“Hold boys to the same standards as girls throughout their upbringing. That alone shows them that they are not above behavioral and domestic responsibility by virtue of their gender.”
Standards. We all have them. Some hold certain people to higher standards than others, but the standard is there nonetheless. It’s how we determine what to expect and accept from the people in our lives. Standards can be found within the context of many relationship dynamics—friendships, workplaces, and family units alike—but more often than not when someone is told to raise their standards, they’re talking about standards within the context of romantic relationships.
In recent years, phrases such as “The bar is on the floor,” “All men are trash,” and their many iterations have become very popular online with regards to dating discourse. It all stems from the idea that men have been getting away with doing the bare minimum for far too long. One Twitter user says, “Can we stop praising men for doing stuff they’re supposed to do?” and goes on to list examples—holding the door open, watching the kids, doing the dishes. They end their Tweet with, “The bar is low enough for Satan to step over it. Ridiculous” (@Snow_Blacck 2020). A different online comment states that “the bar for straight men is the literal ground and they will still tunnel underneath it” (Ng 2022).
Chances are that everyone’s idea of the bare minimum is slightly different, and dependent on their past experiences. One of Marriage.com’s expert bloggers describes it as the very least you need from a relationship and goes on to list twenty examples of what the bare minimum looks like in a relationship. Some of her examples include giving compliments without being asked, respecting boundaries, asking about their partner’s day, being sensitive about how their partner feels, and finding time to be with their partner (Blog 1). These are all attributes of a healthy relationship—attributes, as the blogger intends, that you shouldn’t have to fight for.
According to a different blogger, “The bare minimum man is the type of guy who doesn’t exhibit outwardly ‘bad’ behavior that calls for a breakup such as cheating. But he also doesn’t treat you in a way that makes you feel necessarily loved or cared for.” To them, it’s the type of person who responds but doesn’t initiate, hears you but isn’t actively listening, shows up but never on time (Blog 2). Depending on who you are, a lot of these actions could be considered below the bare minimum.
Other examples of what some consider to be bare minimum actions with regards to men in relationships include wearing a condom without complaining about it, validating their partner’s emotions, planning date nights, texting back in a timely fashion, changing diapers, not taking advantage of their partner, expressing emotions healthily, and putting noticeable effort into the relationship. “These are basic relationship skills that every person, no matter their gender, should possess,” says Jeff Guenther, a licensed professional counselor with over 2 million followers on TikTok.
Based on a Psychology Today article that made waves on the internet in August 2022, it seems like many women have taken the idea of accepting more than the bare minimum to heart. According to the article’s author Greg Matos, a board-certified couple and family psychologist, “Younger and middle-aged men are the loneliest they’ve been in generations, and it’s probably going to get worse” (Matos 2022). The statement was partially based on a study that was done to evaluate loneliness based on age, gender, and cultural differences around the world. One of the main findings was that young men living in individualistic cultures were the most vulnerable to loneliness, and Matos suggests three main reasons as to why this may be the case within romantic contexts (Barreto et. al 2021). First, he notes that men currently make up 62% of users on dating apps across the board, meaning there’s more competition among straight men when it comes to matching with women. Second, he notes that women can afford to be increasingly selective as a result and that most young women prefer men who are emotionally available, good communicators, and hold similar values to them. This leads to the third reason: many men currently lack the skills needed to fulfill those simple standards, largely because of the way they were raised.
Everyone is raised under the overarching construct of gender, which enforces ideas of femininity in opposition to masculinity. Traits that are often deemed as feminine include gentleness, kindness, nurturance, supportiveness, understanding, and empathy, all of which are characteristics that everyone should possess to some degree. Yet from birth, anyone who’s perceived as male is taught about the importance of being a “real man,” which essentially means to avoid feminine traits and actions at all costs since anything aligned with femininity is often deemed “weak” or “inferior.” This means that in many circles, men can’t talk about their feelings freely, explore their sexuality, or be particularly gentle or kind without being looked at sideways. Instead, they’re told to strive for masculine traits such as strength, dominance, assertiveness, and independence.
