Should I Just Go Straight to Crone Island?
July 20, 2015 6:06 PM   Subscribe

How do you date while being a feminist? I was thinking about trying online dating again. Then I read the amazing emotional labor thread on the blue, which made me question that. Are there tips and tricks for finding a male partner who is willing to do emotional labor?

I'm a mostly straight woman, in my early thirties, who has never been in a long term romantic relationship.

I do so much emotional labor for my job at a non-profit, that the idea of having to do so much more in order to have a romantic relationship makes me feel incredibly ambivalent about dating.

My last dating experience failed because I refused to deal with this sort of behavior. I had planned five dates in a row. I was frustrated, so I told him, "if you want to see me again, you have to plan something." He never did. And this is someone who is a self described feminist who had long conversations about intersectionality with me. (They were great conversations. Alas, he still couldn't plan a thing.)

Thanks in advance for any sort of advice. And thanks to all the women who posted in that thread.
posted by JustKeepSwimming to Human Relations (44 answers total) 112 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: My last dating experience failed because I refused to deal with this sort of behavior. I had planned five dates in a row. I was frustrated, so I told him, "if you want to see me again, you have to plan something."

I think you've got the weeding-out method down pat. Take a stand early on and refuse to do more than half the work of making the relationship happen. The guys who expect you to do all the work of maintaining your life together will soon bail, freeing you up to keep dating so that you'll eventually find one who is ready to step up. If you've got a guy who has potential but who doesn't quite get it, ask him to read the emotional labour thread and discuss it with you afterwards. If he won't read one internet thread for your sake or if he gets angry and defensive once he reads it, that's another guy who should be struck off your list of potential suitors. People soon tell you who they are through their actions. Just be observant of how the men you date treat not only you but the other people (and especally the women) in his life, and be ready to let the guys who don't measure up go, and you'll be fine.
posted by orange swan at 6:28 PM on July 20, 2015 [28 favorites]

Good men are out there. I promise you. I found several:

* I dated R for a year and a half when we were in our 20's. When I was stricken with a weird freak medical problem on our second date, he physically carried me to the ER, sat beside me throughout the entire 9 hours it took for them to ascertain what was wrong with me, called my parents (who didn't know he existed yet!) when the doctors said they'd have to operate, and then talked everyone into letting me stay with him for another week after I was discharged after surgery so he could take care of me. And that was just the beginning. He regularly does things like fill friends' fridges with food if he's housesitting or just watering their plants or something while they're on vacation so they don't have to worry about food when they get back, or will round you up for lunch because "I haven't seen you in a while", or will ask you about how your brother whom he's only seen once has been doing. Just this weekend - 20 years into our friendship, on a day when I was meeting his current girlfriend - he also presented me with a beautifully illustrated copy of The Decameron he'd seen in a thrift store and got for me "because I remember you like this book a lot."

* I dated C for just a couple months, but then we became friends and business partners for 10 years after that and still know each other. He has consistently given me the best advice and insight ever, about everything from "why the hell are my parents on my case so much about this guy I'm seeing now" ("maybe they feel guilty that they didn't say anything about that other guy you dated who you say was kind of a jerk?") or "how am I going to handle this diva actress in the show I"m doing" ("I always think the reason that divas are that way is because they're insecure") to "why did this guy break up with me" ("you know, I think he loved you, but he just couldn't handle it"). He also really, really grokked me once when I was telling him about a scary incident with a guy trying to creep on me; rather than questioning me, or saying he didn't get it, he remembered and told me about an incident where a woman got similarly creepy towards him, and then said, "that was scary enough for me, and I had 80 pounds on her - the guy who creeped on you probably freaked you out way more."

And that's just off the top of my head - not because T and G and P didn't also do great things, I just can't think of any single examples for each of them because it was all just part of who they were. Hell, even a couple of the guys I just hooked up with are stellar dudes (J and I only hooked up a couple times, but we've stayed in touch and he has now become a kayak buddy, and you should see how great a father he is to his little girl).

So that's 5 great guys that just one woman has met in the course of only about 20 years. That's great odds, especially when you consider that I'm someone who has trouble meeting guys in the first place.

I'm not gonna say that you'll meet them easily, especially now that you know what your limits and standards are. But odds are good that you will meet them.

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:30 PM on July 20, 2015 [37 favorites]

Best answer: I feel like, after that thread and a lot of thinking about my previous relationships (including one where I was manipulated and controlled terribly and for such a long time), I feel certain that boyfriends/husbands are an option, just an option. If I find a good one, super, but I'll continue to create financial and social stability in my life. And have some romance for fun.

I have a lot on my plate, you have a lot on your plate. Date for fun, spend your love and energy on the people who appreciate and reciprocate, and get laid if you need to but don't take it too seriously unless it's worth the energy.

That's where I'm at now and it's surprisingly peaceful---it clicks with everything older and more experienced women have advised me. I could never figure it out/put it all together before thinking about it like this.

Such a huge weight off my shoulders, I'm feeling really focused now and really good. See you on the margarita deck.
posted by discopolo at 6:31 PM on July 20, 2015 [35 favorites]

I am on my third marriage now, since 2006. I think, you have to be friends with a guy. Passion is good and all. But me and my husband are friends and I can be all, "you slob! clean up after yourself!" and stuff, but then we can sit and hold hands and be all, "I love you. No. I love YOU!" And he knows to both take out the trash and line the can and I scoop the kitty litter because he can't bend down due to physical restrictions. We divide the things, but we meet back and join in the middle for hugs and kisses.

