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Anastasia Korolov | Back to the Present

Not a prop

Published: Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Updated: Wednesday, February 12, 2014 08:02

The last guy I dated was very... nice. Extremely nice. He wanted to help everyone. To the point where he’d actually start crying if he couldn’t.

There’s nothing wrong with being frustrated over not being able to help someone. I can understand that. He just cared a lot. But it’s kind of hard to deal with when you tell the person you’re dating that you’re just upset because you’re having a bad day, and they start crying because they can’t cheer you up. It’s frustrating to have to put your own bad feelings aside and cheer someone up because they’re upset that they can’t help you feel better.

Although, to be fair, in a way it did work. I stopped focusing on what was making me sad and started focusing on cheering him up instead.

I spent a lot of time in that relationship focusing on him. I was worried about being emotionally distant, the way I had been in past relationships. So I tried harder, focusing on his feelings and making sure he was okay, to the point where I would neglect my own.

This is where it gets tricky. I’m not a psychologist; I’m a college student. Everything I know about relationships has come from my own experience and my mother’s advice. She went to marriage counseling for a while and would tell me all the tricks she learned. Her marriage didn’t work out, but it wasn’t her fault.

It’s important to focus on the other person in a relationship, obviously. To be aware of their moods and what they’re feeling. But I’m pretty sure it’s not healthy to focus on them to the point where you neglect yourself. And it’s definitely not healthy to be pressured into that position.

There’s this idea of women as nurturers, and that’s fine. Some women are nurturing. Hey, some men are nurturing, too. But I don’t like being forced into the role of the emotionally responsible one, being forced to take care of others before myself.

My ex was the youngest of eight children, in an upper-middle class family. He had always been taken care of by his parents, so his actions struck me as simply selfishness at the time. After dating for a while, I thought he was incapable of seeing me as a person who has bad days, instead of as just a problem to be fixed.

Occasionally, after reading around online or hearing stories from women, I realize this is something that a lot of women face. The notion that we aren’t real people, just a prop in someone else’s story. The romantic interest, or the antagonist, or just one of many random supporting characters.

While I think a lot of this stems from a long history of misogyny, I realize part of it probably comes from our imprisonment inside our own heads. We can’t ever know someone else the way we know ourselves, and I’m sure for some that makes it hard to properly relate to others, regardless of gender.

But I do see this kind of thing happening to women more often. The same way it’s easier for women to write male characters than men to write female characters, it’s harder for men to see the women around them as complex entities.

I don’t know how to fix this problem, although I’m sure more realistic women in media would help. More female protagonists on television and in films. More stories given to them. And, of course, being aware helps as well.

I do have one thing to thank my ex for, though. I never would have noticed these problems if it hadn’t been for him.


 Anastasia Korolov is freshman who has not declared a major. She can be reached at 

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