Commitment, Feminism, Suicide

Earlier this year I had a conversation with a man who told me he had commitment issues…

I listened, and made the mistake of nodding along, silently validating the story he had about himself, neatly wound up in that throw-away phrase, “commitment issues”.

What I probably should have done was ask him what that means to him, how it makes him feel, whether he feels he can talk about where his repetitive behaviour in relationships stems from, etc. But I didn’t because it might have been awkward and I wanted this man to like me. So we just laughed about it and, so, gently reinstated a stereotype of masculinity; he’s a man with commitment issues. Classic. Because loads of men are shit at relationships and just want to spread their seed and find it easy to have meaningless sex and objectify women. Something like that, yeah? We hear it in the songs, we see in on TV, we read it in the magazines. It spirals.

No. That’s not true for him. It’s not true for many wonderful men who struggle a bit to communicate their feelings and sometimes act impulsively on urges to avoid getting emotionally involved with other people. And they do this for many very different, very complex and tangled reasons. Reasons they’ve probably not had chance to explore because they are not encouraged to speak about it. Instead, they joke about their “commitment issues”, and in doing so, sit deeper and deeper into the things that caused them and the habits that perpetuate them.

Okay, so, that’s one of many terrible stereotypes of masculinity, outside of the usual “boys don’t cry”/ “man up” motif that is not helping anyone. I later did ask this man more questions and it got a bit awkward and now he doesn’t like me anymore… 

Cue “he’s a dick”; “he’s emotionally inept” etc. etc. because feminism.

THIS is where I get angry. Man-slandering in the name of feminism is also NOT HELPING ANYONE. Fundamental problem: feminism defined is “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes” - i.e. gender equality. And we can’t have gender equality without, er gender equality. But even if we take ‘feminism’ out of there, man-slandering to embolden women is counter-productive.

How can we expect anything to change if we keep retelling stories and reissuing cliches that solidify gender relations we aren’t happy with?

If you don’t want him to be a dick, maybe don’t call him a dick and be all ‘case closed’ about it. If someone’s acting in a way that appears emotionally inept it may well be because they’ve never (or haven’t in a long while) had a chance to relate in an emotionally open way. Basic hurt, trauma, stress and loneliness (which we all experience to differing degrees) can lead us all to be a bit closed, a bit less empathetic, a bit hard around the edges. If that shit is never released and processed it becomes harder and harder to unknot. If, on top of that, it is actively dodged via one or all of the many distraction techniques we have readily available (food, drink, drugs, exercise, etc. etc.) it may become utterly unidentifiable. 

Suicide is the single biggest killer of men under 45.

In the UK, one man dies every two hours by suicide. 

41% of men who contemplated suicide felt they couldn’t talk about their feelings.

ONE EVERY TWO HOURS. Think about that. That means in the 6 hours I’ve been awake today, 3 men have killed themselves - in the UK alone. That’s SO fucked up.

So what do we do? Open space to talk. Open space for awareness. Space to acknowledge there’s more to the story; that it’s not abnormal; that it’s not a joke but it’s also not the end of the world. Space for change that doesn’t have to mean a total reorder of the planets. Slow, easy, exploratory space. 

“They don’t change”, I heard, from a few. They do. If we do. If the broader sense of who we all are in these strange structural relationships can change. This isn’t anyone’s solo mission. 

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P.s. I know women have commitment problems, too; I know this a pretty heteronormative angle, it’s what I experience as a female living a little further towards the straight end of the sexuality spectrum. 

Kate Lister