“Swipe This!” is an advice column about how to navigate human relationships and connections in an age when we depend so heavily on technology. Have a question? Email email@example.com.
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Dear Swipe This!
Is it weird that my partner hasn’t said anything to me about #MeToo?
We’ve been dating for about a year and I really love my partner. I feel like he totally gets me. I feel like I can talk to him about pretty much anything. But one thing we haven’t talked about is the big conversation that’s happening online this week around sexual assault and rape culture. I know I could reach out to him and ask him what he thinks, but I guess what it really comes down to is that I want him to reach out to me.
My partner is on Facebook and checks it regularly, but very rarely actually posts anything. I don’t really expect him to say anything publicly about #MeToo—it would be out of character if he made a post on his own wall. But I guess I was hoping he’d say something to me in person at some point. I know he has a crazy work schedule, so it’s possible he hasn’t checked in on Facebook much this week, or the conversation just isn’t at the forefront of his mind.
So, how long should I wait before asking him his thoughts? I really want him to come to the conclusion that he should say something to me without me asking him. But I’m also not opposed to saying something to him and explaining that it hurts that he didn’t speak up, at least in private. I don’t want to have that conversation, but at this stage in our relationship, I guess it may be necessary.
Wondering and Waiting
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Dear Wondering and Waiting,
What a fucking week.
I would love to put a positive spin on this—to marvel at the strength of the women and survivors around me who have had the courage to share their stories. I would love to tell you that this is the moment where things begin to get better. But if I’m being totally honest, the whole thing has made me feel very tired and sad and sore.
Because how much suffering and pain does there have to be before we say enough? When are we going to start doing what’s necessary to protect the most vulnerable among us? How many survivors need to dredge up and relive their trauma for those in power to finally believe us? How much more hurt can we possibly take?
The thing that is wonderful about social media activism is also what makes it so terrible: It doesn’t stop. In #MeToo, we have found the power of collective voices crying out that this is real, it is painful, and it needs to end. But we have also had to revisit our trauma and the trauma of those we love over and over again. So before I address the conversation you’d like to have with your partner, I’m going to pause, because I think it’s very necessary that we address the matter of self-care.
Have you paused to take care of yourself? I hope you have made yourself a tea, or drawn a bath, or at the very least given your eyes a chance to rest. I hope you have snuggled up with a happy child or a loving pet or a soft blanket. I hope you have made space for some quiet, some warmth, and some calm in the midst of this stormy moment. And if you haven’t yet, what are some small ways you can show up for yourself and give yourself a little extra love?
People often dismiss the notion of self-care in times like these. But I would argue that it is actually essential to reconnect with yourself. Because a woman who loves herself is a force to be reckoned with. She knows what she wants and she is unafraid to ask for it. I am particularly fond of this passage from The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf:
“A consequence of female self-love is that the woman grows convinced of social worth. Her love for her body will be unqualified, which is the basis of female identification. If a woman loves her own body, she doesn’t grudge what other women do with theirs; if she loves femaleness, she champions its rights. It’s true what they say about women: Women are insatiable. We are greedy. Our appetites do need to be controlled if things are to stay in place. If the world were ours too, if we believed we could get away with it, we would ask for more love, more sex, more money, more commitment to children, more food, more care. These sexual, emotional, and physical demands would begin to extend to social demands: payment for care of the elderly, parental leave, childcare, etc. The force of female desire would be so great that society would truly have to reckon with what women want, in bed and in the world.”
When you show up for yourself, it becomes much, much easier to ask for what you need from others. That’s not to say that your partner has no role in this. It’s perfectly normal that you want your partner, the person who loves you and “gets you,” to approach you. It’s absolutely reasonable that you want him to reach out and show you he cares. I also think it’s perfectly normal that he hasn’t.
Because here’s the ugly truth: He doesn’t have to.
Your partner is in a position of privilege. Perhaps he is incredibly kind. Maybe he is tremendously empathetic. He may examine your grief when his Facebook feed is overrun with a viral meme. He may even be willing to examine his social role in all of this. But because of his privilege, he is free to come and go from this narrative as he pleases. He can dip in and out of our grief.
Because this is how privilege functions. It offers the privileged the luxury of visiting the pain of the oppressed, examining it with curiosity and interest like tourists in a museum. They can study us, they can learn our history, but they do not have to live shackled to this ancient framework. They do not have to carry our pain. They can exit through the gift shop and snag a button that proves they visited on the way out.
Of course, you can wait for him to reach out to you. And wouldn’t it be lovely if he did? But if I were you, regardless of how wonderful he is, I wouldn’t hold my breath.
What strikes me about your letter is how calm and collected and reasonable you seem. I know you want him to show up for you. But sometimes, being patient becomes its own form of emotional labor. And I can’t help but wonder, when something is bothering you so acutely, if waiting for him to figure it out while you hold it all together is one more way that you are putting the burden of this work on yourself.
The simple truth is, if you want him to show up for you, you’ve got to ask. Tell him how urgent this is. Tell him this matters. Tell him you want more from him in matters that don’t directly threaten him because they are matters that matter to you. Maybe it won’t be pleasant, and certainly, it will be work. So if you’re feeling too tired today, by all means, take a break. But when your strength returns, I strongly advise you ask openly and greedily for everything you need.
It is very rare that I applaud male allies, but I’m going to point you in the direction of a TED Talk by former President Jimmy Carter. Carter argues that the greatest human rights violation on our planet is the abuse of women and girls. He also highlights the suffering of women of color. And why does this abuse persist? Carter says, “In general, men don’t give a damn.” He goes on to explain that the best way to effect change is for “women…who have influence and who have freedom to speak and act to take responsibility…and be more forceful and more demanding…to end racial discrimination against girls and women all over the world.”
The first time I heard this, I recoiled in disgust and anger. You want us to do more work? I’m sorry, it’s whose responsibility?
But like it or not, he’s right. This is our fight to fight and no one else is going to fight it for us. Women who have access to power, who have agency, and who can make our voices heard—it is our duty to keep speaking up, to create a roar so powerful that it makes male silence uncomfortable. Change has never happened because an oppressed group threw their hands up and said, “Let the King fix it, we’re too tired.” Change happens when we make the collective roar of our voices impossible to ignore.
The only thing more exhausting than doing the deep work necessary to create change is waiting around for someone else to do it for us. So, dear Wondering and Waiting, I hope you will take the time to love yourself this week. And I hope that when you are ready to speak to your partner you are more demanding, more forceful, and more greedy than ever.