and then YOU fix it! Boss around!"
True conversation with my very perceptive five year old
  • Even when he pitched in more, things were seldom done right (or I guess you could say “to my expectations”). I’d send him grocery shopping, and I’d end up having to go back to the store to get what he couldn’t find (or to return what he mistakenly got). I’d send him to the pediatrician with a list of questions, and he would forget to ask. I’d ask him to cook, and the kitchen would look like a war zone. I’d ask him to repair something, and he would ruin something else in the process.
    Sure, you could argue that the Caveman deliberately sabotages things so you stop asking him to do them (it’s actually a very distinct possibility)! But to be fair, you could also argue that my Caveman gave up on doing things because nothing was ever good enough for me…
Drawing of the Caveman's grocery list. Items are crossed out, but not because the Caveman found them. There's a note next to each item explaining that he got something else instead and why.
Grocery List, Caveman’s Style
  • There’s something in me that “enables” my Caveman’s behavior. I still haven’t put my whole finger on it, but let’s be honest: Nobody can shovel so much horse dung and not be called a stable boy!

So whether we want it or not (and whether we’re conscious of it or not), we may have our share of responsibility in the Caveman’s behavior. Whether he’s taking advantage of something that was already there*, or he has devised ingenious techniques to make us stop asking, if we “take it” (i.e. settle for it and stick around), we’re likely partly to blame.

*Read more on the subject in the second part of The Why of Things Series: Why Do We “Take It”? (or: It takes Two to Tango)

13) ALL OR A COMBINATION OF THE ABOVE

Now, that would make you a very unlucky person, but it’s not completely impossible… You’re Caveman could be a lazy, alcoholic NPD sufferer raised in a traditional culture by a mother who pampered him until he left home at thirty. I don’t know anyone who fits the description 100%, but I do know a few Cavemen who come pretty close!*

The interesting part is that none of their partners sees them for what they are, and [like me] insist on making it work, patiently waiting for them to change—when what they should do is change their locks and take precautionary measures against falling for the next dead weight!

A woman is nailing a horseshoe and a four-leaf clover to her door for luck. "Here! That should do the trick!"

*Note to readers: Yes; as unbelievable as it sounds, my Caveman is not the worst Caveman I know! As my friend C. humorously puts it: “Are you serious? There’s more than one specimen?

14) SOMETHING ELSE

The above list is by no means short, but because it’s based on my personal experience and what I’ve witnessed around me, I may have missed other possible explanations for the Caveman’s behavior. If you know of or suspect any other reason(s) for the Caveman’s acting like a caveman, feel free to share your ideas with the rest of us in the comment section below!

Until next time!

Elle

PS: Don’t miss the second part of The Why of Things Series: Why Do We “Take It”? (or: It Takes Two to Tango), coming when I have the time (and more importantly, the courage) to write it.

Leave a Reply