It’s just not worth it.
February 14, 2016 5:24 PM   Subscribe

You see them everywhere—exhausted young women pouring all their spare energy into organising, encouraging and taking care of young men who resent them for doing it but resent them even harder when they don’t. You see them cringing for every crumb of affection before someone cracks and it all goes wrong and the grim cycle starts again. You can fritter away the whole of your youth that way. I know women who have. - Laurie Penny, Maybe you should just be single [SL NewStatesman]
posted by melissasaurus (255 comments total) 227 users marked this as a favorite
 
Link seems to go to an article called "Who speaks for England" by Peter Wilby.
posted by dazed_one at 5:26 PM on February 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


[Fixed!]
posted by cortex at 5:27 PM on February 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


Yeah, not sure what happened. Here's the link guys (hopefully a mod will fix it soon). /postfail
posted by melissasaurus at 5:27 PM on February 14, 2016


I think this is the correct link.
posted by dazed_one at 5:27 PM on February 14, 2016


Men usually have far more to gain from this sort of traditional arrangement.

This seems true to me, and yet so many young men I see not only don't value these arrangements but work at them so much less than the young women, which I have trouble understanding. And at the same time, as the article discusses, young women sacrifice so much to try and make things work.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:48 PM on February 14, 2016 [6 favorites]


This article is spot-on and extremely depressing.
posted by a strong female character at 5:59 PM on February 14, 2016 [9 favorites]


My whole 20s have been spent dating guys who are shaken to their core by the expectations of an actual, reciprocal relationship (which I am pretty uncompromising about). I mean, it's dark night of the soul stuff. Either they're the type to just wander off when things aren't 100% going their way, or they really go through the wringer trying to understand why... a woman... isn't thrilled to take care of their every emotional need? Truly the paradigm is a man is a deep and complicated thing who needs a woman to absorb his negative psychic energy, but he has exactly zero equipment for understanding, valuing or responding to a woman's emotional or social needs.

It is so beyond my understanding how you can grow up desiring a girlfriend while completely not understanding that girls are people. But then again, in the recent literature thread (first "related post" below!) there is much documentation of the way that men in literature enter into relationships finding the companionship of a woman soothing, only to realize that... she has her own desires and impulses. But c'mon, how could you not know that? Read a fricking book! (I have also learned that reading a book 1) written by a woman or 2) about women is also enough to destabilize a man's entire interior universe, even if he will even consent to do it and go through with it.)

It's the narcissism of being raised in a cultural vacuum that prioritizes maleness, I guess.
posted by stoneandstar at 6:03 PM on February 14, 2016 [156 favorites]


Required reading at Crone Island High.
posted by carmicha at 6:04 PM on February 14, 2016 [61 favorites]


The idea that men are extremely complicated and need someone careful and patient and kind to suss out all their thoughts and feelings relies on 1) the idea that women have nothing better to do and 2) men are more intelligent/sensitive/intellectual than women, so it's worth it. So many women spend time trying to "help" men with their "deep" thoughts. If I could go back and take back all the time I spent holding men's hands and being ultra "patient" as they went through stuff I already had to deal with on my own...

That's why while in general I don't have a problem with age gap relationships, in practice, so many middle aged men are just looking for a surrogate mom (with a sexy body), and thus they find young women who look pretty good and haven't learned yet that trying to "help" a man in the absence of any real crisis or difficulty is possibly the worst use of their time, ever. Oh snap, women your age have the same aging skin and body fat percentage as you, and they don't have time to help you when you haven't even tried to help yourself yet? Grow up.
posted by stoneandstar at 6:10 PM on February 14, 2016 [73 favorites]


This was a very interesting article to read. I've hit the point in my life where the cringing from the spinster label has turned into a bit of gloating. Because when other women in my age range meet me and we chat about families and kids, sometimes I get the pity glance when I state I'm not married and I don't have children. But sometimes (and more often than you'd think), I get a look of envy and it's usually accompanied by a "wow, what's that like?" If I'm in a really good mood I respond "fucking awesome".

It's exhausting dealing with needy men out in the world - to come home to more of the same? I'll just sip on my latte while I watch you negotiate with a grown man like he's your other toddler.
posted by lootie777 at 6:18 PM on February 14, 2016 [90 favorites]


This is a painfully familiar read. Ouch. Thank you.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:19 PM on February 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


I’ve lost count of the men who seem to believe that the trump card they hold in any debate is “but you’re unattractive”. “But I wouldn’t date you.”

I'm going to use this on the next guy I get in an argument with. On the other hand, I've had plenty of women use the "Nobody likes you, anyway." argument so I guess things can get pretty petty from either direction.
posted by irisclara at 6:26 PM on February 14, 2016 [4 favorites]


Last night, I was hanging out with a younger friend of mine (26), and she was talking about her confusion about whether or not she should tell her boyfriend (33) that she loved him. They've been formally dating for about three months, but 'hooking up' for almost two years; the process by which she describes her efforts to get him to acquiesce to this shift in status reminds me of the infinite patience of someone trying to coax a skittish deer to eat from her hand.

Apparently, over the weekend, he asked her, "Are we going to do something for Sunday?" This statement means something along the lines of, "I expect you to tell me whether or not you expect me to celebrate this holiday with you; by 'celebrate', I mean, allow myself to be cajoled into participating in a celebration for which I expect you to do all the planning. Furthermore, I refuse to say either the phrase, 'Go on a date' "or 'Valentine's Day' out loud; I expect you to say those words for me, and yet after I let you do all this work for me, I will expect you to feel lucky, and as though the relationship has progressed."

So now they have a date on Valentine's Day, and she's trying to decide whether or not she should tell him she loves him, even though it seems like she's pretty much 95% sure that he won't say it back, and this is going to upset her. But, essentially, she thinks that the only way to eventually get him to a place where he might be comfortable saying it is to say it to him first, unrequited, regardless of the hurt this is going to cause her in the moment. She then told me that they get into a fight/discussion approximately every two weeks about where the relationship is heading, and told me that at the next one, she plans on asking him, "Are you curious about me? Do you ever wonder about what I'm thinking?" She is literally committed to the project of teaching him, word-for-word, sentence-by-sentence, how to be a human being in a relationship. It's like she has to chew his feelings for him, swallow them, and regurgitate them back into his fucking mouth.

The weight of it! The work of it! The fucking exhaustion. All these beautiful, lively, smart, intelligent, sensitive, articulate young women, and these goddamn burdensome (not-so) young men, who never had to learn how to recognize a single one of their own feelings and describe them in words, because they rely on the women around them to do it for them.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 6:29 PM on February 14, 2016 [332 favorites]


well. it was certainly this kind of day for me. how timely.
posted by suddenly, and without warning, at 6:32 PM on February 14, 2016


But, essentially, she thinks that the only way to eventually get him to a place where he might be comfortable saying it is to say it to him first, unrequited, regardless of the hurt this is going to cause her in the moment.

Oh man, I have been there! Exactly there! It's like you KNOW they're never going to say it without you raising the issue, and the only way to really raise it is to say, "OK, here I am, admitting that I love you, so that you can say it back without any risk of hurt or lack of reciprocation! I have said it so whenever you actually start thinking about me, real life, being an adult, etc., you can decide whether you feel it back or not, no big deal, I'm chill. OK."

at the next one, she plans on asking him, "Are you curious about me? Do you ever wonder about what I'm thinking?" She is literally committed to the project of teaching him, word-for-word, sentence-by-sentence, how to be a human being in a relationship.

Oh Jesus, this too. How. Is this. A thing.
posted by stoneandstar at 6:34 PM on February 14, 2016 [15 favorites]


Honestly what's weird about the way current men seem to be going is that they themselves have decided to "free" themselves of prior expectations about marriage. Yes, women have always been expected to do emotional labor, but at least in the past, men knew they actually had to court women, had to care for and please their wives, spent a not insignificant amount of time rewarding women for putting up with their shit. Now men are happy to say "Yay equality! I don't have to pay for your life, or for nice things for you, or make beautiful gestures and kind presents for you!" But they're not happy to actually take on any work for the equality they supposedly espouse. The "equality" many modern, 20s to 30s men go for is simply the equality of misery.
posted by corb at 6:41 PM on February 14, 2016 [78 favorites]


Austerity and anti-welfarism are an attack on women’s independence under capitalism. This is why agitating for economic change, like the institution of a guaranteed minimum income, should be one of feminism’s core projects.
This really stood out. It's the central point of the article on a societal scale.
posted by Flipping_Hades_Terwilliger at 6:42 PM on February 14, 2016 [83 favorites]


So many women spend time trying to "help" men with their "deep" thoughts.

She is literally committed to the project of teaching him, word-for-word, sentence-by-sentence, how to be a human being in a relationship. It's like she has to chew his feelings for him, swallow them, and regurgitate them back into his fucking mouth.

So I had my first poly relationship end recently and HOLY CANNOLI BATMAN was that an education in how true this is. I was a third to a lovely married couple who had been casual friends of mine for a while, but it ended really poorly -- after being encouraged to consider them as close friends and romantic partners, I sent a text message that said roughly, "Hey, sorry if I seem anxious and withdrawn, my sister is SUPER ill and addicted to painkillers and suicidal and my mom has a mystery illness and my dad might have cancer so things on the homefront are a bit nuts and I might be kind of withdrawn. Didn't want you guys to think it was you." A few days later they came over, on short notice, and unbeknownst to me in the midst of a fight, while I was sick and in the middle of cooking dinner for myself. The husband broke up with me by telling me that he was a very self-involved person (!!) and he felt bad about it (!!!) but because he wasn't passionately in love with me (!!!!) he wasn't interested in caring for or about me (!!!!!) [1]. The wife reacted.... very strangely and inappropriately, I thought at the time.

The next day, she asked if we could have a chat, and because things were weird and I was really angry about how the whole thing had been handled I said yes, and she explained that her husband had dumped me for both of them without telling her he was going to or consulting with her about it. (There are not enough exclamation marks in the universe to insert after that statement.) Which explains the reaction. And when I expressed how insanely hurt I was by her husband's behavior, and that I expected him to do better if he was interested in a friendship in the future, she told me... that I needed to educate him on how to care for me, like she had had to do. And that I had unrealistically high expectations for expecting him to be able to do things like talk to me about his boundaries or perform emotional labor without me teaching him how. She fell just short of implying I would never find a partner if my expectations were so high, but the undertones were there, and I couldn't even be mad at her-- she had so clearly had to drink the Kool-Aid to survive. Then she told me all about her strategies for managing and teaching him to manage his emotions, and they were literally like something you'd do with a child. I walked away from that conversation equal parts sad about the whole situation and furious on her behalf. (I also had a split second of wondering if my standards actually were too high and then I talked to some friends about it and got over that in short order. Maybe they are. If so, I'll happily die surrounded by art and dogs and vibrators, clutching my sweet beautiful standards to my cooling breast.)

And here's the thing, I kind of wondered about it at the time, the signs were there-- but they were supposedly such a feminist and enlightened couple that I didn't want to actually see the patterns. The husband was in graduate school, finishing his master's. He was in many ways a cool guy with some fascinating interests: he was a traditional healer for his particular cultural tradition, a painter, a calligrapher, a musician, spoke two and a half languages, had all these hobbies, you know what his interests are within fifteen minutes of meeting him. The wife, who is also a well-educated and interesting person, works full time -- and three months in I was still trying to suss out what her private leisure activities were. I thought that she was just more quiet about them, but now I can see, she didn't have space for any. Too much of her time was spent managing this... overgrown baby.

And the thing is-- I still really like the wife. I don't think she and I are romantically compatible, and we're definitely very different about how we approach a lot of things (not least in the amount of work we're willing to do for men), but I like her and in general I respect her. And there is no way I'm going to be able to be around her for a while, even though I'd love to maintain a friendship, or I'm going to flip a fucking table on her behalf while yelling about how she's too good for this shit. I've had similar situations happen to me before, and I've watched friends go through it, but wow, there is no vantage point like literally right beside the person having to put up with this bullshit to really clear the scales from your eyes.

So yeah. Anyway. I'm too good for this shit. So are you. High standards and Crone Island forever.

[1] Ah yes the classic "you appear to be a person who has feelings sometimes, so BYE" maneuver.
posted by WidgetAlley at 7:00 PM on February 14, 2016 [146 favorites]


"It is so beyond my understanding how you can grow up desiring a girlfriend while completely not understanding that girls are people."

They're called boobs, Ed.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:15 PM on February 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


Haha, I mean, I get that part. But I don't get how you're like Levin in Anna Karenina thinking, "oh how grand, a woman to listen to my thoughts on farming technology... !" without considering that maybe she dgaf and actually cares about things of her own.

As in, so many men fantasize about having a woman to care for the part of themselves that they can't show to the world, the emotional, tender part that other men would mock them for... but when women aren't elated to have a totally one-way relationship, it's such a revelation. I mean, c'mon.
posted by stoneandstar at 7:17 PM on February 14, 2016 [12 favorites]


Honestly what's weird about the way current men seem to be going is that they themselves have decided to "free" themselves of prior expectations about marriage. Yes, women have always been expected to do emotional labor, but at least in the past, men knew they actually had to court women, had to care for and please their wives, spent a not insignificant amount of time rewarding women for putting up with their shit. Now men are happy to say "Yay equality! I don't have to pay for your life, or for nice things for you, or make beautiful gestures and kind presents for you!" But they're not happy to actually take on any work for the equality they supposedly espouse. The "equality" many modern, 20s to 30s men go for is simply the equality of misery.

The flipside of emotional labour is giving no fucks.
posted by Sebmojo at 7:17 PM on February 14, 2016 [4 favorites]


Oof.
posted by ChuraChura at 7:19 PM on February 14, 2016 [4 favorites]


Once upon a time, in a land ... 2 blocks from where I happen to be right now, I was in love with a wonderful boy. And he was in love with me. And we had a wonderful time together being in love and wonderful to each other. Until the day we had an awful arguement, which rarely ever happened, even on the Valentine's day when he gave me a package of white, men's tube socks, that I have no doubt he bought at WalMart. Somehow that wonderful boy made tube socks romantic! (I am such a sap, I still have the card that went with the tube socks.) Anyway, one day he got upset with me and somehow, before I knew it we were having an awful argument about our impending, inevitable divorce. Which really confused me, because me and the wonderful boy were not married. We had never even talked about getting married. We had dated 3 years, we were happy and I figured marriage was probably in our future since we were so stupidly happy. But, honestly, I was not hot to jump aboard the marriage train and start popping out babies. My plan was to go to graduate school. Eventually the wonderful boy revealed the true source of the awful argument. His mother. His mother who did not think a young woman should go to graduate school because young women in graduate school are not at home taking care of their wonderful husband and wonderful children. So the wonderful boy and I split up because I was not going to give up graduate school to marry him and have babies even if his mother thought it was time for him to settle down and start a family. Within 2 years he was married. TO A WOMAN WHO LOOKS JUST LIKE ME. That freaked me out a little bit. Anyway, wonderful boy has been married to my doppelganger for .... a looooooong time. They have kids and seem very happy. I got my graduate degree. Stayed happily single. And next month I will be in Venice. For work. Happy Endings sometimes happen!! .... Jeez, ... Why did I write all this? .... OH YAH, to say that sometimes wonderful boys have shitty mothers. So, there's that.
posted by pjsky at 7:40 PM on February 14, 2016 [39 favorites]


Obligatory Parks & Recreation gifset.

It's a mystery to me sometimes why women still date men at all. We're almost universally horrible.
posted by tobascodagama at 7:42 PM on February 14, 2016 [9 favorites]


(And I'm not excluding myself there, either, I've had a lot of shit to work through to start approximating a human being. Patriarchy is a hell of a drug.)
posted by tobascodagama at 7:43 PM on February 14, 2016 [10 favorites]


tobascodagama: "Obligatory Parks & Recreation gifset.

It's a mystery to me sometimes why women still date men at all. We're almost universally horrible.
"

tobascodagama: "(And I'm not excluding myself there, either, I've had a lot of shit to work through to start approximating a human being. Patriarchy is a hell of a drug.)"

Yeah, we can be. That is one of the reasons that, when the crazy ex discussions come up, I admit to being a crazy ex myself.

Working on it though. Hope I can get it down before I am too old to be any fun.
posted by Samizdata at 7:46 PM on February 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


Here is another Valentine's Day piece of emotional labor I've been thinking about recently: the question of when (or whether) to have sex.

I have a theory that many men would actually prefer to wait to have sex with someone new, which isn't surprising - they're real people, and sex is scary, and there's often a ton of (largely self-imposed) pressure on them to perform. But they don't know how to look at that fear and name it, so they need women to intuit their feelings and be the ones to exert the self-control that's required for delaying sex. When women don't do that work, the men end up have sex before they're ready, and they feel freaked out and squicky about it, and respond by shutting down.

I literally sat up in bed one night a few years ago, thinking about this one guy who'd flaked on me post-sex after having been super enthusiastic, and a bunch of pieces came together in my head and I was like, oh, the problem was that we had sex before he was ready.

And then, the other night, I went out to dinner with this guy in a poly relationship and there was some question, at the end of the evening, about whether physical contact was going to happen. You know, that usual sort of end-of-date hesitation. And instead of reaching in for a kiss and seeing what I do, he goes, "Listen, I'd really like to kiss you right now, but I'm not quite ready, maybe we could hang out again and see where it goes?"

The heavens fucking opened, I tell you. Bells pealed. The angels descended. My whole fucking life I've been doing the work of postponing sex, trying (and very often failing) to hold off on hooking up even when I wanted to jump some guy's bones so badly, because I knew we'd both be happier in the long run if we didn't rush into things. It was tiring. I was bad at it. I often felt shitty about myself because of it. And the whole time, there was never, ever any reason why I always had to be the person doing that work.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 7:51 PM on February 14, 2016 [154 favorites]


There are many days that I think the only thing that kept me out of the really twisted "mommy" dynamic relationships is the fact that deep down I'm a lazy, lazy woman and just can't be bothered to work that hard at fixing someone else.
posted by emjaybee at 7:59 PM on February 14, 2016 [82 favorites]


Ah, the story of College-Me. I'm not sure what finally, Moonstruck-style, snapped me out of thinking any of this was normal okay. Maybe it was just such egregious bullshit throughout college (I dated a couple okay guys very early on but after that it was a shitshow) that once I got out of that environment it was like the clouds parted and I saw the light. I don't know. But when I met my now-husband I actually made a conscious decision to not do that luring-a-skittish-forest-creature-to-eat-from-my-hand malarkey. I was going to express my feelings and if he couldn't deal, that'd be his loss. It was really a hole in one because I did find an actual adult male who could mostly handle himself like a real human person. We've been married 16 years.

There was this one guy in college--one of the better ones actually because he wasn't abusive, at least. He was sweet, and a virgin (I was very much not). I legitimately liked him and for him it was like... a long time coming to finally have a girlfriend. But very very quickly he fell into this thing where I couldn't be too nice to him, I couldn't talk to him or come over too much. (Bear in mind that one of his roommates was one of my best friends and our entire friend group was shared.) I wanted to do nice stuff for him (despite him really not doing anything of the sort for me) but was constantly second-guessing. Is cooking him a nice home-cooked dinner and delivering it to his house (down the road a piece) because I knew he was knee-deep in schoolwork going to be perceived as "too needy"? It was all so dumb. And then he decided that since he finally lost his v-card that really what he deserved was hotter girls. I'm cute (or at least, I was when I was 20) but I'm not hot. So, in the fullness of time, I got pushed away and eventually dumped. I was p.o.'ed and somewhat gratified to see that these mysterious hotties never actually materialized for him. Yeah, this could have been us, but you trippin.
posted by soren_lorensen at 8:00 PM on February 14, 2016 [19 favorites]


I have so many women friends I wish I could send this to without it hurting them deeply.
posted by sallybrown at 8:18 PM on February 14, 2016 [25 favorites]


I don't identify this way, but as a complementary piece with a slightly more upbeat tone, I really love The Toast's article, "Why Being Solo and Poly Has Made Me a Happiness Evangelist".
posted by WidgetAlley at 8:21 PM on February 14, 2016 [6 favorites]


This is a good companion piece to the emotional labor thread from last summer.
posted by limeonaire at 8:37 PM on February 14, 2016 [7 favorites]


I want to share something, and sincerely hope I don't blow up the thread:

As a man, it makes me so sad to read the stories shared in this thread (and the essay). I've been saying for years that boys in the U.S. are struggling, terribly so, mainly because the American notion of malehood or "manliness" is toxic. Boys are simply not, by and large, taught how to understand and talk about their feelings; they're not even taught that it's OK to have them, and mothers are as guilty of reinforcing these patterns and teaching the wrong things as fathers are. And if you don't know how to accept, understand, and talk about your own feelings, how can you develop a healthy sense of other, or the ability to truly emotionally invest in another?

And yet, in a meeting a couple of weeks ago in room full of very bright, very well-educated women (two of whom are sociologists), a noticeable, long-standing gap in my university's enrollment between women and men was raised as a point of concern, with the idea of putting together a group of people to examine why that gap might be there, and what--if anything--should be done in response (my campus is about 65% women/35% men). The very idea that any effort or resources should be expended to consider the problems of men was met with resistance and even hostility. I was shocked. I think that many otherwise very compassionate and open-minded people don't quite realize that men suffer under patriarchy and current cultural norms, too, and we have many metrics to demonstrate that.

It's not that men are inherently emotionally stupid or selfish or unable to truly emotionally invest in another. It's that we, as a culture, do not teach our boys how to do so, and worse, we teach them to value the opposite and then are surprised when they grow into self-absorbed, emotionally lazy men. We can do better by our male children, and need to start doing so.
posted by LooseFilter at 8:50 PM on February 14, 2016 [82 favorites]


I've been thinking about this a lot in a completely different context. Now that I'm a daring divorcee in my late 40s and single-ish (I have an on-again/off-again partner with whom I enjoy being single together) I'm getting exposed to some frightening things.

It has shaken my belief in men to the core to watch my male friends date online post-divorce. I'm not kidding about this. Nearly every one of them sets his profile to indicate he is looking for (much) younger women . Even men I thought were nice. Even men who have no interest in having more babies. Even men who are my friends and whom I know normally dated or married women of approximately the same age in their prior dating experience. It's so common that it isn't even a joke. It's just a fact.

I was first exposed to this by a male friend of mine who asked me for help in finding women to date since he wasn't getting any hits through OKCupid. Like me, he's within spitting distance of 50. I gave him advice about pictures and his profile when suddenly I noticed he had set his search parameters so he was looking for a woman between the ages of 28-38! I get the "men are visual" argument, but it just didn't seem to hold here-- I've known this man for 20-odd years, and part of why I thought he was one of the good ones was that he genuinely didn't seem terribly interested in dating (or marrying) the prettiest girl. So when I pressed him, really pressed him, with why-- he mumbled something that a younger woman just seemed so much fresher to him, and more fun. And nicer. Women his own age, he felt, were all rather mean.

And I thought about that, and I realized it was sort of true. As a divorced 40-something I am completely done doing emotional work for anyone. I will never again repair someone's relationship with their mother or help them admit their feelings out loud because they don't know how. I will never ever again feel guilty because I didn't send thank you cards on his behalf or help sort out his schedule. I expect him to be able to do all these things his own damn self. So yes, I am "meaner" than I was at 28 and newly married.

And then I really was genuinely glad to be single-ish. And I really really wonder if it's true that these people who I have looked at as my friends and peers for so many years can really be so terribly childish now. (We were all childish in our twenties; it was charming then.)

But I also think this cannot be good for men either. Or their happiness.

(It's sparking a different appalling behavior in my female friends too, by the way. Every woman my age who uses dating apps lies about her age online, because they know if they admit to being over 45 they will be excluded from 98% of searches. So they lie to "get their foot in the door." Sigh.)
posted by frumiousb at 8:59 PM on February 14, 2016 [152 favorites]


It's not that men are inherently emotionally stupid or selfish or unable to truly emotionally invest in another. It's that we, as a culture, do not teach our boys how to do so, and worse, we teach them to value the opposite and then are surprised when they grow into self-absorbed, emotionally lazy men. We can do better by our male children, and need to start doing so.

I agree 100%. Thank you for your post.
posted by pjsky at 8:59 PM on February 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


This comes at such a funny time. I have this huge crush on an older man I see every couple of weeks or so in a sort of semi-professional way, and I have the hugest, most puppy love crush on him. Like a butterflies in my stomach, breathless, it-has-been-such-a-long time since I've felt like this kind of way crush crush.

But the thing is, I've been in enough relationships to know that it's so much work in reality, emotional and mentally and physically even, and that reality of who he is might burst my sweet and precious bubble/my (pre-Red & pre-1989) Taylor Swift crush/enchantment bubble. and I'm having such fun just being giddy that I want to luxuriate in it before he asks me out and quite possibly might ruin everything by needing women he dates to be his mommy-guide through life. Right now, he's so great in my mind.

But gosh have some of the guys I've dated been so weirdly immature and ill-equipped emotionally and intellectually to even want to try with. The very idea has been exhausting at times.

On the bright side, I can see myself pretty happily single and dating guys for 3 month stretches (I've noticed that's when they start acting real and getting openly moody and stop trying as much). I save my love and stories about immature manchildren for my married best friends who are always fascinated by nsfw details. I'm pretty happy. And happily crushing
posted by discopolo at 9:02 PM on February 14, 2016 [6 favorites]


Unfortunately, what it boils down to is that there aren't too many good single men for all the single ladies.

I figure at this point God intended me to be single, and if by some random chance I get lucky, then I do, but I probably won't. But I don't want to do online dating so I can meet a giant number of jerks in hopes of meeting the one lone non-jerk compatible with me. Because honestly, possibly the scariest thing in the world for a woman to do is to tell a dude that no, she doesn't want to fuck him.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:03 PM on February 14, 2016 [13 favorites]


It's not that men are inherently emotionally stupid or selfish or unable to truly emotionally invest in another. It's that we, as a culture, do not teach our boys how to do so, and worse, we teach them to value the opposite and then are surprised when they grow into self-absorbed, emotionally lazy men. We can do better by our male children, and need to start doing so.

