Now I am in a post at Historiann’s, which is an honor. Historiann’s title for my post, part of her feminist series Lessons for Girls, is “Romance Is For Your Pleasure and Enjoyment.” I offer a revised and expanded version of it here.
First I have an hors d’oeuvre: since 1986 men have been trying to “fix” my computers unasked, or organize them for me “better than I can.” I have been known to go so far as to put passwords in the BIOS just to keep such people out. I once broke up with someone because he would not stop pressing me to let him rework my file structure as he, not I, saw fit.
Ever since I got a house, men have claimed to know how to fix it. They say I cannot afford to hire anyone, and/or that only they can fix it correctly. They waste my time and energy. I have finally realized, just now, that they are simply trying to use the house to control me, get into my space, make me listen them, get me to jump (and perhaps squirm).
The only two men I have dated since getting my current car have both tried to get control over it. One way or another, they have tried to wheedle keys out of me on different occasions so that they could, ostensibly, drive it to places where it would be convenient to me them to have it me appear.
Notice how in all of these examples they are alleging superior mechanical knowledge, and ostensibly offering favors and free work, when in fact they are really angling to get in my spaces and take control over my things.
That was the hors d’oeuvre; now comes the main course of this post.
Dates and “relationships,” as well as marriages, should be relaxing and pleasant, more fun than ordeal. It is entirely appropriate to be in them for your own sake, as opposed to going out (or staying attached) as a service to the other person. This may seem self evident, but it is not.
I remember that I believed these things in the 8th grade and disagreed with the nun who was called into our public school to teach sex education to girls. She said dating was to find out who you’d like to marry. I had never been on a date but I suspected the purpose of them was to go do something interesting and fun with an interesting and fun person.
Since my mid thirties, however, I’ve had recurrent trouble with men who (a) think one should have sex to serve and please them; (b) are not sure one should have it to please oneself, unless it will also benefit them with some kind of visual show; (c) are convinced women want them rather badly, and that they can therefore get away with various types of poor behavior without being frozen out.
Eventually this shook my sense of reality enough that I stayed in a rather unpleasant relationship out of a misplaced sense of obligation. This caused me some anxiety, for which reason I went to see a therapist. I soon realized that one source of my anxiety was the gentleman caller’s rather unpleasant behavior. There was in addition my sense of claustrophobia. I wanted to end things but had lost touch with the idea that this was my right.
That therapist pointed out that relationships did not have to be ordeals, and that it was justifiable to be them for one’s own sake. Even though these ideas had once seemed obvious to me, it was amazing by that point to have someone confirm that they really weren’t “too selfish.”
Recently I’ve realized that although part of the reason I try to understand these people and figure out what is going on is that I’m the guest in the culture, another part has to do with my earliest, not very feminist upbringing. According to that upbringing, managing an ordeal-like relationship was part of one’s job in the same way as managing events like awkward yet necessary work related social events (e.g. job candidate dinners with colleagues who hate each other) is part of my job now.
So, girls: dates, and “relationships,” should be more relaxed/pleasant than ordeal-like, and it is legitimate and appropriate to be in them because you want to be — as opposed to being there because you have been pressed into service to the other person. The corollary to this is, beware of advice about how you should “work on” relationships and how they are “work.” Also beware of advice about how you need to compromise more, and how the burden of “communication” is on you.
My friendships do not seem like work and struggle, they seem like pleasure and growth; my better romances have felt like that too. I would really be careful of all the warnings about the “work” of a relationship just because romance is involved. I think these are a trap designed to engage you in serving men and blaming yourself if things do not go well.
Or perhaps that advice has been invented by men who in a best case scenario could be telling themselves that a relationships with other people, including women, do take some effort.
That was the main course of this post; the espresso is a lesson for boys, on the nature of the aforementioned effort. This espresso takes up a theme first introduced in our hors d’oeuvre.
Making an effort is not, for example, asking a woman friend to sacrifice a billable hour at work to come home early so you can do a $50 plumbing job for her on your schedule, rather than allow her to call a plumber on hers.
That is an imposition. It is even more of one if you have expectations of service in return. A better example of an effort toward the relationship would be to do something nice that she would like.
This post came up before it was supposed to, and Historiann suggested these men might also be trying to do the correct boyfriend like things. I answered that that is what they say they are trying to do. It would all be sort of sweet if they were under eighteen or maybe even under twenty-five.
But after that, gentlemanly things that are done are best done right. My point is that certain people use the concept of help and gentlemanliness as a cover for encroachment. They feel they have a right to give false help because they are men and I am a woman. They use as an excuse the idea that their societally assigned gender roles drove them to it.
The reason I do not believe that is that there are many men who do not actually manipulate in that way. It is even possible to be “macho,” or to be an old fashioned gentleman, without doing it.