Yesterday something reminded me of the Friends season in which Rachel wanted to “take a break” from her relationship from Ross, and Ross interpreted it as a break-up (or so he said after immediately having sex with another woman). The rest of the friends were about evenly split on whether Ross’ interpretation was valid or not. At the time, I thought Ross was wrong and an asshole, but didn’t bother to analyze it.
But thinking about it yesterday (after three years with this site), something immediately struck me: the reason why he thought “taking a break” meant “breaking up” is that in his mind, Rachel was either there for him 100% of the time or not at all, because that’s what being a girlfriend means. This attitude was in fact what led to her needing a break. When she had to break dates to work late, he took it personally. When there was an attractive guy working with her, he got jealous. Of course, Rachel was supposed to understand when he had to work late and be around attractive women – and she did. She lived on Planet Earth.
Ross lived on Planet Me. Like a lot of men growing up around women who do most of the giving and men who expect it, he’d absorbed the idea that in heterosexual dating, being a boyfriend meant spending your free time with your girlfriend, but being a girlfriend meant rearranging your whole life to spend your boyfriend’s free time with him.
Young women also absorb the norm of women giving and men expecting, and tend to think they’ve revolutionized the universe if they do slightly less giving than their moms did. It’s not just in dating, either: in the workplace, men often expect women in the same positions as themselves (with all the same skills and education) to arrange their schedules’ around that of their male co-workers, or be left out of meetings.
This is a great example of how gender discrepancies aren’t made equal by changes in law or hiring practices because those changes don’t permeate people’s attitudes. How long can you fight the whole office every day when 90 co-workers think you should make the coffee even though you outrank half of them? How do you continue dating men when every relationship with a man ends the minute he discovers you don’t plan on doing 75% of the giving and there are 300 nearby attractive women who will? You make adjustments and cut your losses – or opt completely out.
And meanwhile, I wonder how many people – women included – considered Rachel the spoiled princess and Ross the beleaguered Nice Guy?