Attraction pattern I don't want to have
May 6, 2016 2:52 PM   Subscribe

I am already in therapy but could use some more help untangling this. I am less attracted to my partner for things that most people would agree make them a good person.

I married a man who is a leftist politically but I grew up in an environment where the ideal men were conservative, strong, masculine, and even somewhat racist.

Last night my husband got on my case for a joke I told that was politically incorrect. He really pressed me about it.

For some reason this provokes feelings of disgust and unattraction in me for perceived weakness & effeminacy.

Can attraction patterns like this be changed or is it hopeless? I know how awful a lot of people reading this think I am but I would appreciate any constructive advice anybody has.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (25 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds to me like your husband was being pretty darned assertive in calling you out like he did, and assertiveness is typically seen as a strong, dominant, and masculine trait.
posted by phunniemee at 2:59 PM on May 6, 2016 [41 favorites]

I don't think this is surprising, and I don't think therapy's going to "fix" it. I think it would be better for you to try to avoid further incidents. Tell your husband that he knows you aren't racist, and that if you tell a joke in the privacy of your own home you'd prefer him not to represent the PC police in a theoretical interrogation. And also, you need to keep in mind that he is hurt by this sort of thing on a personal level and he isn't the guy to share this humor with.

For what it's worth, I don't think badgering one's spouse - whom one KNOWS is decent and isn't out there taking away people's civil rights - about a joke made in the privacy of one's home - makes them a good person. Are there other examples here, like do you hate it if he is actually kind to people? Or are we just talking about SJW posturings?
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:16 PM on May 6, 2016 [10 favorites]

Is it his actual opinions that turn you off, or is it the manner in which he expresses them, or the tone of voice? If the issue is his choice of words or the fact that you feel lectured or talked-down-to or hectored when he criticises what you say, that isn't an issue to do with what makes him a good person, it's just an issue to do with his communication style. Which is something you could expect him to compromise on. He could be a good leftist and anti-racist and feminist without lecturing you at length about each joke; he could briefly comment, or shake his head, or calmly say he doesn't like the joke and then move on, if you find that a less grating and more helpful way of expressing his views.

If the problem really is that he has opinions that you yourself share, but that you feel are unmasculine, that seems like a trickier thing to solve. I imagine it would have to do with figuring out your concept of masculinity, which you would need to work on by yourself, with your therapist. But I think it's worth thinking about the distinction between beliefs and how they're expressed, and whether it's actually something more superficial and fixable that you are reacting to here.
posted by Aravis76 at 3:17 PM on May 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

I find it helps to explore my thoughts in these kinds of situations, and better understand the underlying reasons why I'm thinking a certain way. In the end you may overcome your knee-jerk reaction and replace those feelings with some amount of respect for how he acted, which will also aid to restore your attraction. Respect is a big part of attraction.

Perhaps you may really be feeling admonished by your husband in a situation where you'd normally have expected others to approve, as per the beliefs with which you were raised. That may leave you feeling a bit rejected and therefore you want to reject him in turn. Perhaps it is in the way he admonished you - if he took the "reason with you on why it was wrong, appeal to your better judgment" approach, that might have been why you felt it was effeminate. But really, what are the alternatives and how would the men of your family behave when reprimanding someone? He gets irate with you? How do you rationally think someone should address a situation like that?
posted by lizbunny at 3:19 PM on May 6, 2016 [4 favorites]

I do think it can be changed, yes.

There's probably something to unpack in why you get upset - like, if women are "supposed to be the sensitive ones" then his calling you out for insensitivity could definitely put you on the defensive. Subconsciously it's easy to dismiss and demean someone else when you are defending your own self image. (I'm not insensitive and mean, you're over-sensitive!)

Probably worth discussing in your therapy of course but there's one angle. Also he might be "over-pushing it" - no one likes to be nagged, either gender, and there are probably some communication skills you could work on for how to make him hear "I get it, I hadn't realized, you make a good point" in a way that ends the conversation so that he can criticize you without it leading to berating.
posted by Lady Li at 3:22 PM on May 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think it's really important to figure out precisely why you were disgusted and felt it was weakness. Was it because he was representing 'PC' stuff, because he 'wasn't able to handle it'? Or was it because he, a 'strong husband', instead of protecting and being kind to his wife, hectored you and argued with you forcefully?

