178. diglossia


brandoThis past weekend I saw the following list on a blog I follow. I’m not entirely sure why I still follow this guy. Morbid curiosity? He was a Xanga blogger I subscribed to back when I was a Christian. I still get occasional email updates from him when he posts, and am always curious what conservative hijinks he’s getting up to. On Thursday he wrote:

“… if you have a little sister or younger female friend, please ask her a few questions or make these comments when she says she’s with someone.”

  1. Does he tell people he’s in a relationship with you?
  2. Are you exclusive with him, or not?
  3. Has he ever hit you?
  4. Does he ever try to emotionally blackmail you?
  5. Does he ever demand sexual favors from you?
  6. Does he take you places?

The list bothered me on several levels. On the one hand, there’s the chauvinistic notion that women are the “weaker sex” and therefore need coddling and protecting, aren’t capable of taking care of themselves, or of making good decisions without male guidance or oversight. Of course, I highly doubt

Second, there also the concept of males as the predatory sex; that if left unchecked, men will mistreat, abuse and/or take advantage of women. Alyssa Royse wrote last month in an article titled The Danger in Demonizing Male Sexuality over on the website The Good Men Project:

“… girls are told that boys are predatory and somehow out of control. The corollary there is that boys are told they are predators, and out of control. Therefore, not a desirable thing, but a thing to defend against. From the get-go, we are teaching our kids to fear male sexuality, and to repress female sexuality… It means that he who possesses sexuality is assumed a predator.”

Of course, I don’t think the blogger in question meant to imply any of the above; that women are all damsels in distress, or that men are pigs. He simply lives in his conservative Christian bubble where “the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Corinthians 11:3). It’s a neat and tidy way of looking at the world, where everything has its place and purpose and there’s little to question or challenge.

But it did get me to thinking about relationships and our reticence to get involved in other people’s lives – specifically, to ask questions that might be perceived as prying.

Gay male relationships are an odd bag. In American society in general, men are perceived as being inherently more competent. Some of it is pride in being reluctant to often admit that we don’t know what we’re doing, but we tend to look at men as being capable, independent and strong. That perception is a little bent where gay men are concerned with the cultural trope that we’re more effeminate and therefore associated more with stereotypes of women than we are men. But even then though, there’s still a hands-off attitude when it comes to our relationships. It’s assumed that we know what we’re doing and don’t need guidance or for anyone to look out for us.

I look back at some of my past relationships and wish that someone had had the courage and wherewithal to ask me some of the above questions in that list. Because I’ve dated guys who didn’t tell anyone that we were in a relationship, either because they were reluctant to define the relationship or because they weren’t completely out of the closet. I’ve dated guys who in hindsight were incredibly emotionally abusive, and I didn’t have the self esteem to acknowledge that this is what was happening, or leave and be alone rather than stay and put up with the abuse.

I’ve dated guys who didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything. It may have been that they simply prefered to stay in, or that they just didn’t like to spend money. Of course, in the list above the question “Does he take you places?” implies that the man should be treating his lady to a 1950s romantic night out on the town (and offering her his coat for when it gets cold on their after-dinner sidewalk stroll).

(“Of course, you may not have a problem about what to do on a date… but Nick? Well, he has a real dating problem.” Because Nick doesn’t want to date Kay. Nick wants to date Jeff.)

Of course, this problem of not asking questions when something doesn’t seem right about someone else’s relationship isn’t related to gays. We often stand by and let people make terrible life choices that we know will end in tears. We’ll know that two people are going to be a terrible match for each other, but not say anything for fear of stepping on feelings or jeopardizing a friendship.

Yet these friends are always eager to commiserate after the relationship has gone down in flames, after your heart has been smashed to bits, and you find yourself wondering where these friends were before everything went to hell. However, there’s always the question of whether you’d have listened to anyone try to say that dating that guy is a bad idea…

Ah, hubris.

It bothers me that we’d take such a backwards attitude to others’ relationships. We’d speak up if we thought someone was developing a drug problem or eating disorder, if they clearly needed to go to the doctor, or were clearly getting into a life of organized crime. Yet we think nothing of standing quietly by as two people walk headlong into romantic disasters.

What if we took as much of an interest in each other’s emotional health as we do in each other’s physical health and safety? [Edit:] Perhaps not so much making direct, probing inquiries as it is simply asking, “So how’s it going with ______?” and simply letting that friend know that someone is there to talk and non-judgmentally listen should things go south.


6 thoughts on “178. diglossia

  1. Sarah

    It’s complicated to tell a friend that his or her significant other is a poor choice.
    You aren’t just offering a commentary on the significant other; you are calling into question your friend’s judgment and taste. That’s not something you do lightly. I think it’s okay to trust your friend, even when he or she is obviously dating the wrong person. People generally find their way out of these things. I might ask a few subtle, leading questions about the significant other, but I wouldn’t want to directly confront a friend by saying “Hey, this person is SO wrong for you.” I’d be uncomfortable demanding my friend to justify his or her life decisions to me–I’m not a control freak. My philosophy has been to stay supportive of my friends even when they are in questionable relationships, unless there’s something actually damaging going on. I’ve tended to think it’s more healthy to let people reach conclusions on their own. Perhaps I’m wrong?

    • David

      Hmm. You raise fair points. And I’ve been in that position myself on many occasions.

      You’re on to something with asking a few subtle, leading questions, and I think that’s what I was trying to articulate. (Speaking of questionable things – writing when tired. I should always wait 24 hours before posting, just for edits!) We certainly don’t need to ask anyone to justify their life choices, but perhaps something as small as asking, “So, how’s it going with ____?” Just letting your friend know that you’re there to talk if things are less than peachy keen…

  2. You cast a wide net, my friend. Many of the things you say are undoubtedly true about the majority, but some of us take great care in our friends’ relationships and mental well being. The counter to that is we are often told we’re “wrong” or “stay out of it.” Sometimes, we’re just ignored. I don’t believe I’ve ever said, “I told you so” to someone after a failed relationship, but I am saddened by the loss, nevertheless. A good relationship is founded upon good communications, and if that structure is sound, the list of questions is generally unnecessary. And with respect to relationships, I include friendships in that list. Perhaps this is a better indicator of who one’s true friends are than who can say, “I told you so.”

    • David

      Heh, some of my purpose here was to cast a wide net, for the purpose of starting conversation. I’m partly writing based on observation, and some on personal experience. Would I have listened to any of my friends if they’d told me that my first couple boyfriends weren’t right for me? Probably not. But through those experiences I learned that a handful of my friends have really good instincts, and that if they don’t like a guy I’m with or if I’m reluctant to introduce him to them then it’s probably not a good relationship. Not that I base my life choices on their approval, of course, but it’s certainly a valuable litmus test!

      I suppose this comes back to my refrain about building community and having a close, trusted network of friends and family.

  3. esmeraldajellybean

    I hope you’re excluding me from the above because I don’t believe I’ve ever hesitated to tell you if I thought you were in an unhealthy relationship, and can think of one particular example when you specifically kept the details of your relationship private because you didn’t want to be told how bad it was.

    • David

      Of course you’re excluded from the above! See my comment to aesculaepius. The example you raise is case in point why I don’t keep relationships secret anymore and why I attempt to run all of my gentleman callers by you before things get too serious. Speaking of making very poor life choices…

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