I guess I do the emotional labor with family stuff, but that is how I was brought up (aka planning things for family birthdays and holidays).

However, as far as dates and stuff goes, no. My husband was all about it. He is all about me and me and me. Whatever I want to do. Do I want to go out or get takeout or see a movie or whatever. When we were dating he was right there. And he still is, but when we were dating, he was all about me even more. He just doesn't have a mean bone in his body, he really does mean what he says.

Maybe you should date a dancer.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 6:46 PM on July 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Are there tips and tricks for finding a male partner who is willing to do emotional labor?

Sure, just expect it. As you found with the last guy you dated, the ones who don't make the cut will reveal themselves pretty quickly.

My dad definitely pulled more than 50% of the emotional labor in my family, so I had the benefit of growing up with the expectation that men are absolutely capable of pulling their own weight in this department. So when I'm confronted with a guy who just doesn't, my reaction isn't to coddle them or nag them or pick up the slack, but rather that they have some kind of mental disability that precludes them from fully participating in the adult world. One of the consequences of not participating in the adult world is that they don't get to date me. Simple as that.

For me, that's about all I need to draw the line.

My advice to you would be to make your dating profile as unapologetically YOU as possible. Don't try to have broad appeal. I know that sounds like sacrilege but it's done a wonderful job of separating the wheat from the chaff in my dating life. In my profile I talk (among other things) about what kind of toilet paper I like best, consuming absurd amounts of dairy, how I'd rather hide inside by myself and watch TV on a Friday night than go out, etc. My head is shaved in one of my pictures. None of these things shouts I AM TRYING TO BE ATTRACTIVE TO MEN, which weeds out dudes who have specific ideas about what women should be like. The ones who actually make it through the profile and are still interested are probably a little more open minded, not only about who I should be but about who they should be as well. As for things to look for in guys' profiles, I rely more on match % (on okcupid--I'm VERY opinionated in my question answering when it comes to fundamental values) than what is said in the profile. Unless what they've written is abysmally boring or riddled with grammar errors (which is unlikely given the match answers), anyone over 95% gets a message from me. This is just one person's experience, of course, but I've dated a lot of guys and pretty much all of them have been excellent. (Most of the guys I've met via okc have been much, much more feelings-sensitive than I am.)

Even great, usually intuitive dudes can be crap at some aspects of emotional labor, of course, and for that I suggest: "I need you to ______." Ask for it and expect it. Don't be shy about it.

Honestly, you handled your last date perfectly. That one didn't work out. Just keep dating folks until something sticks.
posted by phunniemee at 6:49 PM on July 20, 2015 [48 favorites]

This sort of sounds like any normal dating experience, where the guy you went on a few dates with happened to be a lazy, selfish, entitled manbaby. I don't think it's about feminism. It surely isn't about filtering for feminism, because your guy was a self-professed feminist, and could even speak eloquently on the subject -- and yet he turned out to be a pumpkin, or a toad, or whatever the metaphor is.

There's only one way to filter potential mates to determine whether they are adequate partner material: date until you find a good one.

Seriously, you did everything right, and that is exactly how dating is supposed to work. You meet someone and find out if they're right for you, and if they're not you move on. Of course it's frustrating, but this is inherent in every aspect of dating -- not just in finding someone who checks the emotional labor box.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:53 PM on July 20, 2015 [6 favorites]

My last dating experience failed because I refused to deal with this sort of behavior. I had planned five dates in a row. I was frustrated, so I told him, "if you want to see me again, you have to plan something."

This seems like a good approach. Make your needs clear. Date the ones that make a genuine effort to meet them.

Even dudes who are trying to be good feminists can be oblivious boneheads (I mean, anyone can, but dudes have more privilege to be oblivious of). If you call them out, and they learn and try to do better, keep them. If they don't, throw them back, because they aren't going to work for you.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:56 PM on July 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Mod note: One comment deleted. If you're a man who hasn't faced this problem and doesn't think it's a real problem, go ahead and pass the thread by. Thanks.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 7:04 PM on July 20, 2015 [179 favorites]

Another "n" for expecting it. I didn't have that strategy in mind, but evidently I (the woman in my hetero relationship) am pretty bad at emotional labor. I can trace this back to the imbalance between my parents, and for some reason, I decided to take after my dad. I met my husband prior to years of therapy to figure out things like this, and I can see that he has clearly done a lot of the 'work' in the feelings aspect of our relationship, if only because I didn't take on more than my fair share (or perhaps not even my fair share). I guess guys not up to the task would not have lasted long...

(BTW, I don't consider my background an excuse, nor the ideal way to be, and I continue to work on being an equal partner in these things...)
posted by Tandem Affinity at 7:11 PM on July 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You expect it, but you also take care of yourself with regard to the painful work of having to say no to people who are "great, but..." and deal with rejection that's going to come sometimes.

