"If you’re ever going to date a guy who treats you like someone worthy of respect, though, you’re going to have to set about the unpleasant job of alienating the men who don’t." ~ Priscilla Pine (Make A Man Uncomfortable Today - Brooklyn Magazine)This was from an article that I'm not linking to only because my comments are probably going to be longer than the article and I didn't feel there was much *practical* advice in the article to share, but this line was really important.
The point of the article was how women who date men need to unlearn all our social programming that tells us to make others comfortable at the expense of our own needs and happiness in relationships and in life. We have to start deliberately doing things to make men more uncomfortable.
Pine defines "uncomfortable" as not violating boundaries, making anyone feel unsafe or threatened, etc. She calls on us to not let people get away with ignoring the impact that their dismissal of us has. In other words, make sure that people who are raised in a culture to feel entitled and privileged start feeling cognitive dissonance when they act on that entitlement and privilege.
It is not your job sit at home and wait patiently and pleasantly for someone who has had something "come up" *again* without expressing your irritation about being stood up for the 68th time. I try to make space in my relationships for each person to be able to have feelings of disappointment while not infringing on the other's autonomy by making them *responsible* for that feeling because that can work against us too.
See, in our patriarchal culture (whether you as an individual experience this or not is irrelevant, because I'm speaking of cultural trends now), a man is expected to have this full and busy life while a woman is expected to bend herself around him. He's working late at the office? No problem, she'll just put the roast in the oven to warm and somehow not let it dry out by the time he stumbles home at midnight, ready to eat, and use that time constructively to get other household projects done, pleasantly supporting his job at the expense of her neglect and not feeling any icky feelings about it, ever.
But if a *woman* has to work late at the office? Regularly? Why, she's neglecting her husband and children! She has her priorities screwed up! So, on the one hand, some people are taught that it is not OK to feel their feelings because that might make the other person uncomfortable (because then he would have to face the fact that he is dismissing the importance of her time / effort / whatever by doing the thing that makes her feel the feeling). But on the other hand, those people are also taught that when the other person has their own feelings, it means that they are *responsible* for having caused those feelings because they are a Bad Person and they should stop whatever they're doing for themselves to make the other person not have those bad feelings. In both situations, it's the same person who is expected to do the changing and the catering.
So, when I say I make space to have feelings while not making the other person "responsible", I mean that I have to have room in my relationships to feel disappointed if my partner cancels a date, for example. I'm allowed to feel that disappointment without having to squash it in order to now comfort *him* for his feelings of guilt that my disappointment is triggering. He SHOULD feel guilty about canceling a date with me! That sucks.
But that also doesn't mean that he is necessarily a Bad Person for having something come up as things do. He needs to be aware that his actions have consequences, but it's my responsibility to do something about my feelings. I have to define the threshold, define the boundary, between what is an acceptable amount of "sometimes shit happens and we both make accommodations for each other" vs. "he is not prioritizing me as much as I would like" and I have to decide what is done about that. That is my responsibility, but he also has to know when I'm feeling uncared for so that he can also make decisions about his behaviour that affect me. When this is accomplished between two people who are negotiating and relating in good faith with each other, we have a healthy relationship, even if that relationship doesn't ultimately "work out" or it ends due to conflicting priorities.
The problem is that, for people for who that social programming really took hold and they don't know how to "lean in" to the discomfort they cause other people, or they internalized the messages and making people uncomfortable makes them feel bad themselves, it's not easy to see where those boundaries should be drawn. There is a tendency to draw them too close in, meaning that their partners can avoid the cognitive dissonance too often and therefore not have any motivation to learn or change; or that the boundaries are drawn so far out that they feel isolated and alone because they deliberately keep people "at arms length".
I delight in making people feel uncomfortable. I'm like a kid who sees a giant red button with a label "Don't Push" - when I hear about someone's "buttons", the first thing I do is push on them. tacit does this too, which is one of the things that attracted me to him in the first place. But I do so with a purpose. What will pushing on that button accomplish? Is it a button for trauma and pushing on it will only cause someone pain? Or is it a button for unrecognized privilege or unspoken assumptions that they will be challenged to face?
One of my favorite stories that I've told several times is the Pegging Story - I was the crew chief this day and most of the crew did not know me (and was mostly men). As usually happens backstage, we start joking and talking about sex, and as usually happens when there are women in this industry, we started taking the conversation further than the guys would. They would have left it to a few raunchy jokes, but the women both topped the jokes and then started actually talking about "uncomfortable" sex stuff.
