I’m just going to say exactly what this piece is about: fuck the ‘good' guy.
I’ve resolved not to use these words to describe men anymore, because language imparts power. It was a phrase often used to reference my ex-husband, mostly by people who never saw what I saw behind closed doors, and who only knew the public persona that many find engaging and charming. It seemed to happen with even greater frequency toward the end of our relationship, when I was plagued with confusion about whether I should continue to stay in a toxic situation and make a ‘go’ of it for the sake of our children, or cut the losses of the years and the time we had invested in each other. Generally, it went like this: we would be out socially, and inevitably someone, usually a woman, would make sure to announce to me, “Wow, he’s such a good guy. You’re so lucky.”, whereupon I would politely smile outwardly and cringe on the inside. Then, cue my mind retreating into its cocoon of self-doubt where I would begin a self-inquisition about why I was even considering leaving him. The way people addressed me, the way they put him on a pedestal, made me question everything I was feeling, succeeding in plaguing me with sadness, and greater determination to make a relationship work that was bringing an enormous amount of misery to my life. Where was that good guy? And why wasn’t he showing up for me?
Every time I heard the phrase, I wanted to reply with my own questions, running through my mind like a waterfall: “You seem so surprised at his goodness. Are there a limited number of ‘good’ men? Have we discovered them dwindling like an almost extinct, wild caterpillar in a rain forest? Is there a shortage? Are we running out of ‘good’ men like we run out of supplies during a hurricane? Are there only three left on the shelf with a stampede of women running to claim them as fast as they can?” Not exactly a polite, social hour inquiry.
Was my ex a ‘bad guy’? At times he’d straddled that line, but not to his core. There were moments of redemption, kindness, and love. Yet, thanks to the magic of #metoo, and some very brave and savvy women, I happen to believe society is beginning to recognize that most men aren’t always as straightforward and simple as we would like to believe. But therein lies the dilemma many of us face: what do we do with the men who have what I have termed, a ‘shadow self’, but who appear to be ‘good’? A ‘shadow self’ indicates those who may have the best of intentions but for whatever reason, aren’t able to fully commit to being their best person. In the case of my ex-husband, his ‘shadow self’ was a persistent anger that would rear its ugly head and often lead to poor communication and decision making where interpersonal interaction was concerned. For someone like myself, who grew up surrounded by people yelling at each other through the veils of alcoholism, or because it was what their parents did to them, raised voices and fury don’t work well for me. I shut down, and I retreat, because self-preservation kicks in hard. And when I’ve told you this doesn’t work, why I withdraw, and the behavior persists, well then, it becomes a darkness that overshadows the rest.
I’ve discovered other male acquaintances and friends whom I might have termed as ‘good guys’ who have a variety of shadow selves, which mostly, when boiled down, seems to be a pattern of saying one thing and doing another. Insisting that “I respect women” while watching pornography at home, for example, (and usually shitty porn at that). Or telling female friends how much you understand and empathize with women, while inwardly seething that they are not rushing to fuck you, and treating them like garbage when things don’t go your way. Overall, they aren’t ‘bad’, but they are not doing much to elevate the male race to a better consciousness, either. They are stuck in their own quagmire, claiming that they get it, when they only continually sink themselves with their own behavior.
By now, I’m sure a guy reading this has already defensively scoffed at this entire piece, “but women aren’t always good women”. And he’s right. Some are not. It just so happens that when men usually talk about women as being bitches, whores, or cunts, other people actually tend to believe them, whereas with women, we could be shouting our truth until our voices whither from fatigue and someone will still be stating, “yeah, but __________ (fill in the blank with whatever you, as a woman, didn’t do that you should have been responsible for, even though the responsibility should be falling on the man who is flawed in the first place).” To be fair, we all have some form of a shadow self, but the spectrum is large and varied. I believe that women are culturally raised to scrutinize and hate their shadow selves, whereas men often seem to treat them as an appendage that must be tolerated by those who love them, without apology.
The expectations have never been equal, not even close.
For me, I think that rather than a constant determination to find a ‘good guy’, we should become more concerned with recognizing ‘shade’, the guys who really are fleshy bags of shit that no woman should have to endure, and who are often cunning enough to know how to position themselves as the ‘good guys’. It’s why we compartmentalize the behaviors of some men, because they often seem to have such redeeming qualities that how could that one bad thing they’ve done speak for the entirety of who they are? And maybe, sometimes, it doesn’t. But when men defy accepting responsibility for those bad things and instead seek to defend their poor actions by waving a list of all the ways they are ‘good’ (or allowing others to wave it for them-which is, frankly, even worse), they have rightfully earned such a reputation that should be considered, ‘dastardly’. And yes, we should do what we can to make sure everyone else knows it, too. Because those shadows do their best damage when cloaked in secrecy and darkness.
In culling the worst of men, the true ‘good’ guys will naturally rise to the top, like a rich cream. We will know them by how their own actions speak for them, and how others speak of their actions. It’s simple, really: actively listen to women. Treat other people like human beings and not objects. Apologize when you act like an ass, or you do something that brings harm or hurt to others, especially when they let you know you have harmed them. If you continually do the same things over and over, seek the help you need to overcome that negative pattern. Don’t make petty excuses for shitty behavior. Don’t allow others to defend you, or defend others, when poor behavior is being questioned. If you’re not sure you should say it, stop. If you’re not sure someone wants your advances, stop. If you’re unsure someone wants to be touched, stop. If you unsure about any interaction, it’s safe to mentally say to yourself: stop.
But, until men have worked these things out for themselves, and figure out they contain the power to overcome those ‘shadow selves’ that keep them mired, you’ll be hard pressed to find me calling any of them ‘good’ (as far as I am concerned, ‘’good men’ are an endangered species at the moment, right up there with the Sumatran rhino). Women suffer from enough heaped on insecurity and self-doubt without adding to that pile, and as a woman, I want other women to clearly decipher what it is they want without my opinion muddying their mental waters, and more importantly, for us to recognize what it is we all deserve.
Reflections of a woman spawned in a cement cocoon...