Context: I grew up in a family of nerds, and superheroes were always a really big part of my childhood. Captain America was a favorite, and he kind of became my family’s standard for good behavior and just generally being a Nice Person. (If one of the kids started a fight they’d get hit with, “What would Captain America think of how you’re acting?”, stuff like that.)
So when I got to high school and started dating, my mom told me something that sounds funny but in retrospect actually turned out to be really good advice:
“Date someone who treats you the way Captain America would. Never settle for less.”
And this has actually helped me so much in my dating life, through high school and into my adult years, because even if it’s a little silly, it’s been really helpful to have that standard in the back of my mind when I’m first going into a relationship.
Would Captain America ignore my calls? Would Captain America forget my birthday? Would Captain America get mad at me for cancelling a date because a family emergency came up? If the answer is no, then I know that the person I’m currently dating does not meet my standards, and that I need to break things off before they get too serious.
And your standard absolutely does not have to be Captain America, specifically. It can be any person, male or female, real or fictional, who is known for being respectful and considerate. It can even be an imaginary “soulmate” that you make up yourself. The point is to have a specific idea of how you expect to be treated by your romantic partners, and to refuse to compromise or settle for less. (Just make sure you’re holding yourself to the same standards – you can’t expect to date superheroes if you’re going to treat your partners the way a supervillain would.) This is a really good way to keep yourself from falling into bad relationships where you aren’t treated with the respect and care you deserve.
TL;DR: You deserve to date people who are respectful and considerate of you. You deserve a Captain America. Don’t settle for less.
We see movies in which people are represented as being in love who never talk with one another, who fall into bed without ever discussing their bodies, their sexual needs, their likes and dislikes. Indeed, the message received from the mass media is that knowledge makes love less compelling; that it is ignorance that gives love its erotic and transgressive edge. These messages are often brought to us by profiteering producers who have no clue about the art of loving, who substitute their mystified visions because they do not really know how to genuinely portray loving interaction.
An abuser doesn’t always need shouting or physical intimidation like throwing things or grabbing in order to control someone. Abuse can be present without those behaviours.
An abuser can talk calmly and even use a friendly tone of voice or a progressive Consent Culture vocabulary and still be abusive, because the abuse lies in infringing on someone’s autonomy.
If a peer relationship feels abusive but you’re doubting if it’s
Really Abuse, look at whether each person is making choices about their
own bodies, schedules, activities, and external relationships.
boundary is about your own body and life, not someone else’s - it’s “I
don’t want to do X thing with you” and not “I don’t want you to do Y
thing at all even if it does not involve me.” Someone making choices
that override your autonomy, even “for your own good”, is not allowing
you to have boundaries.
If you don’t want to be in a relationship
with someone because they do Y thing that doesn’t involve you, that’s
your choice. You can simply end the relationship, or you can say, “Is Y
important to you? Because it makes me uncomfortable,” and have an honest
conversation about conflicting needs/preferences to see if a
relationship is possible.
But there’s a problem when one
person says to their peer, “Stop Y thing that doesn’t involve me, or I will do
something to punish you,” or even “You’re not allowed to do Y anymore, I
don’t like it.” You don’t get to make choices for other people.
Don’t Focus On Whether Or Not Someone Likes You Instead of being concerned about whether someone likes you and focusing on how your heart pounds and if you feel butterflies when you’re around them, wonder instead whether you get excited because your chemistry is reacting to meeting another dysfunctional person. Ask yourself instead, does this person have most, if not all, of the qualities you want in a relationship?
Be Your Own Best Friend One reason why people stay in unhealthy relationships is the fear of being alone. One reason for this is because you haven’t developed a best-friend relationship with yourself. Try to reach a place where you actually enjoy your own company. And if that doesn’t help, know that being alone is healthier and preferable to being in an unhealthy relationship filled with hostile drama.
Stop Expecting Someone Else To Fix Your Problems You are responsible for whatever needs fixing in your life, your financial debts, your career, taking care of your body and so forth, not your partner, your best friend or your parents. You will feel much better about yourself and your new confidence will be very attractive.
