Life has norms. People abide by or choose to ignore those norms for whatever reasons. Norms can conflict with one another, but our norms, which have been pounded into our heads over the years in media, our social observances, and our experiences and research, give us a purported view of how the world both is and how people think the world should be. Norms can have descriptive (how the world is) and normative (how the world should be) force. Fortunately or unfortunately, our norms provide a basis of expectations. Norms do differ for everybody, largely due to the variable between people that determines so much of what we tolerate – personal experiences. The norms for a spoiled child of an aristocrat will differ from the child of a Black Panther – not all of them, but there will be different expectations of normalcy for varying parts of their social lives. It’s the expectations of normalcy that have me writing today.
I’m sure I’ll be corrected if I’m wrong, but the expectation I’ve gleaned over the years is that ladies, your man is going to cheat on you. How the blame is parsed out (“it’s this bitch who was trying to get my man’s fault!” or “you shouldn’t have been in the room with this bitch!” or however you’d like to explain it) might differ from person to person but, in general, the expectation is that men cheat and at some point you’ll be a victim. This is a normal expectation apparently. And our behaviors reflect our norms, but more on that in a minute.
In an ironic twist, I can think of men who live by that same expectation – they will cheat, have cheated, and find it normal to do so. On one hand, they could be considered to have…”different” expectations of what monogamy entails, namely that their significant other ought be faithful but what it is to be faithful to her either is not the same way most would consider or the appearance of being faithful counts more for them than being faithful itself. On the other hand, many men wouldn’t agree with either expectation of monogamy (and there are those that don’t inherently agree with monogamy, as has been explained to me by one cheater – “It’s in the blood to go out and hunt and get some pussy, mane,” were the words uttered to me) and don’t have the expectation to cheat. I’d argue most men don’t have the expectation to cheat. What we do have an expectation of is to find satisfaction, somewhere, somehow. It’s why strip clubs still exist (except in Memphis…and SIDEBAR):
SIDEBAR – In an egregious overstep of government dictating to its populace what is moral or immoral, inside Shelby County (where Memphis is located), on January 1, 2012 there were laws placed into effect that restricted nudity from places where alcohol is served. The strip clubs chose to retain their liquor licenses and they have become bikini bars. More than just government overstepping, they didn’t take the strippers even into account – if they can’t take the clothes off, how are they expected to make money? Tricking in VIP? Actual prostituting to make ends meet like in Boogie Nights? Terrible law. Juicy J said it – “It ain’t a strip club if you ain’t showing pussy.“
…anyway, men do expect to be satisfied (which means to go and procure satisfaction), in some manner, whether sexual, emotional, physical, whatever. We hope for basic satisfaction. And that expectation, that norm, does drive our behavior.
So it becomes easy to see why cheating could happen and get quickly rationalized into one of two ways –
1) I turned a want into a need, but I did need to be satisfied.
2) Well, I’m with her but not really so it’s not really cheating.
This is the gray area of norms that I wanted to address, #2. These first two statements are for everybody: If you want some pussy/dick and already have some pussy/dick locked up, tend to your own pussy/dick to help it stay the pussy/dick you want. But if you kinda have some pussy/dick, what are the rules of engagement? You’re with him/her, certainly, but not really. The “not really” is an emotional kind of “not really,” wherein you’re not emotionally invested, or completely emotionally invested. If one side of the pairing knows that they’re not emotionally invested while the other side doesn’t know that and does begin to emotionally invest (or still has that option on the table, whether or not her partner is investing), this is an unbalanced setup and a slippery slope to the gray area of norms. Buddy Guy will head out and, because he’s with her but not really, find no problems stepping out and closing the deal with someone else. Maybe he won’t even close the deal but start entertaining and pursuing another one. It’s a normal behavior, why? Because I’m with you, but not really. But if Buddy Guy told Madam Lady what he did last night, she wouldn’t be thinking that’s normal behavior because she’s with him, whether or not the not really is in place. She’d likely be hurt (and deservedly so) because someone else now is a claimant to her spot in his pantheon, a spot she didn’t even think was in question. More than that, Buddy Guy will be slightly confused because in his mind, he’s with you but it’s not exclusive (for some reason or another) and so Madam Lady shouldn’t trip. Two more things come to mind –
If Madam Lady and Buddy Guy’s spots had been swapped for last night, Buddy Guy would probably be mad finding out Madam Lady met another man and for the same reason that Madam Lady got mad. If he didn’t get even the slightest bit upset at this turn of events, he’s done a good job compartmentalizing who Madam Lady is – she’s one fish in the sea and tuna gets caught every day, he might think. From my experience, that mindset is certainly around with men – “If you can take her, you can have her.” (NFL Motto #4) but even that process of seeing it or knowing that it happens and being fine with it takes effort to get through. For varying reasons (the purported number of Black men in jail, the purported number of “marriageable” (which smacks of classist undertones) men around, and the bad faith found in men after women turn 19), the whole “there’s many fish in the sea” idea just doesn’t resonate as strongly with women, in my experience. There aren’t enough tasty fish to eat, whereas for men the fish can get cooked to be made tasty, women prefer catching tasty fish. That changes your numbers game drastically (any fish can get cooked and seasoned to get a certain flavor but every fish has a particular flavor in itself).
