Archive for November, 2017

it’s all talk

I’ve been trying to figure out, lately, what the point of having difficult conversations is.

I know this is a perspective informed by growing up in a family where there was never any point in bringing anything up, because it would always make it worse, and never make anything better. So I have a deeply held fatalism about the pointlessness of changing anyone’s mind. And in fact–since then, I’ve rarely seen conversation effect a deep change in someone’s point of view.

The racist ex who was racist when we were together–still racist, many many years after breaking up, though we discussed it. Bluntly.

Sexist, anti-feminist relatives: still sexist, still anti-feminist.

Fundamentalist, homophobic, racist, climate denialist relatives are still fundamentalist, homophobic, racist climate denialists.

The people I know who are committed to making the world a better place and already know about injustice are the ones who are most likely to adjust their point of view to accommodate new information, but that’s not them changing. That’s just an extension of who they are, who they’ve already decided to be.

I read all those articles about how to have conversations that change people’s minds, and they’re not convincing. (Ironic, eh?) There’s no scientific method, no experimental design, no quantitative results–it’s all anecdotal just-so stories that reflect the way the authors think it’s supposed to work.

Yet people do change their minds.

I was a fundamentalist, homophobic, racist, deeply misogynistic girl child. I changed.

My relatives didn’t, but I did.

I have some friends who have changed remarkably over the time I’ve known them. I know more who haven’t. Some who have made repeated commitments to be horrible people over decades, and who are no longer my friends.

People can change; most don’t.

How long do you engage with someone?

When do you even bother trying?

When do you stop?

How did I change? Can I even describe that? I was pro-life in grade 9 and pro-choice in grade 12. Was it just that my first opinions were formed by a family I still depended on, and that as I got exposure outside that bubble, I was able to assimilate it? That makes sense, but then why didn’t my cousins? (Of the six cousins on that side, two have made moderate strides away from the super-right-wing awfulness, but I would say they still fall closer to that end a lot.) They also would have gone to schools and interacted with peers who challenged their views and provided new information and perspectives. And it didn’t take.

I had one acquaintance in highschool who was/is deeply misogynistic. He says terrible things about women. He’s the guy posting rape jokes on your timeline and complaining that women are uptight bitches when they don’t laugh. He was abused by his mother; but then so was I, and I changed.

I have one friend who was a boyfriend, who was unbelievably sexist when we first started dating, to the point where I wonder why it was I didn’t dump him right away. I should have. He jokes now that he used to be very Fox News, and it’s true; I joke that he’s my token republican friend, even though he hates just about everything the republicans have done in the past few years. Now when I see him on FB he’s probably posting a cutting rejoinder to a racist comment on a public news feed. He gives me and our conversations a lot of credit in why and how he changed, and that’s nice, but there’s a lot of other people who have had the same conversations with me, and they haven’t changed.

The guys I’ve dated in the last few years who said sexist or misogynistic things then assaulted and/or harassed me. Those statements were an accurate reflection of their views on women, and their actions towards women. At this point it feels like a mountainous risk to engage with a man with those kinds of views; like taking a child’s toy shovel to a stable full to the rafters with manure in the hopes that, at the end of it, you might find a gold coin underneath. And there are so many men with those views.

I went on a date recently with a guy who seemed really nice. He wasn’t super attractive but we talked easily and I was enjoying his company. Until the waiter came by and asked us if we wanted one bill or two, and he said we might order more–even though we definitely were done eating–and then when she was walking by the table made a loud comment about giving her a low tip. I was utterly mortified. “There’s a line-up,” I said; “they probably need the table free.” When he went to the bathroom I apologized to the waitress and asked for separate bills so I could make sure she got a big tip on my order. I know it could be read as everyday borderline rudeness, but in that moment, it felt very much as him putting a woman in her place.

Recently I had a conversation with a guy on a dating app who seemed funny and we were talking well. I mentioned I was going to a dance class and he made a joke about flashdance.

I’ve gotten very tired of stripping jokes. It’s an immediate turnoff. There’s so many ways to take that conversation and the one towards the guy’s boner is just not the direction I want to go.

I told him that I’m not a big fan of the stripping comparisons.

And got back a diatribe about how awful and wrong it was of me to be offended (I never said I was offended) and it should be expected on dating sites for conversations to go that way and that speech isn’t an action so it’s not like he actually did anything (I don’t think I mentioned that this guy is, professionally, a therapist) and clearly I’m going to be offended by everything he says so he’s going to stop talking to me. Red flags flying around like candy at a santa parade.

At least 75% of the conversations I’m in on dating apps die quickly because the guy just won’t stop talking about himself and never reciprocates with a question, or displays any interest when I share something about me. We haven’t even exchanged full names or phone numbers, let alone met, and they’re already slotting me into the Audience category where they are the Main Star of the show. How is that attractive? What expectations do these men have? How is this going to add anything to my life?

I took the apps off my phone. I kind of hate men right now.

(Don’t ask about the ones I meet dancing. They’re worse.)

Dating was a lot easier when I had low self-esteem and a high tolerance for bullshit. I think I had energy for these kinds of conversations and some kind of faith that they would lead somewhere worth going. Now it makes my brain hurt to even think about it.

I have what I think is a FWB. He’s cute. He’s funny. He’s very smart. He thinks he’s one of the good ones–he’ll make comments about sexism or whatever that makes it clear he wants to be thought of in that category–but then he’ll say something victim-blaming about the women in promiment harassment or rape cases and you know, I don’t say a damned thing. It makes me think less of him, and I have not only no faith in the idea that I can alter his thinking by talking to him, but absolutely no interest in or energy for tackling it. Whatever. He’s going to be a liberal sexist. That’s his choice. His reward for that is wondering why we only see each other once a month or so.

At this point there’s no one in my life I talk to regularly who I have major values or human rights disagreements with. They’ve all been polite-distanced to the outer periphery. I feel like I’ve used up my lifetime quota of believing I can make the world better through one-on-one conversations with people who have reached midlife (or later) secure in the belief that other people are less human than they are. Or that they themselves are somehow extra human, and more deserving.

The end result of all of this is that I really don’t have these conversations. Even though I know sometimes it must make some kind of difference, it’s not often enough to make it worth all the work, or all the rage, that goes into having them.

Does that energy come back, do you think? Or have I passed a thresshold where I am just never, ever having a conversation like that again?


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