Since my ex and I split up, I've been processing the past five and a half years and wondering what lessons I can take from this, because I haven't quite managed to shake off my self-help book past. There's a lot of processing to do, because my memory is annoyingly good. And about twenty minutes ago, I remembered this:
We wander into a local pub. We go to the bar to get drinks, as one tends to do in a pub. Standing at the bar with a pint is a cheerful-looking elderly chap. He smiles affably as we approach, and watches us order our drinks. He makes a little small talk. He mentions something his wife said him the other week. Then he says: "I told her if she ever said that to me again I'd smack her."
I do my bug-eyed "Excuse me?!" face. He turns to my ex with a friendly face and a male-bonding laugh. "Eh?" he says. My ex says nothing. Loud, loud silence from him. "Oh," says cheeky chappie, "can't say anything while she's here, I get it!" He still looks genuinely friendly, laughing good-naturedly as though the three of us are enjoying a joke, even though my "Excuse me?!" face has turned into my "I am seriously appalled and must leave NOW" face. My ex lets out a weak laugh and we turn to go and sit outside.
I'm not sure why this little scene should suddenly have popped back into my head, but I remember several like it. Horrible domestic violence jokes or insults about me as a stand-in for all women, usually coming from a source that genuinely seemed to think they were good-naturedly joking around. And (duh) it upset me. Hugely. I would say this to my ex, and every time he would tell me that he knew the jokes were horrible, but he wasn't going to say anything, and I had a choice: either I could back off and let him say nothing, or he would get into a physical fight with the joker. Those were my two choices. Shut up and take it, or tell him to get punching. He said there was no other way to go, because were he to say anything, the other guy would take it badly and want to start a fight. Some of these men were our friends. One was (is, indeed) my friend's partner, and I could well believe that he thought these jokes were welcoming. Were you to respond, I would say, to a joking comment that you are totally screwed now that we're engaged with a smile and "Actually, I'm really lucky", that would provoke nothing more than a grumpily affectionate "Sappy git." No, he insisted, it would start a fight. I know men.
No, you don't. Or at least I hope he doesn't. I don't think he does, but the one thing I've been left with post-break-up is a huge, steaming pile of uncertainty. I've heard a lot of men make those jokes. I believe that had their blithe assumptions that said jokes are funny to all been met with a cheerful yet firm refutation, they would have stopped. I don't think men say these things with the intent to force other men to into fist fights. I just think there are a lot of people who think that on a theoretical level, punching women is funny. And as all comedy fans know, if your joke falls flat, find a better topic and fast. If you make a joke, it's because you're trying to be funny, and only really terrible comedians punch people who don't laugh at their jokes.
Scary, though, to realise that so many people do think this is funny, and scarier to realise you spent five years with a man who thinks that whilst they're not funny, they're certainly reasonable. Misogynistic jokes are a reasonable part of modern life, but isn't it a pain when your girlfriend takes exception to them? Isn't it a pain when she expects you to be bothered too? Bloody women, wanting to go out without hearing how men would really like to punch their partners in the face/tie them up and shove them in the boot of their car? (We had this one too - my ex's response was a long silnce and then "She wouldn't fit.")
Punching women is funny, and moving on is really, really tough.