The second thing is that these situations arise from a distinct lack of clarity. Even the title of this post is disturbingly unclear – if somebody told me they’re with me but not really, then they’re not with me but what are they? As one of my boys put it, “You’re single until you’re not.” Single and not-single are in a binary relation – you’re either in one category or another. You don’t adhere to these categories? Doesn’t matter, the categories still adhere to you. This is nothing more than friends with benefits or what could be called a baby relationship. Neither party will outright say what they want, and if they do, the other party will either ignore, placate, or leave if it’s too much (leaving can also be prompted by destructive behavior to the relationship – it’s making the other person leave for you). Getting too serious is too serious but it got more serious than originally intended. So we take what we can get – we hear the “I’m with you,” and choose to ignore the “but not really” unless it’s to our benefit. We don’t trip unless our ego has taken a bruise or we’re being insecure or perhaps we just don’t feel like not tripping because we’re tired of holding it in, this “it” that we shouldn’t have had to begin with. And all the while, we feel like we’re getting what we asked for, what we wanted, but it’s nothing more than rationalization because of a new norm being accepted – that this is the best that we can get, so don’t fight too much and don’t rock the boat. And norms are reflected in our behavior. We have shamed and fooled ourselves into accepting lackluster behavior on our part and our partner’s part regarding taking responsibility for what this relation is. We don’t expect more, we expect to get exactly what we’re getting and then twist it so that we can accept that what we expect is normal. For those of you who say, “My partner doesn’t hold up his/her end of my expectations,” ask yourself if you’ve clearly, and not clearly in a yelling or frustrated or angry way, but clearly and from a place that’s not purely beholden to emotions, expressed what you expect from your partner and given your partner a chance to redress his/her behavior? If not, then don’t get mad at your partner for not reading your mind. And each one of us ought ask ourselves if we’re holding up our own end of the bargain – we’re very quick to tongue lash without turning our tongue on ourselves with nearly as much venom as we dole to our partner.
So the norm of being cheated on, that expectation should be there if the relationship isn’t aptly defined or given boundaries and borders. Dare I say, most women probably would get cheated on by these standards – standards that have been generally accepted as normal in terms of social policy. Most men could be cheated on by these standards too, and for every time a man cheats on a woman, there’s a woman (literally) cheating on a man. Seriously, do people think that all men are in the not-single category and all women, except those linked to the men in the not-single category are single? Women stepping out on their men every hour of every day but, purportedly, all men cheat with these no family having, perpetually-single-with-no-purpose-other-than-to-fuck-with-spoused-up guys-who-can’t-control-themselves-when-a-woman-wants-to-fuck-them homewreckers (unfortunately, these women exist – only want men in relationships. These men exist too. More on these people in a future post).
I know, plenty of people will say that the men caused the new normal by not stepping up and being better but to these people I offer a rebuttal – why? If it appears my partner is getting fulfilled by the “I’m with you but not really” setup, why ought I “step up and be better?” How, in fact, could I if it appears that I’m doing my job (and, in accordance with the new normal, he likely would be within a margin of error of performing his duties)? What if she doesn’t want more, which is also part of the new normal (again, a rationalization of our norms to create a new norm – that I don’t want more than sometimey companionship and that’s what everybody is doing)?
Plenty of other people might blame the women, saying their standards are too unrealistic and that if you did expect more to appreciate what you have. To these people, I offer a rebuttal – why? Why lower the bar because you can’t get over it? Why don’t you jump a little higher? Even if there aren’t many of the fish that she likes in the sea, there’s still another one who might well jump hoops better than you can, and can even do a trick while doing it. And moreover, if you do care about her, why not try to do more? There could be valid reasons that could keep you from wanting to do more (for example, you actively do not want a committed relationship), but then if you communicated that from the jump, you hopefully don’t find yourself having these issues, but it wouldn’t surprise me if you did because a lack of clarity still exists when your actions (relationship-esque) and your words (but no relationship) don’t line up.
Normalcy in relationships might be an impossibly fleeting concept to consider – my parents’ generation had some of the same relationship issues that plague this one, but many of my generation would admit that the normalcy in their parents relationship differs from what’s normal in theirs by some degree (this could be because of experience and time together for someone in their 40s-50s vs. 20s-30s, but that wouldn’t explain more inherent differences in normal behavior, e.g. chivalry vs. “chivalry is dead”). Hell, using the word normal has plenty of biases implicit in its use so this entire post could get undermined by attacking my use of normal. Still, on a common sensical understanding of normal, this inescapable gray area that many of us are choosing to live in with our relationships is cause for plenty of concern, if only with how clear we are to our partners about what we want and what we need. It’s cause for concern for us to figure out for ourselves what we want and what we need. I’ve been accused of not knowing what I want before, and it was a legit accusation – I only knew what I thought I wanted, but I didn’t know what I actually wanted. Wants change, behaviors change, and even needs change, non-basic ones at least. Knowing that, I’m hopeful that our norms can change, and we can start to speak up and out, confidently and honestly, that I’m with you or I’m not with you.