I’ve been writing a lot about listening recently. More and more over the space of the last few months, because I feel less and less people are actually listening to each other. It frustrates me on a base level because I know many people have a good set of listening and communication skills that they were born with at the beginning. And it’s just getting worse.
I blame Facebook predominantly. It’s created a platform for people to immerse themselves in agreeable people. And whilst that’s a good thing on one hand, on the flipside of everything we are becoming less robust to things in which we don’t agree with. When I was younger, disagreements were common and natural, but we learned to suffer the bad because we knew it was far outweighed by the good.
Facebook has curbed that. And it’s going to keep getting worse.
Like when I saw one of the editors for The Good Men Project share a status on her Facebook feed; she was frustrated that a man she was talking to couldn’t get it into his head that flirting with her is not going to win her friendship. Whilst it may be the case for some women, this sits outside her boundaries and not acceptable. After all, NO means NO, right?
And it had me thinking about my younger years, when women were a mystery to me, when I thought no was a direct indication of yes and what women said to me in general fell on deaf ears. I never listened. At all. My actions and words were a reflection of my ideas and thoughts, and no outside influence ever had a chance. Even though I thought it did. Some people just like to hear themselves speak. Like I did.
But it had me thinking in depth about how hard it is for women to make genuine friends of the opposite sex (men too.) And it had me wondering if this was a primal thing, a social thing, learned behaviour, or a mixture of all three? It’s definitely becoming easier because I know my son is being encouraged to play and make friends with girls from an early age—and I fully support that. They won’t be such a mystery to him as they were for me growing up.
If I’m honest I didn’t have friends that were women until I was a full adult. And mostly those were partners of my good male friends. I feel ashamed admitting this, but before I met my wife every friend I had that was female, I wanted to have sex with them and I wouldn’t say no to a sexual relationship with them. My boundaries were very mixed up, and I think this was a result of having a misogynist father, one that treated women as if they were objects, rather than the beautiful and awesome people that they are. I was brought up by my mother, but being a boy I was looking to the men in my life to show me example.
And the examples I was shown were poor.
My Dad left us on Christmas day alone in another country to be back at home with his “woman on the side.” Most of my mother’s future partners were meatheads, spare one or perhaps two decent father figures. But one died abruptly and the other couldn’t handle her alcohol intake. It’s a high price to pay for being a beautiful woman with low self-esteem.
Most guy stuff I had to learn myself, or be drip fed crazy ideas from my not-so aware friends. Friendly advice from my good buddies that may have seemed like dating gurus at the time, but in general were just as clueless as I was. We all were at that age, starting out and learning for ourselves is quite tough. But we get there in the end.
So, I spent most of my teenage years viewing women as sexual objects. As a young teen, I think this was a result of my raging hormones, but I had no man to put it into perspective. My Mum, great that she was, had little understanding of what I was going through. The good men in my life like my uncles and Granddad were too embarrassed to talk about it.
It was not until I met my wife when I was 28 that I learned the deeper aspects of women. My wife is an incredibly intelligent woman and had a better understanding about me than I did. Strange as it may seem she’s always been my biggest supporter in my life. It feels safe around her. And through her I learned that women weren’t objects of desire, they were clearly fantastic beings of knowledge, friendship and awesomeness. Since I took myself off the meat market I have enjoyed a plethora of healthy friendships with women.
I firmly believe that non-sexual relationships between men and women can be attained if you have a healthy mindset, good parenting and stable friendships in the beginning. But not if you experienced Toxic Society like I did. (See what I did there commenters? I am listening! Even if I don’t engage.)
Women for me are amazing. They bring an absolutely different perspective to the table. They see things in ways that opens me up to a whole new world. And it’s why I’m blessed with a healthy bunch of woman-friends. Mutual at its purest.
So, I conclude that not being able to be ‘just friends’ with women, and viewing that as a bad thing is a mixture of learned behaviour and a social construct. A direct result of Toxic Society and being one of the unfortunates to be surrounded in such toxicity.
But for me the key is understanding. If I didn’t learn how to act responsibly and cherish every moment with other people as if it were my last, then I’d still be muddling through life clueless.
This is why I write. To empower others
Photo: Getty Images