The other day I was talking with a friend over coffee. We were both comforting each other after talking about our often traumatic anecdotes of our past relationships with men.
Has it ever happened to you that you meet a man and you think that he shows himself to be different than other men? Maybe he shows attention to detail, or he is kind, or he treats his mom well, or he calls you on the phone instead of just texting you… or any other number of things which for some reason make you feel as if this man is “exceptional” and “rare”, “an extra-ordinary man”. And this, in turn, makes you hold on to him although he may not be really good for you or to you.
After numbering all the reasons why we often think men are “good men” and “good partners”, my friend and I then asked ourselves if these actions or qualities actually make them “good men and partners” or they simply mean they are decent, functional human beings.
After pondering this, we realized the truth. And the truth is that the bar is so low for men that anything they do showing a little bit of attention or kindness or thoughtfulness suddenly becomes like a super amazing wonderful act of love that really shows how much they care about us, and we end up convinced that these men are special, rare, and not to be found easily again (and if that is true then it is even sadder), so we have to hold on to these men because they are “special”.
And this belief actually makes us lower our standards which often leads to us accepting the bare minimum or even taking and excusing abusive or toxic behaviors from them.
Why do we expect so little from our boys and men? Why is the bar so low for them?
Are men not as capable as women? Are men not as capable to be loving, affectionate, thoughtful, caring, and nurturing as women? I believe they are. If they haven’t taught to be so, I believe in their ability to learn. So, the patriarchy is not an excuse anymore for men not to show these qualities. In fact, a man showing these qualities shouldn’t be a rarity, not in their eyes nor in women’s eyes, not in anyone’s eyes.
So here is a list of these “praise-worthy qualities or actions” that men do which make us think they are exceptionally precious when they are simply decent, good, functional human beings.
1. He listens
Have you ever said something like… “What I love about him is that he listens to me!”. Well, of course, he should listen to you if you’re dating, it’s not something that makes him extraordinarily wonderful. It just makes him a normal human being who is having an affective and effective human interaction with someone he cares about. If he doesn’t listen to you, what are you doing there?
2. He “helps” with the kids
He is not “helping” with the kids. He is simply taking responsibility for the lives he created too. He is simply being a responsible father.
3. He cooks
As any other functional adult human being should for we all need to feed ourselves. Cooking is a survival skill, not something to praise. If he cooks exceptionally well and has taken the time to improve his cooking skills so that he can make delicious and yummy dishes then, by all means, praise. But if he can only cook like every other adult should then praise him as an adult, not as a man.
4. He cleans, “helps” in the house
Like every adult should. I know many grown men who still don’t know how to do their own laundry (certainly neither of my grandfathers knew how, and I loved them dearly but it’s very clear to me that they wouldn’t have survived without my grandmothers) and yet mothers can’t wait to teach their daughters how to do all the housework. But being a woman makes you no fitter for housework than being a man makes you fit for the workplace. These are all old ideas about gender roles which are artificial, created, constructed by society, and which are often adapting and changing which only exposes their artificiality.
5. He doesn’t cheat
Well, that doesn’t make him an “extraordinary man or an amazing partner” that you have to applaud. A man not cheating shouldn’t be a rarity because if it is, it means we expect men to cheat and the truth is that in many cultures we do, it’s the boys-will-be-boys idea that we need to leave behind for our sakes and theirs’ as well. Not cheating is not something out of the ordinary, it’s a basic condition of a healthy, loving relationship. Not cheating means he is a decent human being with integrity and values who knows that betraying another is also betraying oneself and who is mature and conscious enough not to hurt another human being in this way.
6. He cares about my feelings, opinions, likes, ideas, etc.
So do any of your loved ones, and that is exactly what partners should do. Caring is a must for a relationship to work. He is not being in any way special or particularly praise-worthy, he is just being a caring human being who is interested in having an effective loving relationship.
7. He treats me with respect
Why should this be a surprise? All human beings should treat each other with respect. I know it doesn’t always happen… but the fact that we praise it only makes us realize how we make a basic thing like respect for a woman an “extra-ordinary thing”. This hurts both men and women because for women it makes them believe they have to settle for being treated with minimal respect and for men it sets the bar so low that they can get away with just doing the bare minimum and being applauded for it.
8. He talks about his feelings
As any healthy human being can and should. We have all struggled with feelings and how to express them. We all need to learn how to communicate feelings in an assertive way. This helps us evolve and become better at human relationships. This applies to both men and women, and it shouldn’t be an extraordinary thing for a man to do or to be praised about.
9. He cares about stuff, he is passionate about something
Like any other interesting human being. Having passions, drive, dreams, and ambition doesn’t necessarily mean he is a good partner. Does it make him an interesting and attractive human being? Yes. But not necessarily a good boyfriend. Him being good at his job or having a great hobby or passion doesn’t necessarily mean that he will be a great partner… that remains to be seen with time.
10. He is loving, you know, like he tells me I’m beautiful and tells me he loves me, etc.
Yes, loving men exist and loving men are precious just like loving women are. But being loving should also be a must in a love relationship, not an “extra-ordinary quality of a man”, because what does that say about men? Are they not capable of love and of being loving? Of course, they are! They are also humans capable of loving and showing affection! It is not something to wonder about, it is a human quality to be affectionate. And we should believe that about them and they should believe that about themselves too for all our sakes.