One of the implicit bargains with that kind of conservative strong silent type, is that they are capable of anger and even violence, but that they will never turn it on you. Only weak men who are insecure in their masculinity do violence to women. In this case, it seems like he is capable of anger, but then turned it on you - which could feel, in your mind, given your cultural imprinting, like he's broken the protective barrier, and is behaving like an insecure man.
posted by corb at 3:27 PM on May 6, 2016 [5 favorites]

I had the same kind of male examples. I have been able to focus on other aspects of men that are also included in the examples but are not negative traits, such as physical features -- hair on men's arms really turns me on and it's a really easy feature to find! I do agree however that his willingness to stand on his principles is the good side of the male examples you cite.
posted by janey47 at 3:28 PM on May 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

There's a certain Feminist Thinker Man I know whom I want to strangle a lotlotlot of the time because of the Voice Of Authority he cops that sets my hair on fire. Many women found him attractive and find him so today: I never did, don't now, never will, and it's not because his excellent values make him a Fauntleroy, it's because he really thinks he knows more than I do and I really know he doesn't; it's just the heaping helpings of Sensitive Man points everybody gives him. It's the Doctor Johnson dog-on-hind-legs phenomenon with the genders reversed.
posted by Don Pepino at 3:29 PM on May 6, 2016 [13 favorites]

For some reason this provokes feelings of disgust and unattraction in me

Have you considered that he feels exactly the same way about you, because you made a really insensitive joke?

I mention that not to tell you you're a bad racist person. You might be, I don't know. But you're both dealing with basically the same issue, so you might want to talk about it together rather than trying to figure this out on your own.
posted by danny the boy at 3:36 PM on May 6, 2016 [37 favorites]

I think you might want to unpack this a little bit more, because the situation you described doesn't really parse (at least to me, someone else who grew up in a conservative family where ideals like the ones you mentioned were emphasized).

You grew up in a family that passed along to you conservative gender roles and the idea that it's attractive for men to be "masculine".

Your husband is politically liberal. You don't say anything about whether your husband is otherwise a masculine kind of dude, or has any other traits you consider "effeminate."

Your politics are... ??? .... but that's probably not so relevant to the discussion aside from the fact that you guys are clearly capable of having political disagreements about social justice issues like "political correctness".

Your husband took you to task -- and hard, it sounds like -- for something you said that he vehemently disagreed with. Which frankly sounds fairly masculine, to me. But your interpretation here is that because the source of this display of dominance from him was liberalism-related, that makes him somehow less masculine?

If this was really about your lack of attraction to potentially "effeminate" men, you should have been ripping his clothes off at that point. The effeminate thing for him to do in this situation would have been to say, "Look, baby, personally I think that joke was in poor taste, but you're right, all lives do matter!" and bring you a beer.

To be extremely blunt, my gloss of this is that you're mad at your husband for disagreeing with you and for rubbing your nose in something that might be a little embarrassing, and that is why you are suddenly "less attracted" to him. People definitely get turned off when they're peeved at their partner for something that remains unresolved. And most political bickering is going to remain unresolved unless one of you fundamentally changes (hell, my fiance voted for Nader in 2000, 13 years before we ever met, and it STILL annoys me!). You don't really need to bring childhood expectations and family background into it. This is all super normal, and it's OK to be so frustrated with someone that you don't want to have sex.

I'm also not clear on what "attraction patterns" in general have to do with it, since you married this guy, which implies to me that you were attracted to him at the time despite knowing his politics. Unless he just recently shifted to become more liberal, and you're suddenly completely unable to contemplate sex with him?
posted by Sara C. at 3:47 PM on May 6, 2016 [17 favorites]

Last night my husband got on my case for a joke I told that was politically incorrect. He really pressed me about it.

What, was he "naggy" or "hectoring", about something you felt wasn't a "big deal"? (No comment on that for now, other than use of the phrase "politically incorrect" imo usually suggests that the person saying it feels the phenomenon discussed is a superficial and unnecessary appeasement to an "oversensitive" group... and that your partner might have been calling you on that.)

