Tuesday, 19 June 2012

The Other Girlfriends

Oh hooray! A new era in my internet life has begun because now I have a wireless connection and access to youtube and all kinds of other freedoms. Yay!

But to get down to the business of the morning, I would like to remind you that, unless you have the people skills of the Marquise de Meurteil, who was incredibly wicked and also fictional, you cannot control anyone but yourself. The best you can hope for is that you can prevent people from treating you badly and that you can influence them to treat you well.

One good way to prevent men from treating you badly and to influence them to treat you well is to keep it a secret that men have ever treated you badly and to very occasionally mention that men have treated you well. The safest men to mention in this context are your father and brothers. When I think my husband should be at home and not at work anymore, I just call him up and shout, "The men in my family are at home by seven o'clock!"

Now I have been married for three years, so you may be wondering when I had a deeply cathartic conversation with B.A. about whichever men I dated who were absolute rat-b*stards. The answer is NEVER. I do not feel any need for such cathartic conversations because the appropriate people for such confidences are (A) a trained therapist (B) a priest under the seal of the confessional and (C) a close female friend with an amazing talent for keeping secrets.

I can imagine situations in which it might be relevant for other women to have to mention past rat-b*stard suffering to fiances or husbands ("I suppose you've been wondering about this scar/my neurotic aversion to the state of Texas/these children following me around"), but none have cropped up for me yet. My divorce papers were yellowing by the time I met B.A., my annulment decrees were safe in their sacred box, and I had dumped my baggage at the therapist's office for a tidy sum, so it was full speed ahead and "My father and brothers adore me and the elder brother is a crack shot."

But this is not the issue of the day. No, the issue of the day is men who have a lot of female friends and assure you that their female friends are indeed just friends even though you're not so sure and you're chewing out your liver over them.

This brings us to the question, "Can men and women be friends?" The answer is, "Duh. Yes, of course," and I expect theobromophile to show up in the combox and cheer. However, the answer to the question, "But are men and women ever sexually attracted to men and women who are just, you know, their friends?" is also "Duh. Yes, of course."

Occasionally I get comments and email from women and a few men who wail that they seem to be just the "friend type." Personally I think it can be bad manners to allow people to think that they might just be the friend type. In fact, I think it can be good manners to hint to single people that if it weren't for stern fate, possessive significant others, or the adamantine will of God, that you would be tempted to run away with them to Paris.

Of course, this isn't good manners if you suspect they might be actually that into you. And admittedly a social technique based on lies (if they are lies, ha ha) is very problematic from an Augustinian point of view. We all know I'm not a trained therapist, right?

Okay, so anyway there are men who are sick of the drama and nonsense of meeting and dating multiple women and just want to settle down, watch TV with someone nice and have guaranteed guilt-free sex at least once a week. But then there are men who are still in love with the idea of dozens of groupies (or maybe two) all competing for their attention. And, to be frank, I can't throw stones because I recently came home from a party bragging to B.A. that four guys hit on me. Oh wait. It was only three. But still. THREE. Ah ha ha ha ha!*

The question is how you cope with men like that, and what I suggest is to not get sucked into their orbit in the first place. Go through the world scattering smiles and hellos and see who pops up at your side. Don't look at groups of men as though they were a menu you could choose from, e.g. "Who's cute? Oh, hmm. That one. The one with all the girls dancing around him. Yes, that's the one for me." And keep Mr Pop-up at a friendly distance until you have ascertained that the field is free from rivals.

My mother told me a million years ago that women couldn't ask out men and all we could do was wait for invitations and say "Yes" or "No." I was furious and didn't listen because I thought what she said was prescriptive and nagging and judgmental and out of date. What I didn't get was that, with some lucky exceptions, it was descriptive. It was also loving and protective because--and it would have been helpful if you had pointed this out, Mum--if you ask a man out or suggest he become your boyfriend, he might rub his hands with glee and think "Oh, goody! Another one for my collection!"

As an aside, the reason why a woman should never ask a man to marry her is because she runs the risk of him saying, should she ever be in a meltdown about something in their married life, "Hey. You asked me to marry you." Do you really want to give a guy that card for fifty years? I shudder just thinking about it.

