"He's Mean Because He Likes You"
The first books I read in elementary school were the Junie B. Jones series. Junie had a classmate, Jim, who was a royal jerk to Junie for many of the early books in the series. There is an entire book dedicated to an episode in which “Meanie” Jim invites everyone in their class except Junie to his birthday party. This is something that, even now in my twenties, seems ludicrously unkind. Later on, it turns out that – surprise! – “Meanie” Jim had a crush on Junie the whole time. He just chose to keep it under wraps while he tormented her on a daily basis.
You would think boys would grow out of the playground dynamic of I'm-mean-because-I-like-you. And, by extension, that girls would know that it’s ridiculous for men to act this way toward them in hopes of garnering their affections. And that would be the end of that.
And you would be wrong.
This problem persists. A quick Google search on the topic will bring up think-pieces, YouTube videos, and even Yelp! posts asking a simple question: Why do men sometimes act like douchebags to women they like? The reality is, men like this are likely emotionally stunted with poor communication skills and, most likely, a lot of insecurities they’ve never expressed. There are multiple dissertations that could be written to explain a lack of emotional maturity in men. I don’t have that kind of space, so I will continue under the premise that this is a problem and there is some root cause for it.
So why do some women, from family members to friends to love interests, accept this behavior? It can’t just be because everyone read that Junie B. Jones book. One explanation is that the emotionally stunted man presents a challenge, a fixer-upper that, with some TLC, will be expressing his feelings openly and acting kind to women in no time. This may have worked for Princess Anna in Frozen, but her fixer-upper mostly just needed a hot bath and a toothbrush. Those are problems that can be dealt with. A man who has the emotional range of a teaspoon and didn’t mature past the second grade is not a weekend hobby. He’s a jerk and will not improve the life of any women he abuses or ignores because “that’s just how he expresses his interest.”
What’s to be done about this problem? Obviously we, as a society, must make a conscious effort to raise boys who understand that expressing healthy emotions and acting with kindness and respect does not make you less of a man. Being able to communicate those things that go on inside your head is part of being a functioning adult. But, beyond that, as parents, teachers and friends of boys (and emotionally stunted men) we should not let this behavior slide. It’s not OK to normalize acting like a jerk when you are actually interested in someone. It’s time to stop telling our girls and women, “Oh, he probably just has a crush on you.” It’s time to start telling them, “Don’t pay any attention to boys like that. He clearly has a lot of growing up to do.” It’s one thing to act like “Meanie” Jim when you’re 5 and just now working on your social skills. It’s another issue, a deal-breaker, to act like him at 25 and expect women to fall for you.
Shut it down.