man&woman with ? box on head

I was wondering… how well you know me

Checked your wires lately? The ones that control how you think? And your alien origins? Whether you’re from Mars or Venus? From merely knowing my gender you can know so many things about me – how I want to be spoken to, how emotional I am, my likes and dislikes, expectations of a relationship and so much more. Plus the helpful Christian bit that also says I’m looking for someone to be my leader, to pursue me (while simultaneously guarding my heart, obviously) as I journal dreamily about cupcakes iced with key verses from Proverbs 31.

While certain aspects of Christian culture demand men be MEN (tear at your own chest hair roaring like a lion if this resonates – it’s fine if this applies to you, girls; it’ll grow back) and women be passive and nurturing, these things can’t happen in isolation. They are narratives we weave for each other across generations. What you ‘deserve’ will vary according to your gender: usually a nice girl or a good man. A nice girl who will… do what, exactly? According to some thinking, perform a supportive role, her identity largely forged around her ability to nurture. A ‘good woman’ is sometimes permitted – she is usually deployed to calm and balance a ‘wild man’ – but in general nice is preferred. A ‘nice man’ however can induce eye rolling from wives-in-waiting who want a good man to take charge and lead. Lead what? Well, if not an actual church then… something. Even his home. Be the decision maker. Step up. Take charge. GRR etc. It may not describe you at all. You may be a man who is a thinker and dreamer more than a doer. You may be a woman who makes plans without waiting for permission. We’re surrounded by so many expectations it can take time and deliberate effort to work out who we really are. Even pastimes. Men who like baking and rom coms or women who like football and crime dramas aren’t the exception.

So what about considering personality instead of clichés? Whether someone is an extrovert or introvert, serious or light hearted, what they laugh at, their emotional intelligence, what they’ve experienced and how they see the world are going to matter much more than an idealised fantasy man or woman. And character; the actual core of a person. The traits we’d want in a partner regardless of gender, whether someone is honest, caring, kind, down to earth. Our values, the difference we want to make, not a list of expectations of how our fantasy partner should serve us and fit into our plans. It can be too easy to judge each other if the words don’t seem to fit. Can a man say he is sweet and sensitive or a woman she’s straightforward and independent without worrying about being dismissed or labelled?

The roles we’re expected to play can be painful and, in the end, limiting. Advice suggesting women should present themselves as a prize worth winning or a princess worth fighting for. The insistence men are ‘visual’ or even ‘hunters’ (wiring again) and can’t help how they respond. Who might just look at your photos rather than read your profile – wink, wink – and if they do read, reject those who don’t seem ‘feminine’ (gentle & nurturing?) enough. How do we strip back the expectations that have been fired at us for years and accept each other for who we really are? Find partners based on character not on whether she’s a woman who ‘must cook and love children’ (especially lightly seasoned ones), or concentrate on making ourselves seem pleasant and pick-able for a strong, confident leader-man, rather than accepting we’ll be in a relationship with another human. Surely the best we have to offer anyone is who God made us, stereotype-busting quirks and all?

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