All this is really bad news because most classic** love stories are written from the guy's point of view and so women think the epitome of romance is to fall in love with someone of their own choosing and hang around until he falls in love with them, too. I bet you any money Sixteen Candles was written by a man. Of course, this does happen for women, every 50th crush or so. One out of fifty doesn't look so bad when Mr. 50 has seized you in his manly arms and professed his undying love.

But this is usually going to be the guy who really is sick of the drama and excitement of dating multiple women and just wants to settle down and watch TV, etc. And, yes, he may very well have female friends, but they are going to express their friendship by telling you what a great guy he is, not by competing with you for his attention. If they are competing with you for your boyfriend's attention, either he or they have boundary issues. Discuss. "Ah, ha, ha, ha. Hey, babe, I'm really embarrassed to mention it, but I think Sandra has a crush on you."

B.A. has lots of female friends, who either live very far away and are therefore greatly neglected or are his colleagues. These colleagues told me before I married B.A. and then just after how great B.A. is, really, and now they ask me how I put up with him. Meanwhile he never ever comes home and brags about how many women hit on him, either because women never do hit on him or because he is prudent. Whereas B.A. is the sort of laid-back man who always says "That's nice, darling," I am the kind of woman who shrieks "WHAT! Who? WHERE? When? WHY?"

*Update: I'll tell you what it was, though. I was the oldest woman in the room, I was wearing a dress cut to there, and I was drinking out of a can. Two of the men who came up to me were significantly older than the other girls around. Tah-dah! Simple anthropology.

But I admit I am extra chuffed that one of them, while scanning the crowd for my (absent) husband, thought he could be "the bearded one." The bearded one was 24 years old, so I rock. I so rock. (Does victory dance. Cancels appointment with dermatologist.) Sunscreen, girls. Wear it.

**Well, not romance novels, obviously. But the BIG STORIES not written by Jane Austen or the Brontes and most of the films.


Nulli Secundus. said...

Not such a crack shot anymore, more's the pity. Besides, I was trained for tank-vs-tank and close quarters automatic fire. You may inform BA at your leisure. :)

Seraphic said...

Aw come on. I know you did well in the rifle competitions. You were certainly better than me with those ghastly Hart House .33s.

Charming Disarray said...

I'm getting a bit tired of advice to women that involves pretending to be this super-happy, totally drama-free woman who is total bliss to be married to. When and why did men become deserving of such total consideration, to the point of women having to suppress their most painful memories for the sake of sparing the man a little bit of discomfort? This is phony. A man in a marriage should understand that he is with an actual human being who has had both good and bad experiences. He may like to be with a Stepford-wife-perpetually-happy robot, but he doesn't get that, because it's a fantasy, and it's dehumanizing.

I understand not unloading drama in the early stages of a relationship, and giving off the impression that our fathers and brothers are doting and protective, but I wouldn't want to be in a marriage where it's necessary to carry on a sham of never having been treated badly by any man forever. That sounds exhausting, lonely, and completely tipped in favor of spoiled and immature men. And this is a HUGE part of the reason why there are so many men around who get away with treating women badly...because for some bizarre reason women think it's better not to complain about it or point it out. Like it's a actually a reflection on the woman if she admits that a man hurt her. I don't buy it, but how nice for men to be completely set free both from responsibility towards their own actions and from having to acknowledge that there is a huge problem with how women are treated in our society. That might hurt their little feelings.

I wouldn't marry a man unless he was emotionally mature enough to understand that there are jerks out there, and that most women meet at least one. Children need to be protected from the harsh realities of existence; not men.

Jam said...

I think Charming Disarray makes a good point; or rather many good points; and I think her criticism is very good and thought-provoking.

On the other hand, from my own point of view, I think there's a tendency in modern society to insist that everyone has baggage, to focus on it, and to say that attempting to let it go and forget about it and find healing is "false". But I think this depends on the individual.

Perhaps there needs to be further definition of "being treated badly"? I mean, there is actual abuse, which a woman shouldn't feel is so shameful she has to hide, and she obviously should be able to find love and healing which may require airing the story. And then there are relationships that are simply demeaning, where you look back and say "I can't believe I let him say/do that to me, what an idiot I am".