Know Your Boundaries And Stick To Them We are constantly sending out hints to other people about how we want to be treated. These are called “boundaries,” meaning your deal breakers for what you will and won’t accept. How much importance you attach to honesty, respect, and reliability are just as important as personal space, time alone, or how much physical affection or romance you require. When you uphold your boundaries, you don’t allow others to manipulate, guilt, or control you, and your inner self will thank you
Trust Your Inner Warning Signals Your body is innately sensitive to other people’s energies and intentions. Check your own inner warning signals, which will alert you that you’re with a toxic or drama-addicted person. Some warning signals you may be getting are:
- You feel used, because it’s a one-sided relationship, with you doing all the giving - You feel guilty, like you owe the person something - You feel angry at him or her and at yourself - After the person leaves, you feel drained and tired - You have a desire to avoid the person.
Trust your intuition here. These feelings won’t be present in a healthy relationship.
Write A Letter To The Person You’re Upset With Even healthy relationships can hit a rocky patch from time to time. At times like these, it often helps to write a letter to the person you’re upset with. Pour out your feelings, and hold nothing back. Then, in a ceremonious way, burn the letter. You can also send a more restrained version of the letter to the person, after waiting a day or two for a cooling-off period. This way, your letter will reflect your ongoing feelings instead of reactive emotions. It can be the starting point for a mutually beneficial conversation that will get you back on track.
Just Say No To Guilt Based Requests If you feel you are being manipulated and have no choice to comply, stand firm. They might cry, threaten to hurt themselves, say that no one loves them, or remind you of the times that they helped you. But by telling guilt-trippers no without guilt or excuses, they will either find another victim to harass or will realize that these methods aren’t healthy or effective.
Don’t Walk On Eggshells Around Angry People If someone displays their anger in a physical way, LEAVE IMMEDIATELY. However, if it is someone who just gets mad at the slightest provocation but rarely takes responsibility themselves, then release the fantasy that you will find the winning combination that will finally make them happy and peaceful. They most likely will need professional therapy. Tip-toeing around until they calm down doesn’t help anyone.
Stand Your Ground Accusatory people are always looking for a fight, tell them firmly that they are mistaken in their accusations but do not engage in an argument or wander off-topic. Do not engage in blaming wars or you will get into an unending battle.
Stop Trying To Rescue Victim-Martyr Types Since whatever advice you suggest will most likely be met with “I’ve already tried that, it doesn’t work.” It is best not to invest a lot of time into trying to provide a solution to their problem. Once victim-martyrs sense that you are out of ideas to help, they will move on to bending someone else’s ear about their current problem.
Remove Yourself From A Relationship When You Notice A Red Flag Take your time to get to know someone before you fully commit to a relationship. At the first red-flag, such as not honoring a commitment, or showing a lack of respect; extricate yourself from the relationship immediately before getting any more involved.
As a compassionate, openhearted soul, you want to give. It’s in your nature to care for others and ensure their health and happiness. Occasionally others may take advantage of your kindness which is why it is so important to enforce your boundaries in all of your relationships.
It may feel uncomfortable for you to put these rules into effect, it might feel like you are placing conditions on how you will help people, but if you refuse to do so, you’ll deplete your own energy reserves very quickly. It all boils down to respect. If the people in your life truly care about you, they’ll respect your decisions.
Does anyone else fill up with dread when you realise your guy friend has a crush on you, because you’re now going to be socially obligated to provide him with lots of time and emotional work if you don’t want to suffer social sanctions for not fulfilling your gender’s role of managing men’s feelings?
Men who are attracted to women routinely make their crushes a problem for the women they’re aimed at. Many men see a woman’s interest as a given and are offended when they don’t automatically get it. If they possess the basic understanding that they’re not entitled to her interest - which is honestly pretty rare - they still generally feel entitled to her time and emotional labour.
They expect explanations, a chance to ask often-invasive questions about her lack of interest, and perhaps even a chance to convince her to “give him a chance”. They expect to be let down in the gentlest, most complimentary way possible, to have their feelings managed every step of the way by a woman who did not ask for this interest or the job of guiding him through his feelings about it.
This is one form of male entitlement, a near-ubiquitous form of misogyny that’s so embedded it often goes unnoticed. Men, think critically about the expectations you have of a woman you’re interested in. Are you trying to make processing your feelings her responsibility, or are you managing them on your own like a respectful adult?
No one likes to be rejected. But your interest in someone doesn’t obligate them to comfort you or listen to heartfelt confessions they don’t consent to listen to. Your interest doesn’t mean they owe you.