On top of this, society tends to let a lot more slide for boys than for girls. Think back to elementary school—if a boy were to behave in an aggressive manner at some point in the day, it’s not unlikely that the occurrence would ultimately be written off by authority figures with the old refrain of “boys will be boys.” If a girl were to behave in the same way, it’d be deemed unladylike. While there may be consequences for both the boy and the girl, there’s generally an underlying school of thought that boys are naturally more aggressive and deserve more leniency when it comes to their unideal behaviors. In a different Psychology Today blog post, Dr. Elizabeth Meyer, an associate professor for the University of Colorado Boulder’s School of Education, recalls a time that she tried to express her concerns with some of the aggressive behaviors a few of the male students in her 3-year-old son’s class had exhibited. Her concerns were met with the boys will be boys rhetoric, which she states is a dangerous phrase to fall back on because it prompts children to construct gender stereotypes and oversimplifies the reasoning for aggressive behaviors (Meyer 2014).
This rhetoric, as well as the idea that girls mature faster than boys, results in girls being raised with a higher set of standards than boys—inadvertently teaching those girls that they should tolerate boys even if they aren’t being treated right. These same boys grow up being coddled in other ways as well—such as not being asked to do domestic chores—and many internalize that their ultimate role in a family unit is to be a provider while women do all the caretaking.
Overall, men’s limited range for acceptable self-expression coupled with a lack of consequences for problematic behavior presents a big issue during the pursuit of romantic relationships with women.
Successful relationships come down to the idea of genuine partnership, which requires both parties to have a decent level of emotional intelligence and availability. And yet, as aforementioned, half the population is told to suppress their feelings and to avoid the very traits that their potential romantic partners are encouraged to possess. This contradiction forces those female partners to do the emotional labor of teaching men how to treat them equitably, and evidently many are sick of it.
Not only are they sick of it, but they can afford not to put up with it anymore. Women of the 21st century possess far more rights than those of the 20th, meaning they don’t need to rely on men for survival. This development allows women to lead fulfilling lives without a man at the center of it. In fact, according to Paul Dolan (a professor of behavioral science at the London School of Economics) the happiest and healthiest population subgroup is women who never marry or have children. This statement is ironic, given that marriage and raising children are traditionally seen as a woman’s sole purpose and marker of success in our society, but it makes sense when you consider how much work goes into upholding the duties that come with both (Oppenheim 2019).
With modern day marriage in particular, it seems like men have everything to gain while women have everything to lose. This is reflected in the fact that nearly 70% of all divorces in the US are initiated by women. This is generally due to less tolerance for physical or emotional abuse as well as the toll gender roles take on women. Even in households where the mom works as many hours as the dad, most of the domestic and child labor falls onto them (Gomes 2021). This can become incredibly draining over time and take a toll on the mom’s physical and mental health. Meanwhile, there are many health benefits to marriage for men—married men are more likely to receive regular checkups and medical care, maintain healthy diets, exercise, experience lower levels of stress, and receive better care during times of illness (PRB 2010). Additionally, married men earn 10-40% more than otherwise comparable single men and are overall in much better financial shape than unmarried male peers (Hamlet 2019).
So, whether it’s a young couple or a 20-year marriage, how can we get the men of our society to not only reach the bare minimum but exceed it?
In short, everyone needs to stop reinforcing patriarchal values and the toxic masculinity that tends to come with it. Additionally, we need to make more space for men to be vulnerable and possess more feminine traits—dare I say human traits—from a young age.
It’s worth noting that some women can be just as guilty as men when it comes to upholding the pillars of the patriarchy, and that is just as unhelpful as the men who gender police everyone. No matter who you are, normalize men expressing their feelings. Check in on the male figures in your life more often—brothers, friends, dads. It doesn’t have to be a full-blown heart to heart, but giving them the space to talk about how they’re actually doing is a small way to deconstruct the idea that they need to be strong and silent provider archetypes.
Hold boys to the same standards as girls throughout their upbringing. That alone shows them that they are not above behavioral and domestic responsibility by virtue of their gender.
All in all, more power to anyone who rejects receiving less than the bare minimum in their relationships. More power to anyone who won’t settle for only the bare minimum in their relationships. Everyone is deserving of quality love and care, and though there is room to be appreciative of someone for covering the basics, the best relationships occur when both parties are committed to going above and beyond.