I love men.
I have had good men in my life. I have good men in my life. Men as deep and open as the ocean floor, their strength sanding my rough edges. Men so warm and golden that lying beside them was like bedding the slow rising sun as it creeps over the horizon. Men as giving and good as human nature allows us to be, with reassuring hands and voices that bend without breaking, with patchwork souls made up of wit and gentleness and grace and realistic expectations.
These men were fathers, and friends, and lovers. They are teachers, and siblings, and artists. They’re #notallmen, if that were a real thing, and not a movement created by EXACTLY the #allmen we were bitching about to begin with. They are excellent people who are beautifully flawed and flawlessly human, and each and every one of them has played a role in molding me into who I am today.
And who I am today is a woman who is feeling fiercely protective of the women in my circle. Who I am today is a woman writing love letters, not to the good men, not to the men I have loved who have loved me well in return, but to my girls, to my tribe, to my sisters. Who I am today is a woman tired of seeing downcast eyes and coats pulled close and emotional bruises just under the skin, gathered like storm clouds at the furthest edge of the sky. Who I am today is an angry woman, an impatient woman, a woman who wants to beat her bare fists against crumbling brick until that wall of excuses falls down around feet kicking out against the stupid stereotypes perpetuated by men enabled to be boys. Who I am today is a woman talking to you, another woman, my comrade in this crazy world, and keeping my fingers crossed behind my back that you’ll listen to what I’m saying.
Because you don’t deserve this, you know.
I know that right now, just reading that, you’re going to come up with eighteen different reasons for why he’s the way he is, pulling from your playbook, used so often and with such fervor that the pages are dog-eared and sweat-stained, the words highlighted and underlined and spoken out loud like a prayer. I’m no stranger to what you’re saying. I’ve played defense before, blocking concern and shouldering compassion down to the ground. I’ve worn that helmet and those pads and I know how small you feel in there.
Take that stuff off for a minute. Set it down here. Breathe.
It might seem like I’m mad at you. I’m not. I’m not even a little mad at you.
I’m mad at him.
I’m mad at the guy who dims your shine, cupping your flame so it has just enough oxygen to burn but never enough to get brighter. He’s afraid to exist under the light of your full illumination, not wanting his secrets exposed to air, and he knows if he keeps you turned down low enough, he can still creep around the shadowed corners.
I’m mad at the guy who looks at you as a given, as an entitlement. You’re blooming right beside him and he barely glances at you. It’s not even that you’re invisible, it’s that you’re just there. You’re part of his scenery and he hardly sees you anymore. You’re drifting like a ghost across porn on the laptop, the right swipe on Tinder, the secret texts he’s too stupid to hide; you haunt your shared space with half a heart, blowing through the shrugged off hand, the face turned slightly to miss your kiss.
I’m mad at the guy who feeds your insecurities, sneaking treats to the monsters under your bed and in the closet. Don’t tell me he doesn’t know what he’s doing when he’s standing there with empty wrappers in his hands. He thinks he’s a mirror, tells you he’s reflecting back reality, and mirrors don’t lie, right? Doesn’t every little girl grow up knowing that? And maybe they don’t lie, but they can be broken, can’t they? They can be shattered into pieces, a hundred different versions of the story of your face, lying on the floor like a rainbow. A hundred different pieces that can be picked up and put together again to reflect who you really are, not who somebody tells you you are, or tells you you aren’t.
I’m mad at the guy who uses words as fists, words as punishment, words to withhold. The guy who throws punches with his mean mouth and deflects blows with his ego. The guy who tiptoes the line between asking and demanding, suggesting and insisting, talking and preaching. The guy who holds you hostage with his emotions, a rope of unresolved issues biting into your wrists and ankles. The guy who wears two faces and you can barely even remember what the nice one looks like anymore. The guy who would rather give you a withering glance than a helping hand, who expects perfection instead of humanity, who will passive-aggressively do the dishes since you’re obviously “too busy” being a mom to keep things cleaned up. The guy who is constantly bumping into you with his cold shoulder and the chip that sits on it. The guy who’s just trying to be nice, just trying to do you a favor, just trying to help, just trying to undermine the validity of your feelings, Jesus, he just can’t win.
