I’ve felt some wariness about posting this series of pieces because I’m exploring some themes of gender relations and culture that are often discussed with overt or covert criticism. Because this is the norm and something we’re all intuitively expecting, it’s a very common and natural emotional response for people to automatically react with either defensiveness or excited criticism in agreement. Unfortunately this dynamic gets in the way of compassionate, rational discussion of topics that are very important and have a real impact on people. So, paying attention to both my wariness and my conviction that these things are important to be discussed I asked myself,
‘How can I preface these posts in a way that still allows me to say what I want to say, but minimises the risk of offending or inflaming which will help to maintain openness to thought?’
This is my attempt:
- Acknowledging and bringing attention to, as above, the common reactions that I’m aware of;
- Stating, as above that my intention is to open compassionate, rational thought and discussion;
- Very careful wording of my posts.
A Request for Reader Responsibility, if Possible
- If you notice the feelings and thoughts of either defensiveness or agreed criticisms about the dynamics I’m outlining please acknowledge them in yourselves- e.g. “Am I feeling defensive? Am I gleefully indulging in a negative critical opinion of these dynamics I’ve noticed too?”.
- These feelings and thoughts are valid- they tell you that something matters to you.
- Please also try to use these emotional biases as a cue to re-focus on the actual words, language and points I’m using to test for yourself whether what I’m conveying matches your assumptions.
- Please try to notice the words, language, points and phrasing that suggest a primary theme of these posts is personal responsibility- especially my own.
This series of posts has evolved from an initial intention to make a brief observation about something that was absent from the ‘evening of connection’ I had the other day to a longer, more comprehensive contemplation on the nature of what can be lacking generally in how we connect, how that might disproportionately disadvantage half the population of humans (and consequently the whole), and what each of us could do as individuals to address this. It starts specific, goes broad and ends with each of us as individuals with agency.
This post is continued from Men are from Earth, Women are from Earth Part 1/3
In dating, and in some social situations I’ve learnt over time to share my own responsibility for the internal balancing act I described here, by expressing what can be expected from me, just from the perspective of who I am and what’s important to me, rather than focusing on how other people ‘should’ regulate themselves. I can, where possible, and if I think it’s necessary, facilitate conversations with people that encapsulate the following- but much more naturalistically and diplomatically (i.e. if this happens to sound useful to anyone, do not re-use this verbatim, my phrasing here is blunt and deterring):
“I will be nice to you, I will be kind, because I prefer genuine interaction. That’s who I am, it’s how I like to be with everyone. I like myself better that way. I take time to understand if I want to pursue something. We’ll both need more information about each other than my niceness to feel if there’s mutual interest. I’m not willing to compromise how I like to be by communicating a lack of feelings indirectly via my behaviour. This is because that can keep people guessing, make them feel insecure, rejected or dismissed without really understanding why and I don’t want to make people feel like that unnecessarily. So, you can expect that I might use unambiguous words that express directly what I want because I feel comfortable with wanting things. I also know other people feel more relaxed with the security of knowing, and other people’s experiences matter to me. I might say things like, ‘I like you, I’d like to spend more time with you’, or ‘I want to have sex with you’, or, I will let you know with words as clearly and gently as possible that it’s not something for me”.
This seems to have the effect of me not needing to be as wary or inhibited with my desire to interact on genuine terms with people, because the other person seems to become conscious of paying more attention to their own responses and any cues I am or am not giving. Perhaps being so straightforward with expectations also models a standard of interaction. I haven’t had any negative responses so far- only positive feedback- but I can imagine, if I ever do, that would immediately give me some information about the interpersonal values of that person and suggest spending time with them may not be for me. So, possibly a good vetting process too?
And P.S. It’s been pretty awesome to have met several people- men- who also seem to have a similar self-determination and commitment to respecting others as I do. Some of the best conversations I’ve had in my Tinder-ing are the ones in which we’ve spoken pragmatically about not wanting to pursue anything. Especially when they’ve initiated it and I haven’t had to facilitate because they seem as skilled as I am. It’s been really reaffirming to have the experience of conversations involving rejection having the primary impact of me feeling admiration for another. Kindness, openness and respect is actually a possibility in the dating world.
In contrast with attempts to balance kindness with with self, I’ve noticed, generally, the normal reactions of others to becoming an instant confidant or a source of care fit broadly into two categories:
- Irritation, feeling burdened by the other person’s needs and rejection/avoidance of the person’s ‘neediness’ (newsflash: we all have needs: we just have varying degrees of reliance on others to meet various needs which we can learn about. (See note on ‘neediness’ here)
- Misconstruing the other person’s reaction to receiving kindness as the giver being valued for who they are themselves. Sometimes paired with a sense of comfort in being needed, and/or a sense of obligation/duty to keep providing the kindness. This is often regardless of whether it can be given in return for their unique experiences, that represent part of who they are, even when they may not be relatable for the other.
I.e. No. 2 seems to be the beginnings of many romantic relationships. Which, due to this wonky beginning, can, over time develop an erosion of the very thing the people had wanted so dearly and thought they’d finally found in that other person. An eventual decline in acceptance, feeling cared for, feeling loved, feeling understood. This is an absolutely devastating thing that happens for people.
This happens over time because no-one can sustain genuine, felt care and acceptance and care of another’s unique experiences if they’re not receiving the same care and acceptance for their own unique experiences in return. Imbalances like this arouse feelings of resentment in the ‘carer’ because resentment just means and is caused by ‘unmet needs’.
This is why I think this topic is important to be spoken about with compassion, to wise up to the early seeds of such relationships and to treat these dynamics with empathetic awareness. Romantic relationships between people are so important and have the enormous potential for both support and growth or severe damage depending on how these intricacies are recognised and responded to by both parties.
One symptom of many is, I’ve often noticed that in relationships people get caught up arguing about the superficial details of specific incidents. The incidents pile up and are reacted to over time without recognising that the underlying sensitivities to the incidents might be caused by a dynamic of consistent, imbalanced care. Or if they do, the ‘carer’ continues to sacrifice for the sake of ‘duty’, out of empathy or to avoid conflict OR it’s condemned as a fault or failing of that person, rather than something to be curious about and mutually examined (i.e. by both people) and understood over time in service of the caring relationship, and to decrease the recurring aggravating ‘incidents’.
As I described in the previous post, I perceive this as a broader symptom of a society and culture in which most people, and some disproportionately to others aren’t given the freedom to express their emotional experiences or receive acts of care and kindness as the norm. And perhaps this has the cyclical effect of impeding them from being exposed to learning about others needs and therefore gaining insight into their own. It seems it’s not something one individual can ‘fix’ on behalf of another. Only something that each of us as individuals can address in the way we ourselves model interaction and model attempting to get our needs met in balance with with others.
Continued in Part 3/3, to be posted soon.