I hope this finds you well and in good health. I hope this was delivered to the address of whatever nice apartment building you hopefully live in. Hopefully it has a few well-cared-for plants and tasteful lighting. I hope received this with enthusiasm and sincerity. I hope you read this over three or more times to make sure you didn’t miss anything you might have on the first read-through. I hope that you don’t take this to be a romantic gesture but a genuine expression of my appreciation. But mostly, I hope you’re real.
Men are something I’ve avoided both by circumstance, and later, by choice. Men are like going outside on a rainy day or rush-hour traffic, a long essay due at the end of the weekend or a hard conversation with a friend.
Growing up, I wasn’t opposed to the idea of having a male influence in my life. But it wasn’t an option. Not only did I not have any brothers, male cousins, uncles or any other male-identifying what-have-yous as a regular fixture in my life, my single mom and my grandmother operated our home as a matriarchy. Being raised by two powerhouse women without men in the picture was a really formative experience for two reasons: it made me really comfortable with women, but it essentially isolated me from the company of men.
Don’t worry ____, I’m not pointing my finger at daddy issues or post-feminist single motherhood to justify my distaste for men. I’m just giving you some background to better shape your understanding of my upbringing. But if you received this, you probably already know that.
I just want you to understand that men weren’t really around. And, well, you know how a kid has to practice something a lot before the kid gets really good at something? I never got any practice talking to men.
As a kid, developing a friendship with a boy felt like a really foreign experience. And not just for the typical disparity in gender-based interests. Sure, I didn’t like video games or sports, but I’m not claiming that’s what disqualifies me from a male friendship. I just wasn’t necessarily comfortable talking to them. Boys really intimidated me, and being a teenager only exacerbated my initial off-puttence.
When I got a little older, I experienced some things that any adolescent girl might: being interrupted by a man while stating a point, being mocked for defending herself, being pressured to do something she wasn’t comfortable with, watching her friends get taken for granted, internalizing insecurities based on men’s perceptions of herself, focusing her attention on men’s approval and having a mini heartbreak or two along the way.
So you can understand, _____, that what I felt toward men at this point was more than just discomfort and intimidation based on inexperience. Men had actively let me down and hurt me. And while they hurt me, they hurt my friends. Before they hurt me, they hurt my mom. You may know this, because I assume you’re well-read and attentive, but the standard for men is low. Like real low. You’d have to be pretty exceptional to change my mind. And you are. Pretty exceptional, that is. You’ve broken the trend that many men before you have set — lowering my expectations.
I’ve given the same spiel to men in my life before. I’ve given it to friends, romantic interests and relatives. I’ve told them that I distrust men. I’m uncomfortable in my interactions with men, I’m afraid of expressing vulnerability with men, I’m intimidated to assert myself around them. And when I say this to men, they have all consistently told me the same thing: “I hope you meet a man someday that will change your mind.”
I have never accepted this hope. I think this hope is a cheap alternative for actually changing my mind. I don’t want anyone to hope that I will someday feel differently about men. In all likelihood, I won’t. But if you show me that I shouldn’t mistrust you, I shouldn’t fear expressing vulnerability with you, I shouldn’t be intimidated to assert myself around you, then you will change my mind. And that’s all that matters.
And you’ve done this, _____. You have changed my mind, because you are the only one who hasn’t expressed the hope that I meet someone who changes my mind. You have done it all yourself.
And you don’t have to exist as a significant other. You don’t have to exist as a friend or a family member. You just have to exist as a man who respects women enough to earn their comfort around him.