Years ago, when I was deeply entrenched in an unhappy marriage and still coughing up the last bits of proverbial phlegm from my newly healed religious infection, I was gifted a book entitled, “Love & Respect: The Love She Most Desires; The Respect He Desperately Needs”. The gift-giver knew my marriage was in trouble, and the intentions behind the suggested read were pure. But oh, how the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
The seeds of doubt were sprouting in good skeptical soil as I mulled over the notion that what a man needs most in a committed union is respect while a woman should be shown love. Now that I’ve had the chance to live and love a little more, I whole-heartedly disagree.
Respect covers all the five love languages, and more
Love, in a sense, is the highest form of respect. And whether a relationship involves a man and woman, two women, two men, or any combination of binaries and nonbinaries, BOTH individuals must be deeply respected and loved for the relationship to thrive.
The ways in which love and respect are displayed will vary depending on the needs of each individual. And I’ll be the first to admit that there are, generally, fundamental differences between the genders that manifest as common needs and desires within the gender groups.
I’ll give the book’s author the benefit of some doubt and assume that the title is, more than anything, hyperbolic, intended to pique interest. Of course, deep down, he knows that both respect and love are things that all people need, right? Perhaps some simple word shuffling could make the title a little truer to life:
“Love & Respect: The Love She
Most Desires Most; The Respect He Desperately Needs More than Anything”.
Eh, I’m still not satisfied with the idea, even after tinkering with the title, and here’s why. I, personally, cannot love a man I don’t respect, and, most importantly, I wouldn’t feel loved by a man who doesn’t show respect for me. Isn’t this common sense?
Maybe not. To clarify my perspective, let’s look at a definition of the word respect. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, it is:
- an act of giving particular attention: CONSIDERATION
- to consider worthy of high regard: ESTEEM
Synonyms include: admire, consider, appreciate, revere
Respect is, essentially, seeing another person as worthy of your consideration, appreciation, maybe even admiration, and holding a special place of honor for them in your heart. It’s doing your best to protect that person from anything that would dishonor them or your union. That doesn’t sound like something that only a man would need, to me.
Shouldn’t respect for marriage involve respect for each partner?
See, if you’re unfamiliar with how the gender dynamics work in Fundamentalist Christian teaching, let me try to explain. There’s God, there’s man, and there’s woman. That’s the top to bottom hierarchy.
In a marriage or committed romantic relationship between a man and woman, the man is considered to be a bit closer to God and therefore God’s reflection. Because of this, he’s the head honcho of whatever world they inhabit and worthy of reverence, nearly akin to what one would show God.
The woman is the subordinate who must show the man respect. As a reflection of the loving Father God, the man must return the favor by bestowing love upon her to keep her safe and protected and make her feel seen and content with her bottom-of-the-totem pole status.
You have to remember that much of this doctrine is derived from a book that was written in a society that saw selling 10 and 12 year old girls to grown men as “wives” as normal and ok. It saw the capturing of sex slaves (also loosely called “wives”) in war time as totally permissible—ordained by God, even. So, the idea that a wife was simply a tagalong who should be happy to be taken care of and look up to her husband with respect and godly obedience was par for the course.
If you take a second look at the book’s title, you’ll notice some nuance that further drives home the dismissive attitude toward the woman:
“Love & Respect: The Love She Most Desires; The Respect He Desperately Needs”.
According to this book and its title, respect is an absolute requirement, something a man needs to feel whole in a relationship. Love is simply the woman’s desire, something that’s not truly essential. If one relied on the title alone, I guess they might assume that there isn’t anything that the woman particularly “needs”, or that her needs are so insignificant that they hardly require mentioning.
Since love is often seen as just a fleeting feeling (rather than the concrete, dedicated action that it truly is) and women are often associated with fickle emotion, the love here isn’t really considered all that important—not even a “need”.
You see how subtle and revealing word choice can be?
Obviously, you can see why freeing myself from this religious tradition was like telling Pharaoh to kiss my ass and bolting across the Red Sea. So, I won’t spend too much more time pointing out the flaws in such teachings. Suffice it to say, I’ve learned a thing or two since my blinders fell off.
