Pick ONE: childish or overbearing

Hey, Sam here. I saw a thing last night that I now feel the need to post about and discuss.


so I came across this last night https://goo.gl/EO3u0A

I thought of several things upon looking at this. While it isn’t apparently that there are any women involved in this post at all, nearly everyone assumed this was a het (if not also cis) relationship, with a femme testing their boyfriend. It rubbed me entirely the wrong way that the last comment seemed to be deriding women who are unable to voice their needs (maybe getting annoyed later on because they weren’t met despite not voicing them) as childish, as if there aren’t good reasons (i.e. survival tactics) that these women don’t allow themselves this, as if this inability to voice emotional needs is unilaterally a burden on their partners instead of something that harms them as well. Women are socialized to not ask for emotional support from men lest they seem too needy. Hell, even men are socialized to not ask for emotional support from other men. It seems logical that people would try to devise ways to test other ways and prompts for emotional support that don’t make the desire apparent and undeniable, when the desire itself is consistently framed as undesirable. How many women have you encountered who pride themselves on not being “overly” emotional or concerned with emotionality (like those other women)? How many men have you encountered who mentioned a woman as being better or more desirable because she didn’t ask things of them emotionally?

To all the people involved in the original post and the commenters I saw later, there was no question about the motivation of the person testing their boyfriend. It was simply taken for granted that it was manipulation for manipulation’s sake. There was no sympathy for why someone might feel compelled to put themselves in a position that inherently requires them to undermine their own boundaries in exchange for having one of their needs fulfilled. The struggle to voice a need after having lived a life wherein you have been shamed and seen other people be shamed for expressing emotional needs (indeed, maybe for even having them in the first place) went wildly unappreciated here. There are labels upon labels heaped onto women who dare to straightforwardly and unabashedly ask for what they need if what they need is inconvenient to the men in their lives, especially when it involves a request for emotional tending-to or attention. Drama queen. High-maintenance. Needy. Emotional. Clingy. Too much work. Attention whore. Asking for too much. Shrill.

I’m tired of women being seen as duplicitous when being straightforward is often so fraught with unintended and undesired consequences for them, when those consequences further run the risk of becoming something that gets attached to their identity as a person (think: “crazy ex-girlfriend” – she just asked for too much). It’s clear from the responses on the post that many girls/women do send texts/say things like this as a test. What seems to many (men and women and enbies alike) like boundary-setting is clearly to them boundary-testing. They don’t know what they’re allowed to have, i.e. the boundary isn’t whether or not their requests will be honored but whether or not they will be emotionally supported. This is less about what the other person isn’t allowed to do (cross boundaries) and more about what they’re allowed to have (emotional security). It’s a cost-benefit analysis in which emotional security came out on top. This is especially the case when people don’t have a great sense for boundaries or feel like their boundaries will be crossed anyway. The concept of the ideal relationship not having any boundaries is a common one within cis-het relationships, so a lack of boundaries might even be seen as a goal by one party or even both parties.

Lest people think I’m advocating for ignoring boundaries set forth by a person, I’ll clarify right here. I’m not. I’m saying there’s a conversation to be had around this instead of just assuming a person is playing mind games or assuming a person is able to say what they really mean. It is possible to honor this request in the moment and still go back and talk about both it (if they want to) and the dynamics of this scenario later, and it’s probably better to, to keep everyone on the same page. It isn’t enough to write this off as ill will, as many people seem to be doing. It’s not enough to assume that the person feels enough security to voice their needs point blank as a given instead of checking in.

Whether this concept of emotional support is healthy is obvious – it’s not healthy. However, what it does say is that these women/couples have likely never set or discussed or negotiated boundaries deliberately and consciously. This is a thing that they should discuss this at some point, with the understanding that this dynamic exists and shapes entire relationships. In the meantime, maybe the other party should say more than just “okay” on the off-chance that this is the case. For example, saying “Okay, I’ll text you tomorrow; let me know if you want to talk about it,” would have accomplished the same thing with less risk of seeming dismissive to someone who is specifically looking to see if their partner will be dismissive of their feelings.

An apt analogy for this situation is if you ask your partner if they want to do something and they say yes but they clearly are uncomfortable about it and it seems like they only said yes because they felt like they had to – do you stop and ask them what’s up or do you keep going because, well, after all, they did say yes? It’s worth checking in to see if your partner really does want to be left alone, especially(!) if the two of you have never had a conversation about this before. It’s important to realize refusing things you actually want is included in not being able to voice what you want. This entire dynamic is reminiscent of this part of desi (South Asian) culture, where when someone offers you something, you’re supposed to keep refusing even when:

  1. it’s already assumed you want the thing, and
  2. you do, in fact, want the thing.

If this seems like verging on paternalism, fret not. I have the same concerns. There’s an easy fix. Instead of insisting that they really didn’t mean what they said, ask. Let them know you’re aware of this dynamic, that you understand it might be hard for them to ask for what they need sometimes. Open doors for these discussions instead of assuming a femme in your life will take it upon herself to do it for you (or else suffer in silence).

The universal expectation that femmes will go out of their way to avoid imposition on their non-femme partners is a heavy consideration here that simply can’t be negated by stating “my femme partner is strong-willed and definitely knows they can ask for their emotional needs to be fulfilled” when it hasn’t been made abundantly and blatantly clear that that is the case. The expectation on the part of femmes that any non-femme worth having a relationship with will save a femme partner from having to lower their worth by directly asking for what they need is a huge consideration here as well. There is shared responsibility for the relationship here. There is a need to respect and address inter- and intra-personal struggle here instead of a knee-jerk reaction that immediately pins a femme as the source of strife rather than as someone who is also victimized by this inability that they did not themselves create, that they maybe do not have the resources or space to remedy on their own. But that would also require asking for emotional resources, wouldn’t it?