Relationships

So, I know it’s been forever. But I just want to write some thoughts about relationships. And gender roles. Some of this is from things I have read, parts from my own experiences. I’ve always been fascinated by relationships and gender roles, trying to figure out if it’s “okay” to call a guy, struggling with trying to avoid feeling needy and obsessive. I have a lot to thank Ali for in terms of giving me some confidence in this area–seeing how she is, which is essentially completely unafraid to just be herself and contact whoever she wants, when she wants, I realized that guys don’t get afraid if you’re really not needy (at least, the good ones). I understand now (at least intellectually) that your actions, just as words, are so much more about how you do something than what you actually say.

The most interesting of the articles I read about self-help books said that part of the problem is that “Society is set up for women to be passive.” The argument here is short and concise, basically saying that the romantic relationships world is set up (it is accepted) for women to be pursued; women have been empowered in so many other aspects of their lives and part of the self-help book world/push/success is due to women needing to feel like they have SOME sort of power and control over their own destinies in romance. I can totally relate to this. I am definitely afraid of being out of control. I prefer to know that I can affect change in situations I am in, even if it is just some. And I like self-help books (as much as I hate to admit that). This is interesting. I think there is SO MUCH truth to this, and I really had never thought of self-help books as related to gender (blind, I know).

The irony is that many of these books (The Rules and such) require women to sit on their hands, essentially. Perhaps reading the books makes women feel more empowered, but the advice within most of these books tells women to wait. Or do something very minor, make some change to themselves, but never actively pursue any men, because that would just be wrong. He’s Just Not That Into You might actually be an exception. Here’s my reasoning: it empowers the woman to leave. Maybe that sounds really easy, but I think women often feel like they cannot end a relationship. They get scared about just letting go. And I think that’s really one of the biggest problems people have and reasons so many bad relationships last so long–people just don’t know when to let go. I suppose it’s sometimes a fine line between when to break up and when to work on things, but I think there must be a commitment there that both people have and are constantly aware of. The fabulous Dan Savage said in one of his recent podcasts that every day, you have to remember that in any relationship, either person can walk away. Sometimes it isn’t very likely; the things one might have to give up might be too much. But I think there is some real treasure in remembering that–as Dan puts it, remembering your partner can leave helps keep you on your best behavior. I think also it requires you to become familiar with the idea of the person leaving you, and not be scared of it. Being alone is not the end of the world. And probably better than being in a relationship where one or both partners are not committed enough to work on the relationship.

But back to what this has to do with women and self-help books. I think women are too often afraid of being alone, and of letting go of a “good” guy. We work so hard to see the good things in a relationship and ignore the glaring problems. Or try to fix them to make ourselves feel like we have some level of control over the situation and outcome. Perhaps the best thing to do is accept that we have very little control over anything, and we have absolutely no control over other people’s decisions. We can do things that we thing another person will appreciate, and therefore make it more likely that they will be willing to put in the effort to work on the relationship. But we cannot predict how they will react, if it will be enough. The best we can do is ask them what they need, what they’re looking for and honestly access what we are able to give. But often people are unsure what they want or need, or have trouble articulating it. Which just throws this whole other kink into the machinery. But makes it all the more important to communicate, because it quickly becomes clear when someone is confused about what they want and what they’re capable of.

I think it boils down to creating a culture of acceptance of radical honesty, both with oneself and others. That can be scary, because it means admitting that sometimes people are not right for us, or we are not right for them. But if and when you do find someone, there’s no need to not be yourself. And when it comes to calling a guy and feeling needy, I’ve come to the conclusion that heterosexual couples have a lot to learn from homosexual couples–do what you feel is right, what you want to do. If you want to call someone, do it. You can make a different decision next time. And you can tell if it is welcomed by the response you get from someone. This stuff is complicated, and we can’t really deal with it until we’re honest all-around.