Then, as a man, start doing it. The whole point is that women are not responsible for this. I am going to guess that the majority of the people who run your university are men. Maybe not the president, but the board and whomever. If men suffer under patriarchy, how the heck is that women's problem to solve? Patriarchy is BY DEFINITION the fact that men have the power.
posted by desjardins at 9:14 PM on February 14, 2016 [136 favorites]


I want to feel sorrier for men but I'm not sure if it's a mother's responsibility to tell her son, "when you're 50 years old, you don't deserve a 23-year-old to fuck."
posted by stoneandstar at 9:23 PM on February 14, 2016 [60 favorites]


"But I don't get how you're like Levin in Anna Karenina thinking, "oh how grand, a woman to listen to my thoughts on farming technology... !" without considering that maybe she dgaf and actually cares about things of her own"

I mean, honestly, I think a lot of them just ... don't. Children are self-centered creatures and they're (ideally) raised by people who DO spend a lot of time helping them regulate their emotional life. Like, a shitload of parenting is helping children learn to express and regulate their emotions. Way more than I would have thought. And I think there are two really big factors here in how some boys simply never bother to learn to have a reciprocal emotional connection with another human being. First, in the years when children are BALLS OF NEEDINESS, virtually all of the care they receive comes from women -- preschool and elementary school teachers, day carers, moms, even pediatricians are increasingly female. Lucky children get involved dads and maybe a couple of male kiddie sports coaches. (And little boys really WANT role models -- you can see it from how they just GLOM ON to male elementary school teachers or coaches or babysitters and act like they walk on water and follow them around like ducklings.) So a lot of little children see nobody but women performing emotional labor, and with the gender essentialism that goes with the age, little girls think, "Some day when I'm a mom I'll teach my kids to use their words" and little boys think, "Teaching kids to use their words is a thing women do, this is not a skill for men."

Second, as children pass out of those years of intense parental involvement in their emotional regulation and begin to self-regulate, girls simply demand more out of their friendships than boys do. (I'm only just starting thinking about this so I suppose it's culturally-determined but I don't have a strong theory.) Adolescent female friendships are LEGENDARILY difficult and drama-prone. And they are! Being an adolescent girl and navigating the emotional landscape of female friendship is hella hard! It's not just media hype to sell Mean Girls narratives! But I think the narrative the media wants to attach to it is "girls are so over-emotional and mean to each other" when actually I think the deeper narrative here is, "Girls make intense emotional demands on their friendships in ways that boys don't, and girls have hyperdramatic adolescent friendship landscapes because they are learning to engage in reciprocal emotional relationships without an adult to mediate them." Adolescent girl friend drama is children learning to manage reciprocal emotional relationships like adults. Boys friendships are not, culturally, allowed to be so intense, dramatic, or emotionally-involving, so I think boys do not get the opportunity to learn and practice adult interpersonal relationships in the same way, and boys friendships simply do not place the same emotional demands on them. Girls MUST learn to function with emotional reciprocity in their friendships or get shut out of them; emotionality is so proscribed in male friendships that they simply never face that demand.

So you have a lot of girls arriving in their late teens and early 20s with a decade of watching adult women manage other people's emotions and considering it a skill to emulate, and then a decade of struggling through the whirlpools of adolescent female friendships and learning to do the work themselves. They've served their apprenticeships. They face demands of reciprocity from other women they're friends with, and they're accustomed to the idea that relationships involve giving as well as taking.

Some boys, however, arrive in their late teens and early 20s without having ever had a peer make emotional demands on them, and without having ever had to function in a peer relationship where they have to both give and take. Their closest emotional relationships are with parents, and parent-to-child is give-give-give so the child is take-take-take. I think a lot of these young men, it has literally never occurred to them that someone they are emotionally close to would make any emotional demands on them, because that has literally never happened, because their early childhood years were full of nothing but women, and their adolescent years featured culturally-limited friendships that were emotionally superficial. So some of these guys? Yeah, they finish college and start dating seriously and they're perfectly nice guys who have literally no idea how to function as emotional adults because they're only just now starting to practice. They have the emotional literacy of 11-year-old girls. And, yeah, basically someone's going to end up having to raise them from 11-year-old-ness in interpersonal relationships to adulthood, because it's not really a task you can accomplish in the absence of other people with whom to be interpersonally related.

People like to joke that adolescent girls are emotional terrorists, which they kind-of are, but they're emotional terrorists within the controlled constraints of childhood, and they (most of them) learn the skills to quit being emotional terrorists by the time they're off to college. The only way out is through; emotional reciprocity in relationships is HELLA HARD TO LEARN and understandable adolescent girls are therefore AWFUL while in the throes of learning it. But these Peter Pan men who reach 23 and require their girlfriends to manage their emotional lives? They're sleeper agent emotional terrorists who need to go through the same painful, awkward, everyone-hates-being-around-you growth process ... but as grown-ass adults instead of adolescents. And they're going to inflict the same sort of pain on everyone around them. And they're going to be horrible, manipulative, passive-aggressive, aggressive-aggressive, drama magnets while they do it.

And Because Patriarchy we're going to act like that's just how 23-year-old men act and all roll our eyes instead of recognizing that, no, they're actually behaving like 11-year-old girls, but it's pretty embarrassing for them because it's one thing when you're 11 but when you're 23 you really ought to know better. And at 11 you're just making everyone around you miserable but at 23 you have the full power to ruin lives with your bullshit.

Anyway, men, I wish the world let you have better friendships so that you could go more reliably go through emotional adolescence at the same time as physical adolescence, instead of having to get really really lucky in who your friends are to have a shot at learning to be a person in relationships. And I mean that not in a sarcastic or dismissive way but in a "I'm a mother of boys and I worry about this at 3 a.m., I require a better world" way.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:25 PM on February 14, 2016 [615 favorites]


I think that explains half of it, in terms of how we allow it to go on so long. The part I really don't understand is why they need one specific person to literally have sex with them in order to lead them to the truth. I mean, I didn't have a lot of female friends as a kid, but I didn't need one to grab me by the hand and yell at me until I understood that I should not be a shithead to other people. I very organically realized, hey, being a shithead means people don't like me, I should work on that. I guess the fact that I could identify with women helped... ? I did mostly spend time with boys as a kid, and I was very aware that their parents didn't expect as much from them, and that they were much more openly mean and worse at understanding why saying certain things was mean. They had a female friend-- me. Other girls. But I guess they just thought emotional stuff was dumb.

Some boys are seemingly shaped a great deal by their mothers, too, in that they learn how to empathize and be responsible for their own emotions. They see women as their role models, because... ? I don't know why. They're raised by strong women? It's not clear to me why some boys are less hostile to women seemingly by nature.

I used to babysit for two boys who would play a lot of video games, and when a game had a girl character that they could name, they would name her like, "!!8@#2$," because they clearly had such contempt for the idea of identifying with or even thinking about identifying with a girl, or who a girl was, or what it would be like to be a girl. And yeah, they did love male role models, and followed men around like ducklings, and it could be very profound, but the straight-up contempt for women that shapes a lot of boys and men is the other half of the equation. I'm sure that comes to them through male role models as well, but it's not just the story of the Lost Boys.

I never wanted to be a boy when I was young, but I didn't have contempt for them. I remember a lot of boys saying I was stupid because I was a girl, or telling dumb blonde jokes and saying "they're only about blonde GIRLS," and just being real fucking brats. It's odd. It is too bad that that's the male socialization process-- let's hate women together, and then burden them with our shortcomings because we failed to become well-rounded human beings. I would feel worse for them if it didn't have such measurable deleterious effects on women's happiness and livelihood, though. I'm sorry that men grow up to watch someone suffering as the result of their own actions and feel helpless to change, but... I feel more sorry for the people suffering. Lots of oppression and emotional burden-shifting is just the result of plain old privilege and living in a narcissistic cultural vacuum.

the response is something along the lines of 'well, you created the patriarchy, dumb ass, go deal with your own shit.' I think that's neither a compassionate nor a productive response

You may be missing the part where women are expected to be 1) compassionate and 2) productive, constantly, while men get a free pass. Telling women that we should be compassionate and productive about the problems of men is kind of like spit in the eye when we struggle so hard to get compassion and action out of men. The oppressor class always expects everything of the oppressed class, while doing very little in return.

It might be the case that the female sociologists don't particularly like the 60%/30% stat but are also well aware that in the larger culture, women often need campus resources more than men, because they are underrepresented in many fields (academic and non-academic), often need to learn skills to compensate for wage gaps, negotiation bias and hiring bias, and deal with more conflicts on campus due to sexual harassment, rape, impostor syndrome, being underestimated by peers and professors (and themselves), etc. They might look at the 60%/30% gap and fail to feel the urgency of crisis due to the other battles that they're dealing with re: being women, maybe in their own positions as female academics.

And you might get lucky some other time and organize with women who care more about the gender gap, and that would be great, but it is kind of rich that after decades (centuries) of actually being barred from higher education, and while still dealing with pay, hiring, and so many other kinds of discrimination, we view 30%/60% representation of men and women as somehow unnatural, whereas the reverse would be viewed as a kind of affirmative action situation. It's a lot. We say "of course campuses are majority white, it's just natural," meanwhile gender parity drops below 50% and it's supposed to be terribly interesting to everyone.

The popular theory of the moment is that men are staying out of college because they are squeamish about entering female-oriented professions like teaching or nursing. And yet, when they do enter teaching and nursing, they are generally given positions of authority and power at faster and higher rates, and assumed to be more competent in their roles. So I am one of the women that would like to see 50-50 gender parity, but also can't shed too many tears for men who aren't going to college because it's too girly, but who could if they wanted to, and would most likely be treated better than women on top of it.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:16 PM on February 14, 2016 [80 favorites]


[Couple comments removed; feels like that was going from already a ways off the beaten path in terms of Yeah But What About counter-anecdote to a pretty deep in the weeds doubling-down in a way that seems kinda tonedeaf to the topic of the thread.]
posted by cortex at 10:25 PM on February 14, 2016 [5 favorites]


Naturally, if I had a boy, I would hope to teach him better emotional awareness and skills. I do not have the energy to go out into the world saying "men, I know you hate me and despise me and think everything I say is woozy female garbage that should get me hate-raped, but please listen to my opinions on why you should be gentler to each other!" I'm not Jesus.

But LooseFilter, the emphasis of your post was on the fact that women weren't concerned enough about men's problems. You were "shocked" that women don't acknowledge the "many metrics" that show how much men suffer under patriarchy. The male incarceration rate is higher and especially for racial reasons; otherwise I'm not sure which metrics you're even talking about. Slightly lower graduation/college enrollment rates, more success at suicides mostly attributable to gun ownership. Women suffer more under patriarchy pretty much by definition. I will probably have more time and energy to care about men's issues when men care more about rape, domestic violence, the wage gap, female poverty, and female emotional health and cultural/political representation. Fight, actively, to take the burden off of women a little bit and we might have the resources to care more about you. (Though in fact, a lot of feminists and women do care about those issues affecting men. I certainly do, but I can't do everything, and I can't live the stereotype that women put their own concerns last.)
posted by stoneandstar at 10:35 PM on February 14, 2016 [57 favorites]


I like Laurie Penny a lot but I wish this article covered queer relationships.
posted by radiocontrolled at 12:17 AM on February 15, 2016 [9 favorites]


Another supposedly near-universal form of female emotional labor that is completely foreign to me.

Extreme laziness FTW again! A+++ would recommend.

And I've not had to spend any significant portion of my post-pubescent life single, either.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:42 AM on February 15, 2016 [9 favorites]


This seems relevant to my life right now.

I have been extremely willing to help my husband "grow up" emotionally the way Eyebrows describes... There's always a little resistance (I identify, I'm awful at being taught things too and sometimes bristle when someone tries, it's a character flaw we share) but I've learned to deliver my message about what should be taken from this situation as neutrally and potently as I can and then get out of there (leave the room, go for a walk, take a nap, go listen to music, whatever) for awhile. He just can't really process the new reality while also talking to me. The processing starts when the conversation ends, and the next time we speak (I return, wake up, etc.) he's going "you were definitely right about the thing."

He can be taught.

Is it ideal that I have to do this? No, but I'm a pain in the ass in my own ways so I think I can look at this and be okay with it. And I always speak up when I think I'm doing too much of the emotional heavy lifting (result is usually the same pattern - "no you're not" followed within an hour or so by "oh, yes I suppose you are, let's deal with that.)
posted by gloriouslyincandescent at 1:03 AM on February 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


This article is about me, and how I have relied on various female partners to parent me and drag me into adulthood against my will, in return for occasional emotional scraps if they're lucky. This has been coming to a head with my partner -- a few months ago we started to spot the patterns, and recently I had a breakthrough and was able to start carrying my own ego and caring for my own needs and giving her the love and caring she deserves. So far so good, but the damage is done. She burned more than a year helping me function and never got her own life going in that time. It set her back and kept her from becoming independent. And in a way, that suited me, because deep down I was terrified she would leave; it's not that I was actively holding her back, but somehow it just never occurred to me to value her time and build up her independence and make it so that she had a real choice in staying. The status quo was convenient for me.

How did I feel when she expressed occasional frustration or sadness at her unmet needs or at my unwillingness to show up emotionally? Frustrated and sometimes angry. I can trace it all very clearly. Anger comes when you feel you are being stepped on, put in an impossible situation, and it really did feel that way. Because: as a man I am told my validation comes from a woman. I am told I should not emote, but I should achieve and use my achievements to attract a woman. I have set up my life around achievements. I have attracted a woman; I am supporting her materially; she is validating me emotionally and sexually; everything is as it should be. Suddenly she withholds the validation from me and says she needs me to give emotionally. And here I am stuck, because I am spending all of my life energy on material achievements, I don't know how to give emotionally and even if I did I don't have the energy, and suddenly it seems like the things I have built my life around don't actually matter at all, and thus my carefully constructed position as a man who has done enough to justify his existence on the planet is being attacked; my validation has vanished; I am being called to account, but it's a system I don't understand, I lack tools and vocabulary and even basic awareness here, and it threatens to mark me as failed, fallen, worthless, which is the ultimate doom. And in my head, a voice says, "this isn't fair. you're being asked to do too much. push back." And at critical, terribly sad moments, I have, to the ruin of us both.

It is true that I was being asked to do too much. It really was unfair. The problem was that my anger was misdirected. My problem was not my partners but rather the whole patriarchal system that filled my head with lies: that my worth was tied to achievement; that validation came from women; that providing materially was enough and I shouldn't have to give more than that; that failure of any kind meant permanent doom; that acquiescing and giving made me weak; that my anger was righteous and good; that I was entitled to feel good and I could push back against things that made me feel bad; that it was other people's responsibility to tell me when I was hurting them or to step out of my way to avoid being hurt; and on and on. It is a punishing, brutal system to live under. I am convinced there is no way to coexist peacefully in a relationship without kicking this out entirely. But how can you kick out the air you breathe? It's next to impossible. It's a life's work. I feel like I had a pretty bad case of it, but it's nothing compared to most of the men I come into contact with.

Eventually I stopped pushing back and came to accept the truth that I actually was failing at meeting her emotional needs, but these moments of her asserting a need -- or more accurately, describing a way I had hurt her through my own indifference or ignorance -- were accompanied by a bolt of terrible anguish and self-pity on my part -- oh, woe is me, I have failed you -- and I would cry in her lap like a child. So I win again. The emotional energy flows to me, again. Finally I worked through this as well and I am able to hold my own emotional space and hear the ways I have dropped the ball. But getting to this point has been work.

I had to accept the truth about myself first. I had to look critically at my behaviour and acknowledge the truth about everything: the ways I have been emotionally abusive towards others; the ways I have used people physically; the times I have been pushy about sex and physically disconnected. I realized I had been conveniently forgetting or editing out my faults, all the things that threatened the narrative of Man Who Has His Shit Together, I had been stuffing a lot of stuff in the closet and pretending that because it happened in the past it was no longer important. This was why I was reduced to a blubbering mess at the slightest criticism -- all my buried darkness and fears of being a failure would come rushing up. I had to drain this away by facing it and going through it. But all the while the root cause was still there and I had to face it eventually too. I did not respect women. Deep down, I did not believe they were equal. I believed they existed for me. And all of my actions had been consistent with that. All of the times I took from a woman and did not think to give anything in return, all of the times I was on top and it felt right and natural, it all flows from a belief that was convenient for me and that I had conveniently tricked myself into not seeing.

This week this all came to a head. Over the course of the week I read through a book called Refusing to be a Man by John Stoltenberg, a radical feminist. This book is fearless and uncompromising and it leaves nowhere to hide. Reading it has helped me see the truth about myself that I was hiding from, and acknowledging the truth has allowed me to show up emotionally. I don't think I've ever been as emotionally stable as I have this week. What I need is not to hide. I need people to tell the truth about men; no more excuses or rationalizations, no "well you're better than most" or anything else that lets me off the hook; that's not fair to my partner, and it's not fair to me either, because it tells me the patriarchal lies are true, everything's fine, just carry on, and then I am just as stuck as I was before. I need to stop feeling like women can validate me and make me real. I need to stop feeling like I need to earn my spot on the planet. The only way forward is to see and admit the truth that I do feel these things and everybody has been telling me these things for my entire life. When you take this away, what's underneath? Howling pain, blackness. It hurts like hell. This is the pain I've carried my whole life and have done everything I could to avoid feeling, and I suspect a similar pain is endemic in men. Today I feel that pain every waking hour, and if I'm not feeling it it's a sign I'm avoiding something. Eventually I'll work through it. It's a start. I can feel things now, at least. And my partner is no longer alone.
posted by PercussivePaul at 1:34 AM on February 15, 2016 [146 favorites]


Hey, so I've dated some pretty decent guys lately so I know they're out there. But I've had to endure lots of shitty guys along the way. For awhile, I was only wanting to date divorced dudes because I thought they would be more mature about relationships and women and BOY IS THAT NOT TRUE. I've had a few really confusing and hurtful dating experiences over the last couple of years and I don't know if it's hardened my heart or what because I'm kind of at the point where I don't really give a shit anymore. Luckily I wised up to the importance of financial and emotional independence a while ago, and I'm reaping the benefits now in such a way that I'm kind of like - what could a boyfriend bring to my life? I mean, it has to be pretty good, because I have lots of good friends who meet all my interpersonal needs. Not gonna lie, I love the companionship of a significant other but it's often not worth all the garbage that comes with it for me, at this point. And I still sit and watch guys well into their 40s and older still being breathtakingly awful to their wives and girlfriends and I'm like, hahahaha fuuuuuuuuuuck no.

In the meantime, I've also been out with some super great guys here and there, so hope springs eternal. At this point, I've basically become SUPER lazy with regard to building and maintaining romantic relationships, after so many years of being the one who shouldered most or all of the burden. Now I'm kind of like - eh, if he wants to hang out with me or make this into something more meaningful, then he can make the effort. If he doesn't, it's not like I haven't got a ton of other fun shit to do. I've actually swung so far over to the side of not caring that I'm a little worried that my heart has legit turned to stone and I will never love again. I'm pretty sure that's not the case, I just have literally ZERO interest in anyone who does not 100%, no-holds-barred want to be with me. And the only way I will know that's the case is if a guy puts in a real, sustained and ongoing effort into showing me. It's a great feeling, this not caring anymore. I had to go through some real bullshit with men to get to this point, but I'm very glad at where I've ended up. It really feels like freedom.
posted by triggerfinger at 1:42 AM on February 15, 2016 [42 favorites]


I was single for five or six years during my 20s, and it was wonderful. After getting out of a (largely shitty, increasingly abusive) relationship I'd been in since my teens, I was blown away how much mental space I suddenly had to feel my own feelings, think my own thoughts, be my own self. My previous relationship hadn't been particularly controlling in that sense, so I wasn't actively prevented from doing these things - I just hadn't appreciated, until I was on my own, how much of my brain's processing power was taken up with managing someone else's feelings for him, and how little space that had left for me.

I remember getting really annoyed with one of my friends once, because she was talking to someone else about bad relationships and used me as an example of how long-term the damage can be - along the lines of "and she's still too scared to get involved with anybody else even years later." But I wasn't scared! I was happy. It was like some wonderful fairy godmother had tapped me on the head with her wand and said "there you go, you now have eight times the mental energy you've been used to. Would you like to build new friendships? Travel? Read all of Raymond Chandler's books in peace in the evenings? Try out some sports? Find out where you want to live? Find out how you prefer to spend your time? Find out who you are when you're not cramming it all down so you can better hold someone else's hand through his deep and profound struggles?" Yes please! All of it! I had a lot of catching up to do, and I wasn't about to give up that chance.

I have a husband and child now and wouldn't trade them for anything, and I'm happy and settled and calm. But any time I do look back nostalgically at my past, my wistful One That Got Away is not an ex - it's those years of being single. I'm sure that the time I spent getting to focus on my own growth, however corny that sounds, made me better able to find and grow a relationship that worked for me as well as my partner, and will I hope make me a better parent to my daughter.
posted by Catseye at 1:51 AM on February 15, 2016 [60 favorites]


Then, as a man, start doing it. The whole point is that women are not responsible for this. I am going to guess that the majority of the people who run your university are men. Maybe not the president, but the board and whomever. If men suffer under patriarchy, how the heck is that women's problem to solve? Patriarchy is BY DEFINITION the fact that men have the power.

Patriarchy is a small elite of men holding the power. The rest of us get some reflected benefits by virtue of being male, but the ability to magically reach out and fix the power imbalance from the bottom of the hierarchy where most of us live? Not really.

Fixing this takes all of us: telling individual men that the failures of a system that they can’t fix are their fault isn’t helpful to anyone.
posted by pharm at 2:25 AM on February 15, 2016 [10 favorites]


Patriarchy is a social system that values and prioritizes maleness and masculinity above all else. Individual men may not be twitching the puppet strings behind the scenes; that does not mean the answer to "fixing" emotionally-stunted men who need their girlfriends to emote for them is to bemoan the mothers who haven't done enough for their sons, or female school administrators who weren't sympathetic enough to hypothetical male students. It does take all of us to fix this system. So maybe when issuing entreaties for change in a system ruled by men, don't just address the women.
posted by Phire at 2:33 AM on February 15, 2016 [76 favorites]


I think you’ve missed the context of the comment I was replying to Phire:
And yet, in a meeting a couple of weeks ago in room full of very bright, very well-educated women (two of whom are sociologists), a noticeable, long-standing gap in my university's enrollment between women and men was raised as a point of concern, with the idea of putting together a group of people to examine why that gap might be there, and what--if anything--should be done in response (my campus is about 65% women/35% men). The very idea that any effort or resources should be expended to consider the problems of men was met with resistance and even hostility. I was shocked. I think that many otherwise very compassionate and open-minded people don't quite realize that men suffer under patriarchy and current cultural norms, too, and we have many metrics to demonstrate that.
ie, the the context was the hierarchy of (in this case) a University. Perhaps I should have made that clearer.
posted by pharm at 2:46 AM on February 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


First it was learning that as a White person, I have privilege I wasn't aware of...

Now I learn that I've got a lot of growing up to do as a male.... this is stirring up some... what are these things... emotions? Panic?

Next thing you'll be telling me as an American, I'm somehow extracting all the worlds resources for my benefit or something.... ;-)

Oh well... here's some more learning I need to do... thanks for the tip off.
posted by MikeWarot at 4:20 AM on February 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


Dating losers, rebels, dreamers, passives or other man-baby varieties is, I think, a kind of a malignant social meme among some circles of women. It starts from noble motives -- independence, non-judgmentalism, anti-materialism -- but is quickly corrupted into something wholly self-defeating.

The circles of women I have known well since I was young seem to be immune from this. Every one of them married in her 20s or early 30s and is still married 10-20 years later. They married talented and ambitious men with conventional values, who never needed a girlfriend or wife to organize any aspect of their professional, community or financial life. I don't think one of them ever seriously considered any alternative to this -- the few who entertained a low-grade boyfriend or two were scared straight in months, if not weeks.
posted by MattD at 5:19 AM on February 15, 2016 [5 favorites]


Talented and ambitious men with conventional values can certainly be low-grade boyfriends. Are you sure you would know? Because I think you might not really understand what makes some men low-grade boyfriends. Conventional values, for example, can have that effect.
posted by Too-Ticky at 5:27 AM on February 15, 2016 [54 favorites]


In my experience some men are indeed just like this - i.e. emotionally immature and underdeveloped across the board.

Other men are apathetic in some relationships, when they don't really feel the magic ("he's just not that into you"). Such men can "magically" advance 20 years in emotional maturity when they meet someone with whom they really want a long term relationship. That is, they actually switch on and invest emotional energy in the relationship.

The questions for a woman in a relationship with a man behaving this way are twofold: (1) Is he "just not that into me" or is he actually interested and emotionally immature? (2) If the answer to question (1) is "actually interested", am I willing to invest the effort in a relationship with an emotionally immature man to bring him along?
posted by theorique at 5:47 AM on February 15, 2016 [15 favorites]


MattD, I would love to hear about these women's relationships from their own perspective instead of a male outside looking in. An interesting experiment would be to get them to read the emotional labour thread and then send them back over here to give us their thoughts. You might be surprised.

Also, I've dated talented and ambitious men with conventional values. They didn't need me to organise their professional, community or financial life, they managed just fine before I came along. Didn't stop them, though, from trying to handball these to me the minute they could comfortably get away with it. Knowing how to do it didn't mean they wanted to do it if they could abdicate from the responsibility. After all, on a subconscious level, I think it's the reason a lot of men get partnered in the first place.
posted by Jubey at 5:50 AM on February 15, 2016 [46 favorites]


I often feel like dating is a foreign country that I sometimes visit and then find that I'd rather stay at home with my cat.

I just don't have the patience for men who aren't willing to do the work. Many of my close friends are also in the eternally single camp because they feel the same way. Some of them are starting to panic about the baby thing (my cohort ranges from late twenties to mid-thirties), but mostly... we look at the ways women we know contort themselves to make a relationship work and think "Why would you do that?" I don't mean that in a condescending way, even though I think it might come across as such. I know that relationships take work from everyone involved, but I've never gotten to a place in a romantic relationship where that sort of contorting seemed worth it.

