We generally consider double standards unfair.
Simple example: JoAnn can leave a mess, but if I do, I’ll hear about it. JoAnn can yell at me, but I’m not allowed to yell at her. JoAnn can talk about old boyfriends, but will get upset if I talk about old girlfriends.
The ego screams, “It’s not fair! Why should she have different rules than I do?!”
When we are single and alone, most of us are looking for that special someone. Someone who can be a best friend. But also someone magical. We don’t want an ordinary relationship; we want something more. Something truly extraordinary.
And when we find it, what will we do with that extraordinary person? We’ll turn them into someone ordinary.
JoAnn was my dream girl. While some might prefer more of the “fairy princess” type, I go for the “bitchy, tough and cutting on the outside; sensitive, loving and intelligent on the inside” type. Let’s focus on the “bitchy and tough” part. It’s true that I love her directness, the way she doesn’t take any crap from anyone. When she told me the story of how she repulsed, on two occasions, armed robbers, I started to swoon.
Ah! But what happens when she gets bitchy and tough with… me! Hold on a minute! That’s a different story. Now all of a sudden I’m criticizing her for one of the very things I most love about her.
That’s what we do with our fairy princesses (and princes). We say, “Look at her, she’s magical, beautiful, a princess!” Then we marry the princess and want to be her equal. And since we’re not royalty, that means pulling them down to our level. WHAT FUN IS THAT?!? I had a fairy princess… now I have… an equal?! How satisfying is that going to be when I see another fairy princess passing by?
Instead, I think the trick is to figure out how to keep the fairy princess a fairy princess. And this means embracing double standards. If she wants the groomsman to clean up after her mess, shall I do it begrudgingly? I shall not! I’ll do it joyfully. If she needs to yell at me to express herself, I will take it like a knight in shining armor. But yell at her, I will not! The queen gets to admonish her subjects, not the other way around. But the subjects get to have a queen!
(Really Important Note: I’m not talking about letting myself/yourself be walked on and mistreated. I’m not talking about letting your partner treat you like dirt. I’m talking about being really, really generous with your partner. I’m talking about letting your partner say what s/he needs to say before you express yourself. I’m talking about cutting your partner an acre of slack. I’m talking about stopping trying to find fault, and instead finding… whatever the opposite of “fault” is. Find blessings, perfection, etc. And there you’ll find your prince or princess.)
So, I’m going on record. No more resisting double standards for me. I’m going to treat JoAnn like a princess, like my queen (I mostly do already). I’m going to clean up after her (I already do and she’s not messy anyway). I’m going to let her yell at me (she doesn’t do that often), I’m going to let her talk about old boyfriends without feeling like I need to talk about old girlfriends. I’m going to let her admonish me for not calling her several times throughout the day, without ever admonishing her for not calling back.
Double standards usually are not what they seem, anyway. We each have different needs. We’re good at different things. We do different things for each other. It would be impossible to try to calculate who is doing more – and a loser’s calculation at that. If you want to keep track of something, keep track of how many times you caught your partner doing something right. Keep track of everything you love about your partner, of everything for which you’re grateful about your relationship.
I used to love to play tackle football with my friends in junior high school. I rarely cared about which team won. I just loved smashing into other guys, going all out and leaving it all on the field. Limping off, aching everywhere, wasn’t something you complained about – it was a badge. As long as you didn’t break anything, the more you hurt, the more you knew you went all out – and you were proud of that.
Just so, I don’t worry about coming out of each interaction with JoAnn unscathed. I want to give her everything I’ve got without concern for minor aches and bruises. I want to be the knight, fresh from battle, banged up but still whole, gazing into the adoring eyes of my princess who says, “You have fared well, good knight. We are most grateful to you. Now come inside and we shall feast.”
I love your book and this blog entry, too, which is as thought-provoking as every page in your book. Looking forward to hearing more from you. And I would LOVE to read some comments from JoAnn!
Love this perspective! You have a Princess and you know how to keep her? Wonderful! Thank you.
Love it, so true. I just ended a relationship due to some of these factors. Would love to call in on your show!
Thanks Pam. I hope you will call in! It’s more powerful when we talk live with people, rather than tell stories about them or ourselves.
Thanks Linda. Yes, I have been blessed. The 27th time’s the charm….
