It chilled my blood. I wouldn’t have wanted to witness a conversation like that anywhere, much less the middle of a casino immediately after leaving a comedy club. I saw it, though, and I had to look over my shoulder to see if it was time to intervene.
He was a big man, maybe mid-30s. She was much smaller, shorter than me anyway, and a bit younger. He grabbed her by the collar and pulled her forward, growling, “A man deserves respect!” She hung her head and lowered her eyes. When I looked back over my shoulder, he had hooked his arm through hers and was pinning her against his side, leading her away. She still had that downcast, sad face.
One look. If she had so much as glanced up. If she had winced, or looked around, or made eye contact with me. Any slightest gesture or expression. I would have stepped forward. I didn’t know him, but I’ve seen plenty of men like him, and he only scared me to the point that I thought she might need help.
Oh, honey. Please don’t. Please don’t ever waste a single second on a man who is mean to you. Please don’t let someone lecture you like that. Please know that nothing you could ever do would deserve the scowl on that man’s face. You can walk away. You can go tonight. You can cancel your bank cards, replace your driver’s license, get new keys made, and just leave it all. There’s nothing in your hotel room that you need, and that especially includes the weak, insecure, domineering man who is trying to scare you into submission tonight.
I don’t know what’s going on between them. I’ll probably never see either of them again. I’m not implying that he might be hitting her (he might) or that he might be an incipient killer (though he might) or that they might have kids at home (which is also true). All I know is that I saw a big man being mean and using his physical size to intimidate someone, and it seemed to be working. That’s enough.
You never need a reason or an excuse to leave someone. You don’t owe anyone a second chance. You can go. You can go on a whim. You can go because the weather changed. You can go because you just want to be alone for a while. You can certainly go if someone you expected to be kind to you quit being kind. I hope you go if someone is being a jerk to you.
Enough said. Let’s talk about respect. What deserves respect?
Nobody deserves respect. A person deserves civility. Civility is a gift. Respect is earned. Respect is earned through behavior, a pattern of behavior over time. The moment someone makes a scene and tries to demand respect, he’s lost the game. It’s a petty concern of weak people.
I have a lot of respect for several men. I like male energy. There are so many ways a man can show himself worthy of respect that do not involve menacing anyone. Let me share a few examples.
I respect my dad. He and my mom have been married for 41 years. He helped raise me and my two brothers, and he was always there. He was there at our births. He took us camping starting when we were toddlers. He taught us to troubleshoot, to be frugal, to use tools, to be kind to animals, to respect nature. I listened when he taught my brothers that only a complete loser would ever rape a woman or take advantage of someone who was drunk. His sons and grandsons grew to be men who like smart, independent women.
I respect my husband. That’s why I married him. I’ve had the opportunity to see him deeply involved in his aerospace engineering work. I’ve watched him manage, lead, and mentor people. I respect his parenting skills, and I know he’s the reason that he and his daughter can make calculus jokes and converse in mathematical formulae far over my head. I was there when he instantly spotted a lost toddler at the county fair, dropped to his knee, and asked “Are you looking for your mommy?” before I even realized anything was wrong. I was also there to watch him defuse a fight between two drunk men in a restaurant. My husband is a powerful man, a mature man with gravitas. He will also sit on the floor and play trucks with little kids.
Thinking of other men in my circle, each deserves respect for reasons that don’t necessarily apply to the others. Some are teachers, some can install a new roof or rewire a room, some are first responders, some are natural mediators. There is no single formula for extracting respect from others. A few respectable traits are reliability, self-discipline, accountability, and the ability to balance strength with wisdom. Lack of emotional intelligence will inevitably lead to self-limiting behaviors and damaged reputations.
I was at the gym one evening after work, chugging away on the treadmill, when I noticed something funny happening on the stretching mats. A woman was straddling a man on the mat, pinning his arms down, and pretending to head-butt him repeatedly in the forehead. He was shaking with silent laughter. She sat up, and I saw, to my great surprise, that the man was the new guy at my work! They have been married for many years. That one moment predisposed me to like the guy. It seemed like he was a friendly person with a good sense of humor. That turned out to be true. He also turned out to be universally well regarded for his expertise, productivity, and communication skills. He’s in that tiny category of people who are impossible to dislike. This is one way to earn respect without trying to extort it.
It’s not necessary to be likeable to be worthy of respect. We can appreciate the dependability of a person who may not have a ‘fun’ setting. However, it is hard to respect someone who has even rare moments of belligerence, rage, or lost self-control. Respect, like so many things, has a lot to do with limiting the downsides. We want someone who is a known quantity. We want to be able to vouch for someone who will behave predictably well. A reputation that takes decades to build can be destroyed in one five-second outburst. “A man deserves respect” when he manages to refrain from degrading himself by nasty behavior, no matter what else he does the rest of the time.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.