The Bare Minimum

Disclaimer: This article refers to my views on heterosexual relationship expectations as a cis woman. I cannot speak to any queer relationship experience, so there may be limitations to the applicability of this content. Still, I’m going to stay in my lane.

While Valentine’s Day has come and gone, I’m taking some time to sit down and reflect on — you guessed it — relationships. I’ve been thinking about my current relationship, past relationships and almost everything I’ve ever heard or seen about dating as a woman. I’ve noticed a few common quips that I think deserve to be nipped in the bud.

New relationships are exciting and a little absorbing. They’re fun to be in and they’re also fun to talk about. Any time we know someone that enters into a relationship, we have a few typical questions we ask. After the typical “I’m so excited for you!” exclamation, we move on to other topics, such as “What do you like about him?”

It is the answers to this question that I find troubling.

I cannot count the number of times that I have heard fellow women list some of the following:

“He’s nice to me”

“I feel like I can be myself”

“He supports me”

“He likes me even without makeup on”

“He treats me well”

“He doesn’t pressure me to do things I don’t want to do”

“He’s not intimidated by my intelligence/ambition/etc”

When I look at this list, I feel uncomfortable. Too often, women treat things like basic kindness as some kind of revelation in a relationship. Why should it be so thrilling that he’s nice to you? Isn’t that the bare minimum that you should be expecting? Shouldn’t that be an obvious expectation — only date people who treat you well?

It’s a list such as this that demonstrates how little women have been taught to expect from male partners under a patriarchal structure. It is a list like this that shows how much we have come to devalue ourselves that simple kindness and courtesy become noteworthy.

Part of the problem is that we have internalized patriarchal messages that this is the most we can ask for. Many times, other women in our lives suggest that “we can’t be too picky.” As such, meeting a “nice” guy who doesn’t care if you’re dressed up or in sweatpants is a highlight of the century. Hearing this kind of language from other women re-emphasizes the notion that dating a nice guy is a privilege; that dating someone who doesn’t try to change you is extraordinary and should be cherished.

We see this same thing carry over into relationships between domestic partners and spouses. When a man steps up and washes a singular dish (which he used!), he’s a hero. When he does the grocery shopping, or even offers to accompany his female partner, he’s a hero. When he changes a diaper, he’s a hero. When he takes their kid to the doctor, he’s a hero. I argue that this is the bare minimum which all men should be performing in their relationships, and the era of applauding them for this is over.

Some people think that my argument is unfair to men. I would say that the insistence that women celebrate men for doing the bare minimum is what’s actually unfair. Why should women perform most of the emotional labor in a relationship? Why should men be able to make so many excuses? Why do they get a free pass? That, my friends, is patriarchal bullsh*t.

And we shouldn’t stand for it.

You should never feel obligated to lower your expectations. You deserve better than to be compelled into accommodating the mediocrity of privileged man-children that think patriarchy will protect them from being a halfway decent person.

There are things that you deserve out of your relationship, things that I think we all — men and women alike — have the right to expect.

You have the right to expect your significant other to treat you well. A partner who is nice to you, who listens and treats your feelings as valid is important. It is also the bare minimum.

A domestic partner who participates equally in responsibilities is also the bare minimum.

We need to start holding all the men in our lives to higher standards — otherwise, we’ll keep celebrating them for acting like adults and treating us like people. That, my friends, is the bare minimum — and we deserve better.