[eng] Juliana María Rivas Gómez - Emotional disconnection and lack of communication: a male constant

February, 2023

Over the last year I have come to understand why we tolerate men's emotionally disconnected behaviour more lightly. This process of reflection came not only from my studies of feminisms and patriarchal structures, but also from personal and intimate experience. We don't question men as much as we question ourselves. Revolutionary statement? Not in the least. But seeing it, experiencing it and suffering in the process was new to me, especially because the personal space in which this happened was one between people who define ourselves as feminists or allies of feminism, with men who actively (perhaps more in discourse than in their actions) define themselves as constantly questioning their sometimes-toxic masculinities.

With my ex-partner after three years together I decided it was better to pause our relationship. Despite this, we continued to live our lives together, sharing and seeing each other on a daily basis, until one day he stopped answering my messages or asking me how my day had been. Without communicating anything he simply cut off our daily communication relationship and with that also our emotional bond. Without wanting to go into the details of why, what happened in practical terms is that he moved his affection and romantic-sexual dependency from me to his new partner. This was emotionally devastating for me.

However, that is not what prompts me to write this. I don’t want to go into the details of that relationship but to reflect on what this experience meant to me politically and how my emotional healing process led to a reflection on how accurate is the idea that the private is political. 

Men are given more freedom to escape affective responsibilities, if he doesn't want to talk it's because he can't, it's hard for him, we conform to the idea that men were not taught to work on their emotions as we women were. Showing vulnerability, crying, demonstrating emotional fragility, is not something we expect from them [1].

My generation, however, has been very close to the challenge of changing the ways in which we deal with our romantic social relationships, of questioning the familiar. Many men of my generation have participated in spaces that discuss and reflect on masculinity and romantic love; on how to move away from patriarchal ways of bonding with women; on affective bonds between men, their friendships and displays of affection; on feeling safe and comfortable to express feelings and fragility; reflecting on why we sometimes feel vulnerable to show emotionality in spaces or with people where it’s not expected to. [2] But human beings are complex; we cannot decide not to be disturbed by what we feel. Even in work relationships we relate in a personal way with other individuals and that will necessarily have consequences for work relationships. So why not relate differently? Generating new ways of relating has been a struggle of feminist and anti-capitalist lefts, ways that consider the complexity of people, that assume vulnerability as an inherent part of our possibilities of action and that it is not seen as a weakness.

Few are surprised if a man does not communicate his feelings, we are used to it. We give men concessions; we leave the spaces open for them to trial and error (possibly more errors) to show us that they are trying... In this personal experience I facilitated his process by suffering silently in his presence, but loudly with my friends. I also had to decipher that he was seeing someone else, even though he kept insisting that he loved me. He did not have to bring about the uncomfortable moment of telling me that he was already deeply involved with someone else, I assumed this was the case so I cried privately and gave him space free of my presence to go on with his life and his new partner.

I permanently excluded myself from spaces because it was difficult for me emotionally, but also so as not to bother him and at the same time not to bother her. With time I understood that it was he who was creating uncomfortable spaces for her and me. With his partner we were able to figure this out together when finally, on the initiative of both of us, we broke the silence and introduced ourselves to each other after months of fortuitous and planned encounters without him being able to break the circle of stupidity.

I feel happy and proud for that moment when I approached her. It was a very intimate event (also a bit uncomfortable), with feminist strength and solidarity. Meeting her helped me to feel freer and to let go of my persistent feeling that he was being cruel for not facilitating this transition. I knew that she too felt the hopelessness of his lack of communication and insensitivity, which obviously aroused grief and frustration, but at the same time I no longer felt alone or crazy.

I will not be the one to explain to him the political importance of communicating and speaking honestly, especially with the people we love and respect. I believe that, like many other men in the western world in which I live, he is a subject of patriarchy and that learning is his responsibility (or collective responsibility at least, but not mine). His attitude destabilised me so profoundly that I myself was surprised at how much a separation could affect me. With time I was able to understand that what affected me and caused me the most pain was his silence; it hurt me that he was able to remove me from his emotional life so quickly and that it was no surprise to anyone; and that no one, not even myself, held him responsible for how strongly he hurt me.

The culture of patriarchy has permeated so deeply that it has generated an idea of the feminine as subordinate to the masculine, the public as dominant in relation to the private. This generates power relations in the sexual division. It is nothing new; great exponents of feminism have already explained it. I saw myself reflected in this thesis when I decided to silence myself and let the experiences of cruelty not cross over into the public sphere so as not to bother anyone. However, life is not binary: what affects me personally and intimately does not stay in my private space, I take it with me to my work, to my social life, I cannot separate it from me. The idea that we can divide the public from the private helps to sustain patriarchal structures. Today I still share with my ex-partner in collective spaces where we forge personal relationships, but also where we work on social relations of production: we are both involved in the same collective project. I resolved that communicating all this to him was not beneficial to my healing process and decided not to involve him because we are no longer intimately linked. He is and will be (for practical and not so practical reasons) part of my life. 

My decision, which is part of my political apprenticeship, is not to allow something like this to happen to me again. I would like to be more alert to identify certain risks in time, and from love and also from rationality to be able to distance myself and choose my own happiness and peace. When the lack of communication in a relationship generates darkness and unhappiness in my life again, I would like to act differently, to be firm and faithful to my political convictions. I have seen that we give men more freedoms; we don't want to break them with our feelings. They don't expect someone to demand explanations for how they behave in their private spaces, and in this case, the attitude of indifference contributed to the fact that no one, not even myself, demanded an explanation.

[1] Patriarchy has confined women to these spheres of life: we cry, we feel, we love, and we care. Capitalism feeds on this and establishes that the tasks of care and reproduction of life are exercised out of love, even though these must necessarily be carried out to sustain capitalist production (we need to eat, to clothe ourselves, to take care of our children). This is of course another great struggle of feminisms: the material challenge we have to recognise the value of care work that is mostly done by women, which puts us in a lower hierarchical position, because this work is not given true value. Thus, the capitalist structure demands that it is women who have the capacity (if not the duty!) to relate to each other through love and compassion, and men who "must" relate to each other through rationality, efficiency and productivity; and we do not expect them to do so from the other side of the street. Here also arises the discussion about the signs of affection and love and concern (which are more demanded of us women), which can also be defined as reproduction of life, which help, for example, to be happier, to smile, to be emotionally calm, which undoubtedly contributes to capitalist efficiency and production. From here I invite the reader to continue to explore about the social and sexual division of labour in the capitalist model and how these sustain and promote structures of domination towards women and sexual dissidences. 

[2] Social relations in the capitalist world have certain expectations. The system that moves us today is one that insists on individuality and competition between us. The time we use to work must be as efficient as possible in order not to lose productive capacity (mine or someone else's) because that makes us lose the capacity to generate value for our time. These productive relations are expected to be free of emotion; they are relations of production that require rationality and speed.

* Juliana María Rivas Gómez (she/her), feminist and sociologist with a master's degree in urban development. She is founder and member of the Berlin-based association Vía Austroboreal e.V. dedicated to the development of socio-urban projects in Latin America and Europe. She also works independently on projects related to migration, climate justice and (post)colonialism. She is actively involved in organizations linked to emancipatory struggles mainly in Latin America. She currently lives in Berlin.

© A. Michelle Rosas Martínez.

© Estefanía Henríquez Cubillos.

Original photographies © Francisca Campero (1 & 2) © Celeste Laila D'Aleo (3).
Image postproduction: Andrea Balart. 

No hay comentarios:

Publicar un comentario