There’s a curious meme circulating in complementarian circles that goes like this: Women want love. Men want respect. This is, apparently, a pretty big thing: The first Google result for “love and respect” is this site (and it isn’t a couple of random kooks or anything–look at the number of posts on the forums!).
I assume this came from the Big Book of Gender Stereotypes, but it’s one of those “black people like watermelon”-type stereotypes that leaves you wondering: How did this ever get started? Was there some guy once who was like, “Being loved is for pansies! REAL men don’t need love!”
Just kidding. It’s from Ephesians 5:33, which according to this website is the only verse in the Bible. And from this super-sciencey study, which found that…both genders want both.
These things never seem so bad because they’re always couched in soothing language and ninety percent of what they say is perfectly reasonable. Don’t be fooled. Weirdo polygamy/incest/child marriage cults also couch their teachings in soothing, reasonable language spoken by fatherly middle-aged white men with glasses. Of course you communicate bad ideas in language that makes them sound like fine ideas, otherwise no one would ever listen to you.
The love/respect movement is sexist. More on that after the cut. But is the underlying premise true? Mark Driscoll loves to ask, “If you had to pick just one–love or respect–which one would you pick?” with the assumption that it is patently obvious who will pick which one, even though I recall a prominent woman singing “All I’m asking is for a little respect.”
I thought about this question. I thought about it carefully. And, after much deliberation, I picked respect. I think that everyone, regardless of gender, should pick respect, and this is why.
Picture love without respect.
For me, it’s a blank. The word “patronizing” comes to mind. I picture men doing things for women that they don’t think the women could do themselves. I picture women voicing concerns and men telling them not to worry their little heads about it. I picture men buying things or doing things for women that the women don’t want out of the assumption that it must be what they want, deep down.
None of this is loving. I can’t picture love without respect. There is no such thing. Respect is the bedrock of a loving relationship and love cannot exist without it. More at the end of the cut.
Now picture respect without love. What do you see? I see Colonel Mathieu from The Battle of Algiers, oddly enough. The Algerians are his enemies, and yet his respect for them is deep. I could name other examples: the relationship between a good boss and his or her subordinates, for instance. The picture here is not a blank. Respect can and does exist without love.
If you have love without respect, you have neither. If you have respect without love, you still have respect. It isn’t everything that one needs in a relationship, but it is something and it is of value.
How do you love someone?
You respect his or her feelings by paying attention to how he or she feels and acting accordingly.
You respect his or her body by being physical in a way that serves him or her instead of just yourself.
You respect his or her preferences by doing the things he or she wants to do.
You respect his or her ambitions by planning a life together that leads to where he or she wants to be.
You respect his or her needs by accommodating them graciously and not making him or her feel demanding or high maintenance.
You respect his or her life by showing interest in the things he or she does and remembering birthdays, projects, relatives’ names, likes and dislikes.
Love is a kind of respect.