I was talking with my kids the other day about love. Yes – this is what life is like in the Stone family… is anyone really surprised? When I asked my daughter, “how can you tell if someone loves you?” this was her answer: “Because he’ll be mean to you.” *record scratches* Wai….wha….huh??? Where have I gone wrong in my parenting? How have I failed her so? With pained eyes and a pleading furrowed brow, I asked her to tell me why she thought that. She went on to tell me a story – that inspired this post. See, there’s this bully at Charlotte’s school. For the purposes of protecting his identity, let’s call him ‘douche-face.’ Oh…am I not allowed to call a 7-year old that? Fine… FINE! We’ll call him Jordan. Jordan has picked on Charlotte (that’s her REAL name…isn’t it pretty? Yup – just like she is) for a couple of years now. He’s a real piece of work. One time last year, I had to come to the school to pick her up early after an ‘incident’ where he acted very inappropriately and the school had to write it up. They were great about it – he, on the other hand, is a predator in the making… So, apparently, this last year, after some skirmish on the playground, Charlotte told a teacher what was happening, and the teacher’s response to her was that “Jordan probably just has a crush on you. When boys like little girls, they’re mean to them.” Let’s hear that again: “When boys like girls, they’re mean to them.” Ok – let the record show that I HATE this. [The record shall so reflect.] I do not think there’s a fine line between flirting and bullying. I think it’s a wide highway of bad choices. And it’s why some grown men think that insulting a woman will win her heart. Or, in extreme cases, it’s a slippery slope to an abusive relationship. I know, I know… it’s true that little kids often display their burgeoning romantic feelings with teasing… out of an immaturity of understanding relationships. I remember those days. I get it. I really do. Insert funny caveat here… (yes – click this and watch). My problem isn’t so much with the occurrence of that immaturity, but the way we TEACH it to the girls. Thanks to one teacher’s misguided philosophy of love, my daughter has now been given an incorrect (or at the very least, an incomplete) message, by a grown up, about how love works. Yes – A message. We all collect messages as we grow up, that help shape what we believe about the world around us. Heck – aren’t the college years basically just a time to sort out which messages we’ll keep and which we’ll dismiss? Between parents/families, school, friends, civic organizations, churches, etc., we all get an enormous amount of data about how things are – social mores, rules of conduct, ways to think about finances, love, work, sex, and on and on it goes. So, now my daughter has another data point that says – “boys show you they like/love you by being mean.”
Let’s just consider the implications of this: 1. Because it’s a sign of their deep affection, being treated unkindly should be allowed, perhaps even enjoyed. So – don’t be upset that someone’s hurting you. In fact… maybe you could learn to like it – since, after all, it’s a sign he likes you. Awesome message to give a little girl. And we wonder why our young women are in and out of therapy later in life. A corollary assumption would be: Boys/men don’t know how to express affection, so either put up with their meanness, or take it on as your own project to change them. And I think we can all agree that a woman trying to change a man – is a recipe for relational disaster.
(A note about boys/men expressing their feelings… I DO know that guys often use teasing or physical methods of communication with each other… I’m not here to say that needs to stop… but there’s a difference between razzing other guys, and being mean to a girl or making her feel unsafe, hurt, or uncomfortable.)
2. If YOU love someone (or you’re on your way to love), you show it by being mean. Hey – if little boys can do it, and it’s ok, it must work for anyone! And we wonder why women use passive-aggressive behaviors. It’s just a sophisticated form of mental bullying. 3. Lastly, not only is it how boys show you they’re into you – but it’s GOOD. The teacher didn’t say, “I’m sorry he’s doing these things…I’ll tell him to stop, but it’s probably because…blah blah blah,” no, she used the “he has a crush” mentality as a rationalization… as if to say, “so that’s why this is happening – isn’t it adorable?” This might seem like splitting hairs from number 1 on the list, but it makes a difference later in life when women chase after the ‘bad boys’ because the’yre seemingly better. I recognize that this is an age-old issue and that boys aren’t going to stop teasing girls anytime soon. BUT… I think we have an obligation to teach our girls that, while that may be the case, it is NOT acceptable or good. We need to give them a lexicon of assertiveness. Phrases like, “I do NOT like it when you do that. Stop it.” Pretty simple, right? Yeah…..try saying it on a date when a guy is pressuring you for more than you’re up for… sigh… As far as the Stone household, we had a nice long talk about how Stone girls look for guys who use their cleverness for flirting, not belittling; their strength for protecting, not bullying; and their words for engaging conversation, not emotional tearing down. Granted….I’m still looking. But, at least I’m not chasing the bad boys… and in my book, that’s coming out ahead of the game.