When Love is a Battlefield.
I see, and at times have participated in, conquest behaviors with women.
The sad and self-sabotaging nature of these behaviors make my heart ache.
We long for connection, we long for union, we long for contact. Underneath even flagrant manipulation and sexual aggression sits this longing, this crying child.
There are many ways to be violent.
I’ve come to understand violence as any action that stems from objectification. What is objectification? Simply, it is relating to a thing as if it is primarily an object rather than primarily a feeling, thinking entity. I know three main forms that objectification can take: treating someone as a resource to control, treating someone as a threat to manage, or treating someone as an irrelevancy to ignore.
These motivations can get very subtle. For example, if I feel fearful jealousy, what is the best thing for me to do with that experience? Well, if I am in a loving partnership, perhaps it is a good idea to communicate about my feelings. But why am I communicating my feelings? What are my intentions?
My intentions may be to work together with another human, feeling empathy and compassion for both myself and them. On the other hand, my intentions may be to manage my partner’s behavior, protecting myself from loss or harm. Perhaps parts of me are coming from the former intention, and parts are coming from the latter.
The challenging thing is that every ounce of me that is coming from the latter is an ounce that is objectifying my partner, or in other words—and I say this without condemnation—it is a part of me that is being violent. Unfortunately, the tragedy of violence is that it invites others to join in and escalate. Very aware people can choose not to accept such an invitation, but generally speaking, violence begets violence. This is true even of subtle relational and emotional dynamics.
What is the opposite of violence? First, nonviolence. Then, trust.
Nonviolence happens in the moment that we feel like being violent, and instead we hold still. We get really curious and we study ourselves, moving deliberately while making conscious choices about whether to get violent (and thereby invite more violence) or to look for other possibilities. When practicing this, we might find ourselves feeling fear and anger, but communicating in a vulnerable way about these feelings rather than acting them out.
Trust is what happens when we notice that both we and someone or something we love are consistently engaging with nonviolence together.
Remember that violence is essentially objectification, as a threat, resource or nonentity. When we consistently see someone as a human being worth respecting, and they consistently see us as a human being worth respecting, then this creates an opportunity for trust. Trust doesn’t necessarily happen automatically in this situation, because we also have to notice that we are safe and that we are being safe, but generally when consistent non-objectification is in place, trust starts to arise quickly.
Trust is powerful stuff. We long to trust deeply, and we also long to be trusted. Trust is just one small step away from passionate love, whether that is love between friends, between family, or romantic love.
I opened this subject by talking about my own violence, and the violence of conquering men. I think it is quite clear how much objectification pervades this complex. However, “violence begets violence,” and as painful and unpopular as it can be to realize this, war zones tend to end up with two sides that are supporting the worst in each other, calling out each others’ violence with every action.
Many men are using power, fear, intimidation, attractiveness, eloquence and even spirituality to try to “get with” a lot of attractive women out of their own desire for connection and prestige (which is also ultimately about belonging, about connection). Viewed through the lens of objectification, this is pretty clearly a generally objectifying dynamic, and it’s no wonder that it often ends up escalating into trauma for everyone involved. And, just as importantly, this sabotages trust: the foundation of love, and the thing for which we truly, deeply long.
So what is the other side to this pattern of male conquest? What are the weapons in women’s arsenals?
Well, there are many, and just like some men use primarily seduction and desirability patterns, some women use primarily conquest and power-based patterns. More generally in our culture, however, the flip-side to male conquest is the use of desirability and availability as weapons.
Again, the crucial awareness comes down not to some particular right or wrong way to be (just like it’s not wrong for men to be powerful, or fierce!), but to whether or not objectification, resource or threat management, is a prime motivator of what’s happening. The TV pop culture trope of the escalation of this is the woman yelling, “You’re into other women!” or “You cheated on me, how am I supposed to feel safe?” and the man yelling, “You’re sexually unavailable, what do you expect?” or “Well you flirt with other men!” These are obviously very simplified and insultingly normative tropes, but they are a part of our larger narrative.
I immediately feel the flush of shame and grief when I talk about these dynamics. It is hard not to feel shame with how much pain and separation these patterns cause, and with how much we are not supposed to talk about this.
I want to bring a little compassion to this challenge by naming the fact that we are not taught appropriate and trust-based ways to court each other or to be in a relationship. Those who manage to create deeply trusting and consistently playful relationships in these conditions are doing something heroic in my opinion.
To me, the worst thing about making courtship into a battlefield is that it completely sabotages the possibility for a real, trusting passionate relationship. When sex is about self-protection, it can no longer be about sex. When sex and love is a war, it can no longer be a deeply and mutually desired, consensual, and playful arena of trust and love.
We are called to extraordinary consciousness about these issues as we explore relationship in modern times, because almost everyone is carrying sexual trauma or trust wounding around these issues, whether they are aware of them yet or not.
It is easy to point fingers at the way other people are being violent. Turning inward and asking, “How am I objectifying? How am I contributing to violence in these relationships? In this partnership?” is a much harder question to ask.
How do I objectify the ones I love? How do I treat them as threats to manage, resources to exploit, or irrelevancies that aren’t important when they aren’t useful? How do I use my power, my desirability or the availability of my love or my sexuality as weapons of self-protection, rather than as playgrounds for trust?
These are the questions I am bringing to relationship. As an honest person I simply can’t pretend that I never objectify, that I am never violent in these ways. What I can do when I notice violence begin, whether it begins in me or someone else, is get really still, get extra mindful, slow everything down, and take the time to ask:
“What if we trust instead?”
Author: Julian Michels
Editor: Emily Bartran