Ask Permission or Apologize?

A few weeks ago I had two girlfriends call me with an identical problem. It got me thinking about how many women quietly suffer without speaking up to the partners they have chosen. So when you have a dilemma in your relationship, do you ask permission or offer an apology? It’s a slippery slope.

When presented with this problem in my own relationships I have always leaned toward doing what I want, everyone else be damned. Not that I didn’t take their feelings into consideration, but let’s face it, we are selfish creatures and most of what we do is driven by getting what we want. My thought process has been that if I said or did something that completely inadvertently hurt you, then you’re an adult and can deal with that disappointment. Lately I have begun to reverse my decision.

One girlfriend found herself in the situation that none of us can envy. She found that she was pregnant. Before she could process it and decide what she was going to do, she started to miscarry. After several doctors appointments, she found herself at home taking medication for the cramping, waiting for the inevitable end. As she was all alone, she phoned me. Once I was certain she wasn’t in any physical danger, I asked if she thought of calling the father to be with her. She quickly said no. Granted, this is hard enough to go through when it is a pregnancy wanted by both people. When presented with this when you’re in a new relationship whose outcome is tentative it can be terrifying. She informed me that she had not told him anything that was going on. She had not spoken with him in a few days, which was not uncommon. They had never spoken of where they were in their relationship. The L-word had never been spoken by either of them. And she knew that he wanted children, but also knew that she was not ready for children.

We spent about an hour debating. My point was that whether the child was wanted or not, it was a miscarriage now and just as she would need to mourn so would he. If she wanted the relationship to continue to progress he should know. It would not only give them a chance to bond as a couple about something important to both of them, but it was also the right thing to do.

In the end she didn’t take my advice. She saw no point. There was no baby, and therefore nothing to tell him. If he found out later, she would apologize.

The second girlfriend was going through the same thing, but had been advised by doctors to terminate the pregnancy due to some other health factors. They cautioned her she would not be able to carry to term. She was torn. Although she wanted to have children, she didn’t know if this was the right time, or the right man. She had told him she was pregnant, and about the complications. However, she was adamant that the decision to terminate was hers and that he had nothing to do with her making that decision. While I agreed that abortion is completely a woman’s decision, when it has to be made within a relationship, the man should at least be in on the decision. He doesn’t have to impose his will. He does have to at least be able to voice his opinion. She didn’t want to hear his opinion. She thought asking his opinion would sway her into a decision she would be unhappy with later on. As it turns out, she miscarried, and the decision was made for her.

But what does it say about us, about powerful and independent women, who go after what we want, who don’t need a man for anything, yet still want good relationships, that we can’t talk to, and accept the opinion or feelings of the men in our lives as important?

Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with telling a guy that what he’s talking about is none of his business, or that in the particular case he’s not equipped to to offer an opinion. But when we’re talking about spending our lives, or a large portion of our time, with another person, how they feel, how they interact with the world and with us, has to have some value.

Case in point: A friend and I were having a disagreement about the trajectory of a project we were involved in. The particulars of the argument aren’t important. Mr. Wizard was subjected to my extreme anger over the situation. While it was wonderful for him to listen and feed me endless glasses of wine while I vented, quite loudly, to him about this, it did not have to be his only input. Thankfully he was smart enough to wait until I was almost done venting to add his two cents in. He was logical, supportive of my position, and where he disagreed he said so. But even when he disagreed, he was respectful of my position. While at the moment I didn’t really want to be logical, I wanted to be angry, he still made sense to me.

The outcome of the situation isn’t important here either, except to say that, I did end up taking his advice. Not because he proposed it, or insisted, but because it was what I thought was the right thing for me to do after I thought about it on my own. When you think about it, this is what successful people do. We have a problem, we get people in the room whom we trust, who may know more about the situation than us, and we ask for a consensus on what should be done. We ask for options. Presidents, kings, CEO’s, even mothers have groups made up of people they trust to go to when they have a dilemma that they can’t solve. How many times did we watch the captain of the Enterprise, Jean Luc Picard ask his bridge crew, “Options.” He was never perceived weak for asking for help making a decision. He was considered wise to realize he didn’t have to know everything.

