As men, one of the challenges we must face is figuring out what our responsibilities are in life and relationships. In fact, I’d say this is one of the biggest sources of mental/emotional confusion and frustration that we experience. Fortunately, we can find some clarity in this ambiguous area by learning from the struggles and successes of other men.
While out on a recent Saturday night, one of my patients approached an attractive woman with a soft (indirect) opener. The interaction began well and progressed smoothly.
The conversation evolved into more personal areas while maintaining a nice balance of interest, humor, and touch (all of which are important strategies for creating intimacy with a woman). After a bit of flirting from both sides, it was time to determine if this woman, with whom he was interested in having a intimate relationship, was worth investing more of his time and attention.
Remember, whenever you do not have the answer to a question, it only means one thing: you need more information. It was time for this man to test the state of this new relationship and gather data. It was time to discover where he stood with this woman. So, he asked for her number.
To his surprise, she shot back with rapid-fire, “What kind of question is that? You’re so bold! You didn’t even ask if I have a boyfriend yet! You don’t even know if I’m in another relationship already!”
In our therapy session, this man noted that there was a time when her response would have thrown him into a state of abject rejection, causing him to spit out apologies while feebly attempting to recover his dignity. He then would have carried this feeling of rejection around for days–but this did not happen in this case. Luckily, my patient has developed a more accurate perspective of his role in these situations.
He now understands what she was doing – or attempting to do – and that is to shift the burden of something for which he is not responsible (her own issues and insecurities) onto him. This woman was perfectly comfortable engaging in flirty conversation in which she could feign interest, enjoy the flattering attention, and feel entertained–all while keeping her options of yes, no, or maybe open for as long as possible.
Knowing all of this when she snapped back, my patient was able to calmly respond, “That’s not my responsibility.” And it isn’t.
As men, it is not our job to look for or find roadblocks – it is to go after what we want. If we are in the pursuer role (which is often the case in male-female relations) our only responsibility is to move things forward – to lead the relationship. It is her responsibility, on the other hand, to say, “No” when and if she feels the interaction is going too fast or in an uncomfortable direction. It is NOT our responsibility to say, “No” to ourselves. It is NOT our responsibility to get in our own way.
Let’s say he started the conversation by asking, “Do you have a boyfriend?” If she said, “Yes,” most men would walk away feeling rejected when there is a high probability that her current relationship will not last. Therefore, it is her responsibility to convey to you her level of interest – not yours. In reality, it is women themselves who know best the status of their relationships, so it is up to them to keep that in mind when interacting with men. If women feel their current relationship is nearing an end, they will buy time while they interview for their next.
A man pursuing a woman has one job, and that is to pursue her. It remains her job not only to apply the terms of any other commitments, if she has any, but also to be up front and honest about the terms she wants in any potential relationships.
By responding to her as he did, he was holding her to that responsibility, whether she liked it or not. In the end, she respected him more for it. Why? Because he was extremely confident in knowing where his responsibilities and boundaries began and ended.
To shift gears a little, let’s talk a bit about personal boundaries. As these are acquired through social interactions, we start out with a very poor sense of personal boundaries. These adjustments can carry a significant burden on us well into our adult life. For some men, this means they go too far, but for many other men, this means they don’t go far enough. And far too often, men allow others to cross their own personal boundaries.
We see these lines blurred all the time. We are constantly fed misinformation through TV, movies, social media, etc. In the teenage romance movie, “The Girl Next Door,” there is a scene in which the guy (Emile Hirsch) is trying to find out more about his new love interest, (Elisha Cuthbert).
He asks her:
Him: “…So, what’s your story?”
Her: “I just quit my job…”
Him: “So, ahhhh, are, are you here alone or…” (bad move).
(She looks up at him knowing what he’s so awkwardly trying to ask, takes control, and calls him on his bullshit)
Her (without hesitation): “Just ask”. (good move)
Him: “Do you have a boyfriend?”
Her: “No.” (perfect, and just as it’s supposed to be).
(Then, he continues to screw things up by asking):
Him: “Aren’t you going to ask if I have a girlfriend?” (pathetic).
Her: “No.” (…period. She ends the BS cold. Simple, direct, and to the point. …Again, perfect).
(Note: always remember: “NO” is a complete sentence.)
Now ask yourself, who has the power in this conversation? (Hmmmmm, I bet that took a nanosecond). In this example, the girl takes on the masculine role and energy. She acts exactly how he should be acting – dominant.
Of course, this is Hollywood, where this kind of shy awkwardness is considered cute, innocent, and in the long run, rewarding. Naturally, he gets the girl in the end. But in the real world, this lack of confidence would have him screened out as a potential mate faster than she could roll her eyes.
So how do you de-program yourself from all the mush you have been taught? How can you establish appropriate and beneficial personal boundaries?
You can begin by getting in touch with – and trusting – your inner feelings. They will rarely steer you wrong. These gut feelings hold the key to discovering your own personal boundaries and understanding those of others.
I’m going to write more on this soon. In the meantime, if you have questions please ask!