Remember in As Good As It Gets when Jack Nicholson told Helen Hunt, “You make me want to be a better man,” and we all fell out of our seats swooning? That line was soooo unexpected and romantic, right? Is there anything better to say to a person? Of course, Jack Nicholson’s character in that movie was struggling with mental illnesses that impacted his ability to interact with others in healthy ways. But still. Such a romantic moment. Right?
Meh. In the movies, maybe, but in the real world, not so much.
“My wife makes me want to be a better person.” It’s one of the most common compliments men give their wives. And on the surface, this sounds like a beautiful, romantic sentiment. It puts dear wifey on a pedestal, uplifts her, tells everyone how influential she is merely by existing and going about her business. I mean, wow, having the ability to inspire someone else to be a better human simply by doing what you would have done anyway? Holy shit, that’s like, a superpower. How flattering!
Except, it’s not flattering. It’s actually really gross.
First of all, women don’t need one more thing they’re supposed to be superhero-level awesome at. On top of all the pressure we already put on ourselves to be good moms, loyal friends, doting wives, run at least a somewhat organized home, stay up to date on current events, and engage in self-care, we don’t want to also have to inspire men to be better people.
I get it—it’s meant to be a compliment. But, the thing is, we’re trying to be better people too. But you know where our drive comes from? Within. It comes from within. We want to be better because that’s what you’re supposed to fucking do in this life. We humans get a short little teeny blip of a moment to exist in this universe, and during that blip, we try our damnedest to be the best version of ourselves that we can. To be a good human. If we’re moms, to raise good humans.
But we’re also really busy and overwhelmed and don’t want to be responsible for another adult’s attitude on life. We’re just trying not to forget anyone’s kid when it’s our turn to carpool. We don’t have the emotional bandwidth to be anyone’s integrity support system.
Women already have enough to carry. Here’s a thought: How about if men just, you know, be good men, all on their own without “inspiration” from us? How about if men don’t put yet another of their behaviors on women?
Schools have dress codes because girls “make” boys lose focus in school. When a woman reports a rape, everyone wants to know how short her skirt was or if she was drunk, because maybe she “made” him do it. A man abuses a woman because “she pushed him to it.” Enough already. Women aren’t responsible for men’s good behavior any more than they are responsible for the bad.
The fact that a woman is a good human shouldn’t be a man’s magical bean to grow a nice, wholesome conscience. Don’t look at us and ask what we did to influence your behavior. Just don’t. If you need inspiration for how to be a decent human being, look to other humans you admire—your dad, your mom, that wise professor from college. Or read a book or something. But don’t put it on your partner. What she deserves is someone who is already good. Intrinsically good.
Because you know what is infinitely hotter in a man than telling a woman she “inspires him to be better?” A man who was already striving to better in the first place, before said woman ever entered the picture. Our lives aren’t an episode of Fixer Upper.
And what about when a woman needs to fall apart? What if she makes some bad decisions? What if she suddenly fails at being a good human? Is that then an invitation for her man to stop bothering to try? Or is it now his turn to be the inspiration? What kind of system are we working with here?
Don’t get me wrong—mutual support is great in a relationship. If both partners inspire each other to be their best selves, that’s fantastic. But far too often the narrative is that the man was stumbling along in the dark, lost and directionless—or was a shitty person, even—before his great love came along and inspired him to be better with her magical feminine goodness. This is gross, guys. Just do better. Be better. Of your own volition.
Don’t hold women accountable for your integrity. We know you mean it in a nice way, really, we do, but it’s just too much. We’re already tired from taking care of everyone, and this is just one more fucking thing.
And women, please don’t fall into the trap of thinking this idea is romantic. Unless the inspiration to be better is fully a two-way street, it isn’t really romantic at all.
We aren’t responsible for men’s behavior. Not for the bad, and not for the good either.