I don't want to be such a bitch
December 10, 2009 11:34 AM   Subscribe

I have come to realize that I have a hard time empathizing with men, and it’s making it very hard to even begin to look for a satisfying male relationship, romantic or otherwise.

22-year-old college female. At school I pretty much only ever had female friends, and in fact I can’t say I’ve ever had a real male friend (if you don’t count my ex-boyfriend.) I’ve had male acquaintances, more in the past few years (college) than before. But I have never been close to any men except my dad and my ex-boyfriend.

My dad always told me to be wary of men, because they will lie to you and exploit you for sex and then break your heart. I guess my dad was trying to protect me, but hearing that message about men from the only man I knew well convinced me that it was true. And I’m still convinced, despite knowing just how hosed up that attitude is.

I had the great fortune to meet a very nice guy three years ago, right when I began dating. (I avoided it for years out of fear of being used.) We talked all night when we met, dated for years, it was good and we talked and understood each other mostly, and then it ended for many reasons and whatever, no fuckedupness there. But since then I’ve realized that, with the exception of him, I have never understood any man I know. I think of all men as stereotypes. I think they are fundamentally different from me, with a different outlook and different interests. I think they all like video games and South Park and never want to have kids and aren’t vain and don’t feel things and live in squalor and all kinds of stupid sexist bullshit. I think they see me the same way I see them, and although I desperately want to make a connection with a man like I had with my ex, I feel like it’s not even fair to try because, with my current level of empathy, I treat men like poo poo. (My school/life situation right now makes it so that 80% of the people I interact with every day are female, which makes it even harder to figure out how to make a connection.)

After the breakup I slept with two men. One three weeks after, one three months after that. Both times went exactly the same: I slept with him as soon as I could see he liked me, then dumped him the next day or so when I realized I didn’t like HIM. And both times I was surprised that they were hurt by it, because "men don't take sex seriously."

As you can see, I have no idea how to form a satisfying relationship. It’s like I think of guys as nothing but tools to use to validate myself, and then when I do I become so disgusted. I WANT to have male friends, I like hanging out with guys even on a non-relationship level, but it’s only ever been friends of friends and it never goes beyond chatting because… well, I have no idea. I don’t know a single man I can call a friend, yet all my girlfriends have plenty. And I’ve met them and hung out with them and yet here I am. I know where I got these ideas from but not how to make them go away. It’s bizarre and gross and dehumanizing and I need it to stop.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (30 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I think they all like video games and South Park and never want to have kids and aren’t vain and don’t feel things and live in squalor

That's not true. First of all, a lot of men are vain. Also, I think if you read through a lot of the relationship threads on this site, you'll see that a lot of the male posters love children, love their wives, are deeply interested in what kind of shoes they wear, and they have a lot of feelings.
posted by anniecat at 11:41 AM on December 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

So what I'm saying is, read a lot of the relationship threads on this site, especially the ones where dudes get cheated on by their wives or girlfriends, and you'll see what I'm talking about. You know you're wrong and proof exists, so read it up.
posted by anniecat at 11:42 AM on December 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Do you have any male relatives (cousins maybe) that you could start to hang out with? This would keep anything sexual off the table so you could start to see men more as people and less like some scumbag or great boyfriend dichotomy.
posted by WeekendJen at 11:48 AM on December 10, 2009

posted by Inspector.Gadget at 11:53 AM on December 10, 2009 [3 favorites]

I'd recommend therapy with a male therapist. You seem to have quite a few hangups about relationships, and talking with someone could help. If the person you talk with is male, that could encourage you to be more open and trusting with other men you meet. And be sure to tell the therapist about your issues with misandry.
posted by decathecting at 11:55 AM on December 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

I slept with him as soon as I could see he liked me, then dumped him the next day or so when I realized I didn’t like HIM. And both times I was surprised that they were hurt by it, because "men don't take sex seriously."

News flash: Guys are, by and large, humans, and dislike being used just as much as women. If you're not sure if you like someone, don't fuck them. It's that simple.
posted by dortmunder at 11:56 AM on December 10, 2009

Seconding anniecat about reading back through AskMe. Guys get pretty open there, both in the questions and the answers. And while yeah, there are guys who don't take relationships or feelings seriously, I'd say that in my experience women are just as likely to be asses about that stuff as men are. It looks different, but the result is largely the same.