I've been thinking a lot recently about this article from this post. I feel like I imprinted hard on the romantic relationships I read about as an adolescent. I've noticed a pattern that I bail early on if it doesn't feel like the other party is interested in my mind, interests, and life. Of course, I don't want to date an actual Mr. Rochester or Mr. Darcy*, but they are fundamentally invested in the personality and character of their love interests. That's something I find I don't want to compromise on in a relationship -- which means I've never been in a long term romantic relationship.

There's other contributing circumstances. I'm admittedly not looking that hard. Mainly because it doesn't seem like it's worth it. On the dating side, I see so much advice aimed at men saying that you need to treat women as individual human beings -- which means that isn't the starting point. And then on the coupled side, I read things like the emotional labor thread where so many women recounted how they were expected to take over all the emotional labor duties in a relationship. It doesn't seem worth it. Instead, I prefer to read novels for the satisfying romantic twinges and get on with my life. I do worry about loneliness, but I try to buffer that by developing great friendships.

I'm pretty okay with having opted out of the system. I just wish there was a more comfortable place for those of us who have opted out in larger society. (And that grocery shopping proportions worked for single people. No, I don't want to make one thing on Sunday and eat leftovers of it for the rest of the week for the rest of my life.)

* I think I would date an actual Captain Wentworth. But Rochester and Darcy... no way.
posted by JustKeepSwimming at 6:02 AM on February 15, 2016 [31 favorites]


Eyebrows, I just need to say again that you are one of the smartest and most insightful people I have ever come across, and I know a lot of smart people.

And yeah, both Kozad and MattD, I'd be very careful about speaking about this issue on behalf of the women in your life. In the example I described, above, I know the man my friend is dating socially. You would never, from the outside, categorize him as a 'man-baby'. He's an Ivy-League educated dude with a graduate degree; a bright, engaging writer and lecturer who's won a bunch of teaching awards. When they spend time together in public, they seem perfectly happy. It's in women-only gatherings that my friend talks about this. I've never once seen her bring up the subject in front of other men.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 6:07 AM on February 15, 2016 [31 favorites]


Dating losers, rebels, dreamers, passives

This article is completely and utterly not about that. This is not a piece about how the writer is disappointed in the slacker artist weirdos she's dated refusing to Straighten Up and Get Responsible. We're given no info at all about the men she's dated - except that most of them have been emotional and domestic-labor man-babies, apparently regardless of their socio-economic upbringing.

They married talented and ambitious men with conventional values, who never needed a girlfriend or wife to organize any aspect of their professional, community or financial life.

1) What about their emotional lives?

2) Really? If hosting a dinner party for peer co-workers and immediate superiors is useful for the man's professional advancement, who did all the organizing for that? Do you really think that man with "conventional values" (which I'm not sure exactly what you mean by that, but it tends to be a term used to describe social conservatives, who hold little truck with feminism in the first place) would put equal effort into that dinner party? Do you think the man would have done it on his own if he was completely single?

3) There are certainly women who have "conventional values", and who may be entirely happy in their marriages to men with conventional values. This article is not about that, it's about a woman looking back on her romantic past and thinking about how it shows a pattern of caring for men without equivalent reciprocation, a pattern that she has seen repeated again and again and again in the lives of her straight female friends and acquaintances.

Every one of them married in her 20s or early 30s and is still married 10-20 years later.

In other words, your friends are hitting their mid-40's, roughly, which is when an awful lot of people start to look around at their lives and think hard about whether they like where they are and the direction their life is heading in. So my own anecdata about the couples I know is that this is pretty much when women start to think, "I've put 20 years into this marriage and my husband still can't or won't [long list of emotional labor responsibilities]. Do I really want to spend the last 30 or 40 years of my life in the same situation?"

IOW, I would bet actual money that divorces and separations are on the way for some of those blissful couples, and the men are gonna be blindsided by it, because their "conventional values" means they've never participated in their marriage as equals, and the women have had enough.
posted by soundguy99 at 6:22 AM on February 15, 2016 [72 favorites]


Eyebrows, I just need to say again that you are one of the smartest and most insightful people I have ever come across, and I know a lot of smart people.


This.
posted by jfwlucy at 6:23 AM on February 15, 2016 [12 favorites]


How did I feel when she expressed occasional frustration or sadness at her unmet needs or at my unwillingness to show up emotionally?

What does this term "show up emotionally" mean to you? This is a general question for the thread. As in, what do women actually mean when they want men to "show up emotionally"?

I think it would involve the following (specifically talking about in context of an intimate, long-term relationship here):

- authenticity in communication about future plans (near term and long term), emotions, day-to-day life (i.e. communication not limited to "how was your day, dear?" " uh, fine")

- clear communication of expectations and standards about the relationship (e.g. it is fine to come home 30 minutes late from work without letting me know; it is not fine to play CoD at Jim's place after work until 11:30 PM without a text message)

- creating and fostering a context for safe and effective communication

There are probably lots of other points that could be made to characterize what we mean. I realize that the ones I listed above all referenced communication in one form or another. Is that all we mean when we talk about "showing up emotionally"? Or is there something more to it?

posted by theorique at 6:42 AM on February 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


Dating losers, rebels, dreamers, passives or other man-baby varieties ...

Losers, dreamers, rebels, and man-babies UNITE!! You have nothing to lose except your responsibilities!
posted by octobersurprise at 6:48 AM on February 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


I spent most of my youth, single more then not and wondering what the heck was wrong with me for being single more then not. I was super social, had lots of friends of both genders so it wasn't that I didn't get along with or meet lots of people. I eventually just resigned myself to being perpetually single as my lot in life because of some mysterious something that I couldn't figure out and eventually lost the motivation to figure out.

It was only relatively recently, through such postings like this and the previous emotional labour thread that the light bulb switched on. I, without consciously knowing this is what I was doing, rejected doing the type of work talked about in this article which led to a lot of relationships never getting past the beginner stage. As soon as it became apparent that this is what was expected it was done, either on his part or my part. I can recall examples of both.

I wish I had read articles like this back then because it sure would have saved me a whole lot of 'what is wrong with me' angst and emotional pain.

The interesting part, is that I did do this type of emotional helping work with guy friends. I'll have to ponder why this is the case. Maybe I was okay with less in return from a friendship then I do a partnership. Hmm...
posted by Jalliah at 6:54 AM on February 15, 2016 [22 favorites]


To show up emotionally would mean, in my view: to be open to mutual sharing of emotions, and to be available to respond to the other's emotions in a way that's both authentic and loving. It means being willing to help the other person carry their emotional burdens. It means being there for each other and allowing your partner to be there for you (by opening up about your emotional burdens).
posted by Too-Ticky at 6:56 AM on February 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


[A couple of comments from earlier deleted. Arguing that this is a first-world problem because some people have arranged marriages is a weird derail. Also, just generally folks, if your impulse is to come in to explain how the concerns outlined in the article aren't really a problem (or how women need to do more to help men not have these issues), please rethink. Thanks.]
posted by taz at 7:00 AM on February 15, 2016 [25 favorites]


I like Laurie Penny a lot but I wish this article covered queer relationships.

YES THANK YOU. My ex-girlfriend was a lot like the men being discussed here in terms of being a fuckwit around emotional labor, and she's way more femme than I am (when queer women talk about this sort of thing, it often gets positioned as something butch/MoC queers due to femmes).

The fact that nobody really talks about when femme women do this sort of thing (she's not the first feminine person in my life to be like this) meant that it took me ages post her dumping me (probably because I finally couldn't take being her emotional punching bag anymore) plus observing her wreck the lives of a couple other people the same way she did mine to actually accept that what she did to me was unacceptable, wasn't my fault, was fucked up. I didn't even really fully accept how much emotional space her fuckery was taking up until quite some time after I was single.
posted by divabat at 7:01 AM on February 15, 2016 [15 favorites]


I like Laurie Penny a lot but I wish this article covered queer relationships.

Yeah, actually, I thought about commenting my own immediate gut reaction--which was to say "holy shit, I am endlessly glad that I don't have to date men"--and then I thought better of it because... well, that's needlessly hurtful to the straight women here, I think? And, well, in a discussion about who bears unequal costs of relationships I think straight women have things hardest by a country mile. So I wasn't really bothered by an article that very quickly transitioned to "especially if you are straight! Have you considered choosing to be single forever as an alternative to the emotional costs of dating?"

I mean, between f/f and m/f relationships, if you're female.... all the options kind of suck because patriarchy. If you're a woman looking to date other women, you're stuck dealing with structural heterosexism and the pressures of having a really tiny dating pool (among other things), but in terms of finding a partner who can pull their fair share of emotional labor you have a pretty good chance. (Actually, f/f relationships have on average the most equitable distribution of labor; m/f relationships have the worst. m/m relationships are somewhere in between.)

If you're a woman looking to date men, well, it's easy enough to find a guy (any guy) but it's really hard to find one who will actually pull his own weight emotionally or in terms of domestic labor more generally (like cleaning the house or looking after the kids). I mean, judging from the comments my straight friends have made, it's kind of hard to even find one who knows enough to pretend he's capable of equally dividing labor and that the "female" coded labor exists as work at all. Let alone one who knows that taking an equal share is actual work and that he's not going to be perfect first off the bat and that he has a lot of ingrained sexism to deal with, and who is willing to put in that work.

On top of everything else, women looking to date women have constructed cultural places to find and meet each other; women looking to date men who have their shit together don't, because there are so few men who are genuinely good at it and they generally don't have to advertise, and also because lots of men who aren't actually as good at it as they think they are will advertise themselves as more equitable than they actually are. (This is not malice, generally, but then you have to deal with the defensiveness and outrage when they have to deal with learning that fact if they bring it up, and then you have to dole out cookies. Blech.)

So instead of just having to find scarce people who you're compatible with, who are also specifically advertising and looking for you, you have to deal with evaluating the claims of a whole bunch of people and filter out a lot more noise in your system. It makes me really sympathetic to straight women, and inclined to be forgiving when my own issues don't get discussed in a given article about that specific problem.
posted by sciatrix at 7:06 AM on February 15, 2016 [52 favorites]


What does this term "show up emotionally" mean to you? This is a general question for the thread. As in, what do women actually mean when they want men to "show up emotionally"?

I could teach you but I'd have to charge 🎤


Last week I had another biggish surgery, planned for months. I realised that throughout the experience, even sedated and post anaesthetic and in pain (fainting couches and wan visage etc) I was 'holding' my partner more than myself. Even getting annoyed about it is just another way I'm distracted from getting on with my own highly significant shit. I'd like to have one surgery one day when I am just taken care of by my partner because he's got an awareness and practice of really imagining what I am going through, and helps me process my emotions about what's happening to me.
posted by honey-barbara at 7:07 AM on February 15, 2016 [27 favorites]


tl;dr: queer women have less signal but also a way better signal to noise ratio, in my experience.
posted by sciatrix at 7:08 AM on February 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


Such an interesting thread! I wonder, is men not "showing up emotionally" and being generally hard work an issue that is specific to North America, or is it universal across cultures and countries?
posted by erin trouble at 7:12 AM on February 15, 2016


sciatrix I would like to know where you find these queer women with the best signals, because I have yet to really find any (the ex was a particularly egrerious example, but I haven't really had a lot of luck dating women who were on top of this kind of thing)
posted by divabat at 7:12 AM on February 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


I wonder, is men not "showing up emotionally" and being generally hard work an issue that is specific to North America, or is it universal across cultures and countries?

Definitely internationally.
posted by divabat at 7:12 AM on February 15, 2016 [8 favorites]


They married talented and ambitious men with conventional values, who never needed a girlfriend or wife to organize any aspect of their professional, community or financial life.

A few years ago, one of my friends began dating an accomplished lawyer who made good money. He was charming and generous. He 100% seemed like he had his shit together and could keep up with her. He cooked for her occasionally and his home was clean and comfortable.

When they moved in together, his mother emailed her a list of links to Brooks Brothers and his measurements. He had never bought work clothes for himself. During the year they lived together, she had to put him on an allowance because he ran out of money most months. He wanted takeout every night and would pout if she offered to cook instead. His idea of helping out around the house was to unload the dishwasher once a week and demand enthusiastic praise for it. At the end of that year he put extreme pressure on her to re-sign their lease. She ended up paying hundreds of dollars to break the lease two months later, when she broke up with him "out of nowhere."

I assure you, the men who are good at fooling women into believing they are competent adults and quality partners are good at fooling you into believing the same. This kind of emotional charlatan isn't someone a few unlucky women meet in their 20s--these men are everywhere, across professions and classes. I'm definitely skeptical of your confidence in determining which men are good partners from the outside. If women--who have a much larger stake in not dating man-size toddlers--are so often wrong, how do you know that your assessments of other men are correct?
posted by almostmanda at 7:15 AM on February 15, 2016 [76 favorites]


Actually, speaking of internationally: I would like to hear from people who've been in interracial relationships about this, particularly if there were significant power differentials between your races. I find that a lot of the EL issues I've had have had more to do with being an ethnic minority rather than necessarily any gender differentials.
posted by divabat at 7:16 AM on February 15, 2016 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I freely admit that some of that is just that I don't hang out with people--women or not--who aren't capable of dealing with this anymore, and that most of my love life (such as it is) has been developed from long-distance communities specifically built around discussing relationship dynamics, and that I totally spent college hanging around with women who were fucking terrible about this. In no way is it a thing that queer women/women in f/f relationships don't have to deal with, it just seems to me that the situation is even bleaker for straight women.
posted by sciatrix at 7:20 AM on February 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


the best argument for innate sexual identity is that so many women still participate in heterosexuality.
posted by nadawi at 7:20 AM on February 15, 2016 [157 favorites]


i would also like to see these ideas as they're filtered through queer relationships, but, while laurie penny identifies as bisexual, i can't assume she's had these same situations with partners who are women. i would love to read what queer people write about it if they choose to put up a similar blog post.
posted by nadawi at 7:23 AM on February 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


divabat, I've been in an interracial relationship that suffered from this (het; me white, him Malaysian/Sri Lankan, both raised in the UK from birth but he was the son of 1st gen immigrants). I never really examined how race affected things between us aside from when we discussed the shared difficulties of structural oppression when it came to racist/sexist encounters we'd had. We also had a large age gap - I was 24 when we got together and he was I think 32 or 33?

In some ways he had his life more together than some other men I've dated, though that bar is pretty low; on the other hand he was in his thirties, had bought a flat literally metres from his mother's house (the house he grew up in), and she still gave him a lift to the station every morning to catch his train to work.
posted by theseldomseenkid at 7:24 AM on February 15, 2016



Showing up emotionally to me is also having the capacity to deal with one's own emotional life in a constructive and useful way without always depending on your partner to explain, sooth and help you work through it. It's also having some capacity to recognize the times when you actually need help with whatever it is and be able to express that need.
posted by Jalliah at 7:27 AM on February 15, 2016 [13 favorites]


As a dude, I think Eyebrows is right that emotional intelligence is not modeled for young men.

I would go further however and say that it is not particularly *rewarded* among men of the high school age. As a rather sensitive lad I got tired pretty quick of hearing 'Sorry but I don't think of you that way.' Despite all the lip service abt how feminism is sexy. Male peers, meanwhile, were mostly threatened by my vibe. I got called fag a lot. Over time, this kind of thing can make one feel pretty angry and betrayed.

Post-college, I often struggled with (still struggle with) how to be both emotionally intelligent and (as the world demanded) intensely competitive. Hard and soft. I think women struggle w this one, too. There is, in other words, a cost to emotional intelligence in the real world, and the hesitation it requires. I think it's safe to expect that men may need to learn how to handle this cost in a somewhat different way than women. Also: it's a tall order.

Thus, remarks like this, by desjardins: "If men suffer under patriarchy, how the heck is that women's problem to solve? Patriarchy is BY DEFINITION the fact that men have the power."

kind of misses the point, for me. Although I understand the emotional vector, the impatience, the frustration, etc. I wouldn't say, in other words, that it is women's problem to solve men. On the contrary, I would say that they cannot do so. Men must make themselves first, and then meet women somewhere in the middle. I would say, however, that if you have a moment it's worth slowing down to recognize that the problem is kind of a tough one. Masculinity cannot be changed by fiat. It must be imagined, first; and it cannot simply be some kind of faint echo of enlightened feminism. It must be its own thing.

Like I said: tall order.
posted by Hobbacocka at 7:55 AM on February 15, 2016 [15 favorites]


Ironically, I read this in a clawfoot bathtub in the AirBnB house where I spent the weekend all by myself taking indulgent bubble baths and eating an entire box of Li-Lac truffles and bingewatching The Fall. A couple times on the show, the characters talk about a matriarchal society somewhere in the world where the women own their own property and there's no traditional marriage, and instead the women just have what they call a "sweet night" every so often, where they invite a guy over to spend the night and he's supposed to be gone after breakfast the next morning. There is some definite appeal to that.

I would like a partner, but it has to be a REAL partner - and I was trying to put work into the relationships I had before this. But I wonder if the guys who called me "needy" were instead picking up my own expectation that they put just as much work into taking care of ME as I was doing for THEM.

When I hit my 40's, I had a couple friends tease me about whether I was going to become a "cougar". I always told them the same things - that I had already dated guys in their 20's when I was also in my 20's, and since I knew what it was like to date guys in their 20's there was no way in HELL I would do so now that i was in my 40's.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:58 AM on February 15, 2016 [21 favorites]


I dated a few men from both Korea and Japan (yes, I know they are different countries, but you're kidding yourself if you don't think they are fairly similar.) (I'm white and WASPY.)

What I found with them was that there was definitely a greater awareness of their partner's feelings, which is probably related to the concept in East Asian culture that you are responsible for others feelings. For example, one doesn't wear a warm dress on a hot day because other people looking at you may feel hot. One doesn't complain about things; one smiles and makes others feel more cheerful. One of my male friends went to elaborate lengths to make his own younger brother feel included in social events. One boyfriend was very anxious about playing his music too loud because a young baby and mother lived next door. And another made a point of washing the dishes after I cooked him a meal, "because it was fair."

I've also known East Asian men who beat their wives, who went on sex tours, and who said that women's whole role in life is to smile and serve men, and I know that my population sample was limited from the start by being men who were already aware of and interested in other cultures and trying to act in a "Western, romantic" way, but I'm confident in my claims about the overall greater awareness of other people's feelings, both in men and (way more!) in women.

One other complicating factor in this is the tendency many EA men have to patronize and protect women, who are definitely the weaker sex in their minds. I'd never been told before so many times to be sure and wear a coat, eat a lot so I would stay healthy, be sure and lock the door at night, etc., by anyone besides my mom. It was charming at first, but could get overbearing, and there is definitely a slippery slope from there down to; don't eat that, don't use those words, don't see that movie, don't talk to that person, etc., which I have never tolerated for a moment.
posted by jfwlucy at 8:21 AM on February 15, 2016 [7 favorites]


To show up emotionally would mean, in my view: to be open to mutual sharing of emotions, and to be available to respond to the other's emotions in a way that's both authentic and loving. It means being willing to help the other person carry their emotional burdens. It means being there for each other and allowing your partner to be there for you (by opening up about your emotional burdens).

To me, a feature of showing up emotionally is being able to put your own emotions on hold sometimes. Like where honey-barbara upthread is talking about needing to "hold" emotions for her partner when she herself is the one having surgery - that is a failure to show up on the part of the partner. The partner needs to keep their feelings self-contained and think about how to manage themselves (emotional and material needs) so that honey-barbara can just focus on having the damn surgery. It's really scary and stressful when someone you care about has surgery, and I think it can be tough to learn that particular kind of....mental fold, almost?...that allows you to be aware enough of yourself to put yourself on hold. But that's part of showing up.

It's being able to recognize that while most of the time you shouldn't have to hide your feelings away or ignore your own needs, sometimes you really, really need to do that.

I was pretty fortunate to have a father who, whatever other issues we may sometimes have had, is absolutely sterling at recognizing when he needs to be present for someone else, so I always thought about this as just being a grown-up.

Weirdly, I think there's some satisfaction in it that doesn't get recognized - when you know the thing you need to do and you do it right, come hell or high water. Being able to be emotionally present for someone when they need you is not only the right thing to do, it's also a way of, I dunno, being a fuller human being.
posted by Frowner at 8:23 AM on February 15, 2016 [68 favorites]


I dated a few men from both Korea and Japan (yes, I know they are different countries, but you're kidding yourself if you don't think they are fairly similar.) (I'm white and WASPY.)

You being "white and WASPY" should be a sign that you are not the decider of how different or similar two cultures that are not white or WASPy are, nor who is "kidding themselves" when they make an assessment different than yours.
posted by divabat at 8:30 AM on February 15, 2016 [41 favorites]


I never thought I had any regrets in life - that the bad things made me what I am today. But I truly regret that I didn't have a chance to read this article when I was 25.

My life is pretty good now - stable financially and personally. My boys are mature, responsible, and thoughtful men. But when my dad died a few years ago, something snapped inside of me. I slowly began to realize all the emotional work and cost I had expended over the years for my husband, and before that, my father. Even though my dad was hundreds of miles away, I always felt I had to live my life in a way he approved of. I know he was proud of me, but I carried a heavy weight that disappeared when he died.

Stranger still, when I gave up "helping my husband" HE GOT BETTER. I reacted like an adult when faced with childish behavior (like, what the fuck are you doing? Idiot. ) and he matured to a degree I didn't see possible.

I think it's too late to go back to where we were decades ago. I still have some bitter thoughts. But at least I don't hate my husband any more.
posted by Sweet Dee Kat at 8:30 AM on February 15, 2016 [9 favorites]


What though are those of us with no aptitude nor desire to "save the world" or "have adventures" to do?
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:33 AM on February 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


Frowner: To me, a feature of showing up emotionally is being able to put your own emotions on hold sometimes.

Good point! That is certainly an important way to be there for someone: that you can say to yourself 'Okay, it's not about me now'.
posted by Too-Ticky at 8:36 AM on February 15, 2016 [7 favorites]


If there's anything I really regret, it's having dated and lived with a guy who didn't know how to be an adult.

I stayed in a reasonably long LTR with an otherwise very nice guy who complained when I'd wake up early to go to the gym, or occasionally knit while we're watching TV together, or get super weird when I didn't want to split an entree at a restaurant because I wanted to eat someone different from him. He spent a lot of time making me feel like I was a rigid, selfish person for wanting those things and that I wasn't worth the trouble. He also thought I was a manipulative bitch for growing depressed over his behaviour. He had to be reminded to say good morning, or to confirm my schedule with me before he made plans for the both of us, or even to share important life events with me because small talk wasn't his thing. Dude kept saying his wasn't responsible for my feelings, because he got really angry and confused when expected to be attentive to anyone else.

I learned along the way that he needed other people's inner lives to be explained to him in very full detail to go along with what they're doing. I found myself constantly saying things like, "It's okay for me to..." or "It's reasonable for me to want...", but he was always annoyed at me justifying myself. Except, justifying yourself is kind of what you have to do when dealing with someone who lacks empathy that way.

We broke up a year ago, and while I've dated since then, I've had a lot of trouble not feeling like I'm unloveable because I have hair than needs blow-drying in the mornings to look presentable or sometimes want to chill out at home with a good book rather than going out. I have trouble feeling like I'm not selfish because I make my moderately-demanding career a priority and want to go to grad school some day. I have trouble believing that I could be in a relationship with someone who won't criticize me for buying the second-cheapest sheets from Ikea rather than the scratchy bargain ones. I feel like these are crazy things to worry about because apparently other women can find men who let them live their lives, but that's what committing to someone emotionally immature does to you - it makes you feel like you're basically a bad person for wanting to be an adult with boundaries and priorities. And it takes a hell of a long time to remember that it's actually reasonable for you to be you.
posted by blerghamot at 8:40 AM on February 15, 2016 [53 favorites]


"You being "white and WASPY" should be a sign that you are not the decider of how different or similar two cultures that are not white or WASPy are, nor who is "kidding themselves" when they make an assessment different than yours."

No, I'm not the decider. All people will have their own opinions about how similar two cultures are and aren't. Having experienced cultures all over the world, I can say with confidence again, that I think say, Brazilian culture and Japanese culture are less similar that Korean culture and Japanese culture. I didn't phrase that very felicitously, though, you are correct, and I'm sorry. I was trying not very successfully to acknowledge the distinction between two societies that have a lot of superficial and more significant similarities, and I wrote it in an inappropriate way.
posted by jfwlucy at 8:40 AM on February 15, 2016


(yes, I know they are different countries, but you're kidding yourself if you don't think they are fairly similar.)

what... exactly do you mean by this?

I'd never been told before so many times to be sure and wear a coat, eat a lot so I would stay healthy, be sure and lock the door at night, etc., by anyone besides my mom.

As a person who has grown up in one of those said cultures you mentioned, who is generally considered male... I'm not sure if you noticed, but this also happens between close male friends/to male family members as well.
posted by qcubed at 8:42 AM on February 15, 2016 [10 favorites]


I would say, however, that if you have a moment it's worth slowing down to recognize that the problem is kind of a tough one

women have been doing the slowing down and recognizing and trying to help this - that's what this post is about - about how women spend so much dang time focusing on how to cater to men's needs and teach them to be fully formed adults and hold our tongues while men learn, etc.

one of the greatest things a big part of this community learned during the emotional labor thread is that sometimes there is much to be gained by helping women see the issue, in sharing our stories, in saying, "yes! this is a thing i never knew how to describe before!" instead of these conversations becoming centered on helping men solve the riddle of toxic masculinity. that's not to say that second topic should be ignored, but i do wish that people - especially men - who are concerned about it make threads focused on that instead of trying to have the conversation about how women just don't understand how difficult emotional maturity is for men in the middle of a conversation about women in general carrying too much baggage for the men in our lives.
posted by nadawi at 8:44 AM on February 15, 2016 [66 favorites]


qcubed, I totally noticed and said in my comment that men did take care of other men as well (viz., friend and his younger brother.) I loved it, too. It's part of the overall point I'm trying to make -- that in my experience there WAS a much greater attention paid to taking care of all other people. I can't even imagine any of my younger male friends being so solicitous for their younger brothers -- they'd be more likely to give him a wedgie. Nor did many of my high school male friends care much whether their music disturbed other people. I thought it was fantastic.
posted by jfwlucy at 8:48 AM on February 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


[I feel like this veer off into broad international comparisons is kinda deraily and pretty not-great in any case, side-arguments about the cultural history of various East Asian countries doubly so. Maybe let's just focus on the topical realtionship/emotional experiential stuff itself without stumbling off into all of that.]
posted by cortex at 8:52 AM on February 15, 2016 [14 favorites]


I could be wrong but I thought Divabat was asking about how interracial relationships were affected by power differentials, not cultural differences.
posted by sunset in snow country at 8:53 AM on February 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


Thank you, Cortex.
posted by jfwlucy at 8:54 AM on February 15, 2016


sunset in snow country: that is indeed what I'm asking, but I agree with cortex that the stuff about how East Asians do EL over other races is a derail.
posted by divabat at 8:54 AM on February 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


I was raised to be accommodating and nurturing. I was actually expressly taught not to have high expectations for men, but also shown by daily example that they were important and their egos fragile and in need of protection. The result?

