Belfast Telegraph

Monday 29 December 2014

It's time to lay off Rory McIlroy... the heart has its reasons

Rory McIlroy and Caroline Wozniacki during happier times
Rory McIlroy and Caroline Wozniacki during happier times

Blaise Pascal may have been a mathematician, physicist and Christian thinker, but he was also a Frenchman and hence something of a philosopher when it comes to l'amour. And he kind of summed it all up when he penned: "The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing."

They're words that I've been thinking about since golfer Rory McIlroy called off his engagement to tennis star fiancee Caroline Wozniacki – four days after the wedding invitations were sent out.

Since then the Holywood man has been subject to much media sniping. The general gist is that he's a selfish, heartless cad with deep-seated commitment issues and a bad sense of timing. (Not that, judging by his wonderful win in the PGA on Sunday, he is paying much attention to the critics.)

For his part, Rory's behaviour since the break-up has been one of a man all too aware of the anguish he has wrought. Willingly donning the proverbial sackcloth and ashes, he totally blamed himself for the whole thing and freely admitted that he wasn't ready for marriage.

In fact, the only thing missing was Rory ringing a bell and yelling "Unclean! Unclean!" as he walked down the fairway.

Still, the mauling that he has received at the hands of the media more than hints at sexist double standards.

None of us knows what went on behind the doors of the McIlroy/Wozniacki relationship, but I suspect that if the roles had been reversed and Caroline had jettisoned Rory, she wouldn't have been subject to such flak.

You see, while it is perfectly acceptable for a woman to leave a man, it isn't quite the same when a man leaves a woman.

A woman can be "unhappy" in a relationship and we all look accusingly at the man (why can't you make her happy? Mmm ... ). Or a woman can leave a man "to find herself" and we all applaud her for her emotional bravery and wish her well on the journey.

But a man? We immediately reach for words like "playboy" and "bounder" (and that's just the polite euphemisms). He is "selfish". He is behaving "like a little boy" who refuses to "grow up". He "must be out of his mind".

It is, of course, a case of gross double standards. Women can have all sorts of wonderfully complex inner emotional lives, their moods, whims and desires achieving the status of a holy writ. Men, on the other hand, are judged incapable of such intensity. Their lives are deemed to be limited to a few, basic biological and psychological needs.

After all, by definition, a man in a relationship already has a woman – what on earth more could he want? And it is this that is at the root of McIlroy's discomfort. Why would you want to leave a successful beauty like Caroline Wozniacki? There's an assumption that Rory's motives were unworthy, incoherent, or downright mean.

Few bother to look at it the other way round: why would a 23-year-old sportswoman who has spent her life sweating for success suddenly announce that she wanted to settle down and have children in the near future? What sort of a headmelt is that? To a consummate sportsman like Rory, still only 25 himself, that must have been perplexing. And dead scary.

But, no, it's Rory who must explain himself. There was a similar mixture of disbelief and anger when Graham Quinn left his wife Myleene Klass. What sort of madman would want to leave Myleene? What more would a man want?

Instead of being honest and saying – as we would say if it was a woman – "Who knows?", we prefer to reach for simplifying and degrading stereotypes. Hence, they're looking to "trade up", they want to "play the field", they "can't keep their trousers on".

But we never really consider the terrible truth of Pascal's observation. The heart wants what the heart wants. That's it. Beyond reason. Beyond argument. Beyond ideas of justice, fairness and rightness. We seem more ready to accept this obvious truth when it comes to women following their desires. Men, however, get the pointy end of the stick.

Before joining the chorus of criticism, we'd do well to remind ourselves that just because something seems "right" from the outside doesn't mean it feels "right" when on the inside.

And sometimes it's simply right to run like fury from something that just feels wrong.

Which is why we should be wary of snap judgments about Rory's motives in breaking off his second long-term relationship. Men are just as entitled to be fulfilled in love as women. And who knows what makes a fulfilling relationship?

Why can't we all just accept that fundamental right to equality – even if it is an equality in out and out craziness?

Follow me on Twitter: @GWalker9

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