I'd say that yeah, on the whole there are some pretty significant differences between men and women. Some here will probably dispute that, but I think it holds nonetheless. But there are differences between any two women, so I'm not sure that for what you're worried about that this makes all that much of a difference. People are people. Their gender may tell you some things about them, but considered as a whole, any two people can be as different as night and day or two sides of the same coin, regardless of their respective genders.

I guess without knowing you or your context, the most concrete advice I can give is to just think about what you're saying and doing when you interact with me. Take note of what you feel. Ask yourself why you're wanting to do/say something. If you're feeling especially bold, as the guy you're talking to about how you come off. I think you'll be surprised.
posted by valkyryn at 12:04 PM on December 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

You need to get some male friends. Try joining a club or do some volunteer work that will bring you in contact with men. Hang out with them and talk to them. You have very little data with which to form an opinion.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 12:15 PM on December 10, 2009 [3 favorites]

Go platonic. Set yourself a long-ish period of time when sex is explicitly off the table, and find some nice, normal, attractive, heterosexual guys to hang about with. By "hang about with" I mean either jump on invitations and suggestions of things to do or simply be where they are until you become a fixture. You will learn a lot once you are in the circle of trust and they know there's no use in trying to impress you. You will learn a lot from the way guys react to your explicitly non-sexual presence.

If you do that for a while, you'll probably find some real friends. Maybe lifelong friends. You'll certainly hear guys in relationships reacting in ways that aren't covered in popular folklore.

After you've really really got the hang of that, stick sex and relationships back on the table.

Good luck and have fun!
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 12:24 PM on December 10, 2009

I think they all like video games and South Park

I'm no expert, but it seems to me that holding a negative opinion of someone based simply on their interests is exactly the sort of behaviour that is going to make it hard to form connections with people. There are plenty of kind, mature people out there who also happen to enjoy video games and shows like South Park.
posted by fearthehat at 12:39 PM on December 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

I think the trick is finding an coed activity such as sports or art classes which you like to do. Then you can chat with some of the men strictly about the activity while gradually discovering other common interests without having to go on a date.
posted by digsrus at 12:40 PM on December 10, 2009

And both times I was surprised that they were hurt by it, because "men don't take sex seriously."

Once I was complaining to a female friend that a particular woman I was interested in was acting without regard for my feelings at all. She said that she had recently had a conversation with a female friend who was not being considerate of a guy who was showing interest and said to her "you know they have feelings too." Her friend acted surprised and said that she never really thought of that because she just thought guys were into sex.

We are living, breathing beings and very much capable of being hurt.

I second therapy with a male therapist.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:45 PM on December 10, 2009 [3 favorites]

Also, ask your Dad. Explain to him what you are thinking and how seriously you have taken what he has said. Ask him about how he felt about your mom. Ask him to explain how men really feel. Tell him it is getting in the way of you having a real relationship. Ask him to help.

And yes it hurts--so much--partially because we are trained to believe that women are really nice and men are bad and if a woman mistreats us it is confusing because it doesn't fit with the stereotype.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:47 PM on December 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

You seem to think you need to "empathize with men" before letting one within arm's length of you. I don't think that's a great plan, particularly since men are no more uniform than women are.

You need to get close enough to someone to actually see them, and the trouble there is that it's risky to do so. You keep yourself safe by treating men like poo poo, and rationalize that behavior with the thought that men don't take sex seriously.

Fortunately, you already know this is the wrong way to go. But, you can't think your way past it because you're not up against reason, you're up against conditioning. You need a discipline. I suggest this: Simply forbid yourself to treat men badly, for any reason. With that defense down, I think the rest might come easily.
posted by jon1270 at 12:53 PM on December 10, 2009

Okay, this first part isn't really for you:

My dad always told me to be wary of men, because they will lie to you and exploit you for sex and then break your heart. I guess my dad was trying to protect me, but hearing that message about men from the only man I knew well convinced me that it was true. And I’m still convinced, despite knowing just how hosed up that attitude is.

Any parents or future parents reading this thread? Don't do this! First off, it's not true. While teenage hormones are a powerful force indeed, even the horniest, horndog of a male teenager also wants a girlfriend. If you are too squeamish to address teen hormones and sexuality then see if you can find a friend or relative to do it. This stuff reinforces two notions to your teen daughter: one, she is at the mercy of other people and the only true and right emotion is fear and, two, no one is really interested in her. What an esteem killer!

