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Owning My Experience

I’m not a big fan of saying that people are “making me” feel a certain way. I used to use this as an excuse. “You’re making me so mad, that’s what’s making me act so crazy.”

It was an abdication of responsibility.

It comes in other flavors, too. “He needs to change his behavior. I don’t deserve this treatment. He’s making me feel worthless.”

I don’t like it in those contexts, and I think at one time I would have said it was because other people can’t “make me” feel anything.

But that’s a lie. The presence of others induces feelings in each one of us. Different people induce different feelings. That is the basis of human connection.

The reason “He’s making me feel worthless” is an invalid excuse is because it’s an abdication of responsibility. If “he” is someone who makes me feel worthless, I choose to feel worthless every time I spend time, energy, or attention on him. His presence makes me feel worthless. I choose his presence, and therefore choose my experience of worthlessness. (And I’m more likely to do so the more worthless I feel.)

He doesn’t need to change his behavior. I need to stop choosing the experience of worthlessness.

But his presence does indeed make me feel that way.

With some men I feel worthless.

With others I feel precious.

With some men I feel icky and want to get away.

With others I feel honored to be near them.

With some men I feel exhausted.

With others I feel invigorated.

My feelings are real, they are valid, they are a good enough reason, and they are my responsibility to steward by choosing who receives the benefit of my presence.

The way I feel in a man’s presence is how I decide who to spend my time with. There are men who otherwise have a lot to offer, who I never grace with my presence because I don’t like how I feel around them.

Men who don’t feel good to be around are such a puzzle. Because usually it’s their entitlement and intellect making them so intolerable—the very things that convince them the world owes them something, and that they’re special and worthy and anyone who might suggest otherwise is purely out to get them.

They become more and more frustrated and resentful toward women as they deepen into their understanding of what they are owed and lament the paltry offerings women lay out to them.

This kind of man feels terrible to be around, so the only women who will spend intimate time with him are women who don’t have solid boundaries. Women who do not prioritize how they feel, or who have been trained away from feeling their best through traumatic experiences.

The woman may be collapsed, dependent, wilted—in which case he might toy with her for a time before casting her aside, confirming her worthlessness to her and leaving him bitter and cruel, believing he should be finding women who impress him more.

The woman may be angry, bitter, seeking confirmation of how terrible men are—in which case the two of them will peck at each other until they get burned out and ever more entrenched in their mutual victimhood and scary stories about the opposite sex.

I literally do not know how to help these men who remain so firmly in their own way. They stand on sanctimony while they commit subtle violence and violations against women and then fish for pity about how no one wants to play with them.

These men cannot accept that they don’t feel good to women. They want to blame women for having the wrong taste, for impossible standards, for being shallow, for being frigid or guarded, for not giving them a chance. Because they won’t take “I don’t like how I feel around you” for an answer, they press a woman for “the real reason” she’s ending the connection, and inevitably she throws him an answer he will accept—some outer metric (he’s not tall enough, rich enough, etc) which he can then judge as her shallowness. That’s more fuel for his sanctimony.

These men will not accept that their impact is other than what they’ve decided is the right way for others to feel around them. They get offended at the very idea that others might not like being around them, and their offense creates a field of victimhood that orbits around them. What would really help these men, they fight off as an attack. Like a relational auto-immune disease.

They turn toward rationality again and again, running over the check-boxes that make them a great catch or the impossible standards they’d have to live up to to capture a woman’s attention in our broken society. They turn hard away against the idea of feelings, the idea that they’re producing feelings in others, any curiosity about those feelings, and the entire understanding of feelings as a valid metric.

In doing so, they cannot help but turn away from themselves and their own feelings, widening the chasm between their own masculine and feminine, rending their inner union and further destroying their own integrity.

I wish I had more to add to this dynamic. I don’t know how it ends, how this can possibly resolve itself. These men build themselves an inescapable box, like those notes we used to pass in school—you had to tear them to get in, so you’d know if someone tampered with it. I don’t see a way for these men to heal without first breaking their carefully-built identity.

I wish I did, because breaking people is not my style. I prefer the gentle approach, and so I simply exercise my boundaries and keep these men at a safe distance. Whatever distance preserves my comfort first and their identity second, because while breaking people is not my style, breaking my own hard-won comfort is not an option whatsoever.

If they get too close, if they turn up the heat on their rational defenses or their hopeless story, they lose access to me altogether. I don’t wait to get burned (anymore).

It always feels a little sad to me, too. I wish I could help these men. I wish they could behave just well enough to merit space in my field. But if they can’t act right here, I don’t trust them to learn from what I share. It’s my pride that says I could help them, pride that would cleave me away from my own self in time.

I’m no longer willing to drop below my full nourishment in the vain hope that I can love someone out of their own beliefs about the world. I am limited. I humbly accept that and conserve my efforts for those who GET IT. Who really let my love in, who don’t want to fight it. Those who truly have hope, not an endless labyrinth of tests for me to pass.

Yet clean grief inevitably flows from the savagery of life. The savagery of death which takes what was never mine. The savagery of rejection upon which my free will depends. The savagery of indifference which balances the depth of my compassion. I can accept that grief as the cost of making the choice that is right for me, the choice that allows me to serve most deeply, from my own center and strength.

I know some of these men would like to claim my time, energy, and attention.

But, unfortunately for them, they cannot make me feel like giving it to them.