Friday, 23 May 2008

Something For The Ladies #13

It's Friday. So just before Todger Talk clocks off at its part-time job at a paint shop to go home, have a row with its Dad, put on a medallion and stand in front of an Al Pacino poster in its pants shouting "AT-TIC-A! AT-TIC-A!" before nipping to the disco and then seeing its best mate fall off a bridge, we'd better do this:

Ladies: If there's ever been anything about men you've wanted to know but were afraid to ask, or wanted a male viewpoint on a certain relationship niggle you're going through, drop an email to us at todger dot talk at googlemail dot com. Every week, we shall pick one out and answer it to the best of our capabilities.

Gentlemen: We would very much appreciate your input, so the comments section of each Something For The Ladies post will be yours and yours alone for 24 hours. In other words, all female comments will be deleted. Sorry ladies, but in this case we'd be very grateful if you'd hush those sweet keystrokes and let the chaps have their say. Just for today, though.

This week's question...

Anon and On Writes: have a problem that you and your readers could hopefully help me with. It is regarding why you men react the way they do when confronted with something just a little bit delicate/negative/serious.

The thing is, I was abused by an adult for a number of years in my early teens. It is not something that I feel affects me too much now, and I am sure I have dealt with it well (although there are a tiny number of things I am not comfortable with sexually - for example I cannot dress up in certain sexy outfits, which I am fine with). As you can imagine, it is not something I readily divulge to any passing stranger, but if I am in a relationship I feel could go somewhere I have told the person I am dating about it - both as explanation of my slight sexual inhibitions and because I feel that if I don’t I am lying by omission. I’m not telling them to invoke pity or even understanding; it’s just that I think I should.

The problem is this, all four of the men I have told have either demanded to know the name and address of my abuser so they can avenge me and then act like a hero, or have shrunk away from me, refusing to have sex, treating me like a child. I understand that it cannot be an easy thing to hear, but why confront it with either masculine stupidity or plain fear? I guess what I want to know is how to broach the subject without provoking the need to 'avenge' or 'protect' me - Or should I say nothing at all? I’ve been with my current boyfriend for six months without telling him and I really like him. I don’t want to ruin it by doing the wrong thing. Please help!

Sam says: Basically, as you have discovered, being confronted with a woman who has been sexually abused brings up some pretty basic and raw emotions in men, when we struggle with our emotions at the best of times.

This kind of binary response does make a strange sort of sense. The more macho men are clearly going for the revenge option; making it clear that they will protect you, a very basic instinct for a man, since for millions of years he played the role of the hunter and sometimes the warrior. It’s pretty much genetically programmed into us to want to bash someone who threatens our mate, even it if was from the past.

On the other end of the scale, you have the more sensitive man, who has a bit more control over the aggressive-monkey part of his personality. What he fears is that he is that if he treats you wrong, he is going to turn into some sort of sexual abuser himself. It’s a bit like discovering someone is blind; you want to immediately massively overcompensate by stopping them getting run over when they are crossing the road, when they are perfectly capable of doing it themselves. You invariably become ridiculously patronising and massively over-compensate.

Everyone keeps secrets to various degrees. Do you tell your partner that your last boyfriend’s penis was actually larger than theirs? No, there are certain things you keep quiet about because it would be just too much of a minefield. Would you do it if he asked and really, really insisted? Well, yes, but then you might just lie to save the grief.

I suggest this – despite being a far more serious thing, obviously - is a similar case. Clearly most men just really can’t handle it, so since it doesn’t really seem to actually affect your current life that much, let sleeping dogs lie. Dredging up the bad stuff in the past generally just makes everyone unhappy. The past is over. All we have is now and the future to look forward to.

‘Mr Sex’ says: For the first time ever, I’m disagreeing with Sam. Talking about deciding to put the lid on past traumas or not is a moot point, as far as I can see; things like this tend to come out one way or another, either by accident or design, through having The Talk or it all pouring out one night after too many shandies. Even sleeping dogs wake up, have a bit of a stretch, and then bite you on the arse.

Sam’s dead right when he talks about the standard male reactions to something like this; both of them are reflex-actions, and both of them, although well-meaning, are not conducive to a decent relationship. Yes, the revenge reaction is natural; if someone ever did that to any friend of mine, let alone someone I was in a relationship with, I’d want to pull a Bronson on their arse. Shit, I wanted to kill everyone who my first girlfriend had been with, regardless of the fact that she consented with them. The problem with that is every hero needs a victim, and it’s obvious that you have absolutely no intention of playing that role.

The sensitive reaction is similarly well-meaning but ultimately defeatist. You can try to understand, but, unless you’ve gone through something similar (because it’s not a gender-specific trauma), you don’t, really. An ex of mine told me early on in the relationship that she had been raped, and although she had overcome it, I started treating her with kid gloves, thinking “well, I’d better not be too spontaneous, or dominating, then”.