- I have gently comforted a boyfriend I'd just started dating, because he had slapped me in the face and was then immediately overwhelmed by melancholy and anxiety about turning into his dad. (Btw, turns out if you do that, he'll just end up slapping you again later, and worse. Who knew?)
- I have gently comforted a boyfriend who during sex realized I wasn't into it, went ahead to finish anyway and afterwards wept in self pity for feeling like a rapist.
- I have offered words of encouragement from my hospital room to a dear friend who talked on and on about his job search for 45 min on the phone, the morning after I'd given birth to my first child after 28 h of horrible labour. He wasn't interested in hearing about that.
- I have kindly soothed a boyfriend who had just scared the shit out of me by losing his temper with his glitchy cell phone and slamming it into smithereens against the wall, and was sad because now he didn't have a cell phone.
- I have daily comforted and done my best to cheer up a boyfriend who hated his job, while I also deeply hated mine and was told by him in a bitter tone: "But your job is fun!" He also got paid twice as much as me.
- I have heartily agreed with a therapist to whom I'd tried to talk about some of my past abuse and whose flustered response was "well at least you can be happy that it wasn't someone you knew!" I dropped the subject forever to save him from any further discomfort, and he never brought it up again. I paid for that therapy out of my own pocket.
- I have gently comforted a boyfriend who was sad about losing me because I had found out that he was married and had a child.
- ...

There's much, oh so much more but fuck that. The most important thing for me is that I just looked at the list I made already and LOLed. What the bloody hell, girl?

The sad truth is my friendships and relationships with men have nearly always required that I have lowered expectations, especially when it comes to reciprocity, empathy, emotional support or simply interest in me and my thoughts. I used to sort of wearily accept that this was the price to pay. Being a cheerleader, psychoanalyst, mum/big sister, teacher and sherpa all in one.

So, some years ago I said to a male friend that if my marriage ended for some reason, I would be happy to remain single for the rest of my life. His response was "nah, you'd fall in love". And... he didn't ask me what made me say so, natch. Back we went to analyzing his problems.

PS. The guys above weren't/aren't sad sack losers but intelligent, accomplished, educated, funny guys. You could be friends with all of them, MattD.
posted by sively at 8:56 AM on February 15, 2016 [144 favorites]


I would go further however and say that it is not particularly *rewarded* among men of the high school age. As a rather sensitive lad I got tired pretty quick of hearing 'Sorry but I don't think of you that way.'

This is veering rather far into "I was too nice; if I'd just been an asshole, the girls would have liked me" territory.
posted by colfax at 8:57 AM on February 15, 2016 [45 favorites]


Dating losers, rebels, dreamers, passives or other man-baby varieties

This is especially frustrating as a female variety of artist/rebel/dreamer, as my dating choices are often limited to "crazy", "manbaby" or "guy that seems to have his shit together but wants stability, and is thus moving in a completely different life trajectory than I am". I'm not willing to be a bonsai person and tamp down my needs and goals in life to follow in the footsteps of some dude, and years of shitty manbaby relationships (and the great EL thread!) have me soured on the prospect of hand-holding and teaching yet another adult human being how to adult, both emotionally and with basic life skills. I am absolutely done nagging men to throw away their garbage instead of leaving it laying around. In one particularly memorable occasion, an ex would regularly leave about two dozen quarter-full big gulp cups on the floor around the bed, like some kind of disgusting moldy minefield, and lord help you if you tripped over them in the night and spilled that ichor on the carpet. Even after many attempts to rectify this behavior, he just did not give a single fuck.

The funny thing is, I had to work through a lot of "shitty at some aspects of EL" stuff myself, back in my 20s (and still am working on some things!). My father was a narcissist, and I imprinted on this as a child and developed FLEAS. It made me a self-centered jerk who reacted with extreme hostility at the slightest criticism, and it's taken years to question and remove these false concepts of how I should treat others. I often wonder how much of what we associate with "toxic masculinity" is really narcissism and fleas, passed down through the generations and coded as normalcy. It's not like it's disadvantageous, especially in the corporate world, to have an extreme lack of empathy...

My current SO is flaky and doesn't do a lot of EL. I know he cares & loves me, but I feel like I don't even register as a priority sometimes, which leaves me frustrated and angry. We are trying to work on it, and he acknowledges his behavior sucks, but it's an uphill battle.

I've spent a large portion of my life single. If this one doesn't work out I'll probably go back to Crone Island. No regrets.
posted by Feyala at 8:58 AM on February 15, 2016 [8 favorites]


Part of being emotionally present is also taking responsibility for acknowledging and working through your emotions.

This is without a doubt the thing that makes me most unhappy in my relationship - coaching my boyfriend through his emotions is physically and emotionally exhausting. There is, admittedly, a lot going on in his life but he seems so poorly equipped to handle his feelings about it. I am the only person right now hearing about his emotions, validating them, coming up with words to express them, and it makes me angry that he has made it to his mid-30s as a successful professional without anyone ever bothering to teach him. Things get so pent up that they literally explode on their way out and even if there are things that aren't anger, and even if these emotions aren't at or about me, I almost invariably end up getting the blowback because he's just so FULL OF FEELINGS. Either this comes in the form of generalized yelling, or it comes in the form of obsessive rumination, and either way I don't enjoy it and, after years of doing this with minimal reciprocation, I resent it.

I'm not letting it keep me from living my adventurous life, but it is certainly an anchor and a weight and it slows me down and takes up space in my brain and time and emotional energy I need to spend on myself sometimes. It makes me sad, and I'm getting ready to make changes to my life because of it.
posted by ChuraChura at 9:04 AM on February 15, 2016 [26 favorites]


I would go further however and say that it is not particularly *rewarded* among men of the high school age. As a rather sensitive lad I got tired pretty quick of hearing 'Sorry but I don't think of you that way.'

But hey, who cares about the hurt feelings of the girls who thought they'd found a good caring friend and then it turned out that friendship was offensive to him because he wanted to get laid.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:07 AM on February 15, 2016 [107 favorites]


But hey, who cares about the hurt feelings of the girls who thought they'd found a good caring friend and then it turned out that friendship was offensive to him because he wanted to get laid.

I guess I'd rather read the initial comment as "it is difficult for me to both try not to be a bro and date, because women too are socialized under patriarchy". I had assumed that the commenter was doing the standard-in-high-school "hang out with your crush for a while and eventually work up the nerve to tell them you have a crush on them" thing, only to be rejected for what he perceived to be failure to meet high school standards of masculinity. Which really isn't the same as "I tried to be NICE why don't you want a NICE boyfriend you selfish b****" Nice Guy deal.

I mean, I definitely saw in my own high school that while some guys who weren't assholes also had a lot of social success, other guys who weren't assholes definitely lost out socially because they were not deemed masculine enough. I wish my high school had been filled with nothing but women who valued non-asshole behavior and emotional competence in both male friends and male dates, but that was not the case.

In fact, I will go so far as to say that I, a queer transmasculine person who dated and pined for plenty of dudes in my young day, have a long history of dating and pining for real jerks. Intellectual jerks, which I thought meant it was different, but of course it wasn't. Indeed, I even turned down a very nice guy who liked me a lot, basically because he was insufficiently brusque and judgmental and macho-intellectual like the dudes I used to want to go out with. It does happen.
posted by Frowner at 9:23 AM on February 15, 2016 [22 favorites]


a problem with the nice guy, women only like jerks, trope is that it pretty much always makes attraction and interest from women secondary to men's desires to date us.
posted by nadawi at 9:28 AM on February 15, 2016 [42 favorites]


but i do wish that people - especially men - who are concerned about it make threads focused on that instead of trying to have the conversation about how women just don't understand how difficult emotional maturity is for men in the middle of a conversation about women in general carrying too much baggage for the men in our lives.

That's a very fair and salient point, nadawi, and I (for one) am taking it to heart. This thread, like the emotional labor thread, is teaching me a lot, though making me very sad on behalf of my fellow men. I do think my initial point has been obfuscated, and that my own anecdote helped to do that: I meant to say that while men are absolutely responsible for their own emotional maturity, these (lots and lots and lots, judging by the stories shared here) of men are coming from somewhere, and I was trying to say that we could all do better by boys, today.

But you're right: wrong thread to make that point. I appreciate the opportunity to read the stories and perspectives being shared here, and will resume simply reading/listening and learning.
posted by LooseFilter at 9:31 AM on February 15, 2016 [8 favorites]


What does this term "show up emotionally" mean to you? This is a general question for the thread. As in, what do women actually mean when they want men to "show up emotionally"?

Mainly I meant holding up my end of the relationship, dealing with my own stuff individually and not bringing it to the shared space, doing my own work so that I could connect with my partner and meet her halfway. And then being available to hold and support her emotionally, being tuned in and responsive to her needs, giving her a safe space where she can drop everything and just be.

The opposite model is that I am buried in a storm of fear and anxiety and it is her job to help me work through it, her job to push her way in and locate my inner self, her job to soothe and comfort me, and then if she can hold the passageway open long enough, we can feel each other and we get to experience true togetherness. However, the second she stops doing this, it snaps shut. And if I am shut down, she can forget about me responding to her needs. In other words, there is no relationship if she's not relationshipping for both of us.
posted by PercussivePaul at 9:51 AM on February 15, 2016 [29 favorites]


The article is ABOUT DATING.
posted by 7segment at 10:07 AM on February 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


What does this term "show up emotionally" mean to you? This is a general question for the thread. As in, what do women actually mean when they want men to "show up emotionally"?

For me, "showing up emotionally" means being able to identify your own emotions without assistance, and being able to honestly and openly discuss issues that affect your relationships without being nagged into it. Being able to use your empathy and theory of mind properly, and recognizing that the people you're dealing with aren't dumb and they can see through your dishonesty and will call you out on it. It also means that you recognize that sometimes you may do something that pisses someone off for good reason, and that it's your job to take accountability for messing up.

I think that for a lot of guys whose first instinct is to problem-solve rather than comfort, a key component of showing up is to learn how to put aside the feeling of helplessness. Just because you can't fix something that someone's going through doesn't mean it's okay for you to shut down and stonewall, and it's certainly not okay for you to be mad at someone for being sad.
posted by blerghamot at 10:08 AM on February 15, 2016 [18 favorites]


As a rather sensitive young high school dude, I had a lot of platonic friendships with young women. It is endlessly creepy to discover that most of my male peers were apparently incapable of entertaining such a notion.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:09 AM on February 15, 2016 [18 favorites]


Am I the only one who grew up with the understanding that a man who describes himself as "sensitive" means he is aware of his own feelings, often rather intensely so, but quite unwilling to acknowledge the feelings of others? I've met exceptions to this, certainly, but they were just that - exceptions.
posted by peppermind at 10:10 AM on February 15, 2016 [39 favorites]


MetaFilter: Losers, rebels, dreamers, passives or other man-baby varieties

...In all seriousness, who are the people who aren't losers, rebels, or dreamers? I can't imagine even being friends with someone who isn't at least one. "I always win and I think everything is so great right now that I can't even imagine anything being any different! So why is it that the ladies never go for a nice guy like me?!" Can't imagine, brah.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:12 AM on February 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


[A few comments removed, cool it.]
posted by cortex at 10:13 AM on February 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


There are many days that I think the only thing that kept me out of the really twisted "mommy" dynamic relationships is the fact that deep down I'm a lazy, lazy woman and just can't be bothered to work that hard at fixing someone else.

emjaybee holds the key.

Reading the article and the comments here, very, very little of this holds any relevance to my life, despite having dated many dudes and having had several long-term boyfriends. And it's because I'm lazy. Lazy and a bit of an asshole. I'm not going to coddle anyone or try to make sure their feelings are managed before I give them my opinion. And oh my god it's worked well for me. (Things that are actually sad or emotionally challenging? Sure! Someone said something mean to you and now it's somehow my job to rebuild your ego? lol sux 4 u)

The lazy thing also goes really well with things like housework, because somebody needs to decide what's for dinner and make sure the dishes get done, and if someone else is there to do it it's sure as heck not going to be me.

Guys who are put out by this don't date me and so far I've managed to do just fine. I LOVE dating, it's great! I only date because I want to; if I had to heap huge amounts of work into it it would cease to be fun. I take care of my own shit and everyone I date takes care of theirs. The "coupled independence" the author mentions is absolutely the only way to go.

Three cheers for laziness!
posted by phunniemee at 10:14 AM on February 15, 2016 [28 favorites]


Thank you for your thoughtful answers about my question re: "showing up emotionally". I think it's great to bring to the surface what different people mean when we say that.
posted by theorique at 10:18 AM on February 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


Thus, remarks like this, by desjardins: "If men suffer under patriarchy, how the heck is that women's problem to solve? Patriarchy is BY DEFINITION the fact that men have the power."

kind of misses the point, for me. Although I understand the emotional vector, the impatience, the frustration, etc.


desjardins is a man, FWIW.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:19 AM on February 15, 2016 [9 favorites]


I found myself recently with someone who was a total guess culture type and I realized that trying to divine out what he actually wanted through his indirect statements was a whole lot of emotional labor that I cannot even with anymore. I don't think I should ever have to use the term 'use your words' on a near 40 year old man like he's a toddler.
posted by asockpuppet at 10:20 AM on February 15, 2016 [32 favorites]


This was a great article, thank you. I wish I had read it in my 20s. I have a lot of wonderful platonic male friends and I do think that men who have real friendships with women exhibit a bit less of this behavior. I generally expect almost as much from my male friends as my female friends in terms of emotional attention, and my male friends are just as good at listening and emphathizing. So, encourage our sons to have female friendships maybe?

And here I am stuck, because I am spending all of my life energy on material achievements, I don't know how to give emotionally and even if I did I don't have the energy

This was a great comment and very introspective. This part stood out to me as the female breadwinner in my family. I am totally exhausted every day from the work of trying to succeed materially and also raising kids and being married. And what I find is that I am absolutely expected to do significant emotional labor on top of my work labor. My male colleagues who have stay at home spouses (or spouses who work for that matter!) seem to feel no obligation to get home at any particular time, no guilt about whether the kids see them, no feeling that they should be making sure everything is running smoothly at home, etc. some of them are definitely great, involved dads, but it seems to be framed about their desires - they want to go play with their kids, they want to leave work and go have a relaxing home cooked meal, etc.

Ha! work is more relaxing than home for me in a lot of ways, because I don't feel crushing guilt about not performing more emotional and physical labor (because I'm exhausted and also need to relax!). My husband is a unicorn who does not make a lot of demands per se, but he does want to talk to an adult sometimes and he does want to have time to himself and he also suffers from the lack of respect people have for a primary parent who is a dad. It's all crazy making.
posted by rainydayfilms at 10:23 AM on February 15, 2016 [19 favorites]


When we first got together my partner awarded me the status of "junior-grade woman" because of my greater than expected emotional sophistication.

I was flattered (despite myself, a bit), but I also knew she really meant the 'junior' part -- and she was right: my partner currently has at least five female friends with whom she shares far deeper and more loving friendships than anything I have been able to achieve with another male in my entire life.
posted by jamjam at 10:42 AM on February 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


I don't know. I mean I absolutely GET IT. Everything that she says is entirely true. And yet, as it is written it is advice solely for the "brilliant, beautiful, fiercely compassionate" who have "overseas adventures" and bang out novel after novel when they are single. What about when your single life consists solely of working (maybe multiple) bleh jobs and maybe trying to squeeze in some pleasure through a TV habit or your few scattered friends? For some people, the emotional connections in their lives ARE the adventure; it's just how they're wired.

We're just not all ambitious, self-possessed go-getters who are emotionally fine with short-term casual sex. Trust me, my relationship isn't the reason I'm not a highly paid journalist or entrepreneur. I'm not that because I'm not that, and I never was. Single or not, I'm extremely average on all axes. Nonetheless, I do feel that I deserve better than a one-sided slog of attempting to drag a man into adult humanity. And maybe I'm wrong; maybe as an unremarkable sort I am not bringing enough to the table to ask for that. Maybe I have failed some greater imperative to make myself more remarkable. (Again, sincerely! Certainly I have failed many individual peoples' imperatives in this way.)

TL;DR. I'm glad someone's out there shouting that single isn't a consolation prize, it's a choice in itself. But I dearly also hope people don't stop shouting that men need to pick up the goddamn slack anyway.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:49 AM on February 15, 2016 [40 favorites]


This was a great article, thank you. I wish I had read it in my 20s.

I wish I had read it at 18. But you know what? I wouldn't have been able to hear what it says because, in part, it was the experiences that resonate with me now--the same lived experiences that propelled me to find the words and tools with which to process them. It's Rilke to the young poet: "Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them." But wow, am I grateful for Penny's perspective now, having lived it.
posted by MonkeyToes at 10:58 AM on February 15, 2016 [19 favorites]


This hurt so much to read, I broke up with someone I had been so sure about just yesterday for this exact reason. I'm done compromising myself in relationships and then suddenly met someone where I never felt like I was compromising myself! But now it's getting real and he's going through some hard things and... There's just no room for me. And I'm there, I'm willing to help him through it but he has to want it. And he says he doesn't want to make me do anything he wouldn't be able to. And I'm done waiting for men to feel like they have their shit together in order to be with me. Who ever feels like they have their shit together? I certainly never have, but I've been able to put my needs aside for a while and hand-hold these other people through their tough times. And then when I'm like, "okay, you're in a good place, now YOU need to work around my life a little more," that's where it ends. I'm done. I'm so heartbroken and I'm back with my coven on Crone Island.

And since it was mentioned up thread, I'm white and these men have been both black and white and queer and straight. And a couple of them have been legit feminists in actions and words, you know, except for the emotional labor part.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 11:00 AM on February 15, 2016 [14 favorites]


my partner currently has at least five female friends with whom she shares far deeper and more loving friendships than anything I have been able to achieve with another male in my entire life.

Yeah, I encourage all young women to do the same. it is funny, I realized that my friendships with my girlfriends are the most emotionally rewarding and worthwhile relationships of my life---the ones worth investing in emotionally the way I always imagined I would with a husband/soulmate. My girlfriends who are married are especially appreciative of it (because relationships and marriage can be disappointing at such a basic level emotionally for women that we're all just resigned to it). We're all so scattered geographically now, but we really have fun and brighten up each others days with cute texts and care packages and cards and open expressions of affection. They're such a gift and such a blessing in my life that I'll never take them for granted again.
posted by discopolo at 11:14 AM on February 15, 2016 [5 favorites]


I'm not willing to be a bonsai person and tamp down my needs and goals in life to follow in the footsteps of some dude, and years of shitty manbaby relationships (and the great EL thread!) have me soured on the prospect of hand-holding and teaching yet another adult human being how to adult, both emotionally and with basic life skills. I am absolutely done nagging men to throw away their garbage instead of leaving it laying around.

PREACH.

Like so many others, I wish I could have had this kind of clarity when I was younger, and so much of this thread has been so refreshing as a result of comments like this, not to mention the OP. But the dudely complaining about how patriarchy is a problem that women are just as responsible for fixing -- not to mention capable of! like men even listen to us in the first place??! lol -- and the whining about how we need to set aside the struggles of our own lives in order to do even more work to solve and help and save the world from male supremacy? Yikes, bro. (Also, because this is apparently some kind of arcane secret: The reason so many women perpetuate patriarchy is because men -- #yesall, not just "elite" or otherwise especially privileged ones -- reward us for it, even if they don't know that's what they're doing, and because short of actually being a man, the acquisition and possession of male approval is the most valuable thing you can bring to the table in a patriarchal culture. HTH.)

If I had a nickel for every dude I encountered who everyone else in the world had the luxury of experiencing as a perfectly responsible mensch/misunderstood creative/unequivocal grown-up but who turned out to be a petulant child once he entered the realm of romantic entanglement, I'd have enough nickels to fill the oversized Christmas stocking with which I would like to beat myself about the head anytime I think it might be a good idea to start dating again. I'm to the point where whenever I even cross paths with a reasonably foxy, unpartnered man who dates women, that one TSwift song starts playing in the back of my head and I mentally fast-forward to the part where I'm cleaning the toilet in awkward silence while he sits on the couch and plays XBox with his feet up on the coffee table, surrounded by empty beer bottles and food wrappers, or trying to introduce him to my social circle while he either sits in sullen silence or gets embarrassingly wasted and tries hitting on my friends.

That said, if a dude dubs himself either "sensitive" or "feminist," I have no choice but to head for the hills outright. IME many men are fond of using these words as a distraction, mollification, or sop to distract women from the reality and ramifications of their actions, enough that those descriptors are only ever red flags instead of green lights. Especially because you just know that when you call a self-described "sensitive," "feminist" guy out on his shit, not only is he probably going to try to gaslight you and convince you that you're overreacting just like any other guy would, he's also going to threaten to take his Ally Ball and go home.

The slow dawning of the realization that straight men in their 30s are, by and large, completely disinterested in dating women who are also in their 30s was the beginning of the end for me. Like so many other women, I used to worry that the only problem was that my standards were simply too high. But when I realized that I'd been letting the men in my life treat me exponentially worse than I would have ever let anyone else in the world treat me, for no other reason than because I felt duty-bound as a straight woman to shut up and deal with it, I instantly experienced the bliss of not giving any kind of a fuck at all, and I'm not really interested in letting that feeling go.

I'm not holding out for a unicorn, I'm not wasting any more time in the company of douchebags and layabouts... I'm just kind of over it. Not giving a fuck what men think about my newfound refusal to clean up and take care of their shit for them is the ultimate freedom. About six months ago, I started putting out feelers to seriously investigate moving to female-only separatist land. It's like a real life Crone Island and it's gonna be great.
posted by amnesia and magnets at 11:17 AM on February 15, 2016 [67 favorites]


i have a very fulfilling relationship with my husband, and before we dated he was my longest standing male friend both of these things are because he by and large "gets it" and is willing to really listen and engage. i will say that i was never more in danger than when i was proud of being "not like the other girls." my life got immeasurably better when my feminism became truly women focused and with that came even better, deeper, friendships with other women.
posted by nadawi at 11:18 AM on February 15, 2016 [29 favorites]


Some boys are seemingly shaped a great deal by their mothers, too, in that they learn how to empathize and be responsible for their own emotions. They see women as their role models, because... ? I don't know why. They're raised by strong women? It's not clear to me why some boys are less hostile to women seemingly by nature.

In the case of my partner, his mother is his role model because his dad is basically awful, and Mr. Freedom swore to himself at a very young age that he would never put his family through the kind of instability and sadness that his dad's man-baby actions and outright cruelty caused them.
posted by chainsofreedom at 11:19 AM on February 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


There has to be some better way of matching decent guys with women who deserve them. I mean, those guys do exist.
posted by persona au gratin at 11:24 AM on February 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


My male colleagues ... seem to feel no obligation to get home at any particular time, no guilt about whether the kids see them, no feeling that they should be making sure everything is running smoothly at home, etc.

Man, I feel like shit when our dang birds don't get enough time with me at the end of the day. I mean, I get it, having other living things depend on your is not exactly a non-stop barrel of fun, but you participated on some level or other in bringing them into your life. If you want to live like a swingin' bachelor, you need to actually be one.
posted by tobascodagama at 11:28 AM on February 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


"Nonetheless, I do feel that I deserve better than a one-sided slog of attempting to drag a man into adult humanity. And maybe I'm wrong; maybe as an unremarkable sort I am not bringing enough to the table to ask for that."

For those of us who are homebodies and family-oriented and want to have kids and a cozy little home life, husbands who aren't emotional cave men are EVEN MORE IMPORTANT than they are for jet-setting journalists because a) adding children means the emotional labor in the household more than quadruples and you can't do it all yourself and b) you're putting many more eggs in the basket of "home and family" and if your homelife is unhappy and unfulfilled because your husband has no idea who you are as a person and considers it boring and annoying to have to pay any attention to finding out, you don't really have as many outside areas to find fulfillment.

And, you know, I get it, that's why you've gotta have your own hobbies, your own work, your own friends, your own interests, blah blah blah. But the truth is life is about choices and when you choose children, you're opting out of some of those other things, at least for a while. And choosing home and family as a goal isn't a bad goal! It's a totally legit thing to pursue. But you definitely are putting more weight on having a primary relationship that works and is fulfilling and supportive, and so we family women are EVEN MORE in need of evolved men who have learned how to manage their own emotional lives.

The other thing I think is sort-of hard about this is that we're all only, at best, 80% emotionally grown up, and learning to live with and accommodate another person (in a close friendship, in a roommate situation, as a romantic partner) is a process and there's a lot of give and take. So early in that process it's not always clear -- "Is this a normal amount of bumpiness in learning to live together for two people who are basically good people but we're each only 80% emotionally mature because that's about as good as it gets, and our 20%s keep bumping up against each other and causing some drama as we learn each other's emotional landscapes ... or am I moving in with a giant man-baby?" I think that's why so often it's 6 months or two years into the relationship and it's slowly dawning on the woman that, "Hey ... all this stuff he's been doing all along? THIS IS NOT ACTUALLY RELATIONSHIP GROWING PAINS, HE IS ACTUALLY A MAN-BABY."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:32 AM on February 15, 2016 [62 favorites]


For those of us who are homebodies and family-oriented and want to have kids and a cozy little home life, husbands who aren't emotional cave men are EVEN MORE IMPORTANT

oh yeah i'm a totally unremarkable, undriven homebody who wants nothing more in life than to share most of my time with my romantic partner and our cat. i'm also very much a "caretaker" and i enjoy/prefer being a housewife. this is why it was of the utmost importance to find a partner (who happens to be a man) who recognizes my labor - emotional or otherwise - recognizes when i need help, takes care of his own emotional needs, and is just an all around great, fully engaged participant in our relationship.

it's also why i often advocate #DumpHim when women talk about settling for less than they deserve. it's not just because singlehood is better than parenting a fully grown romantic partner, but being with someone not ready to participate in an equal relationship is keeping women from finding guys who aren't toddlers about this sort of thing.
posted by nadawi at 11:39 AM on February 15, 2016 [19 favorites]


I think that's why so often it's 6 months or two years into the relationship and it's slowly dawning on the woman that, "Hey ... all this stuff he's been doing all along? THIS IS NOT ACTUALLY RELATIONSHIP GROWING PAINS, HE IS ACTUALLY A MAN-BABY."

