Updated: Feb 16, 2021
This is not a post about swiping left when you learn a guy voted for Trump (obvi). Nor is it about dating across party lines and “working through your differences.” It is about navigating a relationship in which both of you are Democrats, but because one of you is a man and one of you is a woman, dating is different than it was two plus years ago.
My first date with my last boyfriend was three days before the election. The night ended optimistically—for both our future and the future of the country. On election night I was lying on my shag rug propped up on pillows next to my heater. It was a bit uncomfortable, but I leaned up against the wall so that I could charge my phone to text this new man. The results started coming in. I don’t remember how we got to texting—our first text exchange—but I do remember wondering what it would be like to chat with this new guy with potential on election eve. I remember wondering if it would reveal anything about him. We didn’t text for long. But I remember that he texted “The Canadian website crashed. LOL.” And I remember thinking, “No. This isn’t funny.” But even then, even right away, I didn’t speak up because the world was all of a sudden—it seemed—becoming crazy, and I didn’t want one more thing to become crazy. I didn’t want to upset this new man. Think about that: I didn’t want to upset a man by saying I was troubled by the election results, because I wanted him to like me. But I also did want him to hear me, to share in my emotions. So I ended the conversation with “See you on the other side,” to convey (I hoped) that I didn’t have the energy to text anymore and that we, as in this tiny seed of a relationship and ‘we the people,’ were crossing to another side.
A day or so after the election we were firming up plans for our second date that Friday. I texted I’d been crying all week. But when Friday came around I put on an emerald green dress and tried to show up as an energetic, vivacious woman. I guess it was a good date, because it led to a third. But what I really wanted to say yet didn’t even know I wanted to say, the days leading up to Friday, during the date, and many days afterwards was: “I’m sad. I’m angry. Because of the state of the world, it is hard for me to be happy right now. And I don’t know what to do about that.”
The day of the Women’s March was one of the first times (I think) we had a miscommunication and I hurt his feelings. It was also one of the first times I hurt his feelings because I was feeling emotions about the state of the world and I didn’t know how to express them. After walking over five miles that day, not only were my feet and legs worn out, but my emotions were tired too. I was supposed to meet him at some sort of arts installation south of downtown that evening, but a few hours from the meeting time I cancelled. It’s true that didn’t want to go back out and get on another bus or two in the cold. I also wanted to end the day with the feelings I was feeling. I didn’t want to layer a date on top of those feelings. Can you understand that, reader? Have you ever gone to the movies and wanted to just go home afterwards and sit? Have you ever, after an emotional event, not wanted to talk to anyone, but to just be in your emotions? That’s how I felt. We talked about it a little, but I don’t think I shared my whole truth. And I don’t regret cancelling. I should have known the March would be major. Should have known that I wouldn’t want to do anything after it. It’s true that I did not keep my commitment to meet him at the art event, but it felt trivial compared to what I had participated in. That day I didn’t know how to say that I cared more about women’s rights than cool art. That was actually a first for me. I didn’t know how to say I was, just a little bit, awake.
Our first weekend away to Portland something similar happened, but I don’t think I spoke up about it. I was looking forward to our first weekend away together (a milestone for me) but other feelings were coming up too. That was the weekend of the Muslim Ban and like many, I was sad and pissed off all at once. But I also I felt pressure to be an upbeat girlfriend—to have a great food, fun, and sex-filled weekend. We had dinner reservations at an expensive restaurant and I remember walking through the dark, rainy streets of downtown Portland just wanting to feel sad. I wanted to talk about it, but I didn’t know what to say because both feelings—the security of finally having a committed partner and the devastation of what was happening in our country—were new to me.