Find someone who consents to giving you that emotional work; don’t demand it from someone you’ve trapped in an awkward situation. Let “no” be enough.
While the silent treatment can be caused by a combination of hurt feelings and an inability/unwillingness to talk about them, it is often a passive-aggressive approach to manipulate and control. People who withhold their love, affection and attention, and sometimes completely withdraw their presence, are attempting to punish and force their partners to submit to their will. Be aware—especially if you are dealing with someone with narcissistic tendencies or control issues, and always exercise STRONG boundaries!
We often think of relationships as things we can - or even have to - earn.
This causes two major problems:
believing we are entitled to a relationship because we’ve “earned” it
perceiving all rejection as a failure to “earn” someone’s love, attraction, etc.
While healthy relationships do require effort, a relationship is not founded on a list of Good Things You Have Done.
Sure, if you’re a jerk people are less likely to want to be around you, and sure, if you do nice things someone might appreciate them. But it’s not automatic. Do nice things because it’s nice to do nice things. Change hurtful behaviour because it’s good to avoid hurting people. Don’t do that stuff solely because you think it will earn you something.
Relationships are not simple transactions. Even when you are hiring someone, they have the right to decide at any point that the relationship or position you’re offering isn’t right for them - and they might, even if you’ve offered all you can, even if you’ve been nice.
It’s not cut-and dried, it’s not a vending machine. You don’t put good
deeds (or money) in and get love (or sex, or friendship) out, and you don’t put bad
deeds in and get rejection out. Those are a few ingredients of many; a relationship does not automatically occur or fail in their presence.
People come to relationships with their own sets of needs and desires and abilities; and all those factors interact with the needs, desires, and abilities of the other person or people in the relationship. Sometimes it works out well, sometimes it works out less well. But it’s a lot more complicated than whether or not you “earned” it.
If people love you, they will want you to grow. If somebody doesn’t want you to grow, you can call their feelings about you by many names… but you cannot call it love. You can call it fear, you can call it anger, you can call it control issues, you can call it resentment… but nobody has ever held anyone back because of love.
of my faults
and I find myself
for the backlash.
them in your hands
“You make me
And I don’t know
how to react
to a love like that.
everyone has needs, whether those be romantic, sexual, emotional, spiritual, whatever else. that’s a given. the question/real issue is will you be honest and unashamed about what you need? will you allow your self to be vulnerable in saying those needs & desires out loud to yaself and/or ya friend(s), beau(s), partner(s), bae(s), family, etc.? or will you find yourself manipulating others into giving you what you need without asking or communicating that, out of fear of rejection, seeming weak or fragile, or out of a need to maintain “power” in whatever relationship…
I really can’t stress enough how important it is to talk to your friends, family members, and partners regularly about their right to set boundaries, even ones that inconvenience you.
We absolutely live in a hierarchial abuse culture where people can and do impose their will on each other in a million tiny ways. A lot of people just expect it - they’ll make choices according to the assumption that you, too, are invested in controlling them to whatever degree - because unless you consciously make a point not to be, it’s possible that you are.
In a healthy relationship people ask for consent often - “Do you want to do this?
Are you comfortable with this? Is there anything you think we should
change about this plan?” And then, they clarify that negative answers are totally normal and okay.
Checking in can sound like, “Hey, you know I love doing X but if you ever don’t want to you know that’s okay, right?” It’s paying attention to nonverbal cues that someone is uncomfortable and giving them an out - “You don’t seem excited about this party, I want you to know it totally won’t be a big deal if you’d rather not.”
In a healthy relationship there’s a huge difference between “no” and “you shouldn’t have asked”. “No” is normal and expected and it’s assumed that sometimes it will be the response. There’s an intentional effort not to punish each other for not always giving each other what you want.
Normalize “no” in all your relationships. Seek it out! Give people extra opportunities to say no! And accept it. Recognise that it’s a good sign when your loved ones feel safe enough to not agree to things they don’t want out of fear of your reaction.
Just - check in. I don’t care what kind of relationship it is, don’t assume people know it’s safe to say no to you unless you remind them and show them regularly. Making space for healthy boundaries is one of the most important things to communicate with the people that you care about.
February is National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month! If you or someone that you know is in an unhealthy relationship it is important to seek help from your support network, or to find resources in your community. Stay tuned to ICYC Tumblr throughout the month of February for more information about relationships!