I feel like it shows up sooner than that. I would tell women to stop investing the minute that uneasy feeling comes up, and I think it tends to stop being reliably fun with most man babies after 3 months.
posted by discopolo at 11:45 AM on February 15, 2016 [8 favorites]


A question for those of you with mature, available partners: how did you find them? How did you suss out their emotional state? How did they signal to you they weren't "X-babies?"
posted by persona au gratin at 11:57 AM on February 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


What a heavy article with so many truths! Thanks for sharing as this as it's a fascinating conversation to follow.

Based on personal dating experience, I have found there to be a noticeable difference in the attitudes and behavior of men in their 20s versus those in their 30s versus men in their 40s and beyond. I found many men in their mid-30s and up to believe in the tenets of feminism but not necessarily apply them to their interpersonal relationships. I am seeing men in their 20s living feminism to a much larger degree if not 100%. I cannot speak to teen boys' behavior other than as an outside observer, of course, but so many are growing up with single moms. They see what their mothers go through every day, and are doing their part in terms of housework and emotional labor. Obviously, there are other factors and the power of the patriarchy is still alive and well in the US, unfortunately, but I am seeing improvement. At least that's what I want to believe!
posted by smorgasbord at 11:58 AM on February 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


behavior of men in their 20s versus those in their 30s versus men in their 40s and beyond. I

Lol, all the 40-plus never married/divorced/separated/married creeps that used to blow up my OKC inbox arguing/whining that my age limit for men (under 40) was too restrictive and I should give guys their age "a chance."

My bff since HS is engaged to the sweetest guy who is 9 yrs younger than she is---we're in our 30s, but she had a major nearly fatal medical emergency and he was there for her, during and through her recovery, helping her. It's when I first met him and thanked him and he told me straight up, "I love her!" I adore him, my heart is so happy for her and I'm so comforted he'll be there in life with her.
posted by discopolo at 12:08 PM on February 15, 2016 [20 favorites]


am seeing men in their 20s living feminism to a much larger degree if not 100%.

Nice! Young guys is where it's at. Got it! "And thus began the most fun chapter of discopolo's dating life." God bless you, smorgasbord!
posted by discopolo at 12:16 PM on February 15, 2016 [17 favorites]


There has to be some better way of matching decent guys with women who deserve them. I mean, those guys do exist.

Sure, they exist, but I honestly believe they're in the minority. I mean, it's so much easier for a guy to take the path of least resistance and reap the rewards of patriarchy by letting women do most of the work. There are virtually no consequences for doing this - practically no one thinks ill of him because it's "normal," and those guys almost always find someone to sucker into a relationship date. It's difficult for both men and women to overcome that conditioning. For men, it's because they have to do more work. For women, it's because they have to raise their standards and face not being in a relationship. Lots of people just aren't ready to do that.
posted by desjardins at 12:31 PM on February 15, 2016 [13 favorites]


Um...so what I'm getting from this is that older men want to date younger women, and...older women want to date younger men? Because older men find younger women more attractive, and...younger men are better feminists? Please go on!
posted by kittens for breakfast at 12:32 PM on February 15, 2016 [10 favorites]


A question for those of you with mature, available partners: how did you find them?

mefi
posted by Greg Nog at 12:37 PM on February 15, 2016 [10 favorites]


MeFi: Mature, Available Partners.

...sounds like adult friend finder now...
posted by qcubed at 12:39 PM on February 15, 2016 [5 favorites]


MeFi: Mature, Available Partners.

DateMe subsite.
posted by zarq at 12:41 PM on February 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


A question for those of you with mature, available partners:

Was super lucky to find someone in college and grew up together.
posted by bq at 12:42 PM on February 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


[Couple comments removed; maybe skip the "explain to me why your comment that wasn't about my personal relationship history doesn't jibe with my personal relationship history" sort of thing, it seems like a heck of a derail.]
posted by cortex at 12:43 PM on February 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


i was friends with my husband for a decade before we got married where no one had friend-zoned anyone, we were just plain not attracted to each other for pretty much the entire friendship, so i'm likely a bad example. but i can say that we went from very incompatible with both of us having our own weaknesses to growing into people who are good for each other. i had 2 3+ year relationships with men who were looking for a mother figure (up to and including hiding fast food wrappers so they wouldn't "get in trouble") and i was unwilling to do that again. when my husband and i started dating, i kept an eye out for if he was steering our emotional connection/progress in our relationship as much as i was or was he merely waiting on me and reacting like he had given me some great gift by saying i love you back or going to target to buy pans when i asked. in fact, one of the first things he did is when i moved in with him he had noticed independent of me saying anything that he didn't have an appropriate amount of kitchen utensils and he fixed that before i got there.

i have a million little things like that which stack up to be huge in the grand scheme. i would tell women who are looking for equitable relationships to just watch and see if he's kind and giving without you having to ask him. i'm not talking about mind reading, but rather, if you guys are hanging out and watching a movie and he gets up to get himself a glass of water, does he ask if you want one? if he's running an errand to a part of town he knows you don't get to very often, does he ask if he can pick up a little errand for you too? does he sometimes suggest shows you want watch just because he knows you like to watch them? does he keep the kind of pickles you like in the fridge? does he notice that you're a person with your own desires and not just a side kick to his main plot?
posted by nadawi at 12:53 PM on February 15, 2016 [44 favorites]


Oh wow, for the record, regarding what's wrong with older men who only want to date younger women, I have opinions on why that's a problem.

Because women above a certain age are treated as invisible. Because every woman know that once you hit a certain age, you lose most, if not all of your value in the eyes of society (because women are, if nothing else, judged primarily on whether or not they're attractive or fuckable enough). Because I'm sick of trying to navigate the very real consequences of being a woman who is growing older when older women as a class are usually not taken seriously in any way as something other than a middle-aged mom type (i.e. a punchline to jokes), or when we're older, a grandma (even when we have no kids). Because lots of older men have sky-high entitlement issues with feeling like they deserve a hot young babe when the're balding/overweight/wrinkly. Because lots of men might say that younger women are just their "type" when what they really like about them is the external package combined with the mentality that comes with being young and naive enough that she won't call him on any of his bullshit, which enables all dudes to continue being manbabies into perpetuity. I'm a super tolerant person and I always try to see and understand the nuances in people but if I see a guy on a dating site who won't consider anyone in his age group or older - even if I fall in his stated age group - I will treat him with EXTREME PREJUDICE. And by that I mean I'll nuke that fucking shit from orbit. Ageism towards women in our society is super fucking subtle and nasty and I cannot in good conscience even entertain thinking about a person who is into perpetuating it. Super okay if people in a may-December romance just kind of found it by chance, but when men won't seriously even consider women their own age or older, then the words I have for those dudes are unprintable here.
posted by triggerfinger at 1:06 PM on February 15, 2016 [87 favorites]


This thread has been so rewarding and instructive. Thank you all so much for your words and experiences. It has put at lot into language what I have been struggling to figure out in my current relationship.
posted by wyndham at 1:06 PM on February 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


Um...so what I'm getting from this is that older men want to date younger women, and...older women want to date younger men? Because older men find younger women more attractive, and...younger men are better feminists?

While I don't doubt that younger men are better in terms of 'living' feminism, I don't personally believe that the reason older men pursue younger women post-divorce (and in general) is as simple as older men finding younger women more attractive. Honestly, I think looks are probably the smallest part of the equation; I think the preference, so often painted as unavoidable or even biologically programmed, has everything to do with the fact that older men know younger women are often more naive and easily manipulable than women their own age. And I say this as a woman who almost exclusively dated men between 10 and 20 years older than me until I hit 30, when my dating pool drastically decreased in size because men who are >30 seem to think women who are >29 years and 364 days old are, like, expired?

It's a hell of a thing -- look on OKC, CL, etc. and see how many >30-year-old dudes limit the age range of their prospective mates from 18-28. My 10-to-20-years-older-than-me exes are all dating women who are younger than even the youngest man I would consider dating at the age I am now. And the reason for that is 42-year-old women are often much less willing to put up with patriarchal bullshit than 22-year-old women, for no other reason than because the 22-year-olds have had so much less time to experience the horrors of a life spent alongside slavering manchildren who expect you to pick up after them like a mommy and also provide unreciprocated sexual favors while maintaining perfect, saintlike patience and asking for LITERALLY NOTHING EVER because that would make you UPTIGHT. (Although lately I've been getting the sense that younger women are starting to key in on the inequity of this arrangement and say no to the bullshit earlier and earlier and nothing, absolutely nothing in the whole wide world, makes me happier.)

Age aside, one of the other depressing things about het dating in a patriarchy is that homely women -- all women, to a degree, but especially homely women -- are taught that it's in our best interest to bow at the feet of whatever random douchebag deigns to pay us any kind of positive attention at all, even if he doesn't bathe or he's a lazy piece of shit or he's straight-up abusive. Homely men, on the other hand, are often taught that they deserve nothing less than the hottest, youngest woman they can find. So many of the dudes I consider to be "in my league" looks-wise consider me to be far beneath theirs, and this is reinforced in so many ways -- you don't see a lot of women who look like me landing hotties on the telly. And just look at the way people (mostly male people) freaked out when Lena Dunham wrote herself into a sex scene with a man that they considered to be too attractive to be bagged by a woman who looks like her -- but equivalently attractive dudes on TV aren't exactly hurting for attention from women significantly skinnier, younger, and prettier than themselves, which helps many equivalently attractive dudes IRL see themselves as deserving of the same company.
posted by amnesia and magnets at 1:07 PM on February 15, 2016 [68 favorites]


this is why it was of the utmost importance to find a partner (who happens to be a man) who recognizes my labor - emotional or otherwise - recognizes when i need help, takes care of his own emotional needs, and is just an all around great, fully engaged participant in our relationship.

Well yeah, and I also totally support the notion of dumping manbaby partners posthaste; it's the "hey, maybe straight women should just not have relationships" part that I can see going wrong.

I realize obviously that the author of the piece doesn't say that--she herself is in a hetero relationship. But messages do get simplified and distorted as they are shared. It seems to me that as this particular message travels around the internet, it might morph from "reject unsatisfying relationships when they impede your life progress" into "just don't date." And from there into, "well you wouldn't have these issues with relationship equality if you just would stop trying to DATE, I mean really, pfft relationships. Fabulous brilliant women don't need em!"
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 1:21 PM on February 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


triggerfinger: "Oh wow, for the record, regarding what's wrong with older men who only want to date younger women, I have opinions on why that's a problem.

Because women above a certain age are treated as invisible. Because every woman know that once you hit a certain age, you lose most, if not all of your value in the eyes of society (because women are, if nothing else, judged primarily on whether or not they're attractive or fuckable enough). Because I'm sick of trying to navigate the very real consequences of being a woman who is growing older when older women as a class are usually not taken seriously in any way as something other than a middle-aged mom type (i.e. a punchline to jokes), or when we're older, a grandma (even when we have no kids). Because lots of older men have sky-high entitlement issues with feeling like they deserve a hot young babe when the're balding/overweight/wrinkly. Because lots of men might say that younger women are just their "type" when what they really like about them is the external package combined with the mentality that comes with being young and naive enough that she won't call him on any of his bullshit, which enables all dudes to continue being manbabies into perpetuity. I'm a super tolerant person and I always try to see and understand the nuances in people but if I see a guy on a dating site who won't consider anyone in his age group or older - even if I fall in his stated age group - I will treat him with EXTREME PREJUDICE. And by that I mean I'll nuke that fucking shit from orbit. Ageism towards women in our society is super fucking subtle and nasty and I cannot in good conscience even entertain thinking about a person who is into perpetuating it. Super okay if people in a may-December romance just kind of found it by chance, but when men won't seriously even consider women their own age or older, then the words I have for those dudes are unprintable here.
"

Mkay, I enjoy a well-turned ankle as much as the next chap, but my primary determinator of attractiveness is "How much time do I want to spend with you?"

I mean, seriously, I control what I find attractive. If we have a good time hanging out together and I like you, then bam, you're attractive.

(Also, I am no bronzed Greek god, so I figure it is arrogant to expect every woman to be a supermodel centerfold. Besides, I have known and do know some very physically attractive women I couldn't stand farther than I could throw their entire house in a headwind.)
posted by Samizdata at 1:27 PM on February 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


i have a million little things like that which stack up to be huge in the grand scheme. i would tell women who are looking for equitable relationships to just watch and see if he's kind and giving without you having to ask him.

The other thing that kills me about this is I've had several relationships, in a row, where emotional labor was being fairly exchanged until he decided I wasn't worth it or he didn't want me anymore and then it just.... went away, and everything I asked for was too much, and he (plural) didn't even have the decency to break up with me in a mature and reasonable way. So the signs were there until they weren't, anymore, and it made me feel like a bad judge of character, but it's not that I was a bad judge of character, it's that I wasn't useful to him anymore. It was like I was Another Full Human until I didn't serve his purposes and then I was demoted to, I don't even know, a piece of furniture? Certainly something that didn't deserve something as taxing as sitting down and saying, "This relationship isn't working for me anymore."

It's fine to leave a relationship because you don't want to give that person your emotional labor anymore (see this thread, for starters; I'm awfully glad many of you broke up with the shitty partners you had.) BUT if you enter into a relationship willing to do the work, you should also, unless there is something very seriously wrong, do the work on your way out, too. Emotional labor is not something you just turn off in a relationship when you decide you're not interested in dating/fucking/whatever someone anymore, so their feelings become too much work to consider again. You do that kind of work because it's the decent thing to do, because it's fucking right, not because you're so inspired by them as another beautiful human in this glorious world or whatever it is that men tend to think of their relationships until the shine wears off. It's the emotional equivalent of putting the chairs on the tables and closing the door on your way out, and it is such a kick in the teeth as a human being to learn that someone you respected can't even bother to do that.
posted by WidgetAlley at 1:30 PM on February 15, 2016 [43 favorites]


...I also totally support the notion of dumping manbaby partners posthaste; it's the "hey, maybe straight women should just not have relationships" part that I can see going wrong.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 4:21 PM


In what way?

I mean, I'm a woman who elected to stay single and avoid any romantic relationships for over a decade now, and frankly it's the best decision I ever made. It's been unbelievably liberating.

So I'm curious to know what you think could go wrong if women decide to bypass entirely some of the b.s. that's out there.
posted by magstheaxe at 1:33 PM on February 15, 2016 [12 favorites]


Guys, can we cut out the "well I'm not like that" crap? If it doesn't apply to you then you're free to go comment in another thread. If you're single and you feel the need to get defensive towards women, you might want to think a little harder about why you're single.
posted by desjardins at 1:36 PM on February 15, 2016 [65 favorites]


So I'm curious to know what you think could go wrong if women decide to bypass entirely some of the b.s. that's out there.

i'm i'm reading We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese correctly it's not that they're objecting to some women choosing to just stay single and lead a fulfilling life, but rather that this sort of viewpoint might be weaponized by others against women who do want a relationship - it can turn into another way to shame women for going after what they want in their lives by coding it as overly feminine or not feminist enough.
posted by nadawi at 1:39 PM on February 15, 2016 [11 favorites]


So I'm curious to know what you think could go wrong if women decide to bypass entirely some of the b.s. that's out there.

My read of Blast's comment was that this article could get taken out of context so the message would be women shouldn't have or want relationships, which could make women who do want relationships feel shamed and stupid, or that cool-enough women shouldn't want relationships, and if you do then maybe it's because you aren't cool enough.

Read the comment again.
posted by phunniemee at 1:40 PM on February 15, 2016 [8 favorites]


not wanting to abuse the edit window so i'm just making another comment :

and that's totally a thing that happens [it can turn into another way to shame women for going after what they want in their lives by coding it as overly feminine or not feminist enough.] "real independent women don't need a man" ignores at times that "real women" might want a partner. i run into this all the time when people find out i'm a childfree housewife - i'm seen as less enlightened than my friends who are in 2 income homes where they still do a lion's share of the housework and emotional labor. and maybe i am - maybe i'm "bad for the cause" or "setting women back" but i fully believe that women should be allowed to set the parameters of their lives and find ways to fulfill them, even if those things might be problematic on a macro level or when forced in societally mandated ways.
posted by nadawi at 1:46 PM on February 15, 2016 [12 favorites]


A question for those of you with mature, available partners: how did you find them? How did you suss out their emotional state? How did they signal to you they weren't "X-babies?"

Less than one month after I started dating my now-husband my grandfather died. My grandfather was truly my father, as my grandparents had raised me from a baby. I received the call as I walked in from a being dropped off after a date. Shortly later, he called to tell me he had a great time. I got out that my grampa had died and he immediately got back in the car and drove over. He didn't try and make it better. He just sat on my bed with me and listened to me. He let me talk, he let me cry, he just offered his silent support and let me know he was there for me in whatever way I needed. We sat like that for hours.

That was my first sign.
posted by Windigo at 1:50 PM on February 15, 2016 [53 favorites]


I do feel like there's this risk of this narrative turning into "yeah, why even expect a relationship when you could be so much more awesome without one" - it reminds me of all those "look at this cool IT dude who lives in a panel truck - he's totally happy!!!! And here's this other guy who lives in his van while he makes millions at Google!!!!" articles, where you feel like on the one hand, dude you go ahead and do you, live in that van, and on the other, it's part of this narrative where workers are expected to make do with less and less. "Of course it's stupid and bourgeois to think that you need a house and a car and boring old stability - don't you want to be one of the agile disruptors who isn't bound down by boring material concerns but is just out there being, like, the best?"

I mean, I like being single - I'm lazy and also busy, and I have emotional/past/trauma stuff that makes physical relationships really hard. And I certainly think it's exciting when women are all "I see through your patriarchal mystifications, it's just going to be me, some sex toys, my cat and my healthy bank balance from now on". But at the same time, I am not totally comfortable saying that well, since women can't apparently expect shit from men these days, smart women don't get entangled with men at all. It seems like "men are selfish and lazy, so we should just accept that fact and work around it" isn't quite where I used to see feminism taking us.
posted by Frowner at 1:53 PM on February 15, 2016 [61 favorites]


[If] I'm reading We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese correctly it's not that they're objecting to some women choosing to just stay single and lead a fulfilling life, but rather that this sort of viewpoint might be weaponized by others against women who do want a relationship - it can turn into another way to shame women for going after what they want in their lives by coding it as overly feminine or not feminist enough.
posted by nadawi at 4:39 PM on February 15


Ah, that makes sense--thank you!
posted by magstheaxe at 2:08 PM on February 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


Frowner, phunniemee, nadawi et al: precisely.

It seems like "men are selfish and lazy, so we should just accept that fact and work around it" isn't quite where I used to see feminism taking us.

Plus I do feel we have to consider the economic pressures currently making it so much harder to exist on a single income (with or without children, but especially with). Yes, there are other ways to get to a multi-income household, but our society isn't set up to support a lot of those ways yet. If we're going to tell women they should go it alone with their sex toys and healthy bank balance, we have to do better at making that healthy bank balance possible.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 2:09 PM on February 15, 2016 [23 favorites]


(Not that feminists aren't doing a ton of work in that direction; just, let's remember that for most women the "independent financial security" nut has not yet been cracked.)
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 2:13 PM on February 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


While the American dating scene seems especially odd to me (I have lived in the States, and I think I get a lot of the culture, but not this part—might be a Scandinavian thing, or possibly just me), I cannot fathom why any person, regardless of gender, orientation, or age, would ever want to bother with all this nonsense described here and elsewhere. There are books to read, music to hear, knowledge to gain, and good friends to hang out with. I never dated, I never will, and the older I get, the happier I am for my life's choices. (Admittedly, I also don’t understand why people enjoy gorgonzola, or bother with pets, so, you know, your mileage may vary, void where prohibited by law, and my life experience is not yours).
posted by bouvin at 2:19 PM on February 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


Single women who can't afford to live alone can always live with each other. Don't need guys for that. Most of the women I know are either breadwinners or equal to their partners, income wise.

Maybe what it takes for enough men to discard their childishness is for lots of women to say "Nah," to marriage or longterm relationships with them, except for when they meet that rare man who's worth it. For marriage to go from the norm to being something you only do for a really special guy. Leaving all the stunted man-children out in the cold to find their way to enlightenment or else be forever alone.

I have to admit, the thought of this fills me with wicked glee.
posted by emjaybee at 2:23 PM on February 15, 2016 [29 favorites]


I cannot fathom why any person, regardless of gender, orientation, or age, would ever want to bother with all this nonsense described here and elsewhere. ... (Admittedly, I also don’t understand why people enjoy gorgonzola, or bother with pets, so, you know, your mileage may vary, void where prohibited by law, and my life experience is not yours).

Some of us like cheese, dogs, and sex.
Not necessarily in that order.
Nor at the same time.

posted by phunniemee at 2:26 PM on February 15, 2016 [15 favorites]


Single women who can't afford to live alone can always live with each other.

Yeah, but I straight up have not been able to find a roommate ever since I was ...what, age 25 or so? Young'uns don't want to live with an "old lady" and people my age are all married and I don't know anybody who'd want to move in with me. My single friends in their 30's live in other towns or countries.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:30 PM on February 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


Single women who can't afford to live alone can always live with each other. Don't need guys for that. Most of the women I know are either breadwinners or equal to their partners, income wise.

Like I said, when I specifically said "there are other ways to get to a multi-income household." However, the feasibility of roommate relationships is not universal: for example, in my current city there are an abundance of two-bedroom apartments perfect for non-romantic roommates. In the city where I grew up? It was basically one-bedroom apartments, houses, or bust. Many communities have rental norms that discourage roommate setups, and once kids are involved, it becomes much more complicated to find sufficiently sized housing to share.

This is what I mean when I say, society is not fully set up to support nontraditional arrangements. It should be! But right now it is not.

Moreover, while I (and many of the women I know) are technically the breadwinners in our relationships, that *doesn't mean we make much money*. It can also just mean we make more than the tiny amount our partners make.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 2:32 PM on February 15, 2016 [12 favorites]


Sorry if my glee made me come off obtuse to you guy's current reality. I wasn't talking about what you should do now. I think what I meant was that if women starting to date now decide to keep sharing resources/rooming together (if they need to) instead of marrying off early, then that in turn would put pressure on the men they date, if those men want to get married or date long-term. If young women saw marriage more as a maybe and less as a must.
posted by emjaybee at 2:44 PM on February 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


In other words, there is no relationship if she's not relationshipping for both of us.

This is how I've put it to my boyfriend before (PercussivePaul, you are really helping to validate my conceptualization of these problems). He's a great guy, he wants to do better, but he's so tangled up in his own vortex of self-loathing and terror that you really do have to endlessly probe your way in and hold the connection as long as possible just to feel emotionally intimate and then once you get tired or busy or don't have a good day, bam, the connection is lost, and it won't be found again until you get back to work. (And this, I'm sure, is a big part of why so many women lose their sexual desire years into a long-term relationship. It's too much work to feel close with their boyfriend/husband, and they don't want to have sex with an emotional stranger.)

I have absolutely noticed that men with single mothers or lesbian parents tend to be really good when it comes to respecting and understanding women's emotions. So it's not that men need better female role models, it's that they need fewer terrible male role models? So yeah, men, be awesome and teach your sons the same. And I guess women have to keep holding men's feet to the fire so they get it and don't perpetuate it in their children (or the children of others), unfortunately. Doing the good work of society building here. (Too bad it's horrrrribleeee)
posted by stoneandstar at 2:53 PM on February 15, 2016 [18 favorites]


Well, and for my part I apologize if I have come across as totally not down with the author's thesis at all. I really do think it's an important and valuable message to have out there.

I just hope there remains sufficient room in the discussion for people who do not find singlehood liberating or pleasant, to continue to demand better of men even if they refuse to enact a full embargo. I want the young straight women to have more quality partners to choose from because men are increasingly expected BY EVERYONE, not just young straight women, to be full adults.

As for me? I would rather argue with my partner about this kind of shit than leave him. The author of the article, and many posters on this thread, would not see that as a valuable use of my time. But seriously, what on earth else am I going to do with that time? Left to my own devices, I'm not going to write the great American novel or even knit some shit, man; I'm just going to watch slightly more Netflix.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 2:59 PM on February 15, 2016 [8 favorites]


I just want to thank the commenters in this thread for helping me with something. I read the EL thread and feel like I have a fairly good grasp on the concept. I've had plenty of relationships with men that involved me doing the bulk of the household work (both physical labor and the organizational/mental/emotional shit.)

But this thread helped me with framing my divorce differently, which I've really needed lately. I left my husband because I felt alone in our relationship, because he lived in his own head and rarely let me in. I often, even now 4 years after our separation, beat myself up for not trying harder before leaving. He's a good guy, a really kind, nice man who didn't deserve to have his heart broken. And although I asked to go to counseling and he balked, I probably could have pushed harder for it and maybe then we could have saved it. Instead I went to therapy alone and built myself a case for leaving. I often wonder whether that was the right choice.

This thread has reminded me that it was not and should not have been my job to pull him out of himself so that he could interact with me. When we were married I sometimes wept because he couldn't/wouldn't be present with me, choosing instead to deal with his emotions internally. I knew something was bothering him, something was making him sad, but even when I asked he wouldn't talk about it. Later as we were going to bed after another night of sitting on the couch looking at our computers and not talking I would cry; but then I would tell myself that "this is what I signed up for" because he was always like that, from the day we met. And he would agree. Yup, this is what you signed up for. I am who I am and I can't or won't try to change.