11. He cares about my and his sexual health
As all adults definitely must! Him buying condoms, wearing them, using any other contraceptive measures, or taking action if one of you gets an infection or an STD doesn’t make him a wonderful, super awesome, and special man, it just makes him a functional, sensible, responsible, mature adult.
If he in any way does anything to deter your health or goes against your wishes, or violates consent then that is a major red flag. It’s violence and abuse and please get out of there!
12. He takes care of himself, you know? He has good personal hygiene, he showers, and he smells good, dresses nicely, works out…
Sister, so do you! Men, women, society… expect women to be beautiful all the time. We are expected to smell nice, to be clean, to shave, to style our hair, to be thin, and yet have lots of curves, to use make-up and yet to look natural, to dress nicely, to have perfect skin, etc.
We are slowly learning to do this for our benefit and not for others. But the pressure is there, and it is not so easy to ignore.
I understand men have other expectations and pressures which just goes to show just how the patriarchy affects us all.
But having good personal hygiene is only another feature of being a healthy, functional human being, not something to applaud though it’s definitely something to be desired in a partner regardless of gender.
These are only a few of the things men get applauded for when they should really be just normal, ordinary, basic things all adults should do.
Putting the bar so low for men is detrimental to both men and women because for women it means that they always have to settle for the bare minimum effort, that they have to lower their standards, and accept less than they give or are willing to give. It means that they won’t have ‘equal’ partners, but that they will have to content themselves with the scraps of love, attention, respect, and care they can get and be thankful for it which is not fair, and also not necessary. There are great men out there, we can have faith and believe in their capabilities and abilities to be functional adults and to be loving, caring, and affectionate as well as have a good life of their own.
For men, having the bar so low is also hurtful because when not much is expected from you, you don’t feel inspired to grow, to make an effort, to challenge yourself, you end up becoming less… not more.
One time I was talking with a student who was telling me about a great math teacher he had. Before this teacher, he had never been good at maths nor did he like them. He had almost failed math in previous years so he never thought he would do well on maths, nor had his previous teachers expected him to so he made zero effort to change.
But this new teacher expected him to understand the topics, she expected him to get good grades, to ask questions, and show interest, she expected excellence from him as she did from all of her students. She made a point of letting him know that she wasn’t going to accept any less from him and that it was in him to make a change. She let him know she believed it was within his abilities and capacities to do so.
And what did he do? He leveled up, he made the effort to pay attention in class, did his homework, he even went and got extra hours of tutoring when he didn’t understand well. He made sure to become the student his teacher was sure he could be. And he was grateful for it, he passed maths with excellent grades, and his ideas about himself changed: He was now someone who was good at maths and smart enough to get good grades.
He always remembered this teacher fondly.
He told me “sometimes all you need is someone who believes in you and who is not going to accept your bare minimum but who actually believes you are capable of great things. It makes you want to make a real effort.”
I think about this conversation often and I think it applies to life and to relationships as well.
No one is born to fulfill all our expectations, this is true, it’s not like that.
But it’s great when somebody inspires in us the desire to do better, to be better. And that is exactly what good relationships do, they bring out the best in us, they bring us back to ourselves, and help us to connect again. They help us to strive, to grow, to expand, to evolve… not the other way around. Having standards gives both men and women an opportunity to grow, to reach high and far, to level up.
If we all show standards and we are all willing to work and care for a partner who will meet us at our own level, not accepting less or the bare minimum, then maybe all of our relationships can improve for all of us.
For women especially who have always been taught to accept and expect less, to conform, to decrease their value to fit into boxes made by smaller minds… it’s especially important to remember the value of having standards because those standards reflect the way in which you view your own worth.
It is always important to remember that when a man dates you he is not doing you a favor. If you are a wonderful woman who is willing to care for others and for yourself, who puts in the effort to know someone at a deep level, who is willing to trust and love… then any man who dates you is not doing you a favor by dating you but in fact, he is having the honor to date someone like you. And the reverse is true too. If you are a man who is not only doing the bare minimum, who has integrity and values, who is a decent, functional adult and who also is willing to go the extra mile and to work on yourself and create a deep, multi-layered relationship with someone who is your equal partner you also definitely deserve someone who is willing to do the same and not settle for less.
We say we want equal partners but until we are ready to let go of people who just won’t do the effort, and be brave enough to meet someone at our level and work on ourselves to be better each time and to make a relationship work our words are just empty wishes.
We need to be the kind of people we wish our partners were and then don’t settle for anything less.
To women: be not afraid to show standards, to say no, to establish limits. Stop applauding things that should be a must and start believing in your own worth.
And to men: be not afraid to be all that you can be and that includes being vulnerable, sensitive, nurturing, loving. Be not afraid to let go of anyone who devalues you and please expect more of yourself. Don’t settle for just doing these basic things, strive to be better in your eyes. Level up. Be conscious, be mature, be brave. Evolve.
And to all the men and women who always go the extra mile, who are kind and loving, who work on themselves, who go to therapy, who heal their wounds, who take responsibility and let go of the victim mentality, who want to give rather than take, who are willing to learn and to evolve: thank you for being in this world, your presence is appreciated. And if you do not feel it is sometimes, then appreciate yourselves because love really does start with oneself.