• • •

Okay, for you, anon, I like the suggestions that you find a coed activity. You'll need to tackle this like it's a school project to be tackled. Set some metrics for yourself maybe by term or semester. First, get involved with a coed activity. Second, go on some casual coffee/study dates (don't look for a boyfriend; don't take any guys home with you). Third or concurrently pick up some books with male protagonists and see what you make of them. I came across the website Guys Read that looks like it has a lot of good suggestions categorized by genre.

And then, since you're on campus, perhaps you can take advantage of any therapeutic health services they offer -- I suspect that you've got deeper self esteem issues that are not isolated from your issues with how you think you see men. Talking about these issues over just a few sessions might help you clarify what is going on and what your goal is in dealing with it.

Good luck!
posted by amanda at 12:57 PM on December 10, 2009 [4 favorites]

...with thoughts like, men don't take sex seriously.
posted by jon1270 at 12:57 PM on December 10, 2009

This is an interesting problem to read about because I had the opposite one. I was raised in a large family and was very close to my brothers, but had a more difficult time with my sister, who was a) my only sister b close in age and c) a rival in many ways. I was also closer to my dad than my mom. So I tended to make friends with boys all the way through school, and to distrust most girls. I made myself go to a woman's college to deal with my own problems with women, and it was a very good move for me. I developed great respect and trust for women.

Speaking as an early fan of the other gender, I can attest that most men are great, loving, and diverse human beings. You already know all the good things about women that I had to wait to learn. I strongly second everyone else on this thread who is encouraging you to make some male friends. Listen to them, treat them well, learn that men are people too . . . and then a sensible romantic relationship in which you treat the other person as a person, i.e. kindly, should follow.
posted by bearwife at 1:01 PM on December 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Uh, meant to say most men are great and loving and that men like women are diverse human beings.
posted by bearwife at 1:02 PM on December 10, 2009

I think they see me the same way I see them, and although I desperately want to make a connection with a man like I had with my ex, I feel like it’s not even fair to try...

This line stuck out to me. You think they see you the same way you see them. But as you point out, you don't really know any of them very well and never have, except the one you really liked, who turned out to be great. So most of that feeling you're having about how men perceive you has to originate internally, i.e., isn't based on much outside of your head, isn't supported by evidence that you would have to know someone fairly well in order to gather.

The second thing about it that stuck out was how you're doing everyone this noble favor by withholding yourself because you feel it's not fair to other people to expose them to this awful person that you are. That sounds like classic "I'm broken" thinking, which is very common. Boiled down, it says, "I'm not good enough, so I won't inflict myself on anyone." Really it's more of a self deception and a preventive defensive measure against the possibility of hurt.

Both of these things sound like self esteem issues. You've convinced yourself that you're no good. So job one will be reversing that. It's not easy to change your thought patterns and in cases like this often doesn't even seem to be justified, but it can be done and will have to be done. It sounds cliche, but people can't get close to you if you won't let them, and then they can't like you if you don't like yourself. You have to get to a point of comfort with yourself where you say "This is me. Here I am. Try me," and then jump in with both of your imperfect feet even knowing that you could pick up some scars any given time. Like the lottery, you can't win if you don't play. Except your odds at winning in friendship and in love are insanely better. You'll lose sometimes but will get by fine.

A good tip I once heard in that regard is to treat your tender inner self as if you were someone else that you loved. If someone in your family that you loved, or a close girlfriend, were going through a tough time and feeling down on herself, you'd do everything you could to comfort her, to reassure her what a wonderful person she was, to let her know that you would always stick by her, be there for her, love her, and that she would always deserve it. But when you condemn yourself as not good enough for other people, you show no mercy, you disregard all of the good things about yourself and toss all of you out with the bathwater. You would go to any length to show love to other people in need, but not yourself? Why do you deserve that kind of unconditional support and love any less than any of these other people? You need it more than anyone right now and your own voice is the one you hear the loudest. If someone is going to be awful to you, to condemn you, to invalidate you, to constantly speak to you in a negative way, let it be someone else. Meanwhile, as your own caretaker, give yourself the most unconditional support that you can. Don't judge yourself. Always forgive yourself and then support yourself as you work on developing whatever self improvements you want to make.

