11 Things That Are Way Cooler Than Texting Your Toxic Ex

Relationships, Sexuality

YOU! Yes, I mean you. You, who are seeing holiday engagement photos and getting teary thinking about what might have been. Watching kids ice-skating and remembering the names you had already picked out for your future children. Hearing jingle bells and thinking of her phone jingling with your text. Your fingers twitch toward the phone. Should I text my ex? you wonder. Just one message, you think. Just one casual, ‘hey, how-are-you… I miss you… please can we try one more time… how about my place tonight’ text. How bad could it be?

Babe, bad. You know it. I know it. Dua Lipa knows it.

Read the complete article at Go. Featured image: Dollar Gill on Unsplash.

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How to Emotionally Prepare Yourself for Your Next Relationship

mental health, Relationships

I’ll admit it: when my Talkspace editors suggested that I write about how to overcome harmful relationship patterns, my first thought was “Hey man, I wish I knew.”

I, like most of us, have had my fair share of bad relationships, from “it’s complicated,” to “it’s really complicated,” to abuse (and there’s no Facebook status for that). I, like most of us, have gone into each new relationship hoping it will be different this time, but worrying that old patterns will come back to bite me in the derrière. And I, like many women and queer people, have swiped through a dating wasteland of those too eager to show me their genitals, wondering why it has to be so difficult to find someone who will treat me with respect. And of course, I’ve had my fair share of wonderful moments, sweet partners, and fulfilling relationships, too.

But in a world where many of our experiences of intimacy are marked by trauma or negative patterns of behavior, how can we work through the bad stuff to find enduring, healthy love?

Read the full article at Talkspace. Featured image: Tallie Robinson, Upsplash. 

Piece on Toxic Masculinity Reposted at The Good Men Project

mental health, Relationships

With the #MeToo movement dominating the headlines over the past few months, many of us have had to ask tough questions about our own experiences of gender, power, and relationships. While women have taken the forefront of the movement, it’s also been a moment of reckoning for men.

The movement has not only provided an opportunity to confront more obvious acts of violence, but also how gender roles influence the way we treat one another in our own lives and relationships. This means confronting the role of toxic masculinity in our lives and relationships.

What is toxic masculinity?

Toxic masculinity is a term for some of the harmful associations of “maleness” in our culture. It doesn’t mean that masculinity is bad or that it is bad to be a man. It does mean, however, that some traits associated with masculinity in our culture are harmful or toxic for both men and women’s mental, physical, emotional, and relationship health.

We can all think of examples of toxic masculinity: the idea that it’s “unmanly” or “weak” to express one’s feelings or to cry; the idea that men should judge their own value on how many women they have sex with; or the idea that men should get into fights with one another to express their dominance, for example.

Read the full piece at The Good Men Project.

How To Survive a (Friendship) Breakup

mental health, Relationships

“A friendship between college girls is grander and more dramatic than any romance.”

So says Hannah Horvath, Lena Dunham’s character in the hit TV show Girls, which follows four women in their twenties through romance, career — and most importantly, friendship.

It’s not just college women who have grand and dramatic friendships. While friends tend to be given short shrift to romantic relationships in our culture, our friendships are super important to our mental and emotionl lives. And the joys and traumas of friendship can be just as painful, if not more so, than the ups and downs of a romantic relationship.

That’s why losing a close friendship, whether through conflict or simply by losing touch, can be just as devastating (if not more!) than losing a partner. All the breakup feelings of mourning, confusion, and loneliness apply. And to make it worse, unlike with a romantic-partner breakup, a bestie breakup leaves you without your friend’s shoulder to cry on. What’s more, while most people are sympathetic to romantic breakups, friend breakups just don’t get the same recognition.

Friendship matters, and the end of a friendship can be devastating. It can also be an opportunity for self-reflection and growth. Here are some tips for surviving a breakup — the friend kind.

Read the full article on Talkspace. Featured image: Jerry Weiss, “Friends.” 

Dating as a woman: Balancing a desire for intimacy with the threat of violence

mental health, Relationships, Sexuality

“Why don’t you date?”

My therapist’s comment took me aback. After a difficult relationship, why didn’t I put myself back out there? After all, meeting new people would be a healthy distraction, enrich my social life, and build up my confidence by reminding me how ridiculously charming and attractive I am.

Okay, maybe I don’t have a problem with confidence.

I have never been shy or reluctant to meet new people. But the idea of dating left me exhausted. More sexist men, more risk of sexual violence, more worrying that — Cat Person-style — a seemingly innocuous date would reveal a shock of coercion under his charm.

The Many Complications of Dating as a Woman

I’d experienced it all before — and I’m not alone. As the #MeToo movement has shown, dating can be a complicated, even traumatic experience for women. It’s not just the risk of severe forms of violence, though Margaret Atwood’s classic quote “Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them,” remains an omnipresent fear.

