The Problem With The Phrase "If He Wanted To, He Would"
Love & Relationships

The Problem With The Phrase "If He Wanted To, He Would"

Many of us have heard the refrain “If he wanted to, he would” in response to relationship troubles with seemingly withholding men. It’s a phrase that says, “he’s just not into you.” But what if there’s a little more to the story? Though it’s certainly still a sign to move on, it does point to a missed conversation about the treatment of women.

"He does neglectful or bad things to you because he doesn't like you" ignores everything we've learned about abuse, control, trauma, and intimate partner violence. People's level of interest is not directly correlative to the treatment of their partners. It's actually a reflection of their inner state. In a world where misogyny exists, the increasingly poor treatment of women is not a coincidence or evidence of desire.

It is an expression of belief about how you engage the feminine. In the context of misogyny, how others engage women is often about power.

"If he wanted to, he would."

This is certainly true, but who is speaking to the broader culture and trend of neglectful men? What happens when men never seem to “want to” as a means of normalized engagement?

Are there benefits to men for not “wanting to,” such as creating a dating culture where they have to do less work?

Did it ever occur to you that, in many cases, he may actually be grooming you for cycles of abuse using “pick-up tactics” and/or it is his own fear that keeps his heart small? That many men are taught to continuously deliver low so that the bare minimum feels very big? That cold selfishness is taught to men in capitalist society as a means of survival and identity? That the denial of your own heart's desire is on purpose? That it's not about want, but fear and control? That many men are only taught to relate to women by withholding?

We’ve all been there, men who make us jump through rings of fire for extremely “mid” or even abusive relationships.

Most of us have experienced partners who refuse to acknowledge our needs and humanity because it keeps us small and them in control. Even in cases where carelessness is not intentional, society rewards men for careless behavior. Instead of sanctioning that behavior as undesirable, we label the women as “not desirable enough” to elicit care from a man. Instead of collectively raising the bar of poor behavior and communally calling men to task who exhibit poor behavior, we place the burden of desire on women.

This is not an isolated experience. Men everywhere seem to have collectively created a standard of lack.

Women increase our level of care, hoping that it will eventually lead to better treatment and intimacy while withholding men rest and dangle an emotional carrot on a stick.

They benefit, while women are pressured to constantly perform desirability to men’s tastes because it’s linked to our humanity, survival, and the care we receive. Then it’s taken for granted that for some women, those deemed beneath the patriarchal valuation of “worthy,” men rarely ever seem to “want to.”

Tiered kindness in dating treatment is a method of control.

It says that some people are more worthy of care, depending on how much they inspire our desire. It says that others are merely for our pleasure and therefore deserving of a denial of resources while we engage them. Those with more societal power can pull back positive treatment at their own whims and give it to those they deem “worthy,” as opposed to honoring women they engage as a value system. (Even when those women fall outside the realm of their “desire.”)

Practicing a system of care as a broader social value means that it can no longer be apportioned according to the ever-changing whims of men and their patriarchal standards. Poor or careless treatment is often used to damage a woman’s self-esteem so that her partner can remain in control and not have to show up entirely. Sometimes, the carelessness is the point. It’s an entry point into manipulation by manufacturing desperation and establishing a low bar. It’s a way of re-establishing and reinforcing existing power dynamics and reminding women of “place.”

A partner who has been careless with others is not in the practice of love, so where one suffers, all do.

This practice rarely springs up for the “right woman” in a way that is sustainable over a long period. Selfishness towards anyone you date will appear elsewhere because "liking" people is something that fluctuates. We can make the mistake of thinking we are above the dangers of misogynist dating culture because we are too smart, pretty, or societally celebrated, but this is ultimately a house built on sand and others’ ever-shifting desires.

Where systems of care as cultural norms are absent, all eventually suffer.

We are often all too quick to blame women for whatever happens to us in the space of our innocence and learning. Not "liking" someone isn't an excuse to treat people poorly and for society to then put the blame on the recipient of the behavior. Many of us are trained from an early age that to be a woman means to do the labor of deciphering emotionally unavailable and cryptic men.

Men are taught to shut down and withhold their feelings, and women are taught to do the work for them and adjust.

Establishing a “normal” or a baseline to judge what is happening around us can, in fact, be very difficult, especially when the world does its best to keep us disconnected from our own hearts, and “normal” is often really bad. It’s especially difficult when everything women do is scrutinized and quickly punished. When we “see it coming” and state our case, women are accused of being harpies that are overly critical of men. When we don’t, we are blamed for whatever happened to us and asked, “Why didn’t you know better?” People say you should see everything coming as a woman when it comes to men.

A better analogy is that you always have to navigate some tricky territory as a woman. You're wading through the river, and it suddenly dips off into a deep current, and the water is over your head. You thought you had it, but you ain’t got it. Others are quick to tell us all the ways we are inferior for failing to avoid the violence of others, often in the guise of tough love. Sometimes you fall in the river when you are learning how to swim.

A lot of “tough love” is actually just people’s frustration with your process. Which is just frustration with their own process and the process of life in general. Abuse and withholding in relationships with men can be a deeply ingrained issue that actually has little to do with the person on the receiving end. Sometimes it’s just easier for others and ourselves to say, “he’s not into me” to expedite the stickiness and complication of feeling stuck. We lash out with our own feelings of helplessness and convince people, especially women, it’s for their own good.

The point here isn't the person's level of interest, it’s that this is the way they behave relationally as a human being. They believe the standard of care and humanity for those you deal with is based on the amount of pleasure you can currently extract. They have a tier system for humanity. Often, even within these societally constructed tiers, every person has their own code.

You can never truly know "why" someone is treating you poorly and SEEMINGLY showing care to others, but you can acknowledge it’s a reflection of their own inner state and not you. From there, you can begin to take steps that ensure your own well-being, whatever that looks like for you.

​The journey to that care can be a long one.

People often trivialize the journey of being and becoming a woman. It’s a remarkable and complex experience. We can’t pretend anyone has all the answers to avoid heartbreak or survive patriarchal cultures because they don’t. No one’s cracked the code.

After being left so cold by men and the world, so many of us are in need of healthy, generous, patient, and warm lovemaking.

Women and the feminine everywhere are starving for genuine connections and intimacy. We are in need of a return to self, based in radical love and community and lovers that reflect that process. The path there is not to slam women down for misreading the behavior of others but to acknowledge that their behavior does not define us.

We are courageous, fearless, gorgeous, and vital, even despite the best attempts to thwart our divine becoming.

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Featured image by Lyndon Stratford/Getty Images



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