As you try to help yourself change and branch out and grow, you can imagine yourself as the mom teaching her child to ride a bike. The child will fall and skin her knee and cry and say "I can't" and feel stupid and want to quit, and each time you as the mom will be right there to help her up, to dab her skinned knee, give her a kiss and a hug, tell her she'll get it, tell her she's doing great and getting better, and give her a push to get her started again. Eventually she'll get it. She'll learn, grow, improve, succeed. Imagine if the mom instead told her, "Ugh, you're terrible. What are you, stupid? Why do you even bother? You fall every time. You should quit trying. You'll just hurt somebody if you keep this up." You're both of those people in your head, one who is tender and trying and scared, and one who needs to be supportive and loving always. You're halfway there!

As for what your Dad said, he's not wrong, but his warning only applies sometimes, to some guys, in some situations. What he said can and does happen. Some guys are always like that, some guys are sometimes like that, some guys are like that when they're young but mature and stop being that way. And plenty of guys are never like that. As with the South Park and video games and how men view sex and love and children, neither your nor your dad can paint with such a broad brush. The truth is most people couple off. If it was just pump and dump all the time without any feelings, most people would be single.

As always, the green recommends some counseling. Go bounce some of these thoughts off of a neutral listener trained to help you see your own thoughts in perspective and steer them in healthier directions that are more supported by the real world than your internal doubts and fears. This person will undoubtedly want to talk to you about your inner monologue. She'll want to make sure that you speak to yourself in gentle, loving, supportive ways, not using words like bizarre, gross, dehumanizing, sexist, stupid, bullshit, etc. She'll help you put some of your assumptions about men and life and yourself to the test by asking you to support them with evidence. She may suggest something in the realm of cognitive-behavioral exercises to help you retrain your self talk to be more rational, supportive, and supported. Good luck!
posted by kookoobirdz at 1:09 PM on December 10, 2009 [12 favorites]

How about developing a written relationship with a soldier serving abroad? The written word can be very helpful because it often allows people to express themselves more honestly than they would in person, and can really allow you to get to know someone. Writing with a soldier would probably be doubly beneficial because soldiers in some ways are real "guys' guys" but getting to know one would show you they can be just as gentle, sensitive, etc. and any woman (and have the same fears, dreams, and hopes...).
posted by miss tea at 1:28 PM on December 10, 2009 [5 favorites]

argh "as any woman"
posted by miss tea at 1:29 PM on December 10, 2009

I've always told my female friends that most men can't think straight until their late 20s, because of hormones.* That's the kind of comment your dad was making... not meaning to refer to all men forever, but the men of "that age" that you're dealing with as a teen to early 20-something.

It's understandable that a young woman might declare all men to be nookie-crazed maniacs, because most men she deals with seem to be (the more hormone-crazed, the more aggressive). It's like when someone says "all (wo)men are jerks" when they've dated a string of jerks, or "all the good ones are taken" when they've had a string of failed relationships -- a thing we say in frustration that we know is wrong, because we're looking for someone to show up and prove it to us.

A friend I knew at your age was where you are... and even when she found someone who "proved" she was wrong, it still took many years before she truly believed it enough to relax. Like her, you're taking it a bit far -- but there's men out there who will prove you wrong if you give them the chance. You're just either not seeing or being exposed to those men right now, so maybe you need to change it up, try something new. The stereotypical answer seems to be to just date older men instead of waiting for the younger ones to grow up, but maybe for you it just needs to be a completely different type of guy?

* - the second half of that comment is "and most women can't think straight after they do, for the same reason."
posted by Pufferish at 1:52 PM on December 10, 2009

It’s like I think of guys as nothing but tools to use to validate myself, and then when I do I become so disgusted. ... It’s bizarre and gross and dehumanizing and I need it to stop.

You don't hate men.

You hate yourself.

Therapy, anti-depressants and exercise (in some combination) for the win.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:32 PM on December 10, 2009

Miss Tea's "pen pal to a soldier" idea is a good one. Just be sure you talk with nearby, physically present guys as well, so that you don't get completely lost in an idealized fantasy relationship... and so that you can accumulate the experience you need to evaluate men accurately.