Maybe if I had made it clearer that not changing meant me leaving, he would have dealt with his emotions. Maybe we could have gone to counseling and turned things around. But while that may be true, I do need to let go somehow of the guilt I feel for not being the one to make that happen. He should shoulder just as much of that blame as I do, if not more, but because I was the one who left, he's the victim. I'm the bad guy.

He would tell me when I first told him I was leaving about his sisters and other married people telling him "but marriage is hard sometimes, you're supposed to stick through it." Never did he suggest how to fix what was broken. I guess that was my job too, to stick it out and also be the one to figure out how to fix it.

It's a tough thing to shake even if I can tell myself it was the right thing to do. I will admit I didn't go about everything in the right way; I sought out that emotional connection I was missing from others and allowed myself to be gaslighted by an abuser who saw that vulnerability, while I was still married. That adds a layer of guilt, but it doesn't mean I was wrong to leave.

Thanks for this thread for reminding me that I'm not the bad guy just because I couldn't/wouldn't walk my ex-husband through his own emotions. I didn't and don't deserve to feel ignored and to walk on eggshells because I know that my partner is hurting but he refuses to do anything about it.

Now I'm in a relationship that's pretty good but sometimes I wonder if being single would be better. My boyfriend is pretty great about the household labor stuff but I have had to walk him through some emotional labor things and there are other things that could still use improvement. (Doesn't help that I'm 6 years older, probably.) Not sure what to do about those thoughts yet, if anything.

(And omg stoneandstar on preview: yes, yes, yes. endlessly probe your way in and hold the connection as long as possible just to feel emotionally intimate and then once you get tired or busy or don't have a good day, bam, the connection is lost, and it won't be found again until you get back to work is a great summation of my marriage. Thank you.)
posted by misskaz at 3:00 PM on February 15, 2016 [66 favorites]


It seems to me that as this particular message travels around the internet, it might morph from "reject unsatisfying relationships when they impede your life progress" into "just don't date."

I shouldn't worry too much about this. I've been championing the gospel of no relationships for years now and no one ever listens to me.
posted by octobersurprise at 3:25 PM on February 15, 2016 [10 favorites]


A question for those of you with mature, available partners: how did you find them? How did you suss out their emotional state? How did they signal to you they weren't "X-babies?"

I got super fucking lucky. Like, so fucking lucky. I was and am so wired for caretaking and sanding away the edges of my emotional needs to fit someone else that I actively fought against letting my current partner pick up an equal share or more.

One of the first and only pieces of advice I remember my mom giving me on this subject was that men were fragile, that I needed to be careful about their egos. I was fifteen and we were talking about my dad, who had done something that he thought I wanted without consulting me, then got mad when I didn't fall over myself with gratitude, and then tried to enforce what he thought was best by taking away the thing that I already had instead. I thanked him for the thought but stood my ground, for once, he left in a huff, and my mom came to my room a few minutes later to tell me that it was easier to just say a few nice things to appease his pride (and then later on make the adjustments that I wanted to make) than to express my desires openly.

Talk about pernicious lessons, right?

I thought then - and still think - that this was ludicrous, that it wasn't my job to make someone else feel better when they overstepped my boundaries, that this was bananas insulting to both men and women. But lessons like that are everywhere, and you absorb them without meaning to, and when you realize how much time you spend worrying about someone else's emotional wellbeing (all of it, all of your time) you don't even know where to begin to stop.

I'd been in relationships where I held space for the other person's emotions until I had no more space to give and it all came collapsing around both of our ears; I'd been in relationships where I was so focused on stepping around the other person's needs that I didn't realize there was never a connection there. I could've easily fallen into that pattern again. When I think about the people I casually dated around the time when I met my partner I shudder at how easily I could've gone down another path, gone with the moody mysterious poet type, the wired and brilliant academic type, the people who were less interested in understanding my personhood and more interested in solving my puzzle. I didn't know what to demand from a partnership because I'd never had it, never seen it given.

I didn't realize how much I hid away my needs until my partner started to poke and prod at my defenses to tell him how I was feeling because he really wanted to know; until we had multiple arguments that he didn't want me to hold back about things that upset me just to protect his feelings; until we spent weeks talking around and around the idea that I was allowed to ask for things I wanted and that this didn't make me needy; until during a period of immense stress I finally admitted that I was doing my overtime for work around spending time with him because I didn't want him to feel neglected and he was aghast that I didn't feel like I could just ask him to give me space or to sit on the couch doing his own thing while I worked. These are things I knew in the abstract, that I could tell my girlfriends, but not things I thought I was allowed for myself because, well, my particular needs were flighty and unimportant and irrational, surely.

We are not perfect. He still does things that exasperate me, he has blind spots that I skirt around. I am still skittish and jumpy and defensive and waiting for the other shoe to drop. But every conversation about emotional needs that ends with some sort of positive movement is a tiny step in the right direction. We talk a lot about emotional labour. I am mostly honest now when he isn't being helpful, even if it hurts his feelings. I still chew over things for days at a time before I approach him, but I do approach him, now, and I know it may be an uncomfortable conversation but it's not a conversation I have to be scared of. And the more I read and think about emotional labour and gendered behavioural patterns and dating trends the more grateful and relieved I am that this great thing happened to fall into my lap. It's a lot of work, as all relationships are, but it's work that I can trust will lead somewhere and build something.

I know that's not particularly helpful in the context of reproducible results, but I thought maybe talking about the things that I was doing wrong (and am slowly correcting) will be another tool in the chest for red flags to watch out for.

(Also, he buys me grapes even though they're expensive and I don't want us to spend money on them even though I love them and we can afford it. Every shopping trip that he manages, they mysteriously appear in the cart. It's just grapes, but it's also not.)
posted by Phire at 3:27 PM on February 15, 2016 [54 favorites]


This article and thread are very timely for me. My marriage will most likely be ending in the next six months or so and there is a lot here that sounds really familiar to me.

I do about 80-90% of child care duties, 100% of the cooking on weeknights, and 50% of the cooking on weekends. I have been the primary breadwinner for the entirety of our marriage and essentially supported him during graduate school. I have repeatedly paid off credit cards that he ran up up without my knowledge. He also has repeatedly refused to talk about issues in our marriage, and has repeatedly lied to me about things until I find evidence that he can no longer deny. When I try to challenge him on these things, he gets very defensive and insists that I am not willing to make any changes to myself, although he can not articulate what behaviors he would like me to make despite my repeated asking.

The thing is, I never would've thought I would end up in a marriage like this. Somehow, it has a way of sneaking up on you. It wasn't until a recent Big Issue that came up with him that made me re-evaluate whether I wanted to be in this marriage, and I realized all these things. Before that, I was constantly trying to tell myself I was happy - even though, really, I was pretty miserable.

As a result of this Big Issue and my dissolving marriage, I am now on antidepressants, and he still just can't be bothered with caring about me or helping me. To be fair to him, he is legitimately dealing with a lot right now, but even now, I am spending a tremendous amount of emotional energy and bandwidth supporting him and comforting him. (I actually got this sockpuppet account to post a question about this on askmetafilter, but haven't yet because I've been having trouble formulating it in a way that isn't just a rant.)

So, yeah. I needed this right now. I'm ready to be a single mom to our wonderful toddler rather than being a surrogate mother to a grown man-child.
posted by puppetysock at 3:28 PM on February 15, 2016 [58 favorites]


> What does this term "show up emotionally" mean to you?
This is a great question. Here is a list I made by thinking of what I love about my two closest relationships, one with a romantic partner and one with my same-sex best friend. I'm lucky that they're both wonderful humans and I've learned a lot about how to be a good friend/partner from watching them.

- You listen to your partner
- Ask open questions to learn more about what they think
- Refer to things they said in later conversations, so the scope of a conversation can deepen over time as a shorthand is developed
- Seek and share things they are interested in (books, articles, activities, meals)
- On a given day, whoever's emotional or physical state is more fragile, or whoever's task is more urgent or difficult, is the recipient of care / affection / help, and overall this balances approximately 50-50 over time
- Try to think of how the other person sees things, and do things that will make their life easier or more pleasant
- When there are compromises and sacrifices to be made, you let your partner get the better outcome about 50% of the time, and you don't hold it against them
- You do your best to find them attractive and appealing (this sometimes requires actual work, like arranging to hang out in different environments where you can observe a new side of their personality, staying present and focusing on them during intimacy, making eye contact, talking about meaningful things, turning off the TV, etc)
- When they are sick, you kindly ask how they feel and bring them soup and kleenex and Advil in bed and play junky movies for them
- When they are freaking out on a deadline, you keep the house quiet and tidy, and you silently bring them healthy snacks and glasses of water, and you listen to them rant about work and say "you're doing an amazing job"
- You buy presents more than a week before you give them (this is not a necessity in and of itself, but it is a sign of thought and care)
- You give them presents for no reason (even small presents, or little notes, or inside jokes)
- You are super happy for their successes and if you are jealous you shut uppppp about it
- You make an effort to intereact warmly with their friends and family
- You give loving advice that helps them manage and preserve healthy relationships with other people in their lives (so not "your friend is a jerk, drop them", but rather "what do you think they meant by that? what will you discuss when you next see them?")
- You make them look good at work parties by showing up well-dressed, being gracious and warm with their colleagues
- You are attentive and generous to their sexual needs, which might include trying to whip up a little more interest in sex or perform a little more foreplay than you might want when you're not making an effort
- If they ask you to change something, you make a real effort to address it
- You try to keep an equal balance of effort, labour, and emotional states- if one of you is doing more or seems to be getting angry or hurt more, that means something is up, so you address it ("hey can we talk? you seem unhappy, what can I do to help make it better?")
- If you hurt their feelings, you check in ("hey are you ok? I felt like that conversation didn't go well / you seem hurt / I know I made a mistake), listen to what they say, resist the urge to make excuses or get defensive, and then say "You're right. What I did was shitty. I am really sorry I did that. You are really important to me. I will not do that again." and then you are extra-nice to them and patient for an amount of time that is proportional to how shitty you were, and then you actually don't do it again.
- If they do something shitty and apologize, you clearly articulate what you need and then try really hard to forgive and move on.
- When you feel or need something, you think about how it will affect them, then clearly say it.
- You look closely at who they actually are and tell them and others what makes them wonderful.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 3:34 PM on February 15, 2016 [115 favorites]


Another comment on the whole "A question for those of you with mature, available partners: how did you find them? How did you suss out their emotional state? How did they signal to you they weren't "X-babies?" topic.

Both he and I came from families where there was the 'traditional' set of roles. The woman was the caretaker, the one who shouldered the emotional labor. No one ever stopped to think it should be any other way. So while we were both lucky in that we grew up watching parents who were best friends who truly enjoyed each other, we also have internalized those behaviors despite our best efforts.

An example is gift-giving. I had found myself for several years running doing ALL the shopping and wrapping of Christmas gifts for his family. He just wasn't good at it, you know? And I have better taste, and am just on top of stuff like that.

Oh my god. When I stopped to think about it, I HATED it. It's so much work! I love his family, they are AMAZING, but still! So when the EL mefi post came about, I told him about it. I read parts of it aloud to him. I explained how I felt that we sometimes accidentally fell into those roles, and how I didn't like it. He listened and asked if there were ways he could improve.

This Christmas, without asking or reminding him, he went ahead and took care of all his family's gifts. He packed up the big box and took it to the post office. He handled it all. He didn't make a big deal of it or ask for cookies for being an adult. Yes, of course he should have already have been doing that and it should have never gotten to that point. But I think you get my point.

That's maturity. It's forgivable to at times mess up and lean on the other for EL unfairly, as long as when it's brought to your attention you actually listen to your partner's concerns and then do the work to make sure you're no longer using them in that manner. Without defensive maneuvers or withdrawing or evasion. It's about wanting to genuinely be a better human, and not just wanting to be seen as one.
posted by Windigo at 3:50 PM on February 15, 2016 [35 favorites]


Yeah, I don't think that the "smart women shouldn't be in relationships, what are you, weird?!?!" message has any danger of taking over. Not in a world where, flush with a sense of freedom and happiness, I had to sit through a conversation with my best friend as she said, "It's been 6 months since you broke up . . . it doesn't even seem like you're trying."

I thought I was angry because how dare she not appreciate my happiness, happiness I hadn't experienced in 6 years, but after I drove around listening to Janelle Monaé super loud and being super angry, I realized I was more upset because she was right, I WASN'T trying to find another man, and that was on purpose. I stayed single for the next 4 years and moved to another country and basically had the time of my life, and now I'm married and IT'S ALL GOOD.

And I didn't try during any of that time period. I haven't "tried" for 7 years now and I can't even believe how much better my life is.
posted by chainsofreedom at 4:03 PM on February 15, 2016 [14 favorites]


One of the first and only pieces of advice I remember my mom giving me on this subject was that men were fragile, that I needed to be careful about their egos.

It sounds like I have one more thing to thank my mom for. When I started dating, she told me explicitly not to 'adopt lost puppies,' meaning boys whose main attraction was their neediness. She would point out when boys were being immature and when my female friends were doing excessive amount of caretaking. I was in high school, so there were plenty of examples for her to use as a teaching tool.

I wish I could say that I learned it all, but I didn't. My first college boyfriend was a manchild, and both of my parents disapproved. But never again.
posted by oryelle at 4:06 PM on February 15, 2016 [15 favorites]


Dating losers, rebels, dreamers, passives or other man-baby varieties is, I think, a kind of a malignant social meme among some circles of women.

and

Every one of them married in her 20s or early 30s and is still married 10-20 years later. They married talented and ambitious men with conventional values, who never needed a girlfriend or wife to organize any aspect of their professional, community or financial life. I don't think one of them ever seriously considered any alternative to this -- the few who entertained a low-grade boyfriend or two were scared straight in months, if not weeks.

Just woke up and had to jump back into the thread to address these points. I'm somewhere between horror that some poor young woman might believe this hogwash and hysterical laughter.

(And also being pissed off that yet another man comes back and says if you get into a shitty relationship then clearly you have just chosen badly. WTF?)

Listen, my ex was a talented and ambitious man with conventional values, who on the surface was really well organised. He was a genuine station-wagon driving (he aspired to a station wagon!), golf playing, Catholic, good-at-cooking sort of guy. The kind who makes everyone's mother's heart go pitter-pat. You couldn't get further away from a "rebel" or a "dreamer". But still, it became clear very early that my job was to fix his toxic relationship with his mother. (Confession: in my youth I was delighted that he trusted me with this important task. His last girlfriend had refused! That's why he left her and chose me! ahahahahahaha.) He had friends, but mostly I was expected to provide 100% of his emotional support. He constantly made clear I failed as a housewife because I didn't hang the curtains the way he wanted or clean the house the way his mother did. When he was sick, he expected me to stay home from work and take care of him, even if he wasn't seriously ill (even at a moment when I had just started my first executive position). And in the end, he left me for a younger woman because I could not have biological children and he felt that he wanted a "real wife" who could deliver the goods. (We were mid way through the adoption process when he realised he wanted "his own" children.) I don't hate the new woman, by the way, she probably feels lucky to be allowed to take care of him. And so it goes.

All around me, friends in similar marriages to successful conservative men are watching their 10-20 year marriages implode. Not all of them, certainly. But many many many. The children leave home, and there's nothing left between the two adults. In some cases, the parents move to different cities but don't divorce. I've got two couples in my friends circle who do this-- they're "married" for the kids at Christmas and for summer holidays. Some men do what my husband did, but more often it's the wives kicking them out. Midlife divorce is a trend because so many people with seemingly solid marriages (esp. Gen Xers like myself) were keeping it together for the children.

Please don't internalise this damaging and stupid idea that if you are in a sucky marriage or relationship, it's because you didn't choose a solid or conservative enough man. Stuff and nonsense. You can't choose somebody who is emotionally grown up based on external trappings of success.
posted by frumiousb at 4:29 PM on February 15, 2016 [64 favorites]


I happened to reread Shirley Jackson's "Got a Letter from Jimmy" last night, which sometimes comes to mind apropos of emotional labor and avoidance.
    Sometimes, she thought, stacking the dishes in the kitchen, sometimes I wonder if men are quite sane, any of them. Maybe they're all just crazy and every other woman knows it but me, and my mother never told me and my roommate just didn't mention it and all the other wives think I know...
    "Got a letter from Jimmy today," he said, when he was unfolding his napkin.
    So you got it at last, she thought, so he finally broke down and wrote you, maybe now it will be all right, everything settled and friendly again... "What did he have to say?" she asked casually.
    "Don't know," he said, "didn't open it."
    My God, she thought, seeing it clearly all the way through right then. She waited.
    "Going to send it back to him tomorrow unopened."
    I could have figured that one out by myself, she thought. I couldn't have kept that letter closed for five minutes. I would have figured out something nasty like tearing it up and sending it back in little pieces, or getting someone to write a sharp answer for me, but I couldn't have kept it around for five minutes.
    "Had lunch with Tom today," he said, as though the subject were closed, just exactly as though the subject were closed, she thought, just exactly as though he never expected to think about it again. Maybe he doesn't, she thought, my God.
    "I think you ought to open Jimmy's letter," she said. Maybe it will all be just as easy as that, she thought, maybe he'll say all right and go open it, maybe he'll go home and live with his mother for a while.
    "Why?" he said.
    Start easy, she thought. You'll kill yourself if you don't. "Oh, I guess because I'm curious and I'll just die if I don't see what's in it," she said.
    "Open it," he said.
    Just watch me make a move for it, she thought. "Seriously," she said, "it's so silly to hold a grudge against a letter. Against Jimmy, all right. But not to read a letter out of spite is silly." Oh God, she thought, I said silly. I said silly twice. That finishes it. If he hears me say he's silly I'm through, I can talk all night.
    "Why should I read it?" he said, "I wouldn't be interested in anything he had to say."
    "I would."
    "Open it," he said.
    Oh God, she thought, oh God oh God, I'll steal it out of his brief case, I'll scramble it up with his eggs tomorrow, but I won't take a dare like that, he'd break my arm.
    "Okay," she said, "so I'm not interested." Make him think you're through, let him get nicely settled in his chair, let him get to the lemon pie, get him off on some other subject.
    "Had lunch with Tom today," he said.
    Stacking the dishes in the kitchen, she thought, Maybe he means it, maybe he could kill himself first, maybe he really wasn't curious and even if he were he'd drive himself into a hysterical state trying to read through the envelope, locked in the bathroom. Or maybe he just got it and said, Oh, from Jimmy, and threw it in his brief case and forgot it. I'll murder him if he did, she thought, I'll bury him in the cellar.
    Later, when he was drinking his coffee, she said, "Going to show it to John?" John will die too, she thought, John will edge around it just like I'm doing.
    "Show what to John?" he said.
    "Jimmy's letter."
    "Oh," he said. "Sure."
    A tremendous triumph captured her. So he really wants to show it to John, she thought, so he just wants to see for himself that he's still mad, he wants John to say, Really, are you still mad at Jimmy? And he wants to be able to say yes. Out of her great triumph she thought, He really has been thinking about it all this time, too; and she said, before she could stop herself:
    "Thought you were going to send it back unopened?"
    He looked up. "I forgot," he said. "Guess I will."
    I had to open my mouth, she thought. He forgot. The trouble is, she thought, he really did forget. It slipped his mind completely, he never gave it a second thought, if it was a snake it would have bit him. Under the cellar steps, she thought, with his head bashed in and his goddam letter under his folded hands, and it's worth it, she thought, oh it's worth it.
posted by chortly at 4:41 PM on February 15, 2016 [22 favorites]


Reading this thread, much like the EL thread earlier, has been really eye opening to me. It's helped me pin down the reasons that my last relationship ended so badly and the ways that I have to grow and why my current relationships are such an interesting combination of terrifying/fulfilling.

I don't know what I want to say, exactly.

WidgetAlley: The wife, who is also a well-educated and interesting person, works full time -- and three months in I was still trying to suss out what her private leisure activities were. I thought that she was just more quiet about them, but now I can see, she didn't have space for any. Too much of her time was spent managing this... overgrown baby.

My ex always gave me crap for not having hobbies: "you need to get out more" as I did all the cooking and cleaning and laundry and pet care and worked crazy hours with an hour drive each way. And when he finally declared me emotionally abusive (one of the reasons I'm such a horrible abuser? In order to get his attention when I needed help, I had to cry and scream. This, clearly, makes me a manipulative and evil lady.) and kicked me out, I realized that I did not have an identity. I had squished myself into a box to be his mother/provider/trophy/sex object and here I was all alone in the world, a trophy out on its own. So, just after my 24th birthday, after I'd spent a third of my life with him, I learned to be my own person. I also accepted the designation of "abusive," but the more I read threads like this, the less I think that's true. Healing and growth!

Now I'm quasi-committed to moving in with my polycule in a few months, and the more I read about emotional labor (and the benefits of NOT getting into situations where I'm someone's anchor partner), the less sure I am that it's a good idea. I have a lot to think through. Thank you, MeFi.
posted by polychromie at 5:06 PM on February 15, 2016 [17 favorites]


"A question for those of you with mature, available partners: how did you find them? How did you suss out their emotional state? How did they signal to you they weren't "X-babies?"

As above, I got super fucking lucky. Especially because I've got my own share of exes who couldn't have understood the concept of emotional labor if it were packaged into a chip and inserted in their brains.

I think my sister was the first to point out that Mr. Nat actually "got it" w.r.t. feminism. But the real telling moment came after the emotional labor thread-- when I brought it up to him, and mentioned that maybe I am not going to be responsible anymore for figuring out presents for his family (whom I love, but yeah, not my (sole) responsibility)- he pushed back with the "I'm no good at that" and we had a long discussion about how the only way to get good at something is to practice.

And then, some time later (I can't recall if it was hours or days), he comes and says "hey, can I have a link to that thread? I want to read it."

None of this should be surprising, none of it should be unusual. And everybody has a right to expect this of their partner; otherwise, why have one?

Oh, lastly-- I got super lucky *after being involuntarily single for five years*. I tried dating, but nothing took, and I have my own life goals that aren't compatible with following a dude around. Was it worth being single? Yes, and perhaps for the reasons in the article, it was better. Even though being stubborn and having my own goals does mean I'm living on a different continent from the aforementioned Mr. Nat now..
posted by nat at 5:20 PM on February 15, 2016 [8 favorites]


I wonder if the on the surface well meaning "gosh, you're not even trying" is anxiousness? Because I've had discussions that almost turned into arguments with other women about why I'm not married/dating someone. Some (#notallmarriedwomen) women seem to be uneasy about the un-attached, and I think it's a very layered and complicated thing. My flippant answer is they are jealous, but I think it's much more complex. I'm going to have to think about it a bit more, I don't have it all sorted out to be able to comment coherently.

Most men don't care, because as many have stated above, once you hit a certain age you're just not seen as a being that's capable of dating or having sex. But some of them sure want to turn you into a surrogate mommy!
posted by lootie777 at 5:45 PM on February 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


the people who were less interested in understanding my personhood and more interested in solving my puzzle

Oh. Wow. Just... wow. As a person who has an, uh, unusual personality that often isn't read as especially feminine, this... just..... blows my mind. I've always dated people who claimed that they liked that about me, but their behaviors... indicated otherwise. Suddenly so many of my prior relationships seem to be much more about people who wanted to solve my puzzle rather than enjoy mutual personhood together.

I'm... going to go write this down somewhere. Thanks, Phire.
posted by WidgetAlley at 5:49 PM on February 15, 2016 [17 favorites]


>Those of you with mature, available partners: How did you find them? How did you suss out their emotional state?

I only date people who:

- Listen to me when I talk, and ask questions
- Are happy and engaged when I say something they hadn't thought of
- Can laugh easily at my jokes without trying to top them

- Think about race and gender and oppression and power, allow their ideas to evolve, and want to talk about these things
- Never ask people dumb exoticizing questions about their race or accent or gender presentation or disability or whatever (because these questions are often socially dominant and dehumanizing). I have never ever dated anyone who asked me "so what ARE you anyway", and I neverrr willlll
- Never try to explain race or gender politics to me, because they can easily observe that I am very knowledgeable in this area, and am open to conversation, but do not require a lecture. #NotAllMen and #AllLivesMatter can fuck right off k thx byeeee

- Show vulnerable emotions within the first couple dates, like telling an anecdote about a time they were sad, felt afraid, made a big mistake, or were lonely or insecure (but not fishing for compliments and not being mean about whoever "made" them feel that way)
- Say things like "I felt bad" or "my feelings were hurt" instead of things like "fuck that asshole"
- Show open tenderness if I share something vulnerable from my life

- Speak kindly about their past relationships and can articulate their role in how those relationships ended (if anyone talks about a crazy ex, I am outtttta therrrre)
- Are not jealous or weird if I mention my past relationships, and in fact value my life experience and past relationships, because they have made me a rich person

- Most of all (and this may sound superficial but I don't think it is) I only date people who give me compliments that are about something specific I DID, not about how THEY FEEL about me (or god forbid, compliments that are only about what I look like or my superficial social skills). One time when I was younger and dumber, I swooned when an immature person I was dating sincerely told me "Wow, your energy lights up my life!" But later I realized they actually had no idea who I was as a person and not much interest in knowing-- they just liked feeling alive because my presence and attention woke up their mojo. A much better compliment is something my lovely partner recently said, which was, "Watching you at work today, I was really impressed by your ability to lead people. You gave everyone clear meaningful tasks and the team got so much done, and you also made sure everyone felt valued and had a great time." That compliment felt amazing and made me stronger as a human, because it reinforced my best qualities, not my dumb eyes or my ego-stroking skills or whatever. Another bad compliment: "You are amazing! I love you!" Another great compliment: "You are the kind of person who would be brave enough to give a standing ovation even if everyone else in the room stayed seated." (Now that was a swooooon... it's been 15 years and I've never forgotten that someone believed that of me- that compliment has carried me). I love getting, and I try to also give, compliments that come out of noticing and appreciating someone's actual SELF, not their superficial effect.

