Not So Great Expectations
This is making the rounds in my Facebook universe:
I know that this is supposed to be funny. Here- I’ll even put in a bunch of laughy emoticons to prove it:
XD XD XD XD XD XD
See? LMAO. Except, not really, because I knew the gist of the punchline at, “Tonight, I thought my husband was acting weird,” even before I scrolled down to see the brevity of the husband’s diary entry: women over-analyze shit to the point of making existential relationship crises out of non-issues that could be summed up in two sentence fragments. Bitch be crazy.
I once had a boyfriend who thought that I was being sarcastic every time I said, “sure,” and that it was a sign of rejection every time I rolled over with my back towards him in bed. I appreciate how absurd and exasperating it is when an insecure, whiny S. O. makes every single little thing a referendum. I really, really want to jump on the bandwagon and laugh at this. I really, really do.
I’m just sick of conflicts between men and women being framed in a labyrinth feminine emotions that men don’t share and will never understand. The problem is that any gripe a woman has can be framed this way, from chronic tardiness to systemic abuse. As a result, real problems and legitimate needs are not taken seriously, neither by men nor by the women themselves.
Oh, sure. A man might triage the situation by apologizing and promising to do better in the future. He may even follow through on the promise. But will the apology be genuine? Will he apologize because he cares about her and wants to treat her fairly? Or will he apologize because, well, it’s not his fault, dammit, bitch be crazy, but this is what guys have to do to keep a relationship sane? The later is patronizing bullshit. Not only is it a recipe for resentment on the part of the man, but it is also dishonest. Men, do you like being lied to? No? Well, what a coincidence, neither do women.
But usually, before griping women get lied to, they get told that they are “overreacting.” Sometimes, that is the case, I’m sure. Part of being an imperfect human is to overreact once in a while. Some people even like to create drama in their lives by making a federal case out of everything (hint- don’t date those people). When the only tool available is a hammer, though, everything looks like a nail. When the only way we think about heterosexual relationships is in terms of gender stereotypes, every problem looks like a woman over-thinking insensitive yet otherwise completely innocent behavior on the part of the man.
The culture as a whole sides with the guy in this story. Reasonable expectations held by women are treated as affronts to manliness:
You know what? Us women are socialized from a very young age to take good care of our physical appearance: smell good, watch our weight, wear stylish clothes, and use magic potions to keep our skin and hair soft and blemish-free. We even pay to get insulted with men’s snarky opinions about how we present ourselves in glossy magazines. It’s not too much to ask that you eat a goddamn vegetable once in a while. I know weight management is difficult for many people, and no one should feel like they need to be a certain size to be loved. But really, embracing gluttony at the expense of your health and your physical appeal to your girlfriend just to prove that you aren’t pussy whipped? That is stupid.
So is destroying a minivan. Chores suck. That is why they are called chores. Getting groceries and cleaning the bathroom are part of being an adult.
If a woman feels so entitled as to expect her man to live up to such expectations, those expectations apparently need to be brought down a notch:
Kind. Eloquent. Thoughtful. Generous. How dare women value men who aspire to those traits! Quick, somebody put them in their place by insulting them and man-handling their boobs! Do the girlfriends now get to hire strangers to squeeze the boyfriends’ balls every time they indulge their unrealistic fantasies about women?
The women in this trap generally fall into two strategies after a while. If she doesn’t mind being treated like a child and/or lied to, she learns to dig in her heels until she gets her way, throwing tantrums if needed. I’ve seen this dynamic play out, and in those situations, both the man and the woman look pretty miserable. If she prefers to be treated like an adult and not be lied to, she learns to suck it up because she doesn’t want to be one of “those women.” That’s no good either. The woman generally wakes up one day, realizes that she is married to Homer Simpson, and starts shopping around for a divorce attorney.
I propose a third way: stop framing the conflicts in terms of stereotypes.
When women complain, they generally aren’t angling for some mysterious prince-charming wish-fulfillment. Their motivations can be understood in terms of emotions and social expectations we all know and understand.
Example: my ex-husband had a lot of opinions about how I did things- how I drove, how I kissed, how I made love, how I did chores around the house. Clothes hung out to dry felt stiff and smelled musty- he preferred laundry dried in the dryer. I left cupboards open. I left the light on in the stairwell, right where it shown in eyes when he walked down the stairs. He likes brunettes- couldn’t I dye my hair again like that one time I did for fun with temporary hair dye on his birthday?
It bugged me. Seen through the lens of gender stereotypes, my distress over his constant criticism was just me being oversensitive. That is how he, and ultimately I, interpreted it, because I didn’t want to be one of “those women.” Couldn’t I take some constructive criticism? If it were just one or two or a few things, sure. But it wasn’t just a few things. It was many things, and nobody likes to be constantly criticized, especially over petty things and especially in one’s own home. There were light switches at both ends of the stairwell. He should have just used one before he started down the stairs.
For another example, let’s revisit Facebook picture. I get that it’s hyperbole. No reasonable person jumps to the conclusion that his or her spouse is having an affair from a single night of general distraction and aloofness. However, it is rude to go off daydreaming during a social engagement, such as a dinner at a nice restaurant. Social graces are not my specialty; my teachers were fond of writing on my evaluations that I was often “off in my own little world,” and even I know that it is generally expected that one pay attention and contribute to a conversation at a social function. If he really, really can’t think of anything else, what, exactly, is wrong with a conversation about troubleshooting a motorcycle? Or even just saying, “I’m sorry I’m distracted. I can’t figure out why my motorcycle won’t start.”
I really don’t like being the PC police. My point here isn’t to make people feel bad for laughing at these jokes. My point is to challenge the assumption that men and women think and communicate so differently that they are doomed to misunderstand each other. It matters, because this assumption have real world consequences. It gives cover for men to ignore what women say under the guise of “not speaking female”. It’s bullshit. We are all human. There isn’t separate “English for guys” and “English for girls”. Even misunderstandings that arise from real differences in how men and women experience the world can be sufficiently understood when enough context is explained.
Another example: I recently was at the grocery chain, “Aldis,” when the guy I’m seeing sent me a text. I told him where I was, and he replied, “Aldi? Who’s Aldi? I’ll kill him!”
“not funny :(“
“Aw, you’re no fun.”
Yeah, I did feel like a bit of a killjoy. But here’s the thing. We all have fears. This guy’s fear is spiders. Mine is relationship violence. And unlike spiders, jealous boyfriends do carry a significant risk of causing death or bodily harm. This guy lives only a block away from me and has both a concealed weapon permit and a key to my house. For further context, half of my friends are guys. For even further context, I continued to date other people for several weeks after this guy and I met. I’d like to think that this guy has the sense that a gun is not a good response to infidelity, whether real or imagined. However, statistics show that a significant proportion of men do not have this sense.
My life and the lives of the people I live and spend time with depend upon me being able to perceive whether or not this guy is one of them. If I ever do get cues from him that he is thinking about doing something stupid, I can’t afford the time it would take to discern whether or not he is joking. So I’d much rather prefer that he didn’t.
Moral of the story: listen to what women say, and take it seriously. Don’t do it because it’s what you do to stay out of the doghouse. Do it because women are people, and it’s the right thing to do.