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Yes, my boyfriend’s great – but so am I

Couple Having Romantic Dinner At Home.

I really do believe we’re both lucky. Both of us. Not just me. (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The other week my partner of over a year met a couple close to me for the first time.

The meeting went well, everyone got on, which was a relief – if not really all that surprising, given that my other half is charming and attentive, and gets on with most people.

The weird part came just before we left, when the woman pulled me aside to tell me just how great they thought my boyfriend was. It wasn’t unexpected: people often do the same when meeting a loved one’s new squeeze – so far, so normal.

But after about ten minutes of listening to the woman extoll each and every one of my partner’s virtues – how sensitive he is, how intelligent, how affectionate with me – I started to notice a distinct absence of any sort of acknowledgement of the fact that I deserve all of this.

Or that I, too, treat him with love and respect. Or of the fact that I am a nice and kind person, also. Or even that it’s so great that we’ve met because for once, I am being treated as well as I am treating him. We are evenly matched. For once! 

Rather, the implication seemed to be that I should be proactively acknowledging my good fortune at all times – saying, aren’t I so lucky? 

But…shouldn’t we all expect this behaviour?

In the car home, my partner and I chatted about it. He told me he’d felt uncomfortable with the number of times this couple had mentioned how wonderful he was for carrying my suitcase (when I had injured my leg) and making me tea (when I had to do some work).

‘She treats me very well too!’ I heard him say on a number of occasions, feeling compelled, I suspect, to remind them that we are both happy in this relationship – because we both respect each other with affection.

I wish I could say it was a one-off, but the truth is that ever since I met The Good Guy®, I’ve lost count of the DMs, tweets, comments and WhatsApp messages I’ve received telling me he seems like ‘such a great guy’, that I am ‘lucky to have him’ and ‘should hold onto him with both hands’.

For the record, I do consider myself lucky that we found each other in the mire of modern dating after years of bad treatment, and we tell each other regularly. But that’s just it – I really do believe we’re both lucky. Both of us. Not just me.

The problem with all of this is that it is precisely these low expectations that allow abuse to flourish within romantic relationships

I know all of this is well-meaning, but all I can say is that if you’ve ever wondered just how low the bar is for men in heterosexual relationships, ask any woman who has ever dated one that happens to be nice. 

Look – I get it! As a woman who has dated a lot of insensitive, horrible and sometimes abusive men in her time, I really do understand that unfortunately, when it comes to heterosexual dating, women are often expected to do and be a lot more than their romantic counterparts.

I’ve been ghosted and ‘breadcrumbed’ (defined by Urban Dictionary as ‘the act of sending out flirtatious, but non-committal text messages to lure a sexual partner without expending much effort’).

I’ve had boundaries blurred and pushed. I also understand that social conditioning teaches men that showing emotion is ‘wrong’, and that, comparatively speaking, this makes the job of overcoming those expectations an achievement in itself. 

But surely we shouldn’t let our expectations be governed by the nasty experiences that so many women go through at the hands of men?

Surely, our language and communication styles are flexible enough that we can express our pleasure in a woman finding a happy relationship, without somehow putting them down in the process? Or making them feel that they must demonstrate overwhelming gratitude at all times for the simple fact that they are not being mistreated?

The problem with all of this is that it is precisely these low expectations that allow abuse to flourish within romantic relationships. I know, because I have been there myself.

‘Oh, he’s not that bad,’ we think, remembering the millions of horrendous stories heard from other women.

We tolerate it because ‘that’s just what men are like’ and ‘boys will be boys’.

We’re taught to just put up with it, and by extension, that we’ll never get back what we put into a relationship. That’s what our female friends are for, we tell ourselves.

The thing is though that by setting our expectations low as a society, we never teach men that they need to raise their standards of behaviour – that they can act better. That it’s not just women who can be compassionate and thoughtful.

It’s part of what makes dating such a miserable experience for many women who date men, too. So strong is the supply of great women on dating apps that the average man needn’t even try to be nice, because they can just cycle onto the next option.

Most men who date women I know find online dating fun and enjoyable – a buyer’s market where they can find someone who meets their every requirement. On the other hand, most women who date men I know are struggling to find good qualities in average men who don’t feel under any pressure to be their best selves online.

And so the problem feeds itself. 

And before you say it, I really do know that it’s not all men. I know that women can be awful, too, and that there are many good men around. But as we are so often reminded – bad behaviour by men towards women is still overwhelmingly common.

I want to believe that we can be truly equal to men, and that starts with expecting the tenderness that we give to be returned. And that being kind, respectful and supportive are not considered exceptional qualities for a man. Because they shouldn’t be – they don’t need to be. 

The good news is that if we anticipate more from people, then they, in turn, will be forced to do better – and, eventually, to expect more from themselves.

In the meantime, next time a pal tells you something lovely that their boyfriend has done, don’t jump to tell them how lucky they are. Consider saying instead ‘I’m so glad you found someone who treats you as well as you deserve to be.’

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing jess.austin@metro.co.uk. 

Share your views in the comments below.

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