By Faith McDermott
I’m not looking for a project. There–I said it. I’ll probably receive some kind of backlash for that brutally honest statement but it’s true. I’m not interested in dating a guy who has more baggage than a family of of four going on a week long ski trip. Some people may say that’s judgemental and cruel and just plain old rude. And if this judgement call was formulated purely off the fact that there are people out there who haven’t had it easy and that these people not worth being acknowledged or heard than that would be true. However, time and time again I meet men who use me as their personal luggage rack. We go on a few dates, we seem to be hitting it off, and then BOOM! They drop the bomb. Family-ish, financial-ish, mental health-ish, I’ve seen it all. But it’s not the fact that these men have dealt with or are currently dealing with hardships that causes me to be wary. It is the fact that a lot of them are not self aware enough to realize that their struggles are negatively impacting their and oftentimes their partner’s quality of life. Because these men in question can not look their problems straight in the eye it is often the women they are romantically linked to that end up bearing the majority of the load.
Now I do want to acknowledge the fact that this is not solely a male issue, or an issue confined to heterosexual relationships. There are people of all genders and sexualities that could use a lesson in healthy coping mechanisms. However, after quickly polling my straight female friends and stumbling across many a reddit thread bemoaning the ‘emotionally constipated man’ there appears to be a trend. As a whole, women emotionally mature faster then men, and my tangled relations with emotionally incompetent men appears to be a shared experience. Therefore, I think it’s fair to say that while unresolved baggage is not a characteristic exclusive to straight males, all too often they are the ones who break the luggage scale.
Let’s take for example Arthur* who I met on Tinder. We chatted on the app and I invited him over for a movie night. Fifteen minutes in he’s told me about several of his exes, his mother who died when he was twelve, the fact that he’s broken six Trojans, and the scar on his knuckle from punching his brother’s two front teeth. Combine this with his personally held belief that we as humans can suppress all emotion and you’ve got yourself a clinical basket case.
I’ll admit Arthur is severe. He is the epitome of a hyper masculine boarding school boy who only processes emotions through fucking and punching people. This encounter also happened on the first, and only date we had, and I guess I can thank him for expediting my screening process. So while Arthur’s circumstances are certainly not the norm it’s important to note that his approach to dealing with them is far from atypical.
Arthur never told me he was starving for feminine influence, but he didn’t have to. His constant need for a girlfriend, the scorn he harbors for his exes, and his mother’s death already told me that. He also didn’t need to tell me he was insecure in his masculinity as the stories he told about busted condoms and busted lips did it for him. While neither I nor my friends have encountered another Arthur, some of the men we have encountered are less severe versions of this extreme prototype. They are men who suppress their struggles and emotions for so long they begin to fester. However, things can only stay buried for so long until one of two things eventually happens:
One: it all comes tumbling out. It could be three dates in or three months in and suddenly you’re learning about his deadbeat brother, his mother who is sleeping with her Soulcycle instructor and his father who is always away on business. You’re not exactly sure what to say as this is way beyond your pay grade. So instead you listen, and several weeks later you suggest he make an appointment to talk to someone. He refuses. He doesn’t simply say no, he glares, he hisses and he says he doesn’t want to talk about it again. However, his constant fear that you will cheat on him with the boy from math class who helped you study for the midterm shows that just because he doesn’t want to talk about it doesn’t mean it’s not there.
Two: It all comes tumbling out. This can happen at any time but from this point on you are his lover, his mother, his therapist, and his secretary. He expects you to sleep with him, parent him, advise him, and keep him on track. He says he doesn’t need help because he has you. As if a college aged woman has the tools to undo years of emotional festering. As if it’s even her job in the first place.
Let me make this clear. These men are not bad people and they are deserving of kindness, empathy, and love. They are the product of poor circumstances and a society that doesn’t embrace men who embrace their emotions. A healthy relationship is like a seesaw. You give and you take, and while every moment will not be equal, at the end of the day it should feel balanced.
So what exactly is this balance? How does one find the middle ground between being closed off and being overbearing? Considering men, unlike women, do not usually find emotional support in their same sex friendships, who do they confide in if not the women in their lives? These are complex questions and I don’t have the answers to them. These are societal issues that permeate way beyond the Claremont bubble and for the men who have crafted their own multifaceted emotional support systems, I commend you. However, for the men who haven’t, these societal issues are an explanation not an excuse. While we work towards the long term goal of eradicating hypermasculinity, in the short term how and where do men find emotional support? While the answer to this question is still unknown I can tell you right now the answer is not unpacking your bags, scratching your head, and expecting your girlfriend to figure it out for you, as even though they will rarely ask the woman ends up carrying the majority of the load. This isn’t fair, this isn’t healthy, and it sure as hell isn’t fun.
Your girlfriend’s job is not to fix you. She is not responsible for your emotional growth, for fostering your well being, for turning your boy-like self into a man. Yet somehow this is what is expected from her. As a woman I am supposed to turn a beast into a prince. I am to defrost a frozen heart. I am to pick up the pieces of a never ending jigsaw puzzle and attempt to put them all together. And god forbid I can’t or gasp! I don’t want to, I have been branded a selfish, cruel, and spiteful woman. This is BS. It’s not my nor any other woman’s fault her male partner can’t take care of himself. It’s not our fault he hasn’t crafted alternate support networks. And above all else, it’s not any woman’s job to clean up a man’s shit while the man she’s dating doesn’t have the self awareness to realize he’s the one who caused the mess in the first place. I’m not a mother, a therapist, a babysitter, or a maid. My job is not to play the role of man’s personal caretaker. I’m a human being, and it’s time I, and all the the other women on these campuses were treated that way.
*Name has been changed to protect the privacy of the individual.
Image Credit: Betsy Aimee