I can’t love someone I don’t respect
Recently, I started thinking a lot about this idea of respect and how essential it is in romantic endeavors. In peeling back the layers to examine the good, bad, and ugly of my own past relationships, I wanted to figure out where my love had gone just before each situation ended.
I realized that, whether it was my past marriage, dating situations that didn’t go the distance, or a full-blown relationship, my love had plummeted due to my sheer disappointment in and loss of respect for my partner. And my loss of respect for them was directly tied to some disrespectful actions that I felt were taken against me.
As I discovered this, one of the fatal flaws in my own love patterns began to come into sharp focus—
I forgot that respect must be earned.
I think that growing up in an environment like mine conditioned me to give the best of my love and respect up front, by default. I was never taught to hold back or how to vet potential partners to find out whether or not they even deserved to be loved or respected—some surely did not.
For decades, I simply operated under the assumption that “it’s better to give than to receive”, that leading with love was always the most honorable thing to do, and that if you give it will be given back to you. The latter couldn’t be further from the truth.
You can only guarantee one thing when you give without the wisdom of some restraint—that others will take.
No one ever told me that, when it comes to relationships between men and women, the most damaging thing a woman can do is give first without intention and moderation—and I’m not just talking about sex.
Sure, there’s a basic modicum of humanity that I think we should all show one another, a baseline respect that gives people room to meet us halfway and show us who they truly are. If they prove to be assholes, we simply shouldn’t elevate them to that high level of esteem.
Values systems must align
Now, I understand that the things we respect are based on our individual value systems. In corporate America, greed is a virtue. In war, a certain degree of savagery is highly rewarded. In love, follow-through is considered paramount.
Personally, as I think about the people (particularly the men) that I currently hold in high regard, I consider the characteristics they consistently display that make them worthy of esteem. For me, those traits include:
- Honesty and the ability to own up to one’s flaws and missteps
- Empathy – considering the needs, desires, and best interests of others as well as one’s own
- Accountability – not just owning one’s shit, but doing the work to fix the damage that one’s missteps cause
- Growth – striving to improve in some way daily
- Responsibility – taking proper care of oneself and those under one’s charge
- Resourcefulness – finding a way to get things done, the right way, even if it’s hard
- Fortitude and determination in the face of challenges
- Dependability – being available—emotionally, spiritually, and physically—when it matters most
These are some of the qualities that I strive to embody in my own life on a day to day, even a minute-to-minute, basis. I want to be just as worthy of respect as any man that I choose to spend time with. That’s mainly because I don’t want to live in the cesspool of foolishness that a shitty mentality and deficient morals can create.
So, I’m always on the lookout for the following kinds of characteristics that can ultimately make my stomach turn. And I’m learning to avoid them at all costs:
- Lack of decisiveness – an inability to choose and own one’s choices
- Lack of accountability, lying, denying, and running from the reality of one’s behavior
- Manipulative behavior
- Unchecked selfishness
- Arrested development (Peter Pan Syndrome) – an unwillingness to self-reflect, see one’s flaws, and grow
- Inflexibility and fearful, rigid thinking, even in the face of evidence that reveals a need to change course
- Laziness, parasitic behavior, and a taker mentality
These traits are the embodiment of a general state of immaturity, and a refusal to behave as a responsible, humane adult. Ain’t nobody got time for that. Nowadays, these are the kind of traits that are likely to get a man cussed smooth out in my world. Whereas,
- Giving too easily,
- Trusting too much or too soon,
- Displaying no backbone and few boundaries, and
- Ignoring red flags
are habits that I’ve worked to flush out of my system like a virus.
I’m learning every day to be less moved by the smoke and mirrors of flighty and passionate emotional displays, to be impenetrable to love bombing and the types who despise genuinely loving people so much that they assume we can all be dominated with a few trinkets and gushy affectionate displays. I’ve always had a natural attraction to the strong silent types whose quiet confidence reveals depth of character and intellect–and now I know why.
I think I’ll lean into that as I’m learning to be even more appreciative of those men who know how to balance fun, romance, and dynamism with consistent integrity. Integrity is love in motion. I don’t mind giving respect, reverence, admiration, and especially love to those kinds of men, and as I strive daily to evolve, I expect to be given no less in return.