Keeping Up Appearances

My local gym pool had a clean recently. Nine people were crammed into the dry sauna while the staff hosed down the steam room. Instead of the usual British – we have to make skin/costume contact, but do not engage verbal contact as well – we actually decided to laugh at our sardine situation and talk to each other.

One guy in his late 20s was picking my brain for food information to build up his muscles to even bigger than they already are. My NLP training kicked in, and I was prepared to offer you’re fine as you are, really. You’re already taking up most of the bench with your muscle mass as body dysmorphia can be from a self esteem issue. He talked about his Irish wife’s anaemia, and then unexpectedly he said, “I was told that being married and having children would bring me the greatest happiness. I love my wife and kids, but…” and then he trailed off, with a sad look.

My NLP training definitely kicked in, as did my Buddhism readings. This was a classic case of doing what people expect of you, rather than following your heart. It leaves you hollow. Most commonly it’s in marriage and climbing a career ladder. You get married, or reach the top, but you’re still not satisfied. The promised happiness isn’t there. This guy worried too much about what other people wanted of him (manly muscles, wife and kids), and he was understandably unhappy. Happiness cannot come from an external source or reason, as that reason can be taken from you.

I know that I’m not marriage material. I was asked a question many years ago – if marriage didn’t exist, would you invent it? – and I said no. I began a sentence to show that there were alternatives to social expectations. If I hadn’t been interrupted, the sentence would have been, “I thought about getting married. It’s not for everyone.” Pick any point in that series of sounds to be cut off with:

You haven’t met the right man yet.

Sigh.

I’m an aromantic asexual, and people perceive me as a woman. The middle aged white man who interrupted me, demonstrating a lack of respect by thinking what he had to say was more important than what I was saying, picked the wrong day. On most days, I engage people with sensible discussion. But in this moment, all the little moments of sexism and gender expectations had reached tipping point.

This middle aged white guy could have interrupted the other guy by saying, “You haven’t met the right woman yet.” Is it logical to think if you’re unhappy with your marriage that you’re with the wrong person? No, he picked on the person with the flat genitals who is happily single.

I’ve seen it many times – people in unhappy relationships will try and put other people into similar unhappy relationships so they don’t have to change theirs to something positive. Misery loves company, as it goes.

On good days, I reply to such remarks as “Why do you presume it’s a man for me?” or “I’m aromantic asexual. I’m happily single.” But no, today all the gender stereotypes came out full force. I said:

“I can change my own plugs. I can hang my own wallpaper. I can repoint my own mortar. I can make cookers more efficient. I can catch my own spiders. Why would I need a man?”

In the following silence, I added:

“Are you dependent on your wife for meals? Are you trying to make a man dependent on me for food?”

He left the room. We all happily expanded into the space he had created in his absence.

Personally, I would rather people be taught to be fully independent, rather than have wilful dependence on others. Please, do not discriminate in teaching people a full set of life skills because of a gender binary. There are plenty of people out there with phobias and disabilities that would really like to be independent. Please, don’t throw away your independence because of what other people think.

Also, if you are unhappy with your marriage and you have children, please be aware that your children will grow up thinking they have to stay in unhappy situations as that’s what they’ll observe you doing. If you want your kids grow up to be happy, set an example for them to follow. Relationships change continually, and sometimes staying together can be more detrimental as you’ve both grown into different, now incompatible people. Only be together if you’re both happy to do so.

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