Okay, and yeah. I’m also mad at the culture we live in that treats all this behavior as some variation of normal, as if all men have not only the tendency but also the freedom to act like petulant children. This is enabling, and it’s also insulting. Understand that I’m talking about patterns of behavior here, not the occasional bad day or mood swing, not the odd bit of pettiness, not the random papers-flying-in-the-air-fuck-it-all moment. I’m talking about grown men who make a daily decision to act like an asshole to you; subconsciously or with malicious intent, on more days than not, these guys are using you as their emotional whipping post. Men are not babies. They’re fully functioning adult members of society. We can’t infantilize the people we expect to be our equal partners. We have to give them the grace to be human, while giving them the responsibility of being a good one.
I’m not mad at you, though. How could I be? We are the products of all that’s come before us.They wanted Marilyn Monroe, but we’re Norma Jean. They wanted Donna Reed, but we’re Roseanne. They wanted lovers like prostitutes and mothers like Mary, and we keep turning ourselves inside out to let down our hair and wash their feet with it, seeking redemption but expecting rebuke. We’re taught to be pliable, to let their rough hands make us over into the image they desire, to fold ourselves up small enough that we don’t take up any space. They fill us with fear, then encourage us to settle –so we settle because we’re scared. We don’t know how to be alone. We don’t know how to take up an entire bed on our own. We don’t know how to run our own small, soft fingers over the curves and the folds and be okay with what we feel there.
But we have to get okay with that. We have to learn our own worth. We have to not only tolerate our own company, but enjoy it, nurture it, look forward to it with love. We have to unlearn the lessons that have shaped us our whole lives. It’s OKAY TO BE ALONE, through choice or because you’re already alone with someone in the same room anyway. It’s OKAY TO USE YOUR VOICE, to ask for what you need and to demand what you are deserving of. It’s OKAY TO SAY THAT’S NOT OKAY, when someone uses love like a blunt force weapon. It’s OKAY TO TAKE UP SPACE, because you are allowed exactly the same amount of air as everyone else. It’s OKAY TO SAY NO, politely or fiercely or shyly or angrily, because we all have equal rights to that word. It’s OKAY TO FEEL HOW YOU FEEL, and nobody else gets to invalidate that for you because how you feel doesn’t work out in their favor. It’s OKAY TO WANT MORE, because breadcrumbs shouldn’t be enough for anybody. It’s OKAY TO GET MAD, just like I am, and IT’S OKAY TO CRY, just like I have, and it’s OKAY TO LEAVE if that’s where you’re at. It’s also OKAY TO STAY, but I want you to know it’s OKAY TO DEMAND CHANGE, if that’s the only lifeboat left without a hole in it.
The other night, I made soup. My husband set out the bowls and spoons. After I got the kids settled, I went back into the kitchen to get mine. And he had laid out one big soup spoon for him, and one small spoon for me. He thinks I am a complete weirdo for not using the big soup spoon, and in over thirteen years of marriage, this was the first time he got it right without me specifically asking. So I took a picture of those spoons, because seeing them lying there almost moved me to tears. He might think it’s silly, but he listened. He did this really small thing, something he probably thought was totally inconsequential, that ended up being a big gesture to me, and if my eyeballs came with a heart filter, there would have been a giant one around those spoons. What I’m saying is, go with the guy that gets the spoons right. Go with the guy that wants to get the spoons right. Don’t be okay with the guy who gives your a fork to eat your soup with.
That’s the guy I’m mad at. You should be mad at that guy, too. YOU DESERVE THE SMALL SPOON IF YOU WANT IT.