“Being Crazy Isn’t Enough”

Recently, a friend posted this article on my Facebook wall: Men Really Need to Stop Calling Women Crazy. If you read that first, everything I’m about to say will make a lot more sense. Maybe.

YES! I thought to myself as I read Harris O’Malley’s sage words. YES YES YES! (I should be in an Herbal Essences commercial). I shared it on Facebook immediately, confident that it would resonate with everyone that read it. Within a few minutes I had garnered several likes from some of the most intelligent, independent women I know. Success!

In my opinion, the most valuable piece of information in this article is this:

by saying “she’s crazy”, men really mean “she was upset and I didn’t want her to be”.

I love this because it’s establishing understanding, communication, and building emotional intelligence. Imagine if men started saying “you’re upset and I don’t want you to be” instead of “you’re being crazy”. This is probably one reason so many women read this article and felt connected, understood, and empowered by this author’s observations. Women are socialized to experience emotions deeply, and to talk about them frequently and in great detail. To then enter into relationships where these emotions are considered “crazy” by our male partners is confusing and exhausting. It breeds insecurity and resentment, among other things.

So it’s just that simple. Men, stop calling women crazy! Because ultimately, this is what you’re perpetuating:

“Crazy” is such a convenient word for men, perpetuating our sense of superiority. Men are logical; women are emotional. Emotion is the antithesis of logic. When women are too emotional, we say they are being irrational. Crazy. Wrong.

If you don’t want to be that awful, insensitive guy, use a phrase like “you’re upset, and I don’t want you to be” instead.

Then what?

Here is where my musings take a potentially unexpected turn. I actually think this article is lacking in a HUGE, important, way: there doesn’t seem to be an appreciation for the men in this equation. What about their emotions? What about understanding where men are coming from? Can we really just sit back and say that men need to change their perceptions, words, and actions without first attempting to appreciate the challenges that they face in these situations? I don’t think you can point the finger at men and say that they need to stop saying this word or that phrase and leave it at that.

Granted, Mr. O’Malley is a good deal less verbose than I am, so I am sure he intended to include such a discussion in his article but had to omit it for space. I offer my humble extension to his article here.

While many women in my life responded well to this article, the few men who reacted seemed defensive to me. After posting this article, two of my closest male friends texted me (independently of each other): “Girls are crazy” and “But you do know women are actually crazy right?”.

I’ll be honest, at first I brushed these reactions off. My friends are smart guys, and surely they were just trying to get under my skin, as they so often do.

But then, a third (exceptionally intelligent, articulate, and handsome) man in my life said the following things in an email response after I’d shared the article:

• I agree that socio-linguistically, “crazy” shouldn’t be used to describe anybody, but I think the  author uses this critique of “crazy” to legitimize other, less reasonable claims.
• For example, the author portrays men as emotionally stunted and then calls the use of crazy to describe women as a defense mechanism spawned from our own emotional immaturity.
• Actual quote from the article: “men are socialized to be disconnected from our emotions…As a result, we barely have a handle on our own emotions — meaning that we’re especially ill-equipped at dealing with someone else’s” and thus have no place entering discussions at an emotional level? what is the alternative for men then?

It’s the last point that really struck a chord with me. As O’Malley has so astutely observed, men can barely handle their own emotions. So how are men supposed to engage in a conversation like this? Well, obviously by retreating into the same over simplification that we just condemned. So, we simultaneously expect men to internalize their emotions and also to have advanced emotional vocabularies to recognize and address emotional encounters with others. Um… is anyone else lost here? Our society takes little boys from a young age and provides no safe space for them to express their emotions, verbally, physically or otherwise, and then when they become men we condemn them for resorting to simplistic words like “crazy”. It’s an unrealistic expectation.

I hope we can all acknowledge that calling women (or anyone, for that matter) crazy isn’t the answer, but since we also acknowledge that men are not socialized to talk about their feelings (much less anyone else’s), what do you expect? The typical response is to assume every man is an emotionally stunted cavemen – that’s just as harmful as calling a woman “crazy”.

