DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I love your work! I’m a female and your work gives me hope in so many ways. You remind me that men, woman and all humans identifying inside of or outside of the binary system all have the same issues, as well as desires, dreams, and goals. But we are conditioned differently to become a social construction of gender instead of just human.
Anyway, I wanted to reach out to you mostly to vent, but also maybe you can help. My family is very conservative and I considered posting a little rant of my FB page, but realized that would probably cause the men in my family to call me a crazy female or ask if I’m ‘riding the broom’ or whatever.
So I asked myself who would be interested in explaining to men why this situation is wrong and where would men actually listen to the rationale? Lightbulb! Dr. NerdLove and his people! Yay!
Ok so here’s the story: I joined Codependents Anonymous about 8 months ago. I have a history of various kind of abuse from both men and women and I finally had a therapist call out my issues as codependent and push me into meetings. Through the program I am realizing how much abuse I haven’t even seen, because I didn’t even know it was abuse.
I decided to join a mixed group (open to all genders) which made me very uneasy at first, because most of my abuse has been from men. As it tuned out the group has been really cathartic. It turns out men can be codependent too! (Which I knew from reading your blog, but hit me differently in Coda) I felt safe there for the first 6 months. But now there’s a man in the group (who’s actually one of the original founders of the meeting I attend) and he’s making me feel really uncomfortable.
A few months ago he was talking to me after the meeting and he asked if I was married and I said no. So he told me, “you should just get married.” And I was shocked. I asked, “Where is that even coming from?” He said, “well if you were married you’d deal with your husbands problems and you’d have your own family and you wouldn’t have time to worry about other people anymore.” And I was shocked again, because 1. He assumes I’m going to marry a man 2. Shifting coda issue from friends to family isn’t actually solving the whole codependency issue. It’s literally just transferring it to other relationships. So I just sat there with my mouth hanging open. The other leader of the group started laughing and I gave him a sharp look, so he stopped laughing and told the guy to knock it off because he was not being helpful.
Fast forward to today, the same guy who told me that I should “just get married and it would solve all my problems” said some more toxically masculine nonsense.
So I shared tonight that I am in a DBT ( Dialectical Behavior Therapy) group and I had learned about core emotions including sadness. There was a list of maybe 8 reasons to feel sad, and when I read them I had 7 of them. Being codependent I was like,” oh wait. what? oh ok so I am sad. Interesting!” Because I have trouble even identifying my emotion, just finding the correct emotion felt like a positive step.
After I read the reasons to be sad I learned it’s ok for me to be sad. I was surprising to me that it’s ok for me to have this emotion that’s not just making other people happy.
I called a friend (because they suggested it as a coping mechanism in DBT ) and I said, “hey I am sad and this _ is why” and she validated that it was ok for me to be sad and that I had a right to be sad! I was so happy/ relieved to find out it was acceptable for me to be sad. It felt great actually — I get to have emotions just like other people! Wooo! It felt great to share the odd win with the group. Haha. Allowing myself to be sad about sad things is not something I’ve been able to do. It felt crazy to let myself be sad, but I’m learning it’s not crazy, it’s human.
Anyway coda has a rule that you can’t comment on other people’s shares during share time, but after people chat and sometimes say, “your share was really helpful” or “I related to that so much, thank you for your share.” Which doesn’t bother me at all. But the same guy who told me that getting married would solve all of my problems chimed in to say, “I don’t want you to be sad” I was thinking uh oh… oh no. Here we go… but I smiled and said, “oh ok, thanks.” So the other (male) lead jumps in and says, “hey man, she just found out it is ok for her to be sad.” The sexist guy says, “well I just don’t want her to be sad. It’s not good to be sad all of the time. If she’s sad she’ll get depression and I don’t want that for her.” So then a female in the group jumps in and says, “hey that’s not what she said…” and defends me in allowing me to feel my own emotions.
The sexist guy then says, “well you have such a pretty face, it’s a shame for you to be sad. You’re too pretty to be sad.” And I nearly lost my mind, but as society has condition me to do I smiled like my life depended on it. He continued, “I just want to give you a Dutch hug and make you feel better.” The other male lead made some kind of joke that I couldn’t hear over of the very colorful stream of profanity’s my brain was coming up with. I was fighting to keep it all contained behind my *pretty* smile. I replied, “yeah you’re right. I’ll just rub some dirt in in.” Everyone laughed and the situation was diffused. But I was furious. I looked happy, but I was fighting not to lose it.