Eventually we got onto kink, and as usual, the crew were unfamiliar with that world and started asking me questions, which I answered. Eventually, one guy finally had enough cognitive dissonance which was forcing him to challenge his assumptions about what "kinds of people" explore kink and what kinky sex "meant" and he blurted out "I don't need any of that kinky shit! The most I'll do is anal!"
So I, recognizing the unspoken assumptions underlying his outburst (based on other things said and non-verbal signals that I've seen a hundred times before) about just who was expected to be on the receiving end and what anal sex "meant" about the person receiving it, quipped back "oh, you like anal sex? Great! I have a strapon in the car, let's go!"
He backed up, hands in the air, and stuttered "no, no, that's not what I meant!" So I said "well, you didn't specify," much to the amusement of the crew listening. I went on to point out that he shouldn't assume that the girl must necessarily be the one to take it up the ass, he brought up the "I'm not gay" thing so I got to point out that having a woman fuck him kinda by definition doesn't mean he's gay, etc.
He didn't find any allies in the crew because of the humor I used to make him the butt of the joke when he tried to turn it on me to make me look deviant and because of the work I had just done in explaining stuff. He thought, as men who try this shit with me so often do, that making me look "perverted" would get everyone else on "his side" so that he could hide behind his assumptions once more and validate himself at my expense. Instead, I made him look foolish, but I didn't badger or bully him for not being kinky, I only teased him so that his intolerance was the butt of the jokes, which made *him* look small instead of allowing him to force *me* into being smaller than I am for his comfort.
That conversation made him uncomfortable. He was uncomfortable because he was challenged to examine his biases.
Within the context of romantic partnerships, I'm going to assume that the two people actively like each other and desire the other person's happiness, at least abstractly. I realize that's a big assumption, because I've been in relationships myself where that's not true. But I'm going to make that assumption here anyway.
For these relationships, if he genuinely likes her (again, using gendered pronouns because of the patriarchal programming that makes this pervasive and endemic, although this can apply to any relationship) and wants to see her happy, then it is in his best interest to be made uncomfortable in this context. He can't be expected to know how to contribute to her happiness if she swallows herself and makes herself small for him. He doesn't even know her when she does that. He can't see who she is, so he can't reasonably be expected to treat her the way she needs to be treated in order to be happy in a relationship.
**This should be obvious, but I'll say it anyway - if someone is stuck in an abusive relationship and leaving is not an option at this time, then clearly the victim should do what they feel they need to survive. Maybe that means making yourself small so that you don't make him uncomfortable by your presence. Maybe that means he doesn't know who you are, really, because he doesn't want to. I am not qualified to address how people in these situations should get out of them or how to apply healthy boundaries with people who are not operating on good faith with each other.**It is not in his best interests for her to not draw healthy boundaries. It doesn't help him be a better person and it doesn't help him love her. But drawing those boundaries, making people aware of when they fuck shit up and don't treat people well, makes people uncomfortable and that will likely narrow the dating pool. You might find yourself alone for a while. You might find yourself having to reject a lot of people, or being rejected a lot for being "too harsh" or "too bitchy" or "too needy" or too whatever, or even not "compassionate enough" or not "caring enough" or not "gentle enough" or not "ladylike" or not whatever.
Trust me, I've been on a lot of first dates that had no second date. I've had a lot of conversations with guys that go "before I go out with you, you should probably see my OKC profile and read my FB page for a while to make sure that I'm really the person you're interested in" and then never had a followup conversation where they said "I did all that and you're even more awesome!" Most of the time, people I send to those pages just fade away. They might continue to flirt with me when they see me in person (that's a coworker thing - a product of my industry), but no more specific invitations to dinner.
Yes, making people uncomfortable will tend to filter out a lot of people. It will alienate people who don't respect your boundaries or your values. But that's how you clear the path for those who do to find you and for you to recognize them among the otherwise vast sea of humanity. Your pool will be smaller. Your pool will likely be more long distance (thanks to the internet, but at least it will be possible with the internet).
But your choices are to be alone for a while until you find your tribe who gets you and respects you, or to be alone even while in relationships because those people won't respect you or even know you. I decided long ago that my value is worth the respect of my partners and not a farthing less.