So why is it so hard for us to do the same thing?

I think it’s hard for women to take advice from our men because in our lives, we spend so much time taking orders from men that aren’t voluntary. Our bosses, our fathers, our children, and pretty much any man that’s ranked higher on the totem we happen to be measuring at the time, give us orders, or insist we act a certain way all the time. When we get to our relationships, we feel the need to rebel against it. There’s nothing wrong with rebelling against being put in a subordinate position when it’s unwarranted. I just think somehow we have forgotten that in a relationship, a romantic one anyway, it’s not supposed to be about who’s winning. Loving someone, spending your time with them, should be about enjoying their company, trusting them, and giving your love and trust to them. But relationships have turned into the biggest reality game show never put on TV. Everyone’s playing so no one is watching.

Finally, I share with you the story of a girlfriend who has been married for a number of years. She had made a calculation error in their bank account, which had caused several things to go a bit haywire. She was looking for advice on how to hide this from him. Ways I could help her make sure he never found out about her mistake, and its consequences. My only advice to her was to talk to her husband about the fact that she wasn’t good at finances, and maybe she shouldn’t be in charge of the family’s bank accounts. She dreaded the conversation, and her husbands rebukes. I asked if she loved him, she said yes. I asked if she wanted her marriage to work, she said yes. I then told her that no matter what she fears the conversation might be, she has to give him the opportunity to change. If she knows that he has been and can be the husband, the man, that she needs him to be, then she has to give him the chance to be that for her.

Men, I want to apologize for this. I want to, but I can’t. It’s not completely our fault. You spent so much time (over the past few decades/centuries/millennia…but who’s counting) calling us the weaker sex, that now we feel we need to prove we’re not. And we’re willing to do it at your expense. We will emasculate, ridicule, and shout from every rooftop about your limitations as a sex and personally if it will prove to ourselves and the rest of the world that we are not weak. Hell, we even have female serial killers now. We’re even out to prove we’re as murderous as you. The truth is, we’re doing the same thing to you that you did to us. And you can’t blame us. Turn about is fair play, right? An eye for an eye and all that. Of course that does leave us all blind and toothless.

Women, I want to plead for leniency. But I can’t. I know that in our every day lives we feel under siege. We have to prove ourselves just as smart, just as ruthless, just as…whatever the guy we’re competing against is, just to stay ahead of the curve. And there’s nothing wrong with expecting the men we choose to spend our private life with, to respect us on a deeper level than we get at work, or in school, or from extended family members who resent the fact that we’re working at all. I would like to suggest that we take a real look at when we need to fight and when we don’t.

So I appeal to men and women. If you have chosen someone to share significant portions of your existence or your entire life with, you should trust them with helping you make the decisions that will effect that life. You chose them for a reason. You’re staying for a reason. Maybe they’re not stupid. Maybe they have a perspective you don’t. Maybe they can help you. And just maybe they care. It may actually feel good to relax and let the man be the man for a moment. And it may feel good to him too.

I should tell you that two of these relationships are still intact. There were rocky moments with both relationships, but they survived. They survived because at the end of the day they realized that what they created together was something they both wanted. They fought for it. They learned from it. Their relationships are stronger for it.

So I’ve decided that I may not choose the apology route from now on. I think I’m going to trust that the man in my life cares for me, and trusts me, and would never take an opportunity to make me feel less than. So it’s ok for me to trust him with all those fragile things that I have previously decided for myself without any input. Because I know he’s not out to hurt me. He wants to help. And in him helping me, he gets to feel like the man taking care of his woman, and I get to feel, for just a moment, that I’m not alone. Maybe in a truly healthy relationship there is no winner and therefore no loser. Just maybe a truly healthy relationship is two people helping each other win.

out to hurt me. He wants to help. And in him helping me, he gets to feel like the man taking care of his woman, and I get to feel, for just a moment, that I’m not alone. Maybe in a truly healthy relationship there is no winner and therefore no loser. A truly healthy relationship is two people helping each other win.

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