I’ve been thinking a lot about my experiences using dating websites and dating men in general, and I’ve reflected on my own behaviour and that which I encountered from my potential partners. Soul-searching is great for helping you to grow in general, and specifically for helping you to avoid the same mistakes again. I don’t recall exactly what it was that triggered this thought, probably something I read on Twitter—I spend an unhealthy portion of my waking hours on Twitter, but hey, at least it’s not crack, amirite?
A huge part of recognising and actually taking steps to avoid red flags is in being able to step outside of the situation and look upon it rationally. But in an emotionally-invested scenario, it’s very hard to do. Combine that with the social conditioning that women are supposed to be people-pleasers and it can be very difficult to act on those doubts, even if they’re serious and obvious ones. During my teens and twenties, I tolerated a lot of bullshit from men. I bought into the narrative that finding a partner to settle down with was of high importance and I kind of accepted that relationships have their ups and downs, yeah? But until recently, I struggled to accept the difference between ordinary, resolvable, relationship quibbles and outright psychological abuse. A part of me wanted a responsible and decisive partner, and another part didn’t want to see what was right in front of my face. Marriage, kids, an upstanding man—it sounds great on paper.
Quite a lot of what we may perceive as romantic is overprotective at best, controlling at worst. We all say we know that the movies aren’t real life, and yet we collectively uphold what we see on TV and in film as our standard for heterosexual relationships. And a lot of that narrative is based on compliance and subservience on the woman’s part. But it’s easy to get caught up in the romance, thinking that that’s what romance is supposed to be like.
One of the drivers behind domestic abuse is the role that male privilege plays in our society, and I’m not just talking male-on-female violence here. I’m thinking of the stereotypically masculine values of dominance, control, and superiority. If one partner uses their power to control and dominate the other, it’s a recipe for disaster. Sadly, that dynamic doesn’t just affect overtly abusive relationships. It’s part of a continuum encompassing all sexism and misogyny. Women are socialised to expect their male partner to be the one in charge, and this is reflected right down to the level of the first date—even in 2017.
I’ve found it worryingly common for men to set out, right from the start, what their expectations are and aren’t, and if you don’t fit in with that, then there’s no point in you continuing with them. That sounds fair enough, doesn’t it? No point in carrying on with a relationship that’s going nowhere, and isn’t it healthy to speak openly about one’s needs and desires? Well, yes, but…
When men say they want marriage and children, and it’s an absolute must-have, right from Day One—yes, I have encountered men practically setting out the marriage contract before even the first date—that leaves very little room for manoeuvre on the woman’s part. For me, an absolute dealbreaker might be “turns out he’s a serial killer,", not “refuses to immediately sign over their life and bodily autonomy to me."
I’ve always thought about my relationship and family status as something fluid and adaptable; a choice based on whether I meet the right person rather than finding a person to deliver the goods. I’ve had other priorities in my life, and if someone else imposes theirs upon me, it means I take a back seat in my own life.
It always seemed to me that the natural thing was to live your life with no expectations, to meet people as part of a fulfilling and enriching existence, and perhaps find someone who ticks all the boxes and then think about settling down. Sure, marriage and kids might be nice, but it’s not something I’m owed at the expense of someone else’s freedom. And what if I set that as my primary goal and I never find anyone who wants to experience it with me? What if I meet the perfect person, but they don’t want, or can’t have, kids? Do I dump them and find someone who will meet my specification? Some other people would do just that, and it’s happened to me once.
Deciding to marry and have children can’t be an edict sent down from above by the dominant party, because of the obvious impact it has upon their chosen partner. But to many men, it seems normal to make these demands and expect them to be met. If it’s not a decision reached with a mutual level of enthusiasm, it’s little more than owning chattel. “I want a wife and children” spoken only as a concept in itself means that you don’t care about their feelings and wants, given that you don’t even seem to care who they might be. And I think we can guess who’s going to end up changing the majority of those nappies.
The expectations our society has just help to support this troubling phenomenon. Families and the media exert a lot of pressure on the younger generation to conform to the traditional relationship trajectory in spite of more than a century of the women’s liberation movement. I never truly understood how important it is to encourage and support women into work and independence until I became aware of the level of resistance to it that still exists today.
Now, on a dating site, you’ll often be prompted to state your preferences and desires in a partner, including things such as whether you’d like to marry and have children. They at least need to take some responsibility for this pervasive attitude. However, I’ve seen this both online, and been in relationships that began IRL, and the demands were put on the table from the start—in rather imposing language. Sadly, and predictably, these relationships didn’t get very far, honestly in part because I thought I could win my partner round to my way of thinking, and it all ended in tears and frustration. It was a non-negotiable when that’s one of the most important decisions you could ever make. It should be negotiable, but that’s not how men like this see it. You can hope and try all you like to change their minds, but it won’t work. If you don’t see eye-to-eye on this, don’t expect it to change. And while we’re on the subject, don’t expect them to compromise on anything else. If they’re laying down the law on this, they’ll do so for just about everything.
Making demands and talking over your needs is a massive Red Flag. No matter how nice he seems, this is not a “nice” thing for him to do, and it’s important that you challenge it early on, as this type of partner will push you into becoming heavily invested in the relationship as quickly as they can—making it harder for you to leave. If marriage and kids is what you want, then great! But always discuss your aspirations and wishes with your partner, and if they don’t respect them, show them the door.