The hardest part, for a lot of women, is short-circuiting the "want to be liked" wiring. Don't linger over someone you know isn't going to make the cut. Be really up front about who you are and what you expect so that people are on notice from the start, even though some of them are going to dislike you and maybe neg you or lash out because you dare be selective.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:22 PM on July 20, 2015 [25 favorites]

Yeah, when I was 48, I started dating a guy who was at that time 54. Within a year, I'd had breast cancer and had put a beloved cat down and was a total emotional wreck and he was totally emotionally available. He was doing his own thing, which means that he made some promises that he couldn't fulfill, but the emotional stuff was fantastic. At a time when he knew that I couldn't talk about my cat without crying but he also got it that it needed processing, *he* would raise the topic in a natural way. "Oh yeah, Boo used to do that" or whatever. I would fall apart, and he would be okay with it, and it was the only way I could get through it. I didn't even know that a middle-aged straight man could do that.

You have to know what's important and stick to your guns over it. Like, it bugged me that he was late all the time, but hey, I'm not perfect and at the end of the day the fact that he still wanted to be involved with me after I'd had disfiguring surgery and killed an animal that we both loved (me more than him but he did really love that cat) argued tremendously in his favor.
posted by janey47 at 7:33 PM on July 20, 2015 [26 favorites]

I agree with the general advice to ask for what you want and move on if you aren't getting it. At the same time, it helps to recognize that are many, many dimensions of emotional labor and any given person will be better at some than others. Some people are terrible at planning and remembering details but are great listeners or will drop everything when you need help. Check out the 5 Love Languages for some ideas on how it may look different for different people. I'm not saying you should lower your standards, I'm just saying that you should be open to all the different ways that emotional labor can be expressed so you don't overlook a real keeper.
posted by metahawk at 7:33 PM on July 20, 2015 [10 favorites]

It's a numbers game. Date a lot. Don't suffer fools. Don't tolerate lazy entitled behavior.

If someone isn't pulling their weight in the early days of dating, they are not going to improve over time. Cut them loose and try again.
posted by French Fry at 7:35 PM on July 20, 2015 [9 favorites]

Also keep in mind that thread was a a real moment of therapy for a lot of people a place to find catharsis and shared experience.

So the results there are skewed toward people having that shared negative experience.

It would have been pretty churlish for someone not struggling with this to pop in and say "my husband/partner is great and this isn't a problem for me!"
posted by French Fry at 7:39 PM on July 20, 2015 [16 favorites]

The only real tip or trick is to make them do the labor and be willing to bail when they won't, as others have said.

Anecdotally, I can say that the more a dude has cultivated an "aloof" "highly intellectual" "arrogant genius" type of personality, the less likely he is to step up to the plate emotionally. Not that it's impossible, just in my experience people mostly build that demeanor when they're trying to wall people out and set themselves apart--not a great sign for someone who wants a partner to be fully tuned-in.

And if you're looking, there are sometimes other little clues early in the game. Someone who mentions a serious or chronic health problem but also doesn't seem to be doing anything about it? Next. Someone who starts a sentence with, "well, my therapist and I have been working on..." Hello! That one might be a keeper.

And frankly anyone who ever makes you jump through even one hoop of "mystery" to get in touch with him during the early dating phase--just nope right out.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 7:42 PM on July 20, 2015 [27 favorites]

I think your system works, just differently than you think. You did cut someone loose who you should have, and that doesn't mean you won't ever meet someone, or that your standards are too high.

There was something super important to you that this guy wasn't doing - planning dates. So you gave him a chance, and he blew it. But, if the GUY was really important to you, and vice versa, then I don't think that kind of thing would be a dealbreaker. It would be more of a "deal MAKER" - as in, "Wow, you are shit at planning dates, Guy, and it's pissing me off. Let's make a deal - I'll tell you when I want to go out, and you figure out the where." That would just be natural if you really liked one another, right?

(and I had some other stuff but on preview janey47 and metahawk both said it)
posted by hiker U. at 7:44 PM on July 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

I don't know if you've gone through this, but I gave myself a lot of grief over the years about how the personal is political and everything about all of my relationships had to be within a feminist framework. But I couldn't see the forest for the trees, and the things I'd espoused in order to be liberated were actually keeping me from expressing my wants. I kept trying to behave as a feminist to the detriment of behaving as me.

The other part to this is some caution. I used to think I'd be better off meeting men in women's studies classes, etc. Never mind how many of them were there to meet women! Or the ones that could talk shop about intersectionality were often ones who had this conceptual understanding of women without being prepared to really interact with them. Not all guys are like this, but there's enough stuff out there being written about "macktivists" that I think it's worth considering. For me, it was very helpful to stop looking at the guys who said the right things and knew the buzzwords and start evaluating how I actually felt about them.
posted by mermaidcafe at 7:56 PM on July 20, 2015 [13 favorites]

I think that another thing to consider is dating - as in, dating multiple people, getting to know them, and then choosing to continue to date the person you like after several months of dating. This is how people used to date, and I think it's a very good way to date even still. This whole "monogamy from the get-go" thing that seems to be de rigueur isn't necessarily the best way to do things, I don't think.
posted by sockermom at 8:02 PM on July 20, 2015 [10 favorites]

Best answer: I forgot to mention something.

So, yes, you shouldn't despair, you can find the right guy who would be a decent or hopefully amazing partner, but dating/looking/analyzing the character of the men you meet, avoiding pitfalls, bouncing back quickly after disappointment---these things will take a lot of work, energy for skill development on your end. We all know that the men we date and have dated aren't always transparent in their intentions or feelings for you, or as communicative as we would like. Some are forthright right away, and then there are those who are just crazy good liars who love to lie for fun.

If there are other things you'd rather be doing, you should. Remember, always take care of yourself first and foremost. Doing that, being skilled in you taking care of you and your needs and not immediately falling into worrying about another person's feelings is super challenging. Not feeling hurt when some of these jokers decide to unload their insecurities on you by criticizing you after you've spent time developing what you thought was a trusting relationship can be painful. And we're trained to take criticism seriously, like even dumb criticism, and worrying about how it made this guy feel and wanting not to be hurtful, and punishing yourself with shame.

In short, make sure you're able to say "Da fuq do you think I care that you think my favorite band sucks?" or "You need to keep your thoughts on how much you like my friend's breasts to yourself and never talk to me again, weirdo" to any potential romantic partner without apologizing or feeling embarrassed or doubting yourself.

Good luck!
posted by discopolo at 8:06 PM on July 20, 2015 [11 favorites]

Mayyybe if you're doing online meeting, you can put in your profile something along the lines of "do you know what 'emotional labour' means?"
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:40 PM on July 20, 2015

Best answer: I think there's a few things you are asking:
1. are these guys out there? (And the answer seems to be yes, as EmpressCallipygos attests. (Perhaps you should just follow her around and test drive her exes!) And I could give other examples of guys I have known who really do their share of emotional labour (including my own husband, who is pretty good at that stuff in most contexts).
2. what do you do if a guy you are dating turns out to be crap at emotional labour and so on? (And I think you have figured this out already. Good job on kicking that dude to the curb).
3. how do you detect whether a guy is going to do his fair share while it is still early on in the dating relationship?

This one got touched on a little in the thread on the blue. Someone suggested asking about his relationship with his family (how often does he call his parents, does he send birthday presents/cards, etc). I'm not sure, myself, that this is going to work 100% of the time, although it's definitely an indication. Families have different expectations, and how we interact with them is a product of our upbringing. A guy who was brought up not to do emotional labour might have seen the light later, and be pretty good about reciprocality of that stuff among his friends, but still crappy about remembering his mother's birthday, because we tend to get fossilized in our behaviours towards our families of origin. Or because birthdays just aren't a thing in that family.

But I bet there are other shibboleths that taken together would give you a pretty good indication of whether the guy is worth investing more time in. Some might be:

- Awareness of his body in space and how it impacts on other people: does he ever step aside when walking in a way that will have his path intersect with others? Does he check behind him before stepping backwards in a crowded space? Does he wait his turn or push ahead? If you are walking together, does he show awareness of whether the pace is good for you, whether the space he is about to squeeze through will still be there when you go to squeeze through it, whether you BOTH have enough time to cross at the light, etc?

- Awareness of your moods and a variety of strategies for handling them: what happens if you are grumpy or sad? (What about other people's moods? i.e. some guys seem capable of this awareness and appropriate responses for the person they are in love with, but not anyone else.)

- Planning and logistics: go on a complex date, e.g. hiking with a meal afterwards, or to some event that involves some travel. Does he expect that someone else will figure out all the details (when to leave, how to get there, what to bring, bookings, weather eventualities, etc), or does he take joint responsibility? (Or it might be equally bad if he makes all the plans without considering that you might have other ideas.)

- Thoughtful presents. If he ever gives you a gift, is it something that you have expressed interest in, or does it connect to some interest or desire of yours, or is it something that he likes, or that (in his mind) generic girlfriends should like?

You can also get a few clues by discussing other people's relationships, especially when it comes to childcare. If you are out with him and you see couples that seem like posterchildren for feminist distribution of work, or alternatively, where the woman seems to be doing everything and the man is oblivious, bring it up to him, and see what he says.
posted by lollusc at 10:08 PM on July 20, 2015 [43 favorites]

My last dating experience failed because I refused to deal with this sort of behavior. I had planned five dates in a row.

Weed early, weed often.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:08 AM on July 21, 2015 [6 favorites]

My last dating experience failed because I refused to deal with this sort of behavior. I had planned five dates in a row. I was frustrated, so I told him, "if you want to see me again, you have to plan something."

No--it failed because he refused to pull his weight. You did right.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 3:33 AM on July 21, 2015 [9 favorites]

We're currently trying to figure out why the heck my boyfriend is so good at emotional labor, and one of his theories is that being hard of hearing has made him especially attuned to people's needs and motivations from childhood (because he has to hang back and analyze a situation and can't necessarily rely on keeping up). So my advice is just bring a skewer to dates and stick it in one of their ears.

Seriously though: In my experience, nothing allows you to find the good men more than just deciding to not put up with the bullshit anymore. In other words, you've already done the first step, which is noticing when he's not stepping up and deciding that's not going to do. Keep prioritizing your needs, keep committing to treating them like they matter just as much as his -- his response to this will tell you a LOT.

