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Voices: Sorry, women – you’re probably going to have to teach your man how to be a ‘good boyfriend’

I remember the moment so clearly, it’s practically burnt into my brain. It’s seven years ago, and I’m having dinner with a group of friends. All of us are sharing stories about the men we’re dating. One is frustrated because her boyfriend keeps leaving the toilet seat up. Another is angry because her partner spends too much time playing video games. And one is concerned that her boyfriend might be a fascist. Then, the only one among us in a long-term relationship leans forward and whispers: “Don’t worry, girls. You just need to train them.”

All of us turned to her in an instant as she began to explain. It transpired that the therapised, emotionally intelligent, tidy, considerate partner she’d had for three years had not been like that at all when she met him. No, no. He was but a mere boy – an untrained puppy in desperate need of some direction. And he got it in droves.

To some readers – especially male ones – this might sound offensive. Condescending. Patronising. Misandrist, even. But almost every straight woman I know has had at least one experience with a man where they felt like they left him better off than when they arrived. Maybe they encouraged him to go to therapy. Maybe they taught him to be more emotionally available, or to finally learn how to cook. Whatever it is, the point is that they passed on myriad essential tools, out of the goodness of their own hearts, to help build and better the men they were with.

I was reminded of that dinner while reading a recent viral article in The Cut, “The Case for Marrying an Older Man”, in which writer Grazie Sophia Christie presents her decision to marry a man 10 years her senior as an intentional calculation that has liberated her from the shackles of femininity. But that’s a whole other article. The point is that, in the depths of her piece, Christie highlights just how skilled men are at “taking”, as she puts it, from their female partners.

“There is a boy out there who knows how to floss because my friend taught him. Now he kisses college girls with fresh breath,” she writes. “A million boys who know how to touch a woman, who go to therapy because they were pushed, who learned fidelity, boundaries, decency, manners, to use a top sheet and act humanely beneath it, to call their mothers, match colours, bring flowers to a funeral and inhale, exhale in the face of rage, because some girl, some girl we know, some girl they probably don’t speak to and will never, ever credit, took the time to teach [them].”

The injustice of all this is, as Christie says, that these men absorb this education and then bring it into their next relationship, passing it off as their own for their next girlfriend. What do we get in return?

It might not sound romantic, but in every relationship there is some sort of transaction at play. One person is always taking something from the other – and ideally, this dynamic is reciprocated. But it isn’t always. It certainly hasn’t been in most of the heterosexual relationships my friends and I have entered into.

Don’t get me wrong: the men I’ve been with have taught me plenty of things. Like how to spend an entire day surviving without really ever having to lift a finger. Or how to string someone along for months on end while secretly sleeping with someone else. And self-sabotage is a skill, too, you know.

In all seriousness, beyond a cool new song or genre of cinema, I’m not entirely sure that there has necessarily been any learning that has benefited me in any tangible way. You learn something from every relationship, sure – but not necessarily from every partner.

Christie’s tactic for overcoming this social injustice is to marry up (in terms of both age and finances). But I’m not sure that’s the best solution. Firstly, age is no guarantee of emotional or domestic maturity. And neither is wealth – the richest people I know tend also to be the least self-sufficient. Maybe the best practice is to take an “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” approach and choose partners who’ve already been “trained” by the women who came before you. Just be sure to take a moment to thank them; they worked hard for that.

Opinion by Olivia Petter : The Independent: