I’m Fed Up of Playing Mums-and-Dads

Is this real life? Is this just patriarchy? Caught in our old roles, no escape from misogyny…

Last week I helped my ex-boyfriend get over his erectile difficulties with his new girlfriend, which was not at all painful nor painfully awkward. He had approached me to clear some unresolved issues, and to apologise, three years late, for being a douche. “Why now?” I asked. “Because I was having trouble in bed…” he replied.


All throughout our conversation — during which I consoled him for being upset about having treated me like shit, told him we could of course be friends, and then paid for our drinks, we were both acutely aware of how gendered the roles we were playing were.

I was being the kind of “nice” which women are taught to be, which afterwards just makes you feel weak and like you betrayed your own feelings. I was doing the emotional labour of making him feel better, acting like a confession box for his sins. And it was all the more obscene because we were both so aware of the dynamics at play — since we’re both leftist activists accustomed to conversations about gender and feminism- but we still couldn’t do it differently. We just didn’t know how to behave any other way.

When you’re in a relationship with someone, you expect it to be a little microcosm where you escape from society. Except when you are in a heterosexual relationship, instead your couple is the place where you directly play our gender differences. Where we are trapped in our gender roles, as though to feel ourselves exist we need to revert to the most profound source of self-identification that our society provides: girl or boy, pink or blue. Caught in a grotesque game of Mums-and-Dads.

And I am so fed up of playing. It feels like a game of Monopoly at 3 am when no one wants to play anymore — apart from the one person who is clearly winning — but you still remain.

Another recent incident where I watched myself, and my current boyfriend, play out this game: he wanted to do something sexual which I didn’t want to do. I’d told him this, but he was still pushing. Now I enjoy almost everything sexual, and there is little to nothing which I wouldn’t have a go at, and this was just the one thing I put my foot down on. Yet he was still pushing. Although I know full well that in past relationships, he had been happy with far less. In almost every one of my relationships, it has been the same thing. It is as though the actual thing the guy is pressuring you for doesn’t matter, the reason they do so is just that in the sexual script of our society, the man is supposed to get sex from a woman, and so he fights against this little pocket of resistance. And when I think about it, I, too, had only set up this barrier in an arbitrary way because that is the role I have in the script: to say No, and to not be listened to.

It is a game of power. But the power in question is the power over my body, so one person legitimately has it and that is me, and one person has been told by society they have it and that is him.

It was in that moment that I realised how harmful these games of gender are in a relationship. Because you’re not playing for your benefit, I am not playing for mine, and we are certainly not playing to benefit the relationship.

We are only playing along because we don’t know how else to behave.

And I am just so fed up of this game.

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