I want to pause here to acknowledge that I know the genders could be reversed. I know that the man in the relationship could just as easily be upset about the Muslim Ban as a woman could. I know that many of the issues of the era aren’t gender-specific. I know that a man could get riled up/heartbroken just as a woman could not want to talk about it and enjoy life. And because I didn’t usually speak up, I don’t know what this man was feeling. But I do know what a lot of women are feeling. And I know that a lot of these women have a hard time expressing what they are feeling, more often to their men than to their girlfriends. And so it continues, in a million tiny ways.
I met a man who told me about a game he plays with his five-year-old daughter (who happens to share my name). He said that when she comes home from school they sometimes play “Katherine’s in control” where she can decide what they do for ten minutes: TV, snacks, whatever. And I know she’s five years old and this is a game, but the idea pissed me off. Maybe because I had just read “Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger,” or because my name is also Katherine. But this Katherine doesn’t want to be in control for just ten minutes. This Katherine wants to be in control all the time. This Katherine doesn’t want a man to tell her when she gets to do what she wants to do. Even though it’s a somewhat playful metaphor I am sharing it with you, reader, because I don’t think I would have had this stream of thoughts three years ago. It wouldn’t have even occurred to me.
I don’t want to hate men. I’d like to love them. Or really, I liked to love just one. Just one would be enough. But sometimes I can’t even be in the same room with some of them. Sometimes years of mansplaining, misogyny, and accepted but inappropriate behavior swirl around me in a fury that I just try to keep breathing. And yup, I’m sure these little furies, these little earthquakes, find their way into my dates. Nobody wants to be an “angry woman,” but dammit guys, we are pissed off. And we don’t always know what to do about it.
I’ve seen an online dating profile that said “Trump is one of our worst presidents, but he’s not Hitler.” I ruled him out because of that. Not because I’m sure he’s wrong—though he very well could be—but because a man who is sure Trump isn’t Hitler probably isn’t the man for me. I’ve also seen a profile that included a photo of the guy at the Women’s March. This man, flanked by his female friends and their pink signs, suddenly became infinitely more attractive to me.
I am not writing this not to accuse men of being insensitive. They are learning to be there for women just as women are learning to speak up. I am also not accusing my ex of being insensitive. Maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t. Maybe he didn’t even know I was mad and sad. Maybe he wanted to reach out to me each time Trump fired his shots because he was upset too, but he didn’t think I was upset so he didn’t reach out. Or maybe he didn’t know how to reach out, just as I didn’t know how to speak up. Maybe he and his new girlfriend give money to Planned Parenthood. Maybe he puts his arm around her while she bemoans the gender pay gap. Maybe. But this isn’t about him. It’s about me. It’s about women. I am writing because dating in the Trump era is different than dating before it. And I would like to say to women of any relationship status that if sometimes you feel mad and sad about the state of the world, I hear you. I see you. It is a different time. And the rage and despair of this different time creeps into every aspect of our lives, especially our relationships. I didn’t know how to say those words before. But I do now.
And apparently, I’m not alone. Rebecca Traister quotes in “Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women's Anger”:
Men literally have no idea how to even legitimately recognize or name our anger—largely because we don’t either. This is new territory for everybody. Women’s rage has been so sublimated for so long that there’s simply no frame for what happens when it finally comes to the surface. —Sara Robinson
Yes! Now I see that many women are feeling unprecedented rage. And we don’t always know how to express these feelings. And even if we do express them, men often don’t know what to do. But I don’t feel sorry for these men. I don’t feel sorry for them in the same way that I can’t feel sorry for myself for not knowing how to speak up. I’ve got to figure it out. I’ve got to figure out how to say, “I’m sad today” or “I’m angry today.” And then, men, you’ve got to figure it out too—even if it doesn’t align with your sex drive or your plans. You’ve got to hold space for your women’s emotions just as we have been holding space for yours for thousands of years.
I am writing because I want to encourage women to be truthful, in the simplest way. I want women to say to their men, “I am angry. I feel sad today. Can you hear me?”
… and some women—God bless you, Julia Sugarbaker/ Dixie Carter—have been saying this for a long time.