Thanks Chris! I spoke to JoAnn and told her that “her public awaits!” Not sure what she would write about – any ideas? I know she has a lot to say – her fitness training clients tell me that every session with her is like getting psychotherapy from Yoda.
I love this! Hummm…..did I ever ask you if you have a brother?
I do! He looks exactly like a cross between Dr. Andrew Weil (no relation) and Rob Reiner (also no relation :).
Brilliant! A fairly universal concept that most of us forget how to practice.
Marx had a vision of society: “From each according to his ability, to each acording to his needs.” It may be impossible to engineer at the macro level, but –as this blog points out–it’s a great recipe for satisfying relationships. Thanks for this reminder that love, if we’re lucky, gives us the opportunity to rise above the pettiness and tit-for-tat, to be great.
Beautifully said, Jon. Thank you.
Thanks Creeto. I was pretty blind to this for say… 12 years of marriage (and who knows however many years of other relationships), but when it finally dawned on me, I couldn’t believe how blind I had been!
Bill–I am fortunate and very blessed to have a man who embraces double standards. thank you for reminding me to appreciate him, and to go easy!
…vive la difference….let those double standards rock…..
Greetings! Not sure that this is true 🙂 but thanks for the post!
Hello Nadine. Yes, my whereabouts (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States) are a top secret. I’m telling you, but please don’t let this information get out 😉 I have to move every few months just to avoid the paparazzi. I’m thinking of joining the Witness Protection Program, but I can’t seem to get anyone to send me an application.
I like what you’re saying about giving an acre of slack and I do understand how this fits into your concept. At the same time, I think that when there are different behavioral standards, this can become a pattern of control, and I think that needs to be clarified.
You did clarify that you do not mean allowing your partner to treat you badly, or walk all over you, etc.
Perhaps what I’m saying is that I personally truly value mutuality, and so I’m not comfortable with a partner who says he is allowed to yell but I am not or he is allowed to curse but I am not or who actually thinks he can tell me what I’m allowed to do!
I would love to hear your thoughts on this. 🙂
Denise – thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. I welcome the discussion – I almost said debate – but I think if I can communicate clearly enough about this, it won’t be a debate – we’ll likely agree.
I don’t think I mean to talk about “control” – although I do believe that true control is the giving up of control. I love stories of prisoners who while in prison finally became free – because they accepted their surroundings for the first time in their lives. And yes, it’s worth another reiteration that I’m not talking about bad, controlling behavior.
When JoAnn says “You’re not allowed to yell at me” what she’s really saying is something along the spectrum of “It’s hard for me to handle your disapproval” to “I can’t handle expressions of anger pointed at me from the person I love the most.” And if I do it enough, she won’t stick around for it. And, to be very clear, my “yelling” at JoAnn is raising my voice from a 3-out-of-10 to maybe a 5, and still communicating fairly responsibly.
On to mutuality.
I’m pretty clear that mutuality is a red herring at its best, and one of the most relationship-undermining concepts at its worst. First of all, there’s no way to tally what each partner in a relationship is doing for the other, or to keep track of it over time. Secondly, it maybe misses the point entirely. If I love the thrill I get when I bring JoAnn flowers and she squeals with delight… who is getting the gift here? If I bring her flowers every week and she never gives me flowers, does that mean we’re out of mutuality balance?*
If I love to hold the door for her, hold her chair, etc., and do all those gentlemanly things that can be fun for a person who likes to think of himself as a gentleman, am I to expect her to occasionally hold my chair? **
To each her own, of course. For example, there are people who love to be dominated (sexually and otherwise) and people who enjoy dominating. To them, mutuality is the dominator making demands and the submissive one filling them.
Of course, I believe in fairness. I just think we need to be careful where we look for that fairness. I mostly judge by my emotional bank account. If JoAnn’s making more deposits than withdrawals (and vice versa), we’re generally in great shape.
Contrast this with a prior, painful relationship. My (then) partner and I sapped each others energy; we were not loving, kind and generous with each other. With each of us constantly feeling emotionally overdrawn, things like who is doing more housework, bill paying, yard work, etc. became the only currency we had. And when we got to that low state of existence, “mutuality” (really, tit for tat) took center stage. And, from that state of mind, the other one always felt like s/he was getting the short end of the stick.
* The truth is that I don’t buy her cut flowers – hardly ever, but I would if she liked them!
** I wish I was more like the gentlemanly guy I’m describing. I’ll work on it.