PSA: Tell people how you feel

Over the weekend, I was reminded of a guest-post I wrote once-upon-a-time for my very amazing friend Kasey’s blog, Valprehension.

Given what’s happened over the last year with the rise of #MeToo, plus just generally the ways that feminism has gained a bit more mainstream popularity (compared to what it was in the 90s, for sure) and the ways that dating/gender/relationship norms are all being questioned and rethought, a lot of consternation has risen up in the minds of men. How can we resolve our desires with the ways that, for example, women are often reduced to objects? How can men in particular express desire without worrying that they are objectifying someone?

These are good questions without obvious answers. I often find that men are so worried about being inappropriate or creepy or gross and that this often results in a kind of paralysis. I think that people in general being forced into more thoughtfulness regarding their behaviour is a good thing, but I also think that paralysis ends up resulting in inaction in ways that are unproductive.

My academic work deals in various intersections between language, power, ethics, and oppression. One of the frameworks I use is a theory (well, there are a few) that understands that when we communicate we’re also acting – that language isn’t some passive vehicle for describing the state of the world (‘It is snowing today.’), or someone’s belief (‘p knows that q.’), but that its meaning is inevitably informed by the function it plays within a specific context.

This is all very abstract, but the post I wrote is about something something very concrete: telling someone how you feel, how you see them, that isn’t just describing a ‘mental state’ (to borrow from the underwhelming parlance of my discipline) but actually DOES SOMETHING. It is IMPORTANT. Words are more than just the fact of the world to which they can be traced, their reference.

And this is bigger than just romantic relationships. I think we can sometimes just assume that our friends or partners or lovers just know how awesome we think they are. But here’s the thing: even if they do, it is still deeply meaningful to say it. Rather than being redundant, it’s constructive. It shows affection, and care, it can facilitate desire and reinforce bonds. And sometimes its easy to forget how important that is, even if you’re not an academic philosopher. Obviously all of this is context dependent, and I’m not advocating radical honesty with strangers on the street. But if your partner wants some reassurance about your feelings, and you find yourself annoyed because they aren’t reading your mind, you might be the one who’s missing something.

Without further adieu, here it is! Enjoy.

An Open Letter to Men Who Date Women