I also wonder if it's fair to say that a woman who doesn't have some great trauma in her past is a "Stepford Wife"? This is a self-interested point ;) Maybe the husband and wife could just accept in charity that each probably has some unpleasant things in their past without hashing it all out. This with the assumption that the unpleasant past doesn't create material problems in the present (medical or psychological problems, family complications, whathaveyou), in which case, yes, the story probably does have to be told.

I guess I am musing my way to "shades of grey". But I am really looking forward to hearing other people's views.

TGWWS said...

Honestly, I'm not sure what I think about "tell/don't tell your bad experiences." I haven't enough bad enough experiences (thank God) to weigh one way or the other on that.

But Seraphic mentioned something about occasionally doing the opposite: telling men about the good things other men have done for you. THIS I believe strongly in doing, especially when the Other Men being praised are relatives or married friends. Men are competitive, and by telling them how nice and chivalrous other (non-rival!) members of their sex are, you sort of raise the bar for them to be chivalrous ...

Hm. Now that I wrote that, I'm wondering if this is a terribly manipulative thing to do?

Charming Disarray said...

Jam, I would actually make the case that if a woman has actual abuse in her past it would probably be best if she didn't expect her husband to try to "fix" it, and instead get help from somewhere else. I'm talking about bad experiences that fall into more of the normal realm, like men who treat the women they date like disposable, temporary amusement. This can be deeply painful and lasting experience for a woman. It used to be that if a man acted that way he ended up with a bad reputation; now everyone pretends not to notice and to just move on. It's time for the "nice guys" to start speaking up. Some of them probably genuinely don't know that a lot of this goes on, but it's their job to set the example for other men and that includes calling out bad behaviors. If women go around acting like everything is hunky-dory all the time, nothing will ever change. And I just resent the idea that it's more the woman's job to protect herself emotionally AND the man she's with rather than it being the other way around.

I do agree that making an effort to let go of baggage is important. At some point people need to stop feeling sorry for themselves.

Seraphic said...

I am all for telling complete bastards what complete bastards they are before walking out the door. I also believe in discussing how your feel about your husband's words and actions to that very same husband. But I am not for telling the new man in your life what a bastard the old man in your life was in any kind of detail.

Tell me if I've said this too many times, but men are pack animals and learn how to treat women from other men. So if you are in a pattern where you tell a man over and over again how other men have treated you badly, and then wonder why he starts treating you the way they did, it might because he subconsciously joining the pack.

I used to tell stories both sad and amusing about ex-boyfriends to new boyfriends, and I didn't realize how much I did so until one soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend pointed it out. So eventually I quit.

Maybe the upcoming generation of men is different, but my generation of men really didn't and doesn't enjoy listening to women talk about their relationships with other men.

MaryJane said...

So, you are in opposition to When Harry Met Sally? I tend to think men and women can only be friends (= close friends) if they are not attracted to one another. (Acquaintances are different of course.) But if they are attracted to one another, and esp. if one or both is married to (an) other person(s), then it seems like that sexual tension is going to bust at some point.

Charming Disarray said...

If a guy imitates another guy who is a jerk, then he's a jerk. Are men incapable of making rational decisions about how to treat women?

I agree about not telling the "new man" in your life about bad experiences, but at some point it's not new anymore. Even if men don't enjoy hearing about bad things that happened, women don't enjoy never being able to talk about things that have happened. Or are married women just supposed to shut up and never talk about anything their husbands' don't like? What kind of selfish husbands are these?

If I was married, I would at least like the option of saying what's on my mind. That doesn't seem like too much to ask for.

Sarah said...

For what it's worth, a male friend and I were discussing his exgirlfriend (an old schoolmate of mine), and told me she told him about all the boys she had dated before (some of whom I know, and know to be pretty bad boyfriends) and that he found it interesting.

I looked at him funny.

I agree with Charming Disarray that a girl shouldn't have to keep the ugly or painful parts of her past to herself just for the comfort of the man. Especially if that man has been with you for some time and ESPECIALLY if you are married. If I am married to a guy, I better be able to bare my soul to him, and he better listen patiently even if he doesn't understand a word I'm saying.

I personally don't think I would be too interested in the gruesome details of my boyfriend's past love life. But if he felt the need to talk about it for whatever reason, as long as the reason isn't that he's still hung up on the person still, I would listen.

sciencegirl said...