Because a man finds me attractive I only get to be happy or turned on. My being anything outside of these emotion threatens their fragile toxic masculinity. I am a real person, not a doll sent her to beautify your life or make you feel good about yourself. How can one human dictate the emotional range of another and not understand that it is abuse?
I don’t want to cause a problem in the group, but I also can’t allow myself to be treated as less than a person. I am smart and funny and competent — I struggle every day to remind myself I am worthy. When s--t like this happens I feel I’m back to being the helpless girl who has to keep the men around happy so she can be safe.
I just want to feel safe in body. And because I am a woman I don’t get that right. Because I am a young attractive woman I don’t get to feel safe or angry or sad. I must be happy to stay safe. And I can’t stand it anymore.
I couldn’t stand up for myself today or a month ago. But I want to stand up for myself in the future. I realize this guy is a moron and he is probably incapable of understanding why he has offended me.
I actually understand the he meant well. He probably believes he did me a solid. He probably believes he made me feel attractive. He probably believes made me feel like I deserve to be happy. But he didn’t actually accomplish any of that.
I know what he wanted to say was, “you are young and beautiful and you deserve to be happy and find someone to love you. I wish I had the power to bring you joy and peace.” I know that’s what he meant.
But what he said was, “you’re too pretty to be sad.” He took away my value as a human — unless I am happy — I shouldn’t even exist. If I’m not being happy / acting happy I’m just making him insecure and bringing down the mood. I should just be happy. I mean I’m a girl why should I be sad, when there are men like him running the world. It’s a simple job for a young pretty girl
2. get married
3. radiate happiness
I know it’s not about me. He probably just doesn’t know any better. He probably meant well. He will probably never learn. I could spend years trying to gently explain this to the guy and it’s probably that nothing would change. It’s frustrating. I wish I lived in a world where this didn’t keep happening. Can you help me explain to the men (who care to learn) why semantics matters? Why women need to be allowed to be sad, even if they are pretty?
Survivor and Recovering Codependent Human Female
DEAR SURVIVOR AND RECOVERING CODEPENDENT HUMAN FEMALE: Honestly, SRCHF, I don’t think you need me to explain things differently; you laid it out rather well here!
Other than saying the same thing as you, just as a man (which, sadly, does make some folks listen), I would add this: one of the problems with the way this guy framed and phrased things isn’t just the semantics or underlying sexism. It’s the message he’s sending — likely without realizing it. Much like when men tell women to “smile”, the message he’s sending when he says “you’re too pretty to be sad” is that his desire carries more weight than yours does. Despite what you have shared during your session, he has decided that your feelings are less deserved and less valid.
He doesn’t want that for you? Well, it’s good to want things. Except, the way he’s phrased things is that he has decided that his wishes supersede your lived experience. His desire for you to not be sad — because it apparently displeases his boner — somehow outranks your right to feel the way you feel. Because he has deemed you to be “too pretty”, this means that your continuing to be sad is an affront to his wishes. While he may not realize that’s what he’s saying, the effect is that he’s telling you that he has determined that you aren’t the person best positioned to decide how you should feel. He is. And, as the kids said five minutes ago: that ain’t it, chief.
There’s also the unintentional judgement on your appearance and the other women in your group. Would it be ok for you to be sad if you were less attractive? Are people who are less conventionally attractive less deserving of happiness? Should your physical features mean that you’re only “allowed” to experience certain emotions and that the full range of the human experience are only for people who rank between, what, a 4 and a 7? Is it ok for you to have expressions or emotions other than happiness if it doesn’t make his penis smile?
But really, the most important part, more than anything else, is right here where you hit the nail precisely on the head:
“When s--t like this happens I feel I’m back to being the helpless girl who has to keep the men around happy so she can be safe.
I just want to feel safe in body. And because I am a woman I don’t get that right. Because I am a young attractive woman I don’t get to feel safe or angry or sad. I must be happy to stay safe. And I can’t stand it anymore.”
That is what he — and folks like him — needs to hear. You phrased this perfectly. And you’re becoming stronger and more self-assured every day. You’ve got the tools, you’ve got the words and you’ve got the strength to handle all of this, SRCHF. You’re building yourself up to be precisely the person you needed one month ago, today and tomorrow. You’re becoming your own hero and you should be immensely proud of all the progress you’ve made, because it’s pretty goddamn bad-ass of you.
You’ve got this.
All will be well.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, email@example.com