Because love makes us vulnerable, which feels insecure
“I don’t like what you do.”
Last night The Boy and I went out with another couple we’re friends with.
They’re both great people and fun to be around — which is why we hang out with them pretty regularly. But last night she started doing That Thing that so many of us do in relationships. Let’s call it “The Painted Neg.”
“Negging,” for those not in the “pickup” community (i.e., most of us), is when you deliberately cut someone down while flirting in order to lower their confidence.
It’s for people who don’t have enough confidence of their own.
And while some people do it while flirting, waaaay more of us carry it on into our actual relationships and keep it going there, too. Except, in that space, we call it “love,” with shit like this postured as though it’s “loving” — we’re all so quick to smile and nod and accept it as such — but it’s not. It’s just a shitty violation of boundaries, and blatant insecurity.
In this case, she didn’t like his shirt. The worst part was that he’d deliberately tried to wear a shirt he thought she did like, thinking the one she didn’t like was a different one, but it turns out she didn’t like either one and by the sounds of it, the guy had fucked up. But it was a perfectly fine shirt — some kind of printed button-down anybody could wear in my office.
So while they were going back and forth, The Boy and I were just sort of standing there like “oh my god, who gives a fuck?”
The answer is: only her. Because she’s petty. And him, because he cares.
Nobody else was criticizing him. And she wasn’t criticizing anybody else but him.
He honors and cares about her far more than she honors or cares about him.
“Sorry about them”
Don’t ever apologize for your partner’s “behavior” after they leave the room. It makes you look super shitty pretty much no matter the reason.
- If it’s a big deal: it reflects poorly on you for staying with them, and for acknowledging it to others instead / ahead / outside of addressing it with your partner
- If it’s not a big deal — some minor annoyance, like telling dad jokes or something: then apologizing on their behalf just makes you look like a dickhead who’s too embarrassed to stand by your partner’s side on stupid shit. (This is even more awkward if you were the only one who noticed or was bugged by whatever they did — and you very often are.)
Either way, apologizing for your partner makes you look insecure AF — enabling your partner at worst; throwing them under the bus at best.
We were once out with friends and it was getting late, so one of the husbands politely said goodnight to the table, kissed his beloved wife goodbye, and headed out. The minute he was gone, she groaned, “ugh, sorry about him.”
I stared at her.
The dude literally hadn’t done anything wrong. He was an utterly nice person who had been nothing but polite and was just ready to go to sleep. Which made her look like an imbalanced, insecure shithead in comparison, regardless of how “well” she socialized otherwise.
If you’re apologizing on behalf of your partner the minute they step away, y’all need to stop. If you feel compelled to “win points” socially at the cost of your partner, you should seriously reevaluate your priorities.
The only time it’s really okay to apologize “for” your partner is if it was a one-time thing and your partner was really not in their right mind — i.e., they would apologize too, if they could.
For example: one of my ex-boyfriends very unexpectedly lost his mom, with whom he was very close, while we were dating. We were grabbing dinner in the aftermath a few days later and he suddenly completely lost it at the table, then got up and stormed out of the restaurant. I had known the dude a year and had never seen him act this way — on the contrary, he always put a high value on social norms and polite behavior — so I gently apologized to the server and followed him out.
Because that’s exactly what he would’ve done, had he been his normal self, so apologizing in a case like this is being a unit.
“You can’t do what you love”
There’s one thing everyone knows about my dad: the man loves cars.
During his teens and twenties he owned just about every classic car under the sun, starting from the white ‘69 GTO Judge to the baby blue Corvette I recall from childhood. After the Corvette, he traded his keys in for slightly more reasonable family vehicles — SUVs, pickups, a Jeep or two, one big ole Blazer.
And while his life was devoid of classic cars while he raised us, there has always been one thing Dad has talked about wanting in retirement: another classic car.
And it’s not so much that my mother would fight him on this (which is good, because if she tried, she’d have all five of his kids, who wholeheartedly have his back on this issue, to reckon with) —but more that she’ll allow it rather than embrace it.
I want to give her full credit here — because she’s gone four-wheeling with him in the Jeep and has reported back that his other cars are “fun to drive” (music to his ears.)
But my mother is also the sort of woman who thinks it’s okay for a spouse to act cooly towards their partner’s passion, to openly scoff and refuse to participate in any of the ancillary activities, like car shows — in person, or on TV — both of which my dad loves. It breaks my dad’s heart that she won’t join him, and that means it breaks each of ours.
“You’re just here to fill a role”
Most specifically: “spouse.”
One of the biggest “anti-love” moves in the world is the marriage ultimatum.
We don’t really question this, do we? It’s always the fault of the person who didn’t want to “commit” — who was too busy “dicking around” or “didn’t love enough” to “settle down.”
But what if that’s not the case? What if they love their partner very, very much — but don’t support the (possibly outdated) institution of marriage?
If it’s unloving for someone to risk losing their partner by refusing to get married…
…then it’s equally unloving for someone to risk losing their partner by demanding it.
In both cases, each person’s ideals around Marriage were more important to them than keeping their partner. So if it’s a matter of “not loving enough,” then neither of them did.
The Boy and I are both lukewarm on marriage. But if either of us wanted it badly enough, the other one would readily do it.
But conversely— and this is important! — we also both agree:
Neither of us would ever let the other person go just because they didn’t want to get married.
Because we both care about each other far more than we care about our stance on marriage, for or against.
And that’s whole lot closer to true love. And if we all want to admit and agree that marriage isn’t about love anyway, that’s totally fine. (Because it’s not.) But don’t combine the two in one conversation unless you’re honest about what you’re saying.
“You’ll have what I want”
The worst example of this is kids.
I don’t know when we started thinking it was “cute” or “understandable” that a wife (or sometimes girlfriend!) dictate that her husband or boyfriend is going to have a kid — against his openly-stated wishes. Maybe it’s just some horrific leave-over from conventional times gone past, but, like, c’mon people.
Shit’s so fucked up.
I’m not talking about accidents. I’m talking about both partners entering into an open, honest relationship saying that they don’t want to have kids — and then one of them either starts pressuring hard for them. Or just goes and has a kid anyway, regardless. Completely steamrolling their partner’s wishes.
How love looks: “I’m okay”
The problem is that love makes us feel insecure. We’re vulnerable, we’re exposed, we hang too much of our identity on our partner and we expect them to embody too much.
We get insecure and then we let that insecurity turn into hurting others.
Love is about starting to take responsibility and define better boundaries — acknowledging what’s our domain and what isn’t, and identifying the real issue behind our “issue” with stupid shit like shirts, or why publicly announcing that someone is the “love of your life” is more important than actually treating them like it.
How love looks: “You’re okay”
There are actually a couple of things at play here, and the first thing is boundaries.
It’s not healthy to nitpick what shirt your spouse wants to wear — especially if they specifically picked a shirt they thought you’d like. Your controlling behavior isn’t cute — you’re being a monster.
Let them dress how they want to dress. It’s their body. They are not your public status symbol. They are a person.
How love looks: “What’s important to you is important to me”
This is the biggest thing.
Loving someone means honoring their values. It means celebrating and making space in your lives for the things that are important to them — as long as those things are healthy.
As long as their interests aren’t gambling or strip clubs or drugs or booze or whatever else, I mean fuck man, let them have comic books! Let them buy the car! Let them bake and make dad jokes and wear the shirt they like that you hate.
In fact, no — don’t just “let them” have these things —because you don’t own them. Rather, encourage them to have — support them in having — these things that make their heart sing.
Because doing so — and seeing how much happiness it brings them — should make your heart happy in return. That’s how to love.