I think men try to follow this rule too; I know some men's dating advice columnists who repeatedly tell men "Quit treating your crush like your therapist! Don't tell her about cruel old Cynthia who broke your heart in middle school, wicked Diane who dumped you in high school, and the 20 girlfriends who done you wrong in between! Show the woman a good time."

There is a difference between heartrending abuse stories and tedious petty breakup stories, and frankly, I think the abuse survivors are more discreet and have a better sense of whom to trust. Most tedious, petty breakup stories are incredibly dull, and moaning on about them years later when you are in a happy relationship is self-indulgent at best. A trusted confidante may put up with these, but a boyfriend and husband (or girlfriend and wife) shouldn't have to, at least not very often.

Diarrhea sucks too, but we don't need every episode of your life described in graphic detail. Make a mental scrapbook of something else.

Seraphic said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Seraphic said...

My question would be "Why are you telling him? What do you want him to say?" Because, dollars to doughnuts, the reaction of a lot of husbands would be "Why are you telling me? What do you want me to say?"

This does not them bad guys. This makes them husbands who want to know why their wives are telling them this stuff and what their wives want them to say.

This might show that they are not as naturally sensitive as women, but it is certainly practical. Men aren't women, you know? They are much less likely to process pain by talking about it, let alone just say whatever happens to be on their mind right that second. For them conversation is not therapy but the exchange of information and they think information is something you use to do stuff. So what, they are likely ask, do you want them to DO about the fact that X happened.

At this point 99 out of 100 wives yells, "I don't want you to DO anything. I want you to LISTEN."

My husband is a really sweet man, but when I am really upset about something that has nothing to do with him and that he can do nothing about and might even be upset about, given that he can do nothing about it, I phone a female friend.

It's better than getting frustrated and angry with my husband because he simply can't listen to me for an hour and say all the right comforting things a good female friend could.

Men are who they are and not who you think they should be. And you might want to tell a husband everything and anything, but whether that's fair to yourself or him has a lot to do with the concrete person he really actually is.

Charming Disarray said...

I wouldn't expect a man to say the same things a female friend would. Women are better at listening to long ranty outbursts, absolutely. But men can and do say things that, while different, can be helpful, even something like, "Yeah, he was a real jerk." I ended up telling one guy I went out with about my ex--I'm pretty certain he asked because I really wouldn't have brought the topic up. (Honestly!) I didn't even say much or go into details but he called him an unflattering name. I hadn't been looking for him to do that but it told me something about him--that he wasn't afraid to call out other guys for not acting the way they should. We ended up not dating because of distance and religious differences but I've always thought of him as a really good guy who was very clear about how HE was going to act, despite how other men were, and I admire him for that. He was a good guy in other ways, too, of course. Not just because of that one little thing. I'm not saying women should be crying their eyes out over breakfast every morning over every guy who never called them back, but there is a lot of advice out there telling women to always be nice and perfect and drama-free, and it gets tiring.

Maybe it's a moot point, though, because I tend not to tell men about problems unless I am expecting them to do something about it, and it's pretty darn annoying when they just stand dumbly and offer nothing but sympathy.

Canadian Doc said...

The advice I tend to hear repeated in dating advice columns is not to be nice and perfect and drama-free but instead to work on being a joyful, positive, and non-bitter person. Human and flawed, of course, but still working on loving life and the gift that it is.
Bitterness and frustration can be easy traps to fall into, and no one likes hanging around someone who is always complaining or annoyed about this thing and that.

Sarah said...

Okay, actually, Dharming Disarray, this is where I think you might just be a little too hard on guys and/or looking for a reason to argue. ;)

"I want to be able to tell him about my bad ex-boyfriends that he'll never meet and probably doesn't resemble or I wouldn't be with him long enough to tell him about, but he better darn well do something about this thing that happened other than sit there with a dumb look on his face!"

I mean, c'mon.

Charming Disarray said...

You missed my point. I never said I expected him to do anything about it. I just am not sure why I have to make a conscious effort to avoid mentioning any and all bad experiences that may have happened in my past if there is some chance it will bother my husband. That sounds like me being more protective of his feelings than he is capable of being towards mine, and we all know that women need more emotional support than men do. Part of a husband's job is to provide that. The attitude I'm seeing here is that it's actually the wife's job to provide that for her husband, since he's so fragile and might get upset. Backwards.