It’s also the fear of daily tensions, the sexist comments, the fear that our date won’t listen to our “no,” or will slut shame us if we say yes. Not to mention the double standards: The pressure to be likeable, to open up, and embrace intimacy on one hand; and the message that women should always be on the lookout for our own safety, on the other.

While the intimacy we gain from dating is an important force keeping us happy and healthy, constantly having to look out for our safety takes a real toll on our mental health. Faced with so many different kinds of pressure, what’s a girl to do?

We deserve to live in a world where all we have to worry about on a date is choosing a restaurant, not preventing sexual assault. Until we get there, here are some strategies to keep ourselves healthy while we navigate the sometimes-tricky terrain of intimacy.

Read the full article at Talkspace.

My abusive partner promises they’ll change. Will they?

mental health, Relationships, Sexual violence

“I promise I’ll change.”

These are four words most people in a relationship with an abusive partner have probably heard. Longed-for yet dreaded, the words can offer both hope and disappointment. Hope that things really will get better this time, and disappointment when, inevitably, the abusive behavior—whether emotional, physical, or verbal—begins all over again.

We’ve all heard that a leopard can’t change its spots. But what about an abusive partner?

Are Abusive Partners Capable of Real Change?

Many experts say it is possible for abusive partners to change. Yet false promises to change are often a way to keep victims in abusive relationships. So how do you know when a pledge to change is real—and when it’s just an empty promise?

The truth is, there’s no magical formula to make an abusive person change. And as much as you may care about your partner and wish things were different, no one can “make” anyone else change at all—they have to do that for themselves. But there are signs we can look for to tell a false promise from a real effort. Ultimately, real accountability begins when the abusive partner acknowledges their abuse, genuinely commits to changing, and prioritizes the feelings, experiences, and desires of their victims over themselves.

While change is possible, it’s hard to do and it takes a lot of time. If you’ve been in an abusive relationship, remember: You deserve safety, respect, and love. You can’t make anybody else change. But you can care for yourself. You can decide what you need to lead a happy, healthy, and free life, including whether, when, and how to leave the relationship. And you can love yourself with all the patience, passion, and ferocity with which you love others. You deserve it.

 

Read the full piece at Talkspace.

Interviewed for Playboy article on “Fifty Shades of Grey”

Culture, Relationships, Sexuality

Check out Adam Howard’s great piece on the Fifty Shades of Grey franchise over at Playboy It’s a great examination of the contradictory appeal of this very contradictory franchise—featuring some commentary from yours truly:

I do think it’s an interesting franchise because it’s premised on this whole idea of the forbidden,” Reina Gattuso, a columnist for Feministing who writes about gender, sexuality, violence and consent, tells Playboy. “If I wanted to see people having sex, I would just watch porn.”

But Gattuso concedes that for some women who may be more inhibited or may be constrained by a conservative atmosphere, material like Fifty Shades of Grey may provide a necessary outlet for sexual expression. “I don’t want to trash something that helps someone figure out their sexuality,” she says. “I would hope that if someone finds Fifty Shades of Grey to be really arousing, and [it] helped open up a space that they really couldn’t explore before, that could serve as a launching point for further engagement with these issues of sexuality and consent.”[…]

Now, the question remains whether the focus can shift to weightier issues like power: Who has it, how is it wielded and how can it be used in a positive way? “Being sex-positive means that sex is not the moral issue,” says Gattuso. “The way we treat one another is the moral issue.”

To fight harassment, we must learn how to break up

Relationships

Read the original article at Feministing.

“We are taught how to fall in love, but we are never taught how to deal with love ending.”

A young man said this recently during a community discussion on sexual harassment and violence. It struck a chord in me. Intimate partner violence, after all, tends to escalate when the victim is about to leave. We hear our friends’ stories and we know our own. They often have the same structure:

I said I wanted to end it and he called me a cunt.

The first time she hit me I was leaving.

He won’t let me break up with him.

This is about control: the victim, by leaving, is asserting agency, which threatens the control of the perpetrator. But this is also about loss: losing control, losing a partner, losing love, companionship,  or meaning. Our lives and literatures are full of lovers who cannot let go. Often, these figures are considered romantic. The boyfriend you dump who just won’t stop calling. In a “romantic” gesture, to “win you back” he shows up at her house. His “determination” is a euphemism for stalking. You, and the woman you keep going back to: every time she says it’s better for both of you if you let it go. But after every brutal fight you feel you can’t stop yourself from calling. Or the representation of a woman stalker in Crazy Ex Girlfriend, a show all about how women’s socialization to “lose ourselves” in love becomes violence.