(The upside of all this is that as men get older, they become more accepting of their partner’s pasts, whether that involves a ridiculously active sex life, kids with other people, or personal traumas. It will get better, trust me)

So, I think that if you’re really into this bloke, and he feels likewise, you should have The Talk with him, but in your own time and on your own terms – and only you will know when that is. For one, you’ve already demonstrated to him that you’re capable of an active sex life and you’ve already pointed out to him what you like to do. For two, because if you don’t and it eventually comes out, it’s going to do his head in even more than it would if he told him, because even the most sympathetic, understanding man will still have a nagging feeling in his brain that will scream “But why didn’t she tell me in the first place?”.

If the relationship cools because you didn’t want to carry a monkey the size of a wardrobe on your back for the duration of your relationship, well, he wasn’t right for you in the first place. And there are plenty of men out there who are.

Men of Todger Talk: advice, please…


Silicon Limey said...

I'm with Sam on this one. Unless there's a press need to tell the chap then I'd keep it to yourself.

It's not suppressing anything, the writer seems to have got over the experience and is comfortable in her own mind about what happened and its place in history. Bringing it up solves nothing unless she really wants to.

Posts like that still make me want to beat the shit out of the tosser who did it mind you. But that's a selfish urge.

Jack said...

Ultimately, some partners just can't handle it. Just like how some partners can't handle your religious practices, your family, your friends, your exs, your pets, your taste in music, etc.

I think for any kind of serious relationship, you'll eventually need to tell them. If you feel that it's something that consistently sours a bad relationship then maybe you need to break it to them differently. You need to really help them understand what you went through and how you've dealt with it. You should even talk about how this has dampened relationships in the past and how you'd like them to handle the news.

Judging by how you say your partners react, it sounds like they want to help you and become serious with you but you're the one with the experience and you're the one that needs to help them through it. You've dealt with it but they're just starting to.

Mr_Moonlight said...

I'd want to know.

HELL I DID want to know.

My now wife was raped when she was 14, repeatedly.

I knew her at 14. I KNEW there was something wrong. She told me, with tears in her eyes, and I had the 'hero' reaction. Didn't do anything because she asked me not to.

Years later I asked her for details, if she was comfortable, and she wrote them out for me. It was very theraputic for BOTH of us.

I say tell him BUT only an outline... Tell him more later if he sticks around. No need for someone who leaves you to know all the details. Its private.

Tell him the do's and don'ts. Later tell him why.

This is what my wife did.

Now, of couse, I know as much as she wants me to. She even forced herself, with help from me, to work through some 'don'ts'. But that was hard, but VERY brave.

Good Luck, and Great Question.


Anonymous said...

I think it's important for men to understand that they don't need to react at all really.

I think I feel that it's something that someone I'm having sex with/ a serious relationship with ought to know. Maybe as explanation for some things, maybe just because it is a big deal. But, and I think the people I've told did this well, I wasn't looking for a huge reaction. It's just comforting that they know, they accept and perhaps they hold you very close to show that they care and that they are there for you and that you can tell them anything.

Then the person told should behave completely normally, unless you ask for specific things you want them not to do or in fact to do. Now that the person told knows, the teller will be more comfortable explaning things with this in mind if the situation arises. The first telling is an important part of that, especially if you worry that you might react to some things differently.

If told, I think the best thing to do is accept and keep caring and possibly not make a big deal out of it, though this obviously depends.

Anonymous said...

this is my question and i just want to say thankyou so much to all of you. although i still wasnt sure how to tell him i definitely wanted o at least outline it. so i decided to instead let him read this blog and all your comments. it really helped and he was fantastic thanx to all of you. he admited that it would have been hard for him to not react badly if he had not read what all of you had written. thankyou so much all of you. sam, mr. sex, and everyone who contributed.

Anonymous said...

this has happened to me too, and although i didn't have the guts to write in about it, you've helped me too. Thank you

Anonymous said...

I was abused for many years as a child by my father and can't imagine having a serious relationship with someone who I hadn't told. It is vital for both parties, in my view.

I've had both the reactions you mention - the "hero" and the kid gloves - and both are equally unhelpful as you say. Generally I have found that it is possible to gently point out that either of those responses is actually far more about them (the partner) than you, and that the most helpful reaction from your partner is actually to listen to what you are saying that you would like. Which is often nothing, in terms of reaction.

best of luck.

butterflywings said...

Hmmm. Difficult.
Dare I say that the male impulse to *Do Something* is not always very helpful?
With many of my past boyfriends, for example, I'd moan about having a crap day because my boss was mean to me and he would insist on giving advice on how to handle said boss. All I wanted was someone to listen, pour me some wine and go You poor thing. You know? You don't always have to do anything!
While of course the abuse issue is more serious, I think it is the same impulse behind the way many men react.