Jewish World ReviewDec. 7, 2004 / 24 Kislev, 5765

Karen Heller

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Consumer Reports

Grumpy old — and young — men | Perusing Jed Diamond's "The Irritable Male Syndrome," two thoughts occur about this latest psychological revelation.

First: What took them so long?

Then: Wait a second, buster, women own this territory.

Bad enough that men have reclaimed vanity and "sharing your pain" sensitivity, long the provenance of females. But being able to blame irritability, anger and interminable funks on hormones is going too far.

These are fighting words.

Diamond, you may recall, is the guy who got rich arguing the case for the existence of andropause, or male menopause, which allows men to call us on our hot flashes, then raise us their hormone replacement therapy.

He wrote the 1997 best-seller "Male Menopause" and then, natch, the follow-up, "Surviving Male Menopause," because it's not enough to have an emotionally disabling condition these days.

No, you've got to possess the syndrome, luxuriate in the exquisite discomfort of it, and purchase many, many self-help books padded with dictionary definitions, huge sections lifted from other books, revelatory personal confessions, questionnaires and journals (or "thought records"), all of which, you'll be relieved to know, are contained in ``The Irritable Male Syndrome.''

For good measure, every new disorder requires its own appropriately colored ribbons - for IMS, I'm thinking red - while hosting fun runs, awareness seminars, a support-group network, and society fund-raisers chaired by arrivistes unable to land committees for the truly big illness galas.

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Learning about Irritable Male Syndrome - which sounds painful and unsuitable for polite dinner conversation - I began to think that this was, perhaps, merely a fancy term for cranky middle-aged guy.

But, no.

IMS can strike at any age, from infancy, straight through adolescence, middle age and into irritable golden years! For mothers of sons, this translates into potentially multiple IMS sufferers living under one roof, and being technically outnumbered with no prayer of recovering field position.

Irritable Male Syndrome tries to give biological-imperative arguments for what was once merely inexcusable behavior. There's a reason guys come home after work and all they want to do is play Texas hold 'em on the computer instead of, say, helping with homework or dinner! It's due to their inability to relieve stress!

Wait, it gets worse.

We know men compete to do almost everything better than women - that is, except household chores. So big surprise here that Diamond argues IMS is far more dangerous a condition than any of your garden-variety female disorders.

Let him count the reasons. It's gone so long undiagnosed. It's gone too long untreated. Men are bad at sharing their feelings. They're more prone to violence, heart attacks, suicide, avoidance, and playing Texas hold 'em on the computer when they should be making dinner. And they can't buy new shoes as a pick-me-up whenever they're feeling blue.

Now that we have this new condition/excuse, akin to a new pest that comes to roost in the garden and will not leave, what can we do to get rid of it?

Diamond's many suggestions include buying his book, adding more zinc to the diet, decreasing licorice (he says it can reduce testosterone levels by 34 percent), practicing meditation and positive thinking, and avoiding circumcision.

Great, now he tells us.

"I now believe that this practice is one of the physical factors that contribute to IMS," Diamond writes with his typical surety based on no findings whatsoever. "Although there haven't been studies linking circumcision to IMS, there is enough evidence of the effects of early childhood trauma that I believe it's wise for parents to carefully consider the subject before making a decision."

OK, so if it's too late for all this, and nothing else works, there are always selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, B vitamins, and good old ginkgo biloba.

Like other post-new-age male-angst gurus with their own PBS specials, Diamond is big on men's support groups and, you know, getting in touch with those long-lost feelings. A licensed psychotherapist, he's very critical of his profession: "Though well-meaning, many therapists do in fact contribute to patients' problems."

Diamond is a much greater advocate of getting a nice place, preferably in the country, which, last time I checked, isn't covered by most major medical plans.

Great, I'm thinking, just great. Men are going to ride this emotional hormonal roller-coaster thing far better and far longer than we ever have. They're going to make PMS look like croquet compared with the NFL of IMS. And we're still going to do all the laundry.

Karen Heller is a columnist for Philadelphia Inquirer. Comment by clicking here.


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04/22/04: When your name's not the same as the children's

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