A Clash of Biases
It took me a while to figure out exactly what was wrong with this book. I've seen more than my fair share of women hurt by what Sandra Brown calls "dangerous men," and wish that we were better at preparing our children for recognizing when they are being manipulated, used, or abused, so they can protect themselves. But something just didn't feel right about the way this useful information was presented.
Then it hit me -- Sandra Brown's bias is that so-called dangerous men are so fundamentally flawed that there is no point in getting involved with these men, or staying with them if you are already in a relationship, because they will never, ever stop being dangerous, or stop using you to meet their own needs. My personal bias is the opposite -- I believe that everyone is capable of change, and that relationships take work and commitment.
However, if a man has been physically or sexually violent to you or your children, you should get as far away from him as possible, immediately.
As a reader, you will have to make up your own mind whether you believe the man you are potentially interested in is dangerous, and worth the risks that are laid out in this book.
The Eight Types of Dangerous Man
Dangerous men, defined as "pathological and personality disordered," are presented as eight different types, some of which may overlap in the same man. In particular, "the addict" overlaps with all of the other types.
The eight types of dangerous men are:
- The Permanent Clinger -- Needy, self-identified victims whose chief danger is "sucking the life out of you."
- The Parental Seeker -- Immature men who want you to look after them.
- The Emotionally Unavailable Man -- Men who are already committed to another partner and won't commit to you.
- The Man with the Hidden Life -- Men who are hiding secrets that should be disclosed to a partner, such as children, disease, a criminal past or an addiction.
- The Mentally Ill Man -- A man at any level of functioning who has a mental illness.
- The Addict -- This catch-all category includes any man who has any kind of addiction, including alcohol and drugs, sex, gambling, food and a number of other behaviors such as work.
- The Abusive or Violent Man -- Men who are abusive in any way, including emotional, physical and sexual abuse.
- The Emotional Predator -- Men who seek out and torment vulnerable women, includes psychopaths.
This stereotyping of men is stigmatizing and thus harmful. Many people go through difficulties which could be identified in these categories, but that doesn't put them on a par with criminals and psychopaths. Many people with addictions and mental health problems have loving relationships with their partners and families, and many people with and without addictions go through these struggles in their lives without being dangerous.
Dangerous Men Defined Too Broadly?
There are certainly many dangerous men out there, particularly in the world of addictions. This book is focused on spotting potentially dangerous romantic partners, but drug dealers and pimps can also be particularly exploitative of women who are involved in the world of illicit drugs and sex work, and it makes sense, if you are involved in this world, to stay informed and prevent yourself from getting hurt.
But most of the men discussed in this book are not as obviously dangerous as drug dealers and pimps. And this is where it all gets a bit tricky. The premise of the book is to spot a dangerous man before getting involved, which makes the whole idea of people being innocent until proven guilty impossible. Certainly, once a man has behaved in a way that shows a lack of respect, you have something to evaluate, but much of Brown's advice focuses on following your innate intuition, which basically seems to mean any sense of discomfort.
I realize that Brown's perspective is based on many years of working with abused women, so she has seen some of the worse situations that have arisen from women getting close to dangerous men. But to warn women about staying away from potential rapists or murderers is excessively alarmist, and as she points out, these men make a lot of effort to be charming and appear normal, so I'm not convinced that many women could "sense" whether the man she has met is one of these small minority of men. Incidentally, there have also been some well documented cases of women, child and teen psychopaths, so dangerous people aren't all men.
What Women Need to Focus on
I do think that Brown identifies some important red flags that may indicate that the man you are with is potentially harmful to you, and the relationship may not be a positive force in your life, such as:
- You wish he would go away, you want to cry or you want to run.
- You dread his phone call.
- You feel bad about yourself when you are around him.
However, some of the items on the same list are feelings that can occur in regular relationships, and may not indicate that your partner or potential partner is pathological, such as:
- You feel uncomfortable about something he has said or done, and the feeling remains.
- Your past and his are very different, and the two of you have conflicts over it.
- You think he's too charming or a little "too good to be true."
And still more seem to be indications that the woman actually has a problem she needs to take responsiblity for, which may be nothing to do with the man, such as:
- You tell friends you are "unsure about the relationship."
- You feel isolated from other relationships with friends and family.
- You think you are the only one who can help/love/understand him.
Overall, there is some really useful information in this book for women who are involved with abusive men, people of both genders who are involved in the drug or sex industries, or who are interested in meeting a potential partner. But having a fulfilling relationship isn't just about meeting the right non-dangerous man -- it also requires you to reflect on your own weaknesses and to overcome your own issues. And you won't find guidance on how to do that in "How to Spot a Dangerous Man."