Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Respect

When I offered the example of two girls at one's rehearsal dinner yesterday, I didn't touch on what I think is another core point of how their relationships seemed to work. I realize that I'm projecting, and I don't know either of the couples in question nearly well enough to make judgments, but what I heard was a distinct lack of respect.

Growing up, I was taught a basic dichotomy. Girls needed love, while guys needed respect. Sure, guys needed love too, and girls would appreciate respect, but the central need was different. I felt very out of place for years; while I dreamed of the magical experience of falling in love, I felt like I could survive without it. Respect, however, was my driving aim. I worked hard, I focused on being the best, all to earn the respect of my parents and those around me. What did this mean? Was I messed up, or mis-wired?

In the intervening years I've come to realize that, like with many other things, the evangelical church grossly over-simplifies matters and (incorrectly, I believe) divides them by gender. Love and respect are crucial to anyone's happiness, though in different amounts at different times. What does this have to do with relationship styles?

When I hear, "You are not going to go out and get drunk tonight," my brain translates that to something along the lines of, "I do not trust you to make your own intelligent decisions, so I'm laying down the law for you." I don't hear respect, or even honoring the other person as an individual. And it makes me shudder, quite honestly.

If a wife talks to a husband, or a boyfriend talks to a girlfriend, or any combination of supposed-equals communicates in a way that reminds me of a parent talking to a child, I have to hide a grimace. When kids are young, they need rules, and mandates, and order (though every parent has a different view on how much, etc). As they grow, these can relax, to allow the child to develop a sense of independence; as maturity happens, children gain the faculties to judge for themselves what behavior is and isn't okay for themselves and their fellow humans.

So why, often, does it seem like entering into a committed relationship takes one or both people back a few steps, to the days of someone else making their decisions? If I respect you, I will respect the choices that you make (and if I disagree with them, I will explain why, not try to prohibit them). Treating you as incapable of being an intelligent, rational human being is disrespectful on my part, and demeaning to you.

What examples have you seen of respect or lack thereof in relationships? How important is it to you? Were you taught the love is for girls, respect is for boys trope as a child, and do you agree with it?

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