Men Aren't Trash & Women Aren't Crazy — How Stereotypes Kill Our Chances At Happiness

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Love

The world of romantic relationships can be fraught with mixed messages due to society's highly gendered expectations of men and women.

We go from exhilaration to devastation, from matching to ghosting, from romantic joyrides to getting jolted — all within the blink of an eye.

It's easy to assume the problems were the other person’s fault. After all, it was the "crazy" women or "piece of trash" men who lied, cheated, manipulated, or took advantage of us.

Sometimes, we blame the other person. Other times, we blame ourselves for falling for them. We seethe at the thought of ever succumbing to that stupid line or that seductive look.

Most of us seem to want love, security, and stability.

Yet, like a moth to a flame, we are also drawn to the unknown, the challenge, and the chase — to unhealthy relationships and unbalanced dynamics.

Worse, we often think this dynamic is "normal" because it's what we've been taught to expect: That men are trash and women are crazy. 

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But, men aren't trash and women aren't crazy — and we've all been hurt by society's gendered expectations.

First, a little background. 

In his hierarchal model, famous psychologist Abraham Maslow teaches that we all share the same basic needs: survival, belonging, and recognition (to name a few).

Yet, our life experiences have a way of intercepting, skewing, or threatening our ability to get those needs met.

For example, our most basic need for safety and survival may have been compromised by living with parents who argued incessantly or struggled with mental health issues or substance abuse.

Our need for connection and respect may have been disrupted by bullies in school or siblings who rejected us.

Our desire to be successful through academics, sports, social status, or professional endeavors can be challenged in countless ways. After all, this is life. It never flows perfectly smoothly!

Our needs, as defined by Maslow, run deep and originate in our evolutionary heritage.

Historically as human beings, we had to compete to survive, prove our worth and value to the village, and trust our tribe to protect us when necessary.

Over time, both across generations and throughout our own limited lifespan, we have learned how to get our needs for safety, belonging, and recognition met in different ways.

Our life experiences, both positive and negative, teach us how.

First, we learn what our parents want from us in exchange for loving and keeping us safe.

As we get older, our peers, authority figures, and romantic partners teach us what allows us to belong, be recognized and valued in our cultural society.

Sometimes, these lessons are conscious and explicit but, more often, we learn to meet those needs subconsciously and implicitly.

We learn how to convince people to like us and accept us by being kind or ruthless, cooperative or determined, flexible or obstinate.

With no malintent, we become skilled in manipulation, seduction, and persuasion all as a way to protect ourselves and meet our needs for survival.

Some of these behaviors are even abusive.

For instance, the "crazy" woman who throws your clothes in the street. Or tries to jump out of the car while you’re driving down the freeway. Or launches a slanderous social media campaign against you.

The "piece-of-trash" guy who professes his love, then sleeps with your ex-best friend. Or ghosts you after finally getting you in bed. Or hides his drinking, gambling, or porn addiction and then blames you for driving him to it.

These are the behaviors of someone hurt, scared, angry, and desperate. They also fit the stereotypes surrounding men and women. 

They are someone who has likely experienced some degree of traumatic embarrassment, betrayal, shame, or rejection before you. This is not to excuse disrespectful, offensive, or abusive actions.

However, we must bear in mind that we live in a society that also tends to reinforce scandalous behavior when it meets our gendered expectations.

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Media glamorizes and rewards people who stop at nothing to get what they want.

"Players" and "ballers" mesmerize us in everything from reality shows to music videos and even in magazines like Vogue. They convey strength, autonomy, desirability, power, and determination.

Our culture also dictates our expectations of men and women. Although the tide is beginning to turn, we still struggle with dated gender molds.

Men are expected to be financially successful and emotionally and physically strong. Women are expected to be attractive, pleasurable, and accommodating.

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These culturally-imposed messages further compound how we strive to meet our respective needs as well as society’s expectations of us.     

We are adaptive, resilient, survival-oriented beings, conditioned by our prior relationships, life lessons, psychological wounds, and societal examples.

In reality, we have all been hurt, embarrassed, frustrated, and disappointed.

We all need to feel secure, respected, and appreciated in our relationships. And, sometimes, we encounter a person whose efforts to meet their needs are misguided and even harmful.

In fact, perhaps we ourselves have fallen into desperate, unsavory, and regrettable behaviors. We are human.

Everything we have experienced throughout our life significantly impacts how we approach our most intimate relationships — our romantic partnerships.

The stakes feel higher — the threats of rejection have a stronger sting and the thrill of acceptance is more gratifying.

When we feel scared, rejected, or betrayed, we are more likely to act out in extreme ways to protect or defend ourselves.

We turn those who have offended us into the "crazy b*tch" or the "piece-of-trash SOB."

We may have been the victim in the game of love, but we have power in how we choose to respond. We can either lash out or bow out, lick our wounds and get back in the game, or take a timeout to take care of ourselves.

We are all figuring out life in our own way, trying to heal, consciously or unconsciously.

Although our painful experiences in relationships may be the cause of our suffering in some ways, when we decide to approach them with honesty, empathy, and understanding, they also hold the promise of the cure.

We don't need to fall prey to these harmful expectations of men and women, or of dating and relationships in general.

In relationship with others, we can recover and repair from previous life hurdles, learn new ways to meet our needs, and discover how to connect with one another in authentic and meaningful ways.

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Erin Mason is a licensed psychotherapist, certified yoga instructor, and published writer. In therapeutic practice, Erin works with her clients to identify and cultivate innate resources, inspiring positive change and a more meaningful, rewarding life.