Unfortunately, you'll probably learn more from how he lets you down than from how he succeeds. Ability to plan dates isn't necessarily a reliable proxy for emotional labor -- I've dated a guy who was great at planning but was doing it for pure self-aggrandizement, like "look how many good date ideas I have." But inability to plan a single date when you said explicitly "this is something I need you to do"? That's a total red flag. It's inevitable that a new potential partner will disappoint you a little, in some way; HOW they disappoint you is informative. (My boyfriend's biggest flaw is that he's too solicitous of my opinion, and will sometimes re-check several times that I'm okay with something we already agreed on. We're working on it! But I was pretty confident that talking to him about it would go over well and be effective, because if someone's going to have a flaw with regards to emotional labor, doing a little TOO much of it is probably the way to go.)
posted by babelfish at 8:11 AM on July 21, 2015 [9 favorites]

I just read these and thought of this thread: (crude but useful mantra: dick is abundant and low value) The Dickonomics of Tinder, and more significantly Against Chill, where it sure sounds like "Chill" means "don't bother me for any sort of effort".

Even if you're not as into hookup culture as the author of the first article is, the basic principle applies: there ARE plenty of men out there. You do not have to settle. It will be harder if you don't settle, except that it will also be less miserable if you don't settle.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:11 AM on July 21, 2015 [17 favorites]

These men are out there. Men with feminist mothers. Men with feminist fathers. Men who have done the work all by themselves and men who just need a little push toward introspection. If you want to date, go do it.
posted by Sophie1 at 8:21 AM on July 21, 2015

This is PURELY anecdotal:

But in my male peer group the men I know who pull the most weight of chores/scheduling/emotional labor are the dudes from really working class backgrounds. Guys that had to learn to cook and clean and schedule themselves because they either had one parent or two very busy parents. They may not talk the talk but their actions are feminist.

The guys who are worst at it are ironically the guys who talk the best feminist "game" they grew up in much more liberal, much more affluent families and know all the buzzwords and lingo and say the right things. But they had stay at home moms and intellectually aloof dads. They don't do chores, their wives are their mothers, and they won't come to your party unless you let her know so she can put it on the calendar. But they will post about Intersectionality on facebook.

posted by French Fry at 9:09 AM on July 21, 2015 [42 favorites]

Best answer: There are good men out there! I'm in my sixth year dating a tremendously feminist man who does the best emotional labor-ing I've ever experienced.

- watch for men who practice feminism (I mean, duh, but there are a lot of men who like to shout how feminist they are from the rooftops only to be a totally different person when you get to know them as you mention in your question...this is just something that has drawn in a lot of friends of mine only to burn them later and I HATE IT).
- pay attention to the quiet ones. The best dudes I know are typically pretty reserved until you get to know them
- listen to how he talks about other women. Not just his mom or ex girlfriends, but public figures, strangers, your friends, etc.
- who/what does he make the butt of his jokes?

I feel like those are mostly obvious, but it's easy to let them slip by if you're not paying attention. And the last two are both pretty revealing and should pop up early.
posted by everybody had matching towels at 9:29 AM on July 21, 2015 [17 favorites]

As I was reading that thread I kind of realized that I'm actually more of a guy in my relationships, and have been noticing more things that my long-term boyfriend does that maybe aren't usual for other people. For example, I haven't done the dishes in a good two weeks, he makes dinner well over half the time, he frequently gets my lunch ready if he's making his own, he waters the plants, sends birthday cards to his own relatives, etc. We have no kids and aren't planning on having any, but when we watch his brother's kids, he's the one who makes them snacks and changes diapers and pays for outings and all that. So how do you find a guy like this? Well, mine's 8 years older than me and had lived on his own for many years before we met, so that's definitely a requirement. He also spent a few years in the military, and I really think that helped him master the whole "have to feed and take care of myself" at an age (18-22) when a lot of boys are still being mommied. But also, I have a personality where I just wouldn't DO that kind of shit for a man. My father is totally helpless and my mom enables his helplessness (he considers heating up leftovers to be "cooking his own meals"), and there's no way in hell I'm getting saddled with that. I'd be single forever before I'd ever put up with that kind of nonsense.
posted by jabes at 9:47 AM on July 21, 2015 [9 favorites]

That's a good point from French Fry.

Also, I wanted to add that it didn't take a year and breast cancer for me to figure out that my BF was really cool. And how it worked in the beginning is actually kind of a good illustration of how things sometimes work.

First off, I almost 86'd him when he spaced our first date, effectively standing me up. But I decided to give him another chance even though I knew that this was not going to be a random, one-off event. First date, he gets caught up in work and spaces? Oh no, this will definitely be a pattern. And it has been. But I knew what I was getting into and I was/am prepared for it. I take the necessary measures to be sure that he is reminded of things in time to get to them more or less on time.

Now, second, here's the real kicker. At the time we met, I was a smoker. Pack a day for 30 years. I thought about quitting, but not enough to do anything in the short term. On our second date, BF asks me about it and I say, "Yeah, I think about quitting but the fact is I like to smoke." So the next time we get together, he says, "I was hoping that the smoking thing wouldn't bother me but it turns out that it does, so I've made an appointment with a hypnotherapist to get a post-hypnotic suggestion to make it not bother me so much." I was stunned. I said, "You know this isn't your problem to solve, right?" He says, "Yeah, but you like smoking, and I'm not trying to change you."

I quit that week. That was 7+ years ago. I figure any man who is willing to go to hypnotherapy to give a potential relationship a chance without trying to change me is a man worth quitting smoking for. Of course, I didn't quit *for* him. I quit for me. I told him that everything ends but I would feel stupid if I made something good end prematurely just because I wanted a cigarette, and that if his entire role in my life was to drop in, get me to quit smoking, and drop out, I would still be eternally grateful to him.

