Behind Every Great Man…

A few days ago I posted “behind every great man is an even greater woman” as my thought for the day.  Well, I have thought about it, and now I’d like to take a moment to briefly expand upon that thought.


This old adage has been around in one form or another for what seems like forever (usually as “a great woman” rather than “a greater woman,” because that would just be giving the fairer sex too much credit, now, wouldn’t it?).  As much as I might like to consider myself a feminist, I’ve never fully bought into this proverbial nonsense.  I’ve always believed that a man (or woman, for that matter) is capable of his (or her) own greatness, independent of the assistance or even presence of any kind of “significant other.”  Well, I recognize now that I was wrong.


That’s me.  Well, some of the time, anyway.

History is chock-full of examples of men made stronger by even stronger women:  Jacob had Rachel; Abraham had Sarah; Menelaus (and Paris) had Helen; Odysseus had Penelope; Arthur (and Lancelot) had Guinevere; FDR had Eleanor; Bill had Hillary; Juan Peron had Evita; Caesar and Marc Antony BOTH had Cleopatra; hell, even Macbeth had Lady Macbeth (which is actually kinda macabre when you think about it, but it still serves my point).

My favorite example, however, is Napoleon Bonaparte and Josephine.  Conventional wisdom tells us that Napoleon conquered most of Europe because he was overcompensating for being short (hence “Napoleonic Complex”), but in all honesty he wasn’t really that vertically challenged.  Rather, it was the love of that black-toothed beauty (yes, Josephine had rotten teeth–look it up) that lit a fire under Napoleon’s ass and subsequently spurred him to whip the asses of damn-near everyone on his continent.


The little Emperor and his blushing black-toothed bride

In the world of creative arts, the phenomenon is even more apparent: Robert Browning had Elizabeth Barrett Browning; Percy Bysshe Shelley had Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley; Diego Rivera had Frida Kahlo; Bob Dylan had Joan Baez; Ted Hughes had Sylvia Plath; Stieglitz had O’Keeffe; Man Ray had Lee Miller; Lindsey Buckingham had Stevie Nicks; Paul Newman had Joanne Woodward; Charles Eames had Ray Eames; Ike Turner had Tina; Sonny had Cher; Pollack had Krasner; Christo had Jean-Claude; Bogey had Bacall; Tracy had Hepburn; Johnny had June; the list goes on and on, but the song is still the same–“It Takes Two, Baby.

“It takes two, bay-baaay, to make a dream come true”

I’m almost convinced now that to be truly successful in life, or at least to reach one’s full potential as a human being, one absolutely needs the love and support of a significant other.  “People… need people…,” to paraphrase Barbara Streisand.  We need someone to hold–someone to be there for us in our most desperate times of need; someone who not only offers encouragement in our moments of doubt and pushes us to be a better person, but someone who actually makes us want to be a better person.  I once had someone like that in my life, but I blew it because I ceased wishing to be a better person.  I ceased wishing to be, period.

Companionship isn’t just the key to success–it’s the key to happiness, I believe, because it’s one of the most vital components to the human experience.  And by “companionship,” I’m not talking about casual companionship or flavor-of-the-month relationships ala Sex in the City.  I’m talking about the whole enchilada–something real and permanent and inexplicably linked to the human heart’s acknowledgement of something greater outside itself.  When someone loves you enough to recognize your potential, and helps you to recognize that potential yourself, they’re a keeper.  When you can look into the eyes of someone you love and know that not only do they love you back unconditionally, but that they’ve got your back unconditionally as well… THAT’S what it’s actually all about, Alfie.  To love and to be loved.


2 thoughts on “Behind Every Great Man…

  1. Well said. I don’t believe everyone needs to be partnered to reach their potential, but it takes a rare self-realized human to do it all on his or her own. However, most of those women you mentioned may have done far greater things on their own had they had some damn rights.

  2. Right on, Jennifer–not everyone necessarily needs to be partnered to reach his or her potential, and indeed it does take a rare self-realized human being to do it all on his or her own (**cough** Jesus **cough** **cough**). However, I firmly believe for everyone else on this earth, having a kindred spirit or like-minded soul in your life as a guiding force is absolutely necessary to reach your full potential as a human being for the simple reason that it’s an essential part of the human experience. And of course, historically speaking, most of the women I mentioned may have accomplished far greater things than the men they were behind if they’d only been afforded the same rights, but I don’t think they could have done it alone for the same reason the men couldn’t have done it alone: people need people. Period.

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