I guess this boils down to SEEING the person in front of you- because if they can do the work to truly SEE you, and are vulnerable enough to TELL you, they can probably also see imbalances in the relationship and be open enough to work for change and equality.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 5:50 PM on February 15, 2016 [70 favorites]


Speak kindly about their past relationships and can articulate their role in how those relationships ended (if anyone talks about a crazy ex, I am outtttta therrrre)

Yeah, even Mr. Freedom, who has a legitimately mentally ill ex-wife, will not call her crazy and only calls her mentally ill when referring to treatment she received. As he puts it, "Usually "crazy" is man-shorthand for "She wasn't behaving like I wanted her to."
posted by chainsofreedom at 6:08 PM on February 15, 2016 [24 favorites]


frumiousb: "Please don't internalise this damaging and stupid idea that if you are in a sucky marriage or relationship, it's because you didn't choose a solid or conservative enough man. "

Right on! Also, if you're a well-educated executive earning $200,000 a year, you can buy yourself out of a lot of marital strife. Can't ever remember to clean up after yourself and it's causing disputes with your wife? Hire a cleaning lady. Not emotionally available to your wife? Pay for her therapy. Kids too demanding of your time and it's putting stress on your comfortable home life? Hire a nanny. This does not make you good at being in a relationship. It just makes you able to purchase your way out of a lot of relationship problems -- which may in itself be a good thing, every study ever shows us that the ability to purchase the way out of stress is part of what makes upper-middle-class marriage more solid and lasting than lower-middle-class marriages in the US. (And I think you're exactly right, these marriage start to come apart when the kids are gone, or when shit gets real with aging and ill parents, lost jobs, or other midlife sorts of trauma, where it isn't just stress you can buy your way out of but actual trauma in need of support.)

And look, I have friends who married a GIANT MAN-BABY who is super-good at making money and earns the solid six figures and buys the nice house in a good neighborhood and pays the private school tuition and has the country club membership and everything, and she (the wife) is therefore able to dabble in "passion projects" and be a full-time mom and all that, and she's delighted to earn a six-figure family income by being the full-time carer for the giant man-baby because she's naturally inclined towards caring and feels like full-time husband care is a fair trade off for a life of semi-leisure. That doesn't mean that his money makes him emotionally competent; it makes him able to pay people (including his wife) to overlook that he isn't.

I know plenty of emotionally competent men, and plenty of giant man-babies, and worldly success, line of work, income, and marital status are pretty poor predictors of which is which.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:22 PM on February 15, 2016 [77 favorites]


you can buy yourself out of a lot of marital strife is not equivalent to doing the emotional work of evaluating, discussing, and self-motivating to improve a marriage. Paying is not being present.

ETA: Amen, Eyebrows.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:39 PM on February 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


"A question for those of you with mature, available partners: how did you find them? How did you suss out their emotional state? How did they signal to you they weren't "X-babies?"

Have awesome parents who raise you basically like a dude and then just get super lucky?

By that I mean my parents raised me to:
-not be afraid of my own emotions, including negative shit like being angry
-to critically think and to believe my reactions (intellectual or emotional) to things were valid
-think I was smart and capable
-think I was able to achieve things
-to be assertive and stand my ground, but also to pick my battles
-think I had value as a person

My parents did not raise me to:
-be passive
-worry too much about my appearance
-give a shit what anyone thinks about me more than necessary, and especially not boys/men
-deprioritize my own life or emotions in favor of someone else
-make myself small for someone else
-give much of a shit about relationships or marriage/babies
-constantly second guess my own reality

If you look at that list and think it looks like a selfish arrogant woman that's funny cause so do I when I see it listed out. And yet isn't what's listed there pretty much the default for how men are raised? For a man these things seem normal. For a woman they read as overbearing. None of the above is a guarantee of anything by any stretch btw. I know lots of intelligent independent assertive women who still will put up with some fucking nonsense from their men. Your family or you as an individual can only do so much when society is telling you that you're privileged to babysit a grown-ass man. As a gender we have collective stockholm syndrome about our heterosexual partners. I'm just pointing all those facts out because they were conscious choices made mostly by my fiercely feminist mother and I think they're great choices.

I didn't know terms like "emotional labor" but I instinctively knew that was what I was thinking about when I didn't at all want to date during any of my teens or early 20s, despite very much liking boys. I thought of it as "all that fucking bullshit" but emotional labor is what I was seeing and refusing to do. This has its own perils btw. I was constantly pestered by my female friends about not dating, why won't you date, don't you want a boyfriend, your standards are too high, you're too judgmental, and on and on and on when I was younger. There was always an unspoken implication that perhaps I could not date, that I had rendered myself undesirable by virtue of being me. That I should stop being unreasonable and try and get a boy interested in me because how else would I be able to tell whether I was worth anything or not? This will seriously fuck with your head and self-esteem no matter how well you've been emotionally bolstered against it. There is no escaping the toxic miasma of the patriarchy man, it follows you like fucking Pig-Pen.

The other lucky bit was meeting my husband in the first place. We were non-romantic internet friends for a long time before we got a chance to meet in person so I already knew he was a cool guy. Then he wound up just actually being a fucking cool guy. Like it wasn't a trick where he seemed cool and then was actually a douche. He does more than his fair share of things. He remembers shit like birthdays and presents. He doesn't emotionally jerk me around for funsies or whyever men seem to do this. He is not threatened by me. Why would he be? We're a team right? A win for me is a win for him and vice-versa. We enjoy each others company. It's pretty fucking great.

I guess that's a very long way of saying - I don't think I did anything special to wind up in an awesome relationship. I didn't crack some secret code. I was lucky to have my parents and lucky to meet my husband and then just generally really lucky. I think when society gives you hundreds of cupcakes with no way to tell which one is good and which one is gross, but also pressures you into eating one right now, you can't really do anything different when you bite into a sucky one by accident right? They all look the same. The system is rigged against you.
posted by supercrayon at 6:41 PM on February 15, 2016 [21 favorites]


I have a songwriter friend who came to me once with a relationship dilemma. His girlfriend, a graphic designer, had started writing songs. The problem, he told me, was that the songs were good.
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:51 PM on February 15, 2016 [20 favorites]


Ugh, this Dear Coquette letter is a good example of creepy older "more experienced" guy dominating the relationship. Ugh.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:30 PM on February 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


A question for those of you with mature, available partners: how did you find them? How did you suss out their emotional state? How did they signal to you they weren't "X-babies?"

It was mostly a process of elimination for me. I dated a lot of guys and just generally did what I wanted and didn't do things I didn't want to do and they either dealt with it or didn't.

And while I'm not as supportive as most women with regards to caretaking, housework, emotional labor, etc., I am VERY affectionate and have a big round butt. So men who really like the latter are motivated to get their own shit together on the former if they want to be with me.

This strategy led to me marrying my husband of 8+ years. His mother worked full-time and is rather feminist and his parents seemed to have a pretty equal partnership. His mother also had firm boundaries when it came to dealing with his dad's faults -- e.g., she insisted on filing taxes as married filing separately because she didn't want to deal with his lax accounting practices, made him keep all his hoarder shit at his business instead of at home, etc.

Meanwhile, my husband is very much an ass man.

So my big butt lured him in and his upbringing prepared him to have the kind of relationship expectations that I was actually willing and able to meet.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:32 PM on February 15, 2016 [10 favorites]


I'm running out of favorites again.

Strike 1 against dating: I'm over 35 and way too experienced to put up with shit.
Strike 2 against dating: I'm financially independent and therefore unwilling to put up with shit.

I frequently torment myself over the level of shit I put up with in the past.
Ani Di Franco: "what was I thinking? What will I think of next?"
Me mishearing Florence and the Machine: "Looking for heaven found the devil in me. How the hell did I let this happen to me?"
John Hiatt: "the trust of a woman was in his hand, but he was a little boy, and not a man"

How did I not see this? How was I not strong enough to head it off at the pass? Why didn't I just throw down a twenty for my drink and walk the fuck out?
But then I remember that all I have been through brought me directly to Strikes 1 and 2.
And I wouldn't change a goddamn thing. Because now I can throw down a twenty and walk the fuck out.
posted by susiswimmer at 7:45 PM on February 15, 2016 [11 favorites]


Sad this has not changed for the next generation... and wow could I go on about this one. But I will give the highlights: A male friend of mine, who had once tried to use me as a relationship/sex backup plan, and I actually kept the friendship, corrected me when I tried to offer advice to him on how to meet new people, including dating, by going to Meetups, etc. Because I did not say to him "Oh, how sad you are lonely, how hard that must be even though you totally took me for granted." I was told that advice giving was "Not the Feminine way" of supporting him. I was actually told that my supportiveness was not properly feminine enough because apparently vagina-having means "Fountain of Pity On Tap". Seriously.

Then there are the former boyfriends that came back into my life for ....drumroll....sympathy when they were having conflicts with new relationships/marriages. Even ones who betrayed or dumped me or generally treated me like a pile of shit- they still called at 4am, crying. The sense of entitlement to my sympathy extended past the relationship, even when it ended badly. One even expected me to take his side in domestic violence! "I thought you were my friend!!!!" The bullshit I have been a part of...lord, I can't even believe I gave these assholes the time of day. I'd kick myself for not seeing the red flags sooner.

I assumed that my settling for outrageous behavior had to do with my limited social potential by having a mental illness, and that's somewhat true. But I can see that narcissistic assholery isn't much less so in the 'normal' world.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 11:27 PM on February 15, 2016 [12 favorites]


Now men are happy to say "Yay equality! I don't have to pay for your life, or for nice things for you, or make beautiful gestures and kind presents for you!" But they're not happy to actually take on any work for the equality they supposedly espouse.

I’ve had this discussion before, that some of this seems like a corruption and unintended consequences of the feminist movement. It seems as if some of the old social structures were meant to protect against this, though in only a limited way. Growing up in the 70’s I seem to remember it being a comedy trope at the time that the sensitive feminist guy was usually just looking to take advantage of the situation and not really have any responsibility. When the macho backlash happened later this warning was forgotten, but the "equality" lived on. I’ve always been baffled by what happened in the last 25-30 years, and how things went so backwards in relationships from the lessons we were taught back then. It became that men had no responsibility because of "equality" but women were expected to move back into the old roles (and men did because they could).

Reading the article and the comments here, very, very little of this holds any relevance to my life, despite having dated many dudes and having had several long-term boyfriends. And it's because I'm lazy. Lazy and a bit of an asshole.

I married this woman, and have been together for 20 something years, and everyone I was with before that was much the same. It seemed every woman I knew back then had no intention of taking on the burdens I see discussed here. Honestly the "woman's responsibility is caretaker" thing has always made me uncomfortable in relationships, probably in part because my mom is not like that ("here’s how you work the washer, don’t wait for me").

Threads like this are informative since you often don’t realize how much things like this are going on if it’s not a part of your little world.
posted by bongo_x at 12:20 AM on February 16, 2016 [14 favorites]


This seems to fit here.
posted by Too-Ticky at 12:29 AM on February 16, 2016 [4 favorites]


There's lots of insight in this thread. Thanks to all who took a stab at my questions. I suppose I'm back to my first comment: there has to be a better way to match solid, emotionally-available people with each other. I've no idea what that way is. I guess I find the thought of many people who would be great in a grown-up relationship, all awash in immaturity and as a result all thinking they're all alone, really quite sad. I mean, it's what produces a bunch of media (viz. Her). Still sad.
posted by persona au gratin at 1:15 AM on February 16, 2016


it became clear very early that my job was to fix his toxic relationship with his mother. (Confession: in my youth I was delighted that he trusted me with this important task. [...] He had friends, but mostly I was expected to provide 100% of his emotional support.

Thank you, frumiousb, for putting into words something I had trouble putting my finger on. When I looked at the list of unreciprocated emotional labour I wrote above, I asked myself: should I think of myself as a doormat? The thing is, I really was that giving. I didn't do it grudgingly, calculatingly or out of fear of abandonment; I was proud to help, to be kind, I felt flattered to be needed, necessary. I accepted it as a given that it would not get fully reciprocated in words or deeds. That is just what intimacy between me and men was built on, romantically or platonically.

It made me feel special - and ahem, it eased my unremitting existential pain, Paul - to get a guy to open up, talk about his dreams and fears and manpain or whatever and allow me to comfort, like something worthwhile I had achieved. How many times did I hear that "You're the only person I've ever been able to talk about [vulnerability]." Nowadays, I would consider that a red flag.

If I was socialized to be a doormat, at least I thought I was doing a great job...
posted by sively at 6:13 AM on February 16, 2016 [35 favorites]


Speak kindly about their past relationships and can articulate their role in how those relationships ended (if anyone talks about a crazy ex, I am outtttta therrrre)

Amen. My husband is going out next week with his ex-wife, with whom he still has casual contact with, for lunch to celebrate their 10th-year-anniversary of being divorced. They were just very young and ill-matched when they had their short-lived marriage, and both have gone on to be very happy with other people. It's a celebration of the things they learned together in that time that prepared them for the relationships they have now.
posted by Windigo at 6:16 AM on February 16, 2016 [4 favorites]


[A couple of comments deleted. PercussivePaul, probably best to relax it a bit with the commenting at this point.]
posted by taz at 6:25 AM on February 16, 2016 [4 favorites]


If women are dating aimless man-baby "dreamers", in part it's probably because we take so much shit for daring to ask that men have their shit together before approaching us. If you want your guy to have a steady job and, gasp, the ability to purchase a house for you to live in (which was a bog standard expectation when I was young) you are now a "heartless gold-digger". Same if you want a guy to be able to support you in exchange for all the shit he wants you to do for him. Even if he does it, it will always come up.

So women date crap sometimes, because men successfully shame us otherwise.
posted by corb at 6:44 AM on February 16, 2016 [10 favorites]


I have nothing to add other than to thank all of the women who, yet again, shared stories and experiences with us hetero men that are invaluable no matter where on the spectrum of emotional competency we are.

I would encourage the men above who feel the need to defend themselves as "not one of those men" to share this with their partner and actually hear whether they agree with you. I did that with the EL thread and though in general my wife feels we strike a good balance, there were a few places (particularly greeting cards) where she felt my partnership waned. I better understand how culturally, our lack of sending cards falls heavier on her, and subsequently have done more of the sending of them.

Like all skills, emotional competency is not a box you have checked - it is something you are actively getting better or worse at every day, and all men should be looking to improve on where they are today for the sake of their partners.
posted by scrittore at 7:32 AM on February 16, 2016 [13 favorites]


I keep thinking about Eyebrow McGee's theory of How We Learn This Stuff as kids. I don't like to sound patronizing towards my husband (a kind, responsible but in some EL related ways bumbling man), but I think he has made huge progress in EL skills in recent years, ever since our daughters hit their tweens. It's like he's in some aspects growing up with them, emotional intelligence-wise - and that feels like such a profoundly weird thing to say about an intelligent and succesful adult, but that's how I see it. He was a natural at parenting when they were small and all you needed was patience, consistency and a sense of humour. Now we've reached level 13 and he is struggling to communicate with them (whereas for me, things have only become easier, so far).

And I have totally mixed feelings about this, but he's obviously learning much more from them - and especially from his own stubborn hit and miss attempts to keep understanding them and to stay relevant and supportive - than he ever learned from me. Because I have always done the heavy lifting wrt emotional intimacy between us. But our daughters just roll their eyes and focus on their smartphones in stead, so he needs to find ways to relate, to find out what's going on in their lives, to get them to open up and trust him, and to be worth that trust. And to his credit, he keeps trying.

It seems to me he's now also vicariously experiencing some of the social training girls go through in their youth, as described by Eyebrows above, by following their evolving friendships, hateships, alliances and the diplomacy required for managing reciprocal intimate relationships with their friends. "Isn't that awfully complicated for someone their age?" he recently asked me about some ever-evolving touchy saga our youngest has with a couple of friends, and I told him that it's par for the course. "Was it like that between you and your friends, too?" Yep, sometimes it was. "Wow." I'm not making him sound dumb, am I? He has a very high IQ. And he is a lovely person, liked by everyone we know.

I often feel like a coach to him in this respect, and sometimes it's so fucking unfair because hey, this is the first time I've raised teenagers, too? We keep having these quiet conversations after the kids have gone to bed, where I'm like here's what works for me, this is how you could approach that situation, here's the reason she clammed up today, that subject is not up for joking... To his credit, he's open to all that.

And so far it works, all in all they have a great, warm relationship. My husband gets kudos from everyone for being such a great dad, as he should. And our kids get to have a dad who's actually actively doing EL for them, as best as he can. That's a good thing, I'm sure.

Did I already say I have complicated feelings about it though? Yeah.
posted by sively at 7:44 AM on February 16, 2016 [39 favorites]


[we date] Because we like cheese, dogs, and sex.
Not necessarily in that order.
Nor at the same time.


I dunno, I got some definite ideas about how the first and third items could be combined....
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:08 AM on February 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


The thing is, I really was that giving. I didn't do it grudgingly, calculatingly or out of fear of abandonment; I was proud to help, to be kind, I felt flattered to be needed, necessary. I accepted it as a given that it would not get fully reciprocated in words or deeds. That is just what intimacy between me and men was built on, romantically or platonically.

Women are/were socialized to perform this role of giving in the home and the family and for many women it feels good. The parallel male expectation, as corb mentioned is to be a "good provider" and earn enough money to fund a good home for the wife and children. Which is a pretty reasonable expectation - if you, as a man, are going to expect full-time caregiving for your children by your wife, and a hot dinner on the table when you walk through the door in the evening, being a "good provider" is a baseline requirement.

Additionally, whether the people in a marriage map onto the traditional sex roles, or do something more "modern", ongoing appreciation for your partner's efforts, in a format in which they really "get" the message, is really crucial for a healthy married relationship. As commenters have mentioned upthread, this is an area where women's early emotional education (both formal and informal) tends to give them more sophisticated tools for communication. But it's something that men can and should learn, and pays off in much better relationship outcomes.
posted by theorique at 8:24 AM on February 16, 2016 [4 favorites]


Eyebrows McGee: Boys friendships are not, culturally, allowed to be so intense, dramatic, or emotionally-involving, so I think boys do not get the opportunity to learn and practice adult interpersonal relationships in the same way...

I may have been trained differently from other boys, but what I learned was that placing emotional demands on other people is what children do, and part of growing up is learning how not to do that.

So when heavy emotional demands are placed on me in a relationship, part of me feels like I am adult taking care of a child. I have grown up; she has not.

I never thought to think of it as:

Adolescent girl friend drama is children learning to manage reciprocal emotional relationships like adults.

I wonder how many other men were trained the same way as me.
posted by clawsoon at 8:27 AM on February 16, 2016 [16 favorites]


Women are/were socialized to perform this role of giving in the home and the family and for many women it feels good.

I just keep staring at this sentence. It's... more complicated than that. At least for me it is. It's like knowing I'm doing a good job, while being pretty sure I'm getting fleeced by the management, you know?
posted by sively at 9:06 AM on February 16, 2016 [58 favorites]


If women are dating aimless man-baby "dreamers", in part it's probably because we take so much shit for daring to ask that men have their shit together before approaching us. If you want your guy to have a steady job and, gasp, the ability to purchase a house for you to live in (which was a bog standard expectation when I was young) you are now a "heartless gold-digger".

YES. But what I don't understand is why, if you're a career woman who earns a decent wage, if you're the one buying the house, if having basically any bar or qualification for a prospective mate is unacceptable, so many men view a woman's absolute independence as somehow threatening to their sense of self? IME most dudes do NOT want you to make more money than them -- I don't make a lot, but I do make more money than most dudes I meet -- even if they make $0/hour. And shit, if one of your bottom line qualifications for a prospective partner is that he works more than 4 hours a week, or even just that he isn't one of those sad aging punk rockers who calls you a sellout for having a job at all? Yeahhhh. Noooooo.

So then, OK, maybe you decide to date some kind of starving artist instead, because you've long been told that wanting to date a guy who's employed is just too large of an ask. But then maybe your impoverished and tragically misunderstood musical/writerly soul of a bf starts crashing at your place every few nights, which quietly morphs into him basically moving in off-lease, eating your food while you're at work for 50+ hours a week, piling dishes up in the sink, basically leaving a trail of slothful destruction wherever he goes, and then maybe you have to try not to go ballistic when he flips out any time you ask him to clean up after himself because what gives, lady?! It's not even his apartment.*

It's not like I've been holding out for an obscenely beautiful vegan guy who works 80 hours a week, makes a trillion dollars a year, owns a vacation home in Tahiti, and unironically loves Andrea Dworkin. But it's wearying to be told that having any standards at all (work ethic? civic pride? does not literally leave garbage laying on the floor?) is being "too picky," that being seriously grossed out by 40-something dudes who won't date women over the age of 25 is preference-shaming, and that I'm probably going to need to suck it up and continue to patiently teach men who adamantly refuse to take care of themselves What Is Adulting Even or get ready to spinster it up for the rest of my days. I'm not even 35, ferchrissakes.

Women are/were socialized to perform this role of giving in the home and the family and for many women it feels good.

A big reason that the performance of domestic labor can feel so good to a woman is because men reward us with their approval for embracing our assigned role as the caretaker class. Also because for many women, homemaking is the only path we're actively encouraged to follow, the only sphere in which we're actively encouraged to succeed, the only time and place in which we're allowed to express pride for our accomplishments. That those accomplishments tidily align with the proliferation of male supremacist interests is not a coincidence.

* no, nothing remotely like this has never happened to me in my entire life, why do you ask
posted by amnesia and magnets at 9:25 AM on February 16, 2016 [45 favorites]


Adolescent girl friend drama is children learning to manage reciprocal emotional relationships like adults.

Sometimes adolescent girl friend drama is also very damaging and takes the women involved years to heal the scars from, too, doesn't it, especially if they don't have good support from parents?
posted by clawsoon at 9:39 AM on February 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


sometimes adolescent boy friend interactions are very damaging and can leave scars that are maybe never healed as well.
posted by nadawi at 9:49 AM on February 16, 2016 [11 favorites]


True.
posted by clawsoon at 9:54 AM on February 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


But it's wearying to be told that having any standards at all (work ethic? civic pride? does not literally leave garbage laying on the floor?) is being "too picky," that being seriously grossed out by 40-something dudes who won't date women over the age of 25 is preference-shaming, and that I'm probably going to need to suck it up and continue to patiently teach men who adamantly refuse to take care of themselves What Is Adulting Even or get ready to spinster it up for the rest of my days.

The dating market is basically a means of matching peoples' lists of "needs", "nice to haves", and "deal breakers" with those of other people.

As the spokesman for "all men" (ok, not really), I can absolutely inform you that those standards you list (work ethic etc) are completely reasonable and not "too picky" at all.

Men in their 40s who seek to date under 25 are doing themselves, and you, the favor of filtering themselves out of consideration. Your repulsion is a sign that it's a deal breaker for you.

Expecting a potential adult male romantic partner to have a job (or other lawful means of support), to have done reasonable psychological work on his personal "baggage", to be able to live and maintain a residence at a higher standard of cleanliness than the sophomores at Tappa Kegga Bru - these are completely reasonable expectations for a woman to maintain as she seeks a long-term relationship with a man.
posted by theorique at 9:57 AM on February 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


Misery, I have decided, comes from wanting two things at the same time that are mutually exclusive. Wanting those things in a partner is reasonable, and wanting partners to be readily available is reasonable, but wanting those things in a readily available partner is misery-making.
posted by clawsoon at 10:13 AM on February 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


that being seriously grossed out by 40-something dudes who won't date women over the age of 25 is preference-shaming

Just for the record, this is not preference-shaming. Those dudes are gross.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:41 AM on February 16, 2016 [27 favorites]


About six months ago, I started putting out feelers to seriously investigate moving to female-only separatist land. It's like a real life Crone Island and it's gonna be great.

yes hello I would like to subscribe to your newsletter

Is this a thing that actually exists?

So then, OK, maybe you decide to date some kind of starving artist instead, because you've long been told that wanting to date a guy who's employed is just too large of an ask. But then maybe your impoverished and tragically misunderstood musical/writerly soul of a bf starts crashing at your place every few nights, which quietly morphs into him basically moving in off-lease, eating your food while you're at work for 50+ hours a week, piling dishes up in the sink, basically leaving a trail of slothful destruction wherever he goes, and then maybe you have to try not to go ballistic when he flips out any time you ask him to clean up after himself because what gives, lady?! It's not even his apartment.*

This gave me flashbacks. These boys are so pretty, why do they let their laziness, selfishness & ADD ruin their lives and ours? WHY?!

It's not like I've been holding out for an obscenely beautiful vegan guy who works 80 hours a week, makes a trillion dollars a year, owns a vacation home in Tahiti, and unironically loves Andrea Dworkin. But it's wearying to be told that having any standards at all (work ethic? civic pride? does not literally leave garbage laying on the floor?) is being "too picky," that being seriously grossed out by 40-something dudes who won't date women over the age of 25 is preference-shaming, and that I'm probably going to need to suck it up and continue to patiently teach men who adamantly refuse to take care of themselves What Is Adulting Even or get ready to spinster it up for the rest of my days. I'm not even 35, ferchrissakes.

Don't be afraid to have standards. Here's mine: if you aren't actively trying to make my life better, you're probably just making it worse.

This round of crone island margaritas on me!
posted by Feyala at 10:47 AM on February 16, 2016 [22 favorites]


I may have been trained differently from other boys, but what I learned was that placing emotional demands on other people is what children do, and part of growing up is learning how not to do that.

So when heavy emotional demands are placed on me in a relationship, part of me feels like I am adult taking care of a child. I have grown up; she has not.


This rings very true. As a boy, I, my brothers, my friends, were told constantly that they are to be the persons on whom others depend would have to depend on you someday. Not having your shit together was not being an adult. That was true emotionally, as much, or more than as anything else. That's why boys don't cry, it's not for boys to put that on anyone else.
posted by bonehead at 10:51 AM on February 16, 2016 [8 favorites]


So when heavy emotional demands are placed on me in a relationship, part of me feels like I am adult taking care of a child. I have grown up; she has not.

Yeah, this. Thankfully, I have very much unlearned this, but I definitely had to unlearn it.

As a boy, I, my brothers, my friends, were told constantly that they are to be the persons on whom others depend would have to depend on you someday. Not having your shit together was not being an adult. That was true emotionally, as much, or more than as anything else. That's why boys don't cry, it's not for boys to put that on anyone else.

HOLY SHIT, THIS. And as a young man, that was reinforced by women I dated! 'Why are you talking to me about your feelings, you're supposed to be the strong one whose shoulder I cry on!' Or worse, crying to a girlfriend when I was in my 20s. That was woman-repellant in many cases.
posted by LooseFilter at 10:59 AM on February 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


i've personally found that men who have really internalized "boys don't cry" type stuff actually burden people, especially romantic partners, with their emotions constantly. they're the guys who hit the table when they're angry, who make you console them when they've upset you, who refuse to participate in things like small talk or gift exchanges or going to dinners they don't want to go to because they view it akin to blackmail. they talk a lot about how women's emotions are manipulation or childlike without realizing that they're often behaving like over grown toddlers.
posted by nadawi at 11:00 AM on February 16, 2016 [103 favorites]


I'm a male and I have been taking seriously the notion "it's not a woman's job to teach men" to heart and have been trying to educate my younger brother on practicing emotional labor, mindfulness of his own emotions, and just being an adult. But at the same time I don't know if I can do a good enough of a job. I have had my own shortcomings in relationships and domestic labor that I continually work on, and I have no idea if I'm setting a good example when the only solution I have for now that works for myself is to be not dating until I'm sure this stuff is mostly hashed out.

I remember showing him the big emotional labor thread from last year and telling him it's very important that he reads this, but he just kind of browsed it and it bounced off him. He's about to finish college and he lives with my parents. My mom is the career woman and she's busy and my father is, well, not a good example to follow.

And I try not to lecture him, because I'm not a parent. I try to gently advise and say that he can work on these things a little bit each day. But, I don't think it's working. Sometimes it does feel like the blind leading the blind.
posted by FJT at 11:13 AM on February 16, 2016 [5 favorites]


Seconding nadawi on this. The guys I know that have bought into that are often the ones who have exploded in rage at small provocations, because they haven't allowed themselves any other outlets. They're people to be feared, not loved or respected in my experience.
posted by peppermind at 11:15 AM on February 16, 2016 [16 favorites]


Men in their 40s who seek to date under 25 are doing themselves, and you, the favor of filtering themselves out of consideration.

They aren't doing me or anyone else any favors. In terms of who I might date, maybe, but to say - "well if you don't like it you don't have to participate!" as if that somehow closes the matter is disingenuous.

A man who claims that it's okay for him to only consider dating women who are 15 years younger than him because it's his "preference" or "type" isn't something that exists in a vacuum, no matter how much he might try to write it off by saying it's okay because people will self-select out. Having the actual preference and not examining it is actively participating in and contributing to a societal standard that is horrible to women as they get older. The problem that women like me have with that is not because I'm sad to be missing out on the dating pool of guys who don't like me because I'm their own age (hahaha no); it's because it's highly disturbing to me that there are still so many guys who flat-out refuse to examine their own biases around how they view women and that there are plenty of people ready to jump to their defense because Preferences. When people are happy to ignore that kind of honest self-examination because they want to continue to date the young ladies, that kind of attitude, on a larger level, affects all women. Not to mention that there is a not-insignificant number of men who like to manipulate young women who haven't wised up to them yet and, having been one of those young women at one time, I actively want to protect them from guys like that.
posted by triggerfinger at 11:32 AM on February 16, 2016 [71 favorites]


Oh god, yeah. From my experience, the guys that are like "I don't want to burden anyone else with my emotions" are totally willing to burden everyone else with the externalities of those emotions.

The man that throws his phone across the floor and then tells you that he doesn't want to talk about it is not protecting you from the burden of his emotions. He is increasing your burden, as you don't know why he is angry, the precise depths of his anger, and whether or not it is likely to fall upon you.

The man who must have everything go perfectly lest he sulk and stew and make the rest of the day terrible for everyone else, because he can't vent minor frustrations and get over them, is not saving us from the burden of hearing about his emotions. He is increasing our burden, as we have to either work every day to ensure that their day is perfect in exactitude, or suffer with him blighting the lives of everyone else.

Just because you don't hear about the emotions doesn't mean the emotions aren't there, and it doesn't mean the consequences of the emotions aren't there.
posted by corb at 11:40 AM on February 16, 2016 [96 favorites]


men who have really internalized "boys don't cry" type stuff actually burden people, especially romantic partners, with their emotions constantly. they're the guys who hit the table when they're angry

Part of that training, for some who get it, can be learning to weaponize emotions, anger in particular. Use them for a purpose, turning anger and fear into determination and bravery, for example. However lots of boys figure out, have it modeled by parents or are even taught the tricks of using deliberate anger socially, throwing temper tantrums as a tactic.

He is increasing our burden, as we have to either work every day to ensure that their day is perfect in exactitude, or suffer with him blighting the lives of everyone else.

That's exactly why he's doing it, of course. It's not in the least accidental. And it's typically learned as a child or young adult.
posted by bonehead at 11:46 AM on February 16, 2016 [7 favorites]


nadawi: i've personally found that men who have really internalized "boys don't cry" type stuff actually burden people, especially romantic partners, with their emotions constantly. they're the guys who hit the table when they're angry, who make you console them when they've upset you, who refuse to participate in things like small talk or gift exchanges or going to dinners they don't want to go to because they view it akin to blackmail. they talk a lot about how women's emotions are manipulation or childlike without realizing that they're often behaving like over grown toddlers.

So the men doing this presumably don't view their own anger as childish. Do they view women's anger as childish, or is it only sadness, etc. that are childish/blackmail to them?
posted by clawsoon at 11:55 AM on February 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


In my experience, female anger is often perceived as irrational, shrill, and overblown, to be gaslit and dismissed (in that order).

I have made it my personal mission to be the person that my female friends can go to when they need someone to say "you are 100% allowed to be angry, this is a shitty thing that has happened that deserves your valid anger". It is an extremely satisfying feeling, but it's also heartbreaking how much we are trained to second-guess ourselves.
posted by Phire at 11:59 AM on February 16, 2016 [31 favorites]


they tend to view women's anger as "hysterical" or "crazy" or "pms'ing" or, again, manipulative. the entire idea that women are "emotional" and men are "logical" comes from the idea that women's emotions are not connected to real things, they aren't appropriate reactions, and are just a function of how weird or other women are.
posted by nadawi at 12:01 PM on February 16, 2016 [44 favorites]


Ah, that makes sense. My younger self would've immediately jumped on the fact that you're being dismissive of someone's anger at being forced into small talk or gift exchanges or whatever, that you're dismissively viewing it as anger that's not an appropriate reaction, not connected to real things. (It totally makes sense to be angry at being blackmailed into small talk or going to dinner! You're pushing someone into a threatening, scary situation! Adrenaline is pumping and since flight is prevented, fight is the only option!)

But I'm older now, and ever-so-slightly more relaxed.
posted by clawsoon at 12:16 PM on February 16, 2016


they tend to view women's anger as "hysterical" or "crazy" or "pms'ing"

because it's not controlled

or, again, manipulative.

because it is controlled and therefore being used in the same way they use it. It's not fair to use their tactic!
posted by bonehead at 12:22 PM on February 16, 2016 [4 favorites]


...and, of course, many men are trained to never, ever say, "That's scary for me," which would be the obvious thing to do if they're scared of small talk or gift exchanges or whatever, so anger is the only internally acceptable response.

Better to be feared than to be pitied.
posted by clawsoon at 12:22 PM on February 16, 2016 [6 favorites]


Exactly. As a partner, if I asked my boyfriend to take care of something he hadn't before and he tol d me it was freaking him out, I'd be glad to help him through it and talk about his feelings. If he was angry-scared because he didn't know how to buy Christmas presents and no one ever helped him feel confident about it... I get it. I've been there! (When I was much younger, but nonetheless.)

But when it becomes a choice of either 1) get angry or 2) play guessing games and hide and seek with the real emotions while just stonewalling and refusing to either do it or admit that you're not going to do it, i.e. being like "yeah ok" and then ignoring it forever, and not communicating, and ignoring me when I ask what's going on... that is when I say goodbye.
posted by stoneandstar at 12:25 PM on February 16, 2016 [11 favorites]


because it's not controlled

i disagree. how well controlled a woman is at expressing her anger doesn't seem to have correlation to her being framed as crazy. it's a controlling tactic meant to cast women as irrational and is used as an excuse to cut her off from all sorts of things or to never have to confront the behavior that inspired the anger.
posted by nadawi at 12:29 PM on February 16, 2016 [13 favorites]


Women's anger is cast as irrational because people don't think women have a right to be angry. If you expect X and get Y, it's rational to be angry only if expecting X was itself rational. People don't think that women's expectation of X (for all values of X) is rational, so anger at not receiving X is not rational. The problem is women having expectations.
posted by melissasaurus at 12:39 PM on February 16, 2016 [42 favorites]


My father never, ever, ever expressed anger - it was the worst sin in his Mennonite upbringing - and my mother resented the hell out of him for that. He was frightened and overwhelmed by her anger, and did whatever he could to just makeitgoawayimmediately.

I don't know if he ever got as far as processing it in terms of whether or not her expectations were rational, because he was too afraid of her anger to even get a glimmer of what her expectations might be. (According to Gottman's research on "flooding", he was like a lot of men, though not all men, that way.) He definitely viewed her anger as irrational, though. The only time he talked about the reality of demons in the spiritual world was when he was talking about anger - in particular, about my mother's anger. He said some fearful prayers to a God he hoped might help protect him from those demons.

As you might imagine, my mother didn't feel very "heard" in that situation.
posted by clawsoon at 12:53 PM on February 16, 2016 [9 favorites]


Oh hey I'm sitting here right this minute struggling with the whole you should be able to hold in your emotions and anger because 'professional' thing. Long story short, was blindsided last night by some devastating health new about my sister, like potentially life changing for everyone news and I'm I'm understandbly reeling and not in a good head space at all.

I managed to get to work because of some things that HAD to be looked after today and I'm here and plugging along. In the morning I told bossman, look here is what's up. I'm here but I'm really not in a good place. Like I can work quietly. Like I'm trying really hard but (as you can see right this second) when I try to talk I tear up because I can't fucking help it right now.

So I work and all the ladies in my office are all supportive and cool. Then bossman comes in an is all oh hey I need you to be available to do a presentation to big boss about the project, like lead the presentation. I don't know what time, just some time this afternoon I'll call you up. Then walks away before I can say anything.

So I'm sitting here just stewing and trying to keep it together because seriously? There is no reason it HAS to be today but hey I'm a professional right? Should be able to hold those emotions! But I really don't think I can. So I'm left with either going and trying to not only concentrate but not burst into tears as soon as I open my mouth or going and saying to all of management hey I have some friggin emotions because like I told you this am my sister MIGHT BE DYING and so sorry I can't be the 'professional' you want me to be right now and oh yeah I'm also super angry that you are so clueless as to not be able to recognize that my current state of mind is totally reasonable human reaction.

Fuck this whole women are overly emotional and irrational blah blah. It's so much bullshit.
posted by Jalliah at 12:54 PM on February 16, 2016 [28 favorites]


Yeah, that's a shitty boss.
posted by clawsoon at 12:57 PM on February 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


That sucks, Jalliah. So sorry your boss is a trash fire at being human and can't deal with being told where your functional threshold is today. Hoping for the best for your sister.
posted by EvaDestruction at 1:19 PM on February 16, 2016 [8 favorites]


Hey all. Apologies for the blerg that was only sorta germaine to the discussion. Guess I needed to get that out. Good news is five minutes after writing it and rereading it I saw how ridiculous it was to be even trying to deal with it and took option C. I just packed up my stuff and left. The awesome ladies I work with who understand that when stuff like this happens you just need some time and a bit of space to process said they would look after informing bossman.

Home now with tea brewing.
posted by Jalliah at 1:36 PM on February 16, 2016 [64 favorites]


High five, Jalliah. Get the heck outta there.
posted by lizbunny at 1:39 PM on February 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


"There has to be some better way of matching decent guys with women who deserve them. I mean, those guys do exist."

But the point is *everyone deserves this*. Like this should be the way human beings treat each other and not like winning the fucking lottery. It shouldn't be a scarce and precious resource. Guys should step it up.
posted by stoneweaver at 4:21 PM on February 16, 2016 [37 favorites]


i wish i knew who wrote this dear prudie letter because i feel like she could use this thread.
Q. Trapped: I am a physician with a stressful career and two tweens. My husband hasn’t worked in a few years. He tells me he’s looking for a job, and I’ve suggested going back to school or finding a job completely out of his field, but he gets annoyed if I ask him how he spent his day. He busies himself with projects around the house, but he is slower than molasses with getting things done, so I really don’t know what he does all day. I still do the laundry, bills, cleaning, and cooking (he has recently started making a simple meal now and then, which I appreciate). We have a lawn service, so he doesn’t even have to mow. I have lost respect for him and can’t bring myself to have sex with him (it’s been more than a year). When I try to talk to him, he makes me feel like an unhappy person who cannot be pleased. He refuses marriage therapy because he says he will be made out to be the bad guy and thinks we can work it out together, but he never talks. I won’t leave him because I can’t stand what it would do to our kids, and I don’t know how I would take care of them with my long work hours (he at least is home when they are and can take them to evening activities). I also worry how he would support himself, but I am so resentful every time I head out the door to work. When I see him sitting on the couch with a cup of coffee watching the news, I want to scream.
posted by nadawi at 4:42 PM on February 16, 2016 [9 favorites]


So when I pressed him, really pressed him, with why-- he mumbled something that a younger woman just seemed so much fresher to him, and more fun. And nicer. Women his own age, he felt, were all rather mean.

And I thought about that, and I realized it was sort of true. As a divorced 40-something I am completely done doing emotional work for anyone. I will never again repair someone's relationship with their mother or help them admit their feelings out loud because they don't know how. I will never ever again feel guilty because I didn't send thank you cards on his behalf or help sort out his schedule. I expect him to be able to do all these things his own damn self. So yes, I am "meaner" than I was at 28 and newly married.
As I kept reading this I found my head nodding. This is why I'm "not friendly" or "aloof".
posted by sio42 at 5:33 PM on February 16, 2016 [11 favorites]


Like this should be the way human beings treat each other and not like winning the fucking lottery. It shouldn't be a scarce and precious resource. Guys should step it up.

Sturgeon's Law applies here, as in so many other areas. High-quality men are a scarce resource because they have their choice of high-quality women (and vice versa). But people often don't have an accurate sense of their own value in the dating market - some diamonds with low self esteem think they are coal. So they stay in relationships that aren't right for them, because they don't think they can do better.
posted by theorique at 5:59 PM on February 16, 2016


It's not like it's just market forces acting. Many female diamonds think they are coal because of a deliberate attempt by men to devalue them so they can date them.
posted by corb at 6:11 PM on February 16, 2016 [48 favorites]


This thread led to me demanding of my husband, "Okay, so if I die, when you start dating again, what is the age range you put on your OK Cupid profile?" "What's OK Cupid?" "It's a dating site." "I don't think I'm dating online if you die." "Okay but pretend you're dating online, what's the age range?" "I feel like an age range is kind-of arbitrary." "But you HAVE TO PUT ONE because it's an online form." "See, this is why I'm not dating online when you're dead, can't I just meet people?" "NO, you're DATING ONLINE for the purposes of this hypothetical, what would your age range be?"

He finally said 10 years younger and 10 years older than his actual age so OKAY HE CAN STAY.

There's nothing he hates more than me springing hypothetical "so if I'm dead ..." questions on him, you would be surprised how many I can come up with.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:33 PM on February 16, 2016 [57 favorites]


Plus I do feel we have to consider the economic pressures currently making it so much harder to exist on a single income (with or without children, but especially with). Yes, there are other ways to get to a multi-income household, but our society isn't set up to support a lot of those ways yet. If we're going to tell women they should go it alone with their sex toys and healthy bank balance, we have to do better at making that healthy bank balance possible.

This was a big part of the point of the fpp.
posted by eviemath at 7:20 PM on February 16, 2016 [4 favorites]


theorique: I'm a bit late, but if you're still looking for what "showing up emotionally" means, you might try perusing the Emotional Labor Thread: Condensed document.
posted by XtinaS at 7:22 PM on February 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


Ha, I just tried the same hypothetical on my husband (we are both 41):

"If I die, and you want to find a new wife/girlfriend-type person, what age range would you put for said person on an online dating site?"
"If you died I would just go live out in the woods and be a hermit."
"So I'm it? After me you're done with women?"
"Yes. Why are you asking this?"
"Apparently many men put a younger-than-them age range on dating sites."
"OK, fine, I'd put 41-42."
"Aw, you're awesome."
"... assuming you die when you're 80, so I'd also be 80."

My husband is a funny man.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 7:36 PM on February 16, 2016 [24 favorites]


There's nothing he hates more than me springing hypothetical "so if I'm dead ..." questions on him, you would be surprised how many I can come up with

I was just reading a TIFU thread on Reddit yesterday and this guy confessed that actually told his dying wife exactly who he planned to ask out after she passed away (some goodlooking woman at church he's been eyeing.) And yuck I'll enough, he was being mad defensive about doing so when others told him how cruel that was.

Beware.
posted by discopolo at 7:53 PM on February 16, 2016 [6 favorites]


Maybe I'd feel different if I had a fatal illness, but I really don't care (romantically) who my husband would date after I die.I would hope he'd pick someone who treated our kid well and didn't make him miserable but I'm not really interested in the specifics.

If you think about it, that's like the ultimate emotional labor..trying to arrange your widowed husband's dating life after your death.
posted by emjaybee at 8:29 PM on February 16, 2016 [8 favorites]


trying to arrange your widowed husband's dating life after your death

I seem to remember that there was a Golden Girls episode with that as the plot, except the dating began while she was still alive, and posing as the husband's sister. Creepy.
posted by conic at 8:58 PM on February 16, 2016


The reason my mum gave for staying with my dad was that she was sure he couldn't find anyone else, and "how's he going to take care of himself?" Mind you, at the time he was a healthy 49 year old regional director at a financing company. *headdesk*
posted by sively at 12:26 AM on February 17, 2016 [7 favorites]


Growing up in the 70’s ... I’ve always been baffled by what happened in the last 25-30 years, and how things went so backwards in relationships from the lessons we were taught back then.

70s: "I feel like we've figured a lot of things out and don't need to reinvent so many wheels."
80s: "Or, how about we sell 'em even shittier wheel re-invention kits so they keep buying them forever?"
posted by nom de poop at 2:32 AM on February 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


Growing up in the 70’s ... I’ve always been baffled by what happened in the last 25-30 years, and how things went so backwards in relationships from the lessons we were taught back then.

Growing up in the 70's and 80's.....I'm not.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:39 AM on February 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


It's not like it's just market forces acting. Many female diamonds think they are coal because of a deliberate attempt by men to devalue them so they can date them.

Isn't that what the millenials call "negging"? Kind of an obnoxious dating strategy IMO.

theorique: I'm a bit late, but if you're still looking for what "showing up emotionally" means, you might try perusing the Emotional Labor Thread: Condensed document.

Agree 100%, that thread/document has a lot of great examples as well. I think many of the responses to my question in this thread would fit in as concrete examples of emotional labor in that document as well.
posted by theorique at 5:12 AM on February 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Growing up in the 70’s ... I’ve always been baffled by what happened in the last 25-30 years, and how things went so backwards in relationships from the lessons we were taught back then.

Honestly, I think changes in mass production have a lot to do with it. I too grew up in the late seventies/early eighties and am often baffled by Stuff Today - but I think that's because, in the late seventies and early eighties, there was more cultural space. My parents weren't hippies or bohemians by any measure (sort of cultured working class people, rather conservative in behavior and left in politics) but I missed out on a big chunk of the social conditioning that is common today simply because there wasn't the same degree of mass production. We got a VCR late, my clothes were mostly less-gendered hand-me-downs (whereas today hand-me-downs are 2000s hyper-gendered stuff) , we didn't engage with mainstream culture much - and although that was a little bit weird, it was nowhere near as bizarre as it would be today in the age of fast fashion and the internet. Also, hippie culture had impacted even people like my parents in all kinds of ways - being lower-key about fashion, being more into cheap crafts and cheap fix-up projects, etc.

It's not that there wasn't lots of fucked up stuff in the 70s/80s - it's that it was easier to miss that stuff. Right now, even the most hippie/left/we-don't-even-have-a-television parents I know are much more enmeshed in gender-normative stuff, because there are simply so many artifacts.
posted by Frowner at 6:07 AM on February 17, 2016 [13 favorites]


I dunno, Frowner - I think "mass production" might be a little too unfocused. "Mass communication" (and the production of devices and systems and programming that take advantage of and/or emphasize the "mass" element) would be, I think, more direct. Just for one example, Howard Stern got national syndication in 1985, and one of Stern's core schticks (regardless of whatever good qualities he may possess) is essentially women being valued primarily for their looks and sexuality. So you've got 20/30-some years of literally millions of people having this message, however indirectly, fed to them during their morning drive time. So, sure, VCRs, but also cable TV, and more syndication of programming, less local media and more national media, and so on and so forth.

I also think it's hard to underestimate the extent to which the Reagan-era resurgence of conservatism (and especially social conservatism, driven by the religious right's close association with resurgent conservatism) made it acceptable to push back against or simply ignore all the efforts towards gender equality that had been accomplished in the previous decades. I mean, Reagan's schtick was essentially "The 1950's were the BEST, we should be more like that again." Which very much included mainstream 1950's gender roles and concepts.

So, I see your point about gender-normative stuff being everywhere, but I don't know that we would have had that rise in gender-normative stuff without the earlier rise of gender-normative ideas being widely disseminated, especially post 1980.
posted by soundguy99 at 7:06 AM on February 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


I think the distinction I was trying to draw was more about why it's possible for some folks to have experienced the seventies/eighties as really sexist and some people to have experienced them as much less sexist than the present - it was easier to opt out, I think, when I was growing up. I wasn't thinking so much of the content of the culture as of its pervasiveness, and that's why I think "less stuff" is a big feature. (Although I think that cultural artifacts like TV and advertising are also "stuff" - before cable was a big deal, for instance, there just wasn't enough air time to fill, so there was less television, so it was far easier not to really watch much.)

It's not that there wasn't a big ideological push. At the same time, the seventies were only a decade-ish - I think it's plausible to say that the "seventies" as we know them run from 1969 through 1980. And I feel like most of the big cultural changes of the seventies really hit major momentum only mid-decade. If anything, it's remarkable that there were as many mass culture changes as there were, given the shortness of the time involved. I think that those of us who were born mid-late seventies may have, in fact, a wrong idea about American culture, because we were little during a very peculiar moment.

Reagan is definitely revanchist, but think about this: the "revenge" against the late sixties and the seventies lasted and lasted and lasted, far longer than the period in question. "The sixties" isn't really happening until after JFK (the sixties are a short decade, or really they're two decades); the seventies are basically done by 1979. And yet you have revenge on the sixties that persists as a powerful cultural motif until the present, really.



(There's this whole "long seventies" idea - that the seventies run from 1979 - 1984 - and I used to be into that, but the more I read about the early eighties, the less I agree. There was simply too big a change in international politics by 1983 for that to make sense.)
posted by Frowner at 7:39 AM on February 17, 2016 [12 favorites]


I would love to hear about these women's relationships from their own perspective instead of a male outside looking in.

This reminds me of a party recently when a friend of mine had just had a baby, and she was in my living room, ranting about how her husband was not pulling his weight with the housework, even though she had just given birth (like, she had to plan and cook all their meals in advance in preparation for her hospital stay)

So her husband came in the room and saw that my husband and I have a chores schedule posted and he went on this monologue about how important it is that husband and wife are equal, how he "helped" at home, and how lucky his wife is.

All this time his wife was seething on the couch, obviously did not say anything.

It was both hilarious and depressing.
posted by Tarumba at 8:27 AM on February 18, 2016 [25 favorites]


Woman of color recently out of a serious relationship with a 25yo white man. Someday I may find a man who buys his own damn underwear instead of letting his mother do it, writes his own thank-you cards, and sticks up for me to his racist relatives and toxic female friends, without being argued into it, and without punishing me in small, nasty, passive-aggressive ways afterward. That guy wasn't it.

Here's the kicker, though. He ticked off most of pseudostrabismus's list. Interested in me. Supportive of my passions. Feminist without the label. Anti-racist without demanding recognition. Except when he said at the beginning of the relationship he was afraid of looking "whipped." And except for the compliments. I only ever got "You're the best" and "You're a sweetheart." That was it. Despite requesting specificity. Yes, I closed my eyes to a a racetrack of red flags, and that's on me. He was often nice! Then less often. And less.

Traumatic things happened in his life, and he was hurt and scared. He lashed out at me. He gaslit me. Traumatic things happened in my life, and I went and got professional support and a stack of books. Meanwhile he was falsely accusing me of abusive things I had not done and bad intentions I did not have, sulking, throwing tantrums, making promises he never kept, using the silent treatment, refusing to go to therapy because it was for broken people, and oh puppetysock—

He also has repeatedly refused to talk about issues in our marriage, and has repeatedly lied to me about things until I find evidence that he can no longer deny. When I try to challenge him on these things, he gets very defensive and insists that I am not willing to make any changes to myself, although he can not articulate what behaviors he would like me to make despite my repeated asking.

The thing is, I never would've thought I would end up in a marriage like this. Somehow, it has a way of sneaking up on you.


—lying and demanding unspecified changes, like yours! I think I know I ended up in this. Small, subtle negative changes, accompanied by great pain from external events. My beloved was suffering! It was my job to be understanding! I don't doubt that he was afraid, in pain, and suffering greatly, but he preferred hurting me to helping himself. And when I read LoveisRespect.org's page on gaslighting, with examples, I laughed and cried because he'd accused me of gaslighting him one day, explained he didn't mean it the next, and all the while he was doing exactly that, point for point, to me.

Reader, I almost married him.

A lot of it was codependency and fear and an ingrained sense of being unworthy of love, on my end. I still can't believe I heard "I said that because it was the most hurtful thing I could think of" and didn't run. I'm working on it. But I will never do this again.
posted by Tick Tock Tourmaline at 9:20 PM on February 25, 2016 [19 favorites]


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