If he had asked me to quit, I honestly don't know what would have happened. But by not asking, he made a very important point about compromise.

And just think of it from his perspective. Can you even imagine getting together with a chain smoker and thinking you might be able to make it work? It was a big relief for him that I quit, because a lot of his friends would be really judgey about it, and frankly it did bother him, but still, just imagine what it would take to suspend disbelief like that. I sometimes boggle at the notion.

And I told him later that I really hoped we stayed together long enough that when we split up, I wouldn't go back to smoking. And so far so good.
posted by janey47 at 9:56 AM on July 21, 2015 [19 favorites]

One thing I think will help here is if you can stop thinking of dating as a separate social activity from normal everyday life. The way we talk about "dating" is pretty weird. It's like, going to the movies with a group of friends = not a date, but going to the movies with one person who you might want to kiss at some point = a date. These situations carry different social implications but they really shouldn't. You wouldn't put up with a friend who shows a decided lack of effort in maintaining a relationship. If your coworker routinely blew off meetings and never did any work and expected you to clean up their messes, you would say something to a supervisor at some point. Are you being assertive in this way in your everyday life? Maybe stop and think about why you don't have the same expectations in dating.

It's also possible you are not dating woman-hating monsters, just the wrong kind of dude. If your idea of a proper date is a proper white table cloth dinner, but the guy you are seeing is more of the Netflix + takeout type, it could come seem that he doesn't give a shit when in truth he just has a different notion of what constitutes a date, and maybe you're just not a match. There's nothing inherently wrong with either type of date, it's just a matter of preference.

Basically, my thesis is that, while there may be something to be said for your personal circumstances being a manifestation of wide-reaching social problems, it will probably be more effective to think of this in terms of a) what your expectations are, and b) whether the type of people you agree to date are meeting those expectations. This is going to mean turning down a lot of people at the door, which might be hard, depending on how much you like to date. (I've personally adopted this philosophy and I have no problems with it, but I'm also 100% fine with the conclusion being "I don't date anyone at all.")
posted by deathpanels at 12:10 PM on July 21, 2015 [6 favorites]

It would have been pretty churlish for someone not struggling with this to pop in and say "my husband/partner is great and this isn't a problem for me!"

I do have a fantastic husband and his mother was not a feminist at all. Two important markers:

He had a good relationship with his family. After I moved in I continued to let him handle all that by himself. For many years his family didn't even have my phone number or email.

He lived on his own for 10 years so he knows how to do domestic chores. If he has a pile of sportswear that he wants washed he does it himself and asks me if there is any laundry I need to add.

I don't really understand why after 15 years together he continues to shower me with wonderful presents and plan adventures for us, but I am important to him and he likes to please me. He knows when I am happy and if there are problems we discuss them in-depth until we are both satisfied.

In short, don't settle. Don't let the guys in your life get off with doing a half-assed job. Speak up and let them know what you are feeling. If they drop you for being too difficult then you will know they were not The One.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 12:36 PM on July 21, 2015 [5 favorites]

If your coworker routinely blew off meetings and never did any work and expected you to clean up their messes, you would say something to a supervisor at some point. Are you being assertive in this way in your everyday life? Maybe stop and think about why you don't have the same expectations in dating.

Seconding this. I once told a man that if he treated things he'd agreed to do for a professional colleague the way he'd treated a task he'd promised me he'd do and hadn't done, he'd get fired. He got better after that.
posted by immlass at 12:55 PM on July 21, 2015 [7 favorites]

A while back I wrote down what exactly I wanted in a long term partner, really challenging myself through both the observation of my own parents and their struggles, through my own romantic relationships, and through friends' relationships. Being sure to phrase things instead of "Must be physically fit" as "Must have similar expectations of one's health and body as I do". In addition to that, wrote down some red flags, many having to do with, at the time, not knowing what emotional labor was.
It was a very eye opening exercise, and I challenged myself further to not go past three dates if that person did not meet all the expectations on my list. I'll be honest, being someone who is super adaptive to another person's lifestyle that was very difficult.

I am dating someone now that I am very cognizant of and it's sad I'm so surprised and so delighted by even the smallest things! We just came back from vacation and on the last day he volunteers to go get us some coffee at the lobby downstairs. While down there he realizes the line to check out is very long and decides to go ahead and jump in it, take care of checking out. He comes back to the room with the coffee, and volunteers to carry my things to the car a few blocks away so all I had to do is carry the coffee. I asked for none of this. He buys new toothpaste if he notices I'm down when he stays over, does the dishes and makes the bed before he leaves, has actually volunteered to sign us up for classes in things that I am interested in that he knows nothing about but wants to learn and spend time with me.

Back to your point though, online dating is hard (at least for me). I've found huge value in mutual friends and their opinion and even general knowledge on romantic histories of a potential person and if they are dateable. Maybe I'm getting older and wiser but I grow wary of the black box nature of dating a stranger.
posted by hillabeans at 1:53 PM on July 21, 2015 [12 favorites]

My anecdotal, non-scientific two cents' worth: the page you linked sounds MAD AS HELL. And I get it, I married an idiot and it cost me in absolutely every single way. Emphasis, though, on "I married an idiot." I did it. I got myself into that mess.

