I think I’ve probably spent a solid quarter of my time as me, as a sentient young adult, worrying about men. Worrying if I’ve texted them back too quickly, not quickly enough, worrying that I was too nice, too sassy, didn’t give that hand job properly. As a pretty anxious person, I’ve always accepted this facet of the dating game, i.e. the fact that it makes you feel like absolute shit. Or, to bastardise the great Dean Martin ‘When you question yourself and you damage your health, that’s amore.’ But after seven years of non-stop dating, I’m starting to become a little less accepting and a little more concerned.
If I had a pound for every time I sighed ‘men’ and then took a shot of tequila, I would not need my student overdraft. But, when you get past the phase of crying to Joni Mitchell and eating your own bodyweight in cheese, you get to thinking. Can all these men really believe that their behaviour is acceptable? Does any normal human being think that its okay to order a Chinese before having sex with someone, orgasm, roll off and go eat said Chinese? Sadly, that is a true story from my actual life. And in case you were wondering, no, I was not offered any of his Chinese.
Ultimately, some of the men I’ve had romantic relationships with have not realised that their behaviour has been at best, inconsiderate, and at worst, deeply damaging. These miscommunications and misjudgements are negative for everyone involved. It strikes me as deeply misguided to assume that men don’t want fulfilling romantic relationships, or to assume that women are out here constantly searching for husbands. We need to start examining where the lines of communication and connection are becoming frayed, severing the potential for mutually beneficial romantic relationships.
For me, the potentially traumatising modern dating world encapsulates the ways in which the patriarchy scars everyone who exists within it. Of course, we all need to take personal responsibility for the ways in which we interact with people and we can’t excuse all bad behaviour as the direct product of social conditioning. That being said, a couple of the patriarchy’s greatest hits may help to explain this no mans land of expectation that seems to gape, freckled with risk, between us.
Men expressing emotion is, according to the masculine powers that be, a bad thing. When a boy upsets me, I have at least three people I can call. The men I have hurt, who did they call? Or did they just shrug it off and go to the pub, sleep with someone new and wake up with a mouth full of stale beer and a chest that ached with longing? I don’t find it hard to tell people how I feel about them because I have had a lifetime of practise, I am actively encouraged to be caring and open and affectionate.
Almost everything that men are taught about women and themselves seems to be designed to create friction between the sexes. If the patriarchy teaches men to fear commitment, to avoid the ‘ball and chain’ for as long as possible, and teaches women that they will have achieved nothing until they are dressed up in a cheap white lace dress, what can we expect other than a world full of heartbroken people?
These gendered assumptions destroy everyone who is forced to exist within their parameters. As a busy, independent woman who also has feelings, I would like to be able to live in a space that floats somewhere between ‘emotionless sex doll’ and ‘crazy girl who definitely wants to marry me.’ The patriarchy has lowered the bar so far that we are all tripping over it. I almost feel like men can’t see women, all they can see is a mirage of sex and expectation that hovers over us. If I’m choosing to fit you in (in all senses of the word) then it’s because I am sacrificing other things for you. I’m not sat in my house humming ‘Some Day My Prince Will Come’ and slowly rocking in the corner until you text me back. These expectations are so misaligned that dating becomes a predictable farce that never ends well. Men expect us to expect nothing from them, and simultaneously expect that we are desperate for attention. Women expect baseline decency and respect, but that is just a little bit more than nothing, and so we are fundamentally, according to these standards, asking too much. All the prosecco I’ve consumed in my life has failed to dull the headache these dichotomies cause me.
I have no doubt that some people behave badly because they just don’t really care about other people’s feelings. But, as one of my friends put it, ‘if you hadn’t expressed any feelings since you were fifteen, you’d be a sociopath.’ The heterosexual dating world is, from where I’m standing, so saturated with gendered expectations that we almost ignore the individuality of the person standing in front of us. The older I get, the more I try to be understanding of the fact that men have very little in their emotional toolbox with which to deal with the situations that strike women as pretty straight forward. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask men to try to not stop, drop and roll whenever women express emotions. Meet us in no man’s land, or, as I like to call it, the middle ground.