The Enduring Myth of "the Right Woman."
Can you count the number of times you've heard men crooning about "the right woman," and "finding the right one," or "the one who put me on the right path"? Countless. How many times have movies sold you the bill of goods that selfish narcissists just need to find "the right woman" to become doting and loyal partners? When was the last time you heard a song by a woman about "putting a man back together"? I just heard it yesterday. Halsey's new song, "You Should Be Sad," (which I thoroughly like, by the way) includes the following lyrics:
Take a broken man right in my hands And then put back all his parts
See? It's all around us. And having just finished the Valentine's month, I wanted to take a moment to recognize this pattern.
Cultural norms teach men and women that bad behavior is to be expected from men and that women are rehab centers for these "broken men." And, whether you've heard it before and need to hear it again or if you've never heard it, I want to say this to you: That's bullshit.
But why is the myth so enduring? Well, for starters, women have been the connectors of vast societal networks: families, friends, childcare providers, mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives. They've been working together and connecting for millenia. This has given women the role of social and family stabilizers, which in turn has morphed into "personal stabilizers." On the other hand, men's "brash" and "boys will be boys" attributes has been certainly normalized and, under some circumstances, lauded as a positive characteristic. With these two competing roles. women were forced into this role and men welcomed it. This dynamic now pervades pop culture - to our detriment.
I see the impact of this narrative in domestic abuse situations--although it certainly plays out in less drastic ways in unhealthy but not abusive relationships. The idea that women can "fix" broken men and that women who are "strong enough" can handle anything is profoundly unfair and complete nonsense. When abusers apologize or perform "mea culpas" regarding their behavior, the messaging that women--good women--would stay and make it work because it is their duty to do so facilitates women staying in abusive relationships. After all, if someone tells you they "messed up," and that "only you can make it right," then evidently there is a strong desire to stay and "do the right thing." I cannot tell you how common it is for text messages and emails between abusers and victims to include this exchange: "I know I messed up but you're the only one that can heal me," or " You're the only one who can make me a better man," or "I want to be a better man when I'm with you." This language falls squarely in the narrative of women as rehab centers which pop culture and societal norms reinforce and normalize. More concerning, this language facilitates gas lighting and it facilitates trauma bonding. It makes it easier for abusers to get ahold of victims and retain that control over them.
Partners need, first and foremost, to be good partners and work on being good partners. If someone is not a good partner, here is no amount of "fixing" by the other person that will make it right. While, of course, it is fair for partners to look to each other for course correction, feedback, behavior correction ("Did I handle that correctly" "Could I have handled it better?" "Am I wrong about this interaction?") there can be no improvement without personal accountability.
While partners can be "the right one" for each other, they should not be "the right one" because one partner is going to "fix" the other. Most importantly, it is not women's responsibility to either put up with or fix "bad behavior." Men are adults and should be expected to behave like grown ups.
The myth of "the right woman" needs to end. Today. The "right man" is the one who is not looking for a woman to be his rehab center and who takes responsibility for his own actions. How about we start that myth? We'd all be better for it.