Anyway, does "nagging" (if that's what it felt like) equate to "effeminate" behaviour for you? If so, does that extend to other communication patterns, as others have suggested? Does he want to talk about feelings etc., and would you rather demonstrate commitments via actions (as a "strong, silent type" might?) Does he come across as "needy" to you?

Sounds like it's not so much about politics as communication style, maybe attachment (if you think he's less than secure); maybe love languages will be of interest (if you think he's too talky).

Can deep patterns change - e.g. if you're drawn to people describable in attachment theory as "avoidant" (aka, maybe, "strong silent type"), can that change - I think so, yes.
posted by cotton dress sock at 4:09 PM on May 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Attraction patterns can change. But I would find the behavior you described alienating without ascribing that alienation to something "effeminate." I suspect you are genuinely upset at how he treated you, but you are chalking it up to some other explanation.

I also think your description doesn't give enough info, by a long shot.
posted by Michele in California at 4:39 PM on May 6, 2016

Is it possible that you're reacting to his seeming "ashamed" of your behavior? Shame is associated with weakness, so maybe this is a wedge for helping to start analyzing your feelings.

Good for you for recognizing your feelings and being able to talk about them, by the way. I know that's not easy.
posted by amtho at 5:00 PM on May 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

Although it might also be about politics.
posted by cotton dress sock at 5:01 PM on May 6, 2016

I think the fact that he was willing to call you out on this is a good rather than bad thing. It means he views you as his intellectual equal, someone who he thinks highly enough of that he expects that you can take being challenged in this way. And what's the alternative? That he shields you from his opinions because you're so high-strung you can't take it? That is much more insulting and is more indicative of a parent-child relationship than a modern romantic relationship between peers. The other alternative is that he rolls over and acquiesces to all of your wishes and never questions you. Being a doormat seems like the least manly response of all.

I think you can spin this situation to be positive, if you are able to change your frame of reference about what constitutes masculinity. He is being masculine, it's just not in a way you are used to.
posted by scantee at 5:04 PM on May 6, 2016 [6 favorites]

Okay, there's a lot to unpack here. I think you should talk about this with your therapist so you can have a conversation about how to approach different communication styles with your husband as well as addressing what seems to be internalized sexism and homophobia (and maybe racism?) on your part.

You're not a terrible person. I am going to guess, though, that you're probably a fellow white person who hasn't had to deal with a lot of the things minorities go through and you have some unexamined biases you probably need to work through. This Ask comes off as a bit defensive, like you want to rearrange your "patterns of attraction" without addressing the fact that your "politically incorrect" humor might be a mask for some deeply held but unconscious beliefs. (As a side note, studies show that racist/sexist/etc. humor reinforces negative opinions and stereotypes about minorities. So there is actually a reason not to tell those jokes if you don't want to help spread negative opinions and stereotypes about minorities.)

You have to decide for yourself if you're okay with having those beliefs and whether that will be compatible with your husband's beliefs long-term. You can change what you call "patterns of attraction". But it will require a change in the way you currently think about some things. Is that something you're willing to do? If you're comfortable the way you are, no, you probably won't be able to change the way you feel about your husband.

I suspect part of it is that you felt your husband should have listened uncritically or unconditionally but he called you out instead. Are you feeling hurt or shamed by what he said? Can you have him come to a therapy session with you?
posted by i feel possessed at 5:20 PM on May 6, 2016 [6 favorites]

See if this chain of suppositions resonates with you:

1) You are not an X-ist (where X = racist, sexist, classist, whatever prejudice he called out as underlying your joke).

2) Your husband, the man who chose to spend the rest of his life with you, knows you are not an X-ist.

3) Thus, by calling you out, he was not so much attempting to "get you woke" so much as he was demonstrating his superior sensitivity to the possibly offensive interpretations of your remarks.

4) ..Which is totally off-putting and unattractive because it doesn't feel like genuine communication between intimates so much as it feels like posturing in order to win applause from an unseen audience.

5) Which is a shitty and very unsexy dynamic to introduce into your marriage.