Is there another way?

Men, imagine that the woman is your life is have a nuclear emotional meltdown and you’re now being conscious and mature man and saying “you’re upset and I don’t want you to be”. Now what? Well, if you’re the average woman you probably go with something like this little gem.

And if you’re a man, you’ve been socialized your entire life not to talk about feelings so you probably have no idea what to do next.

There is a better way. In fact, there are many, many better ways. One that I personally like involves taking time away from the encounter to examine your own emotional triggers and then share them with your partner. This requires that both parties stand together against the misunderstanding, instead of taking sides against each other. This strategy isn’t about who’s right or wrong, logical or crazy, it’s about understanding your emotions and sharing them with your partner. It’s a lot about being vulnerable, and it’s terrifying, but I believe the results are infinitely better than what’s considered normal in our world today. I don’t see any reason why two people who care about each other should have to experience conflict and leave the situation feeling misunderstood, bitter, or worst of all, crazy.

A good friend of mine recently had a successful experience using a strategy that involved self reflection, honesty, and (gasp) open communication. Here’s the abbreviated version of how it went down: she recently started dating a very cool man, and their instant chemistry resulted in quick emotional and physical connections. Having just come out of a long term relationship, he was a little taken aback by how quickly things were progressing so he asked her if they could slow it down, you know, keep things more casual (and take physical intimacy off the table). Note: this took a fair amount of self awareness and courage on his part. You can probably guess that her reaction wasn’t an enthusiastic agreement. She freaked out. She did the healthy thing and didn’t freak out on him, but called me instead (always a good move, call your girlfriends!).

SO what’s going on here? We talked through everything that happened and identified some emotional triggers that were underlying this whole encounter. Many times in the past, she’d been told by guys that they wanted to keep it casual, only to find out that they actually wanted to play the field, date other women, and eventually take off with someone else. Those words alone were enough to trigger memories and emotional memory of past experiences. Unfortunately, if all you know is one single outcome for a given action, you’re likely to expect that pattern to repeat. And in this case, that’s exactly what my friend expected. She could have easily done the classically “crazy girl” thing – spent hours lamenting, dissecting every text, every comment he’d made on their previous dates, searching for clues to explain his behavior. She could have stopped talking to him, yelled at him, cried, and made him feel guilty for making her feel upset.

Want to know what she did instead? She talked to him about her emotional triggers, and explained that her immediate emotional reaction to his request (anxiety, terror, confusion) was almost entirely due to the fact that his words were activating past patterns – her body was literally responding to a perceived threat. She acknowledged that she hadn’t truly been able to understand what he was asking for or why he was asking, because she was too busy dealing with her overactive nervous system.

He responded by sharing something awesome with her. He was also emotionally triggered by how fast their relationship was progressing – because his last relationship had gotten off to a whirlwind approach and he had since committed to taking a more level headed approach. In fact, he really wanted to take time to get to know her and he had felt pretty bad that his request upset her. He didn’t know why or how to address it, so the fact that she came to him and explained opened the door to an incredibly productive conversation.

Want know how it all ended? They’re still talking and getting to know each other, or whatever the kids are calling it these days. What’s more, they’ve established a mature, healthy, mutually respectful way to approach intense emotional interactions. Nobody’s being called crazy, or a caveman.

I’ve summarized this here, but I don’t want to imply that it was easy. Both of these people have high emotional intelligence and are open minded individuals who recognize that their emotional reactions only represent part of the story – an incomplete part. I guess my point in sharing this is to illustrate that there’s an alternative to the typical “crazy girl” and “emotionally distant guy”. Furthermore, I truly believe that everyone has the potential to achieve this level of healthy communication and mutual respect, but the first step is recognizing that it’s an option (contrary to what society would have you believe).

What’s your point?

So many things: for starters, let’s …

  • stop calling each other crazy
  • take time to appreciate the challenges faced by those on the other side of the equation (in this case, men)
  • take time to know ourselves and our emotional triggers
  • find (and practice) healthier ways to communicate

“Being crazy isn’t enough” – Dr. Seuss