"I don't think that being a strong person is about ignoring your emotions and fighting your feelings. Putting on a brave face doesn't mean you're a brave person. That's why everybody in my life knows everything that I'm going through. I can't hide anything from them. People need to realise that being open isn't the same as being weak."

- Taylor Swift

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Confusing stimuli

Now Playing: All You Never Say by Birdy (all you never say is that you love me, so all I'll never know is if you want me) 

I'm really worried that we are not teaching men that there is any other way to show love and affection and care, especially in a heterosexual context, aside from romantic, sexual, borderline obsessive, til death do us part love.

I think this manifests in two ways - this pervasive anxiety that women will get hopelessly attached if you ever accidentally treat them like a human being, which pops up in things like 'I don't have sex with virgins' or various permutations of asserting that sex doesn't equal love, which I think most girls after the age of about sixteen manages to wrap their heads around anyway, so it seems condescending and paternalistic to constantly cut through interactions by reasserting the obvious. But I think the other way this manifests is through...blatantly lying.

If men don't know that there are more non-permanent, less intense ways of expressing affection and care for another human being, they default to the grandiose, super intense rhetoric of star crossed lovers a la Romeo and Juliet - my friends and I describe it as 'men who fake a future to get what they want in the present'. But that kind of love and that kind of relationship really needs the stars to align - and for all of us to age about ten years - for it to work out, so when circumstances change women are supposed to know that...well, they weren't exactly lying, but we're idiots for taking them on face value.

I feel like I spend a lot of my time, as a woman, trying to justify and rationalize what I'm doing - both in my personal and professional life. I spend a lot of time trying to hammer out the logic of what exactly I'm doing, both with my life or with the boy I happen to be with, but despite all that the endless cheap humour remains about women being nonsensical and illogical and irrational. I don't say things I don't mean, which you might think is quite a low bar to set, but you'd be surprised how many men spectacularly fail at even that.

We teach men that patriarchal logic is the default of cultural thought; which, paradoxically, doesn't exactly encourage men to think things through. We demand that women accept what men say, regardless of what exactly they're saying, and then we're idiots for falling into traps that never should have been laid out for us in the first place. A lot of rhetoric around heterosexual interactions is men trying to force women to trust them, to relax and let their guard down - but that's never been an exactly worthwhile exercise for me. I miss my undergrad days of beautiful strangers and blue hours not because chance interactions result in the best sex or the most meaningful interactions, but because I could always keep some armour on; it's much easier to wrap your head around the fact that nobody is really saying exactly what they mean when both of you are making a point of not exchanging phone numbers or last names.

I'm a big fan of sex, and I'm something of a romantic; but my love and care exists outside of that. I think it was just the way I was raised - in my family, to have is to share, and I keep tabs on people who I have loved, check in on them; not because it's not expending energy, but because I think affection is worth expending energy over, even if it's not in a romantic or sexual context. But I think people don't really return the favour; I have been loved intensely, and in the moment, and then dropped in quite a hurry. What is the point of loving if you don't leave people for the better?

I worked briefly as an intern at a childcare centre, and I learned that children naturally gravitate towards love. I would arrive at work in ratty clothes and no makeup and a greasy ponytail and a swarm of toddlers would rush up to me, remember how I play with them, remember the songs that I know, remember that I love cuddles and that I have endless patience for reading the same book several thousand times in a row (I don't, but love is about the charade, sometimes). And even in children who can barely walk and talk, we are still quick to see this as clinginess, as if love is a bad habit to break. I think it strange and sad that we don't teach young people that there are other ways to love aside from that intense, passionate, and often unsustainable way - which results in many young people who aren't in romantic and/or sexual relationships, like a younger more vulnerable me, to feel deeply unloved even when they are surrounded by less overwhelming, but ultimately more sincere and constant expressions of affection. I don't think it's any wonder that young people have little idea of how to engage with people outside of specific contexts that are glorified in the media.

Relationships end. People grow hot, then blow cold. I think that's okay. But I think it would be easier to accept change if people tried, at least, to care - consistently, even if it is in an ever evolving manner. I think the girls in my life know that even though we don't always talk, they're always in my periphery, and a relationship is always ready to spark up again when the time is right; or not. Sometimes people are better off crystallized in the past. But affection is constant. I wonder how to teach everyone that.

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