...That is the only way this whole scenario makes sense to me. Maybe it's totally off-base, in which case, ignore this reply. But if it rings a bell with you, I'll also add: I would find this behavior totally unattractive as well, although I certainly wouldn't term it "effeminate."
posted by mylittlepoppet at 7:50 PM on May 6, 2016 [8 favorites]

Another thought: if you'd watched him actually defending someone from a racist incident, would that disgust you too? If I'm right, then this wouldn't disgust you at all. It's him pointlessly hectoring YOU, when there's nothing actually at stake, that's the turn-off. But if I'm wrong and you are just programmed to find leftist attitudes unsexy, then you'd have the same reaction.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:32 PM on May 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I think this could have to do with his (perceived or actual) fear of not fitting in, fear of not saying the right things and presenting the right ideas, fear of embarrassment, shame at not conforming enough or being polished enough. That probably does feel sort of insecure and weak to you. Like he's a shocked, fluttering school marm running over to apologize for naughty little Billy saying "shit" in front of someone important, or something. Conforming to conform, or out of fear of confrontation.

It would be totally different if he or someone else was genuinely offended, and the joke was really hurting someone. And he would be motivated not by fear, but by the protective instinct in that situation, which would be more "masculine."
posted by quincunx at 9:55 PM on May 6, 2016

Are you generally attracted to him?
posted by bunderful at 5:37 AM on May 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

You describe your joke as "not politically correct." That's a term which implies conformity or indeed insincerity in the person who is being politically correct. It sounds distasteful because it is meant to. If his criticism is in fact along the lines of "You're not supposed to say stuff like that," that does sound weak.

Not having heard the joke or what he said, it could be that he actually believes you were being racist-- or whatever the problem was with that joke-- and he thinks you should stop it. If the two of you have differing perceptions about that, I think you should address it. You may both be making assumptions here. I happen to think there is a huge assumption in the term "politically correct" itself and that you may want to challenge that, is he may want to challenge some of his assumptions about your intentions. Continuing to operate on assumptions is definitely going to break down your mutual respect and, with it, your attraction to each other.
posted by BibiRose at 5:45 AM on May 7, 2016

As far as changing your sexual attraction or what turns you on, my impression is there's really a lot of legitimate debate about that. A therapist told me that yes, you can reprogram yourself to some extent but the effort involved may not be worth it. If your husband is really not your type because your type is a certain kind of right-wing person, it may not be worth the effort. Or it may be. If you don't actually share those right-wing views and you think your husband is a decent person then yes, I think you can change your feelings about this and it may well pay off for you.
posted by BibiRose at 6:09 AM on May 7, 2016

I'm reading this differently than lots of others.

"I married a man who is a leftist politically but I grew up in an environment where the ideal men were conservative, strong, masculine, and even somewhat racist."

The above is what stands out to me. It seems you have been conditioned to and grown up with an idea of what 'males' is. What happened did not match up with your learned expectation of what a man is. This may be the part that needs unpacking. You've had certain examples that have been with you all your life. It will take some work to be able to broaden those.

Once you do that in therapy, I absolutley think you can regain your attraction. There are very many hot and sexy men standing up for the good in this world.
posted by Vaike at 8:08 AM on May 7, 2016

Reading your question, I see the simple fact that (at least some of the time) you aren't attracted to your husband. Then I see the story you are telling yourself to explain the lack of attraction. We don't have enough information to know if that story is really the best explanation. Maybe you feel condescended to, maybe you aren't attracted to him at all, maybe a lot of things.

Disgust is a very difficult thing to move past.
posted by bunderful at 8:33 AM on May 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

I agree that it sounds like you're reacting negatively to shame. Perhaps he made you feel bad about who you are ("how could you say such a thing?") vs. what you did ("I don't agree"). But I think you've got bigger problems than your husband seeming "feminine." He's probably pretty disgusted with you as well. Talk with him about what you're feeling. I doubt you can fix this problem- a problem of sexual attraction within your marriage- without involving him.

Taking a slightly different tack, I think your husband was right (and strong and brave) to stand up to you. I wouldn't be married to someone that made "not politically correct" jokes. I see being "politically correct" as being decent, civil, civilized. As not discriminating against people for being different or making different choices. Not making fun of them, or pointing out their differences. Not implying that they're less-than or objects of derision or levity because they're not white, heterosexual, cis-gendered, and able-bodied.
posted by serenity_now at 7:15 AM on May 9, 2016

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