As Bruno Mars sings in his idealized description of a great partner/friend, “I’ll never let go, never say goodbye.” I have the song on a playlist, and whenever I listen to it, I think: “I get it, Bruno. But sometimes you’ve just got to.”

I think more of us than would like to admit have become undone by the loss of love, to the point where we have done things we regret. I’ve been there: breakups suck, and losing love can feel like the next worst thing to dying. But love is also, fundamentally, about respecting and celebrating the fullness of someone else’s personhood. That means respecting our partners’ agency—including, and particularly, their right to leave us.

We are taught how to fall in love, but we are never taught how to deal with love ending.

Not all of us deal with loss by becoming abusive. The choice to abuse is, like most things, deeply gendered and often conditioned by past experiences of violence. An inability to deal with rejection plus murderous masculine entitlement can be literally deadly. But like so many cultural assumptions that underlie abuse, the inability to deal with rejection or loss, and the willingness to violate someone’s agency in order to coerce them into accepting you, is not confined to people who become violent. It’s a script underlying our societal notion of love as a whole. At some point we are taught that someone else’s lack of desire to touch our bodies is something we can convince them to change. At some point we learn that the loss of love is a loss of our own selves.

If at first you don’t succeed, we teach in affirmative consent, stop trying. Which is true, but it’s perhaps easier said than done: respecting other people’s agency, including their right to leave us, and our own task of healing after they do, requires a whole course of cultural reprogramming. It requires respecting our own deeply human desire to be loved and accepted, but understanding that this desire can’t be fulfilled through coercion.

We are taught how to fall in love, but we are never taught how to deal with love ending.

We cannot hurt our lovers to make them stay. We cannot make anyone want us. Heartbreak is normal and inevitable, and there are also circumstances — depending on social context, economic and family situation, vulnerability and exploitation—in which one partner leaving another truly is unjust and our wounded rage truly is righteous. Being left without material support, or without a primary caretaker, or alone with children are not situations we can change with our attitude — they are the result of material conditions. But we can at the very least revise our emotional and cultural script of love to unwind the knots of loss and control that often underlie toxic or abusive relationships. We can learn that love needn’t be an emotional emergency whose sirens wail through our days.

As feminists, we have already committed ourselves to fighting patriarchal entitlement: No one owes you their time, body, or affection. You cannot compel anyone to have sex with you. But in addition to teaching people that they cannot coerce love from one another, we should also collectively learn healthier ways to process loss: the loss of control, the loss of a relationship, the loss of sex or companionship. We can learn that the loss of love does not have to trigger the loss of self, respect, and boundaries. That loss is something we can survive.

This piece is part of a series exploring issues of violencepower, and love stemming from #MeToo.

Cover photo: You asked once, she said no; get over it. (Shout out to Mallory Ortberg.)

How Men Can Confront Toxic Masculinity (+ Why It’s Important for Mental Health)

mental health, Relationships, Sexual violence

With the #MeToo movement dominating the headlines over the past few months, many of us have had to ask tough questions about our own experiences of gender, power, and relationships. While women have taken the forefront of the movement, it’s also been a moment of reckoning for men.

The movement has not only provided an opportunity to confront more obvious acts of violence, but also how gender roles influence the way we treat one another in our own lives and relationships. This means confronting the role of toxic masculinity in our lives and relationships.

What is toxic masculinity?

Toxic masculinity is a term for some of the harmful associations of “maleness” in our culture. It doesn’t mean that masculinity is bad or that it is bad to be a man. It does mean, however, that some traits associated with masculinity in our culture are harmful or toxic for both men and women’s mental, physical, emotional, and relationship health.

We can all think of examples of toxic masculinity: the idea that it’s “unmanly” or “weak” to express one’s feelings or to cry; the idea that men should judge their own value on how many women they have sex with; or the idea that men should get into fights with one another to express their dominance, for example.

Check out the full piece at Talkspace.

The Psychology of the Orgasm Gap

Relationships, Sexuality

We know that women face a number of challenges to achieving equality. In the boardroom, we face the wage gap. And in the bedroom: The orgasm gap.

Researchers (and everyday people!) have found that a gap exists between the frequency with which men and women experience orgasm, especially during heterosexual sex. Specifically, women consistently have fewer orgasms than their male partners.

While the orgasm gap may appear to be a product of biology, researchers are increasingly suggesting that the orgasm gap is actually caused by what’s in our heads, not what’s between our legs.

Cultural attitudes which discourage female sexual pleasure, as well as a lack of comprehensive sexual education, affect many of our relationships on the most intimate of levels. The result? Less communication and less pleasure — especially for women.

But never fear. By getting to the root of the orgasm gap, we are not only making sure women experience more orgasms (always a worthy goal!) — but we are also building healthier relationships with our partners and ourselves.

Check out the full article at Talkspace.