Why would I be looking for a reason to argue? The idea of women always being shamed into silence for one reason or another, the pervasive attitude that it's actually men who are in need of the most consideration because they don't like clingy or needy women, is not something that was invented by. In fact, "I don't need a man," either for financial or emotional support, is straight-up second-wave feminism.

Bernadette said...

For a long time my rule was to never mention the men in my life to the other men in my life, mostly because of the competition thing. This was mostly a Pavlovian response to a very bad experience with one man (thankfully now far in my past) who had the most negative reaction to me even mentioning any other men at all. However, I came to realize that by doing so I was giving a wrong impression of my life - that I lived in a world void of male companionship, when quite the opposite is true. However, since I avoid talking about emotional things with men who are not in a mutually committed relationship with me (i.e. marriage, family), the topic of any past bad experiences with men doesn't tend to come up.

I did have one experience, though, which kinda goes contrary to all this. Once when I was hanging out with a male friend, he happened to comment on the relative hairiness of our arms, saying that he was very struck with how smooth my arms and the arms of some of our other female friends were. I replied that this surprised me, because in high school I had been the subject of some bullying by a male classmate in which he particularly was nasty about what he called my super hairy arms. I lightly said that he was a typical football player, and moved on. My friend went silent, and I remembered that he also had been a football player, and hastily apologized for any implied insult. My friend shook himself a little and said, no, he was just imagining rearranging the bully's face.

I was very touched by this gallantry, and in that moment, the high school memories that had still smarted a bit became overlaid with the knowledge of how my friend cared for me, and all the smart went away. So I think, in some circumstances, being able to share ways that we have been hurt by men in the past can open up the door to healing through the love of the men in our present.

Anonymous said...

[Looks up] You called?

Guy friends are great. For those of us who grew up with heavy male influences in our lives (my father was my primary caregiver from age 3 onward), being around men often feels more normal than being around women. It's much like being in a different country and feeling more at home with ex-pats.

My question would be "Why are you telling him? What do you want him to say?" Because, dollars to doughnuts, the reaction of a lot of husbands would be "Why are you telling me? What do you want me to say?"

A few months ago, I told the very nice man that I'm dating some of my horror stories. Why, you ask? He was prone to saying things like, "You're out of my league." "Only by ridiculous standards," I would reply, to no avail. Finally, I gave him the full explanation of why his qualities (he is one of the most fundamentally decent people I've met) matter so much to me, in light of my dating history. He later said that he finally understood where I was coming from.

Obviously, that hardly translates into "Every woman MUST tell her boyfriend about every single bad thing that ever happened to her!". Discretion can be good. I will also note that your now-husband, a longtime reader of your blogs, probably has a fairly good idea that you had (a) been through a grueling rough patch, and (b) are over it. Thus, discussing it can be redundant, for he already knows what he needs to know in order to understand where you've been in life.


n.panchancha said...

Hmm. I was raised by a mum who definitely drilled into me that a good number of things are better left unsaid to one's boyfriend/fiancé/husband, and it frazzled me every time she said it. "I should be able to tell him anything! And he should be able to tell me anything!" - lots of that kind of irritation. I think I really do agree with her now, though. And I don't mean you shouldn't, e.g., let your husband know if you were sexually assaulted at some point - in fact, I think that would be a really important thing for him to know. If something feels like a deep, dark secret, or if it's poisoning a relationship, then I think it probably has to come into the light and be dealt with honestly. But I think that in all such cases it makes a big difference whether it's your husband or your fiancé or your boyfriend of one month whom you're talking to - trust and commitment are HUGE in these cases. Honestly, once I've really (or at least 99.99%) healed from something, I'm just not that interested in talking about it with a man I fancy, and most of that healing would happen between either me and God or me and friends/therapists.

I think that what Seraphic is saying makes the most sense if it feels like a man from a past relationship is somehow non-corporeally insinuating himself into your current relationship because you're always thinking about him or talking about him. That's awful. And one's spouse/boyfriend would definitely begin to resent the ex's pseudo-presence, and his wife/girlfriend for bringing him into things. Recipe for toxic relationships.

HAVING SAID ALL THAT, I have at least one very dear friend who assures me that her fiancé (who is a very gentle, hilarious and loving man) played a huge part in helping her heal from a past abusive relationship, which he knows about. So there's that.