As to the larger point of seeing men as individuals and connecting to them individually... two things:

1) There are actually levels at which gender stereotypes are very, very useful-- it's just that your existing stereotypes are a little too simple, and don't hold enough information or insight that you can generate good results from employing them. Moreover, your instinctive beliefs and expectations are such that you are precluded from hanging out with men enough to learn to enjoy them. Let's say, then, that in your case, with your background, the most helpful thing would be to pretend that all men are completely and radically different from one another.

2) Make this into an amusing sort of hobby: Meet as many new men as possible, not with the intent of attracting them or finding them attractive, but with the goal of noticing how each new guy you talk with or even see differs radically and completely from the last guy you noticed. It's okay, and even a good thing, to exaggerate these differences. The purpose is to accumulate a richer mental catalogue-- a kind of bestiary-- of Men and the Traits Thereof. These individual differences will eventually reveal types; the types, with awareness, will dissolve into even finer differences and peculiarities and individual variations; the subtler peculiarities will reveal subtler types... and back and forth, as you become better and better at more accurately sizing up men and more accurately gauging what you want to share with them.

Look at it this way: You've been programmed to believe All Men Stink. And now you have the opportunity to discover for yourself all the infinite ways the infinite variety of men can surprise you by making you feel good, and inspiring you to notice what you actually enjoy.

And as a further practical step, just join some Meetup.com groups, so you can spend some time around men and Watch Them in Action.
posted by darth_tedious at 2:37 PM on December 10, 2009

Actually, Cool Papa Bell is on to something...

> It’s like I think of guys as nothing but tools to use to validate myself, and then when I do I become so disgusted.

Given this sequence, it seems like you're actually using men to invalidate yourself.

What would you have to believe about yourself in order to accept that guys can have good reasons for liking you, and that you can have good reasons for liking guys?
posted by darth_tedious at 2:49 PM on December 10, 2009

Seeing as you're aware that your views on men is simplistic, irrational and faulty, I won't berate you on how nice guys can be. Your negative viewpoints seem symptomatic rather than problematic.

Own your viewpoints as a long list of hypotheses and dare yourself to test them.

Even if this guy ends up being a slob who plays video games and secretly holds misogynistic views of you as a sexual object and nothing more, so what?

You are not a delicate flower. You are a strong, independent and tenacious adult. You will pick yourself up, you will moan about it over cocktails with the girls, and you go out and find test subject number 347.

This isn't about ignoring red flags or lowering your standards. But right now, you have created red flags in your own mind that may or may not exist. Don't assume he's using you for sex. Wait until you realize he's using you for sex and stand up for yourself. Once you realize that you have the strength and conviction to be your own advocate, you won't need to protect yourself with stereotypes and excuses to be alone.
posted by politikitty at 2:59 PM on December 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oddly enough I had a hard time empathizing with women for quite a while. Mostly because I felt like I got dumped/broken up with/dismissed in the most callous and thoughtless of ways, with great disregard for my feelings. Which were often deep. But whenever I didn't feel what I thought I should for someone who expressed interest in me, I always felt like I had to walk on eggshells and treat that woman much better than I felt I'd been treated.

It made for some kind of anger that's slowly dissipated. I don't really feel it anymore. I met someone who seems to get me...things are going nicely.

Anyway, I think you should realize that most people feel just like you do. Or at least, dudes that matter feel things. The dudes that don't are probably assholes, but a lot of guys do feel things and need you to take care of their emotions to some degree.
posted by sully75 at 3:41 PM on December 10, 2009

The best advice here is about making friends with dudes. Why not start with gay dudes? Less pressure to worry about falling for them( or vice versa) and getting freaked out.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 3:52 PM on December 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

I recommend reading "Manhood" by Steve Biddulph. I don't agree with everything he says, as it's rather patriarchal in places, but when I ended up teaching it to 16-17 year old gals [in an all-gal school] it was a powerful tool in dismantling some of the stereotypes you've mentioned, and that many gals had internalised. It's modeled on Robert Bly's Iron John, also a good book to explore one day.
posted by honey-barbara at 5:56 PM on December 10, 2009

I'd imagine that it would be like opening the floodgates to you to think of men as more dimensional than you do currently. Make sure you explore what your current thinking is doing for you/protecting you from.
posted by No New Diamonds Please at 6:28 PM on December 10, 2009

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