Change Your Answer #4: On Women Not Owing Men Anything

Illustration by JA Laflin

Change Your Answer features short reflections imagining how we could rewrite small but critical moments in our lives now that our perspective has shifted. This entry provides an important response to the first essay in the series.

Growing up in and around churches, I was surrounded by a culture imbued with not only patriarchal visions of masculinity but also strictly guarded gender roles. It’s important to note this from a religious perspective, because in the Evangelical subculture, men are taught to pursue women, to win them, and to lead them—as if to somehow socially embody the “ideal” relationship one might have with God.

In retrospect, this as a relationship model is kind of gross. Believe what you may about God, but the problem here is that men are often taught (in churches and elsewhere) that women want to be subdued. When you’ve finally “won them over,” your reward is getting to keep them… What if they don’t want to be chased or caught or kept?

I was 19, a sophomore at Bible College, and living in “gender-segregated” dorms where there were no visiting hours for the opposite sex—ever. Hell, we couldn’t even wear shorts in the cafeteria because it might cause our “brothers and sisters to stumble”. That year was really the first time I had ever lived on my own, and I was in “love” with someone new every month or so.

This one woman—we’ll call her L—we’d known each other before she attended school with me, pen-pal’d a bit in the days when AOL IM was still a thing, and we seemed to get along really well. I told myself that we were going to be friends before dating, because that’s what good Christians do, right?

That term I pursued her… as a “friend”. I found myself in many of the same classes with her, intentionally planned study sessions with her that lasted until we were kicked out of the library at closing time, and I was able to place myself in a position of trust when she talked about her out-of-town boyfriend—an older, much nerdier guy who was a nominal Christian at best, and I knew she could do better.

I found myself becoming a slave to my emotions. My out of control, middle school-esque crush was wrecking my grades and what little semblance of an actual friendship I had with L. I became demanding—if nothing else because I believed that if I didn’t see her, I would feel more wrecked emotionally. Nothing ever happened between us, but the idea of her giving me all her “friendship”, her time, and her support was reward enough for my obsession.

I’ll never forget the day it all changed. The day I realized I had been a colossal asshole. It was Saturday morning and I trudged up the hill to the library in the middle of a vicious downpour. I had been calling L’s cell phone and there was no answer. We were supposed to meet there to study, but the doors were locked and she had the key. I was getting more and more wet and frustrated as her phone continued to go to voice mail. Rather than change my plan, I continued to redial.

Finally, she answered groggily and said she wasn’t feeling well, but I was already dead-set in anger mode, though I tried to hide it by pleading with her to at least let me into the library. Out of the kindness of her heart, she slogged up the hill, red-faced, miserable, and soaked. When she arrived, the look on her face made my insides shatter. She was more than upset, she was broken, feeling taken advantage of, and she was actually sick on top of it all.

It was at that point that she let me know how she felt in no uncertain words.

I had pushed this kind and caring friend to a breaking point. To her, we were just friends. I had taken advantage of that friendship to “pursue” her, but I had never left room for her feelings. Though there were other contributing factors, my obsessive crush on her was less than emotions—it was entitlement. I had thought that soon it would be obvious that I was the nice guy she wanted to be with and that this older guy she hardly knew would be out of the picture. I thought that she owed it to me to give us a try.

But you know what? It doesn’t matter what I thought. Not one tiny bit.

If I had truly been a friend, I would have respected what she thought. That would’ve mattered more than plans I was making in my head without even telling her. I thought she would reward my efforts and see how great I was—even though in thinking this, I was only thinking about me. I wanted her for me, not for her.

After that day, we saw less of each other, and by the end of the term, we were more properly acquaintances than friends. Now she’s an occasional blurb on my Facebook feed. I look back not to think about what-could-have-been in terms of romance, but what-should-have-been in terms of two people respecting each others’ boundaries and being actual friends without any ulterior motives.

I’m not sure how things would have turned out had I not acted like some entitled testosterone wagon on legs, but I began to slowly see that women never owed me anything simply because I was into them. Even when you communicate feelings and intentions up front, reciprocation is never ever mandatory.

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JA Laflin (they/them) is a writer/artist/musician living in Eugene, Oregon. A recent Portland State University graduate, they spend a lot of time thinking and writing about gender, social justice, art, music, feminist issues/history, and humanity's future. They currently front two musical projects (A Half-Jail Onus and Imitaur), and are creating an ongoing sci-fi graphic novel series (Falling Off)--all of which focus heavily on gender and social justice issues. They also freelance graphic art for book covers as well as make musical scores for small film projects.