He was horrible at everything relationshippy. He did nothing for the first several years except provide money; the last few years he didn't even do that, and I left the marriage with huge credit card debt. I did all the housework, all the paperwork, all the organizing for everything from socializing to holidays to travel, all the cooking and errand-running and pet care. He was so clueless he wouldn't ask me what was wrong no matter how obviously upset I was.

But I knew all that before I married him.

So the best way not to end up angry and bitter is to not have a shitty relationship in the first place. Set your standards high, keep them high, honor yourself, and don't give a shit if you end up dying alone. No relationship at all is way better than a shitty one, and in actual fact, there are a lot of things you lose when you finally find someone. That separation one can experience in a bad relationship goes away in a good one and it's non-trivial. So being alone is in no way bad.

I didn't finally find a real partner until I had made my peace with the 'fact' that there wasn't anybody for me and that that was totally okay. I've heard a lot of people say that. Maybe it's some universal mechanism, I don't know, but the good guys are out there (nthing the idea that the good guys aren't feminists, they're usually conservatives and traditionalists) and you can find one. But you must obviously value yourself and you mustn't be angry; the good guys are not interested in enraged women.
posted by goblinbox at 4:34 PM on July 21, 2015 [4 favorites]

There are good men out there. My husband does more emotional labor than me, but everything in a relationship is a give and take.

I actually read that article and disagree with it intensely. Everybody has strengths in a relationship, and weaknesses. If you're not getting what you need from a relationship, then you should break it off. If your friend is an emotional vampire, you should stop being friends. If your date is being an emotional vampire, you should break up. If your employee showed up to complain all day, you should fire him.

Also, if you want to talk about gender roles: My husband does emotional labor, cooks, and general does more maintenance around the house. I make more money. We do share chores, but that's the general division. Everybody gives what and where they can. This is not feminism, in the sense that he does not strongly identify as a feminist; it's about practicality.

My advice would be: Focus on the lifestyle you want with your partner, and ignore what your partner says about what they want.
posted by ethidda at 6:14 PM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

(nthing the idea that the good guys aren't feminists, they're usually conservatives and traditionalists) and you can find one. But you must obviously value yourself and you mustn't be angry; the good guys are not interested in enraged women.

Totally disagree with this on several levels. One, that understanding how gender roles are very harmful in general and often personally hurtful = an "enraged woman" and two, that men don't like women who understand these things. If a man doesn't like you because you have strong feelings about the very real ways that the unequal division of emotional labor hurts women (and men), then I do not believe he's a good guy. On the contrary, I think this is a good way to weed out the bad guys. Good guys will realize that women 1) are actual human beings, just like men; 2) who experience human feelings such as anger or disappointment; and 3) that generalized anger about the system we all live under is not personally about him.

And, I agree with the many people in this thread who have said that good guys totally exist. Most of the guys I know IRL are pretty awesome. There are a ton of guys here on metafilter who are great guys. There are a ton of women here who are with great guys. They're out there and you can find them. Just be disciplined about getting the bad ones out of your life asap as soon as you know they're not one of the good ones so you can fully focus on finding the good ones. Men who don't like women who may occasionally feel anger or frustration are not good ones, and neither are men who have even remotely questionable ideas on what or how women should be (there are a lot of great questions on OK Cupid that can help weed these ones out). I agree with what someone upthread said about just putting it all out there on your profile - you may get fewer replies, but the ones who do reply are more likely (there will always be dudes who never read a word of any profile) to be the ones that are totally cool with it. Just keep at it, and don't give up hope. The odds are good.
posted by triggerfinger at 8:51 PM on July 21, 2015 [22 favorites]

Mod note: Reminder: Please don't debate each other in Ask Metafilter or make this a general chat; just answer the question. If you think some other suggestion is wrong, give your own, different/better advice. The question here is " Are there tips and tricks for finding a male partner who is willing to do emotional labor?" Let's stick to that.
posted by taz (staff) at 5:47 AM on July 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

What worked for me: find a guy in a profession that requires emotional labor--teachers, nurses, counselors, etc. They will make less money (because emotional labor = women's work, hooray patriarchy). But someone whose job requires empathy is going to be more practiced at it than someone who works in an office and can push off all the emotional labor on the nearest woman.
posted by almostmanda at 5:51 AM on July 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: In the wake of taz's note, I'm realizing that I didn't actually respond to "how do I find these guys", and was instead more of an encouraging "have faith" note. So - towards that end: I would stick to having that as your standards, being ready to cut and run early if the guy turns out to be a jerk, and - most importantly - to hang in there in the times in between when it feels like all you're meeting are losers. In the words of someone I stopped to ask directions from when I was on vacation, "you're on the right track - it's just a little further, so keep going, with faith!"

I should also add that following me around and poaching my exes won't work because they've almost all been snapped up already by wives or long-term girlfriends (and in one case, by puppets) already. :-)

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:40 AM on July 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

Fantastic Ask and answers here. Major bullet dodged re: the guy who refused to do the necessary planning work to have a sixth date with you, OP. You did the exact right thing by asking for what you wanted and then refusing to capitulate when he wouldn't budge. Brava!

I'm married to a feministy, sensitive, giving, amazing guy who is the father of my 2 kids and who does most of the emotional work and his fair share of the housework and child caring work (including ALL of the planning, shopping for, cooking, and clean up of dinner every night, and managing homework, overseeing the kids selecting their clothing and supplies for the next day, and then putting the kids to bed.) And he's the breadwinner, while I earn and work less. Here's my story of how I knew he'd turn out to be exactly what I wanted in a life partner. First of all, my own dad was raised on a farm doing real hard work from an early age, and he is a liberal feminist who always did more housework and childcare work than my mom did, so I had two great role models in my family-of-origin. And I'm an only child who is a woman, which I understand in the context of patriarchy is often like being raised to be a first class citizen, more like a son than a daughter, so I've always been confident and knew to be very choosy when it came to picking a man to eventually date exclusively then marry.

When my now-husband asked my parents for permission to propose to me (and I didn't even need to tell him that he should do this out of respect for their old school ways; he just intuited this based on the things he remember me saying about my family), he invited them over, cooked them a 4-course dinner in his apartment, and would not let them lift a finger to help clean up afterwards. My parents absolutely LOVE him, and this was the beginning of very strong in-law relationships. My husband talks to my parents, and shares things about our kids with them, way much more than I do. He makes the kids' dentist and pediatrician appointments. He knows their current shoe sizes. He plans their birthday parties. He cooks family dinner for all of us and my parents every Sunday. So I know from whence I speak when I say here's what to look for.

As the great Nora Ephron once said "Secret to life: Marry an Italian." He's an Italian 2nd generation American from a working-class East Coast background who is the first in his family to have earned a professional degree. He's a Democrat. He's an INTJ. He was raised by a very loving but deeply flawed mom and extended family matriarchs (and had an absentee-ish dad, who motived him to be and do the opposite of what his dad was and did) who were all extremely emotionally communicative and physically affectionate -- his mother taught him high emotional intelligence skills, and really leaned on him to support her emotionally from an early age, but oversharing in ways that were not always age-appropriate, and sadly, in later years she became abusive, stole his identity, and he eventually had to cut her out of his life (long story). He was raised to do a lot of chores and cooking and emotional work; he'd had years of practice well before the age of 18. He didn't have many friends growing up and was very sheltered and wonderfully nerdy until leaving for college where he finally met His People, a group of guys who are also A+ catches and all are taken. (Quality men like this tend to befriend one another and have emotionally-rich friendships. Here's another tell, he won't remain friends with assholes.)

I knew he'd be awesome because one of his A+ catch guy friends who was also one of my post-college friends had once told me apropos of nothing "He's the best man I know." Now here's where I share an inconvenient little paradox about how we got together. I convinced him to fall madly in love with me by doing The Rules by Fein and Schneider on myself in the years before we met. (I know everyone hates on this book but it is like a secret master class in valuing yourself and having kick-ass interpersonal boundaries.) No joke. I did "Rulesy" things like I wouldn't let a boyfriend live with me before marriage because I valued my own independence way too much. I wasn't going to keep dating some guy forever-- 2 years max if I knew we weren't going to get married eventually. I used my words to ask for whatever the fuck I wanted - saying NO if I wasn't 100% into something, or turning men down if I didn't have sufficient notice. I prioritized myself and my own unique interests always. I always spent lots of time with my girlfriends, and this never changed even after I'd been dating some guy for awhile, I was never too available whenever a man wanted to get together. All of this weeded out men who were too clingy, not 100% into me, too wishy washy about making plans me, and/or who didn't fully support me having my own life and interests. (Doing The Rules on myself resulting in HIM doing all the planning work: I never would have even had date #1 with the OP's Mr. Refuses-to-plan-a-date guy.) I casually dated other men up until we'd been talking marriage and I was sure my now-husband was going to propose. (Please note: I wanted to get married and have kids-- and if those aren't your goals, completely forget what I just said.) So that's a bit of a paradox: a book that's been roundly criticized for years as completely anti-feminist! and wrong! eventually and directly led me to being able to snag my uber-feministy catch of a husband. But life is wacky like that sometimes. Go figure.
posted by hush at 5:49 PM on July 22, 2015 [17 favorites]

I will point out that even men who are good at this may not have the language to know/express that they're good at it and that it's unusual. Remember too that emotional labor encompasses a lot more than emotional work--just because he's not a feelings-talker doesn't mean he won't pay attention to you and your needs.

What you're doing--simply expecting it and making those expectations known, which provides an opportunity for growth on his part--is exactly how you do it. Men who already do this and who are capable of it but don't yet do it are out there, I promise.
posted by mchorn at 6:57 AM on July 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great answers and stories here. It's encouraging to know that it doesn't have to be a search in vain. Also, thanks for letting me know that I am on the right path.

I really love most of these answers and stories, but in order to be super helpful, I've marked as best answer the ones that had practical bits of advice for future weeding.

Thanks again!
posted by JustKeepSwimming at 6:29 PM on July 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Late to the thread, but finding a guy who's on the engineering-minded side of things has worked for me. He's very dedicated to fairness and balance as a principle, so he gets and supports things being divided evenly between us, including traditionally "feminine" tasks. I'm sure this isn't necessarily true for all engineers, but my hunch is that hyper-logical thinkers might have a special affinity for fairness and equality.
posted by airguitar2 at 5:49 AM on July 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

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