I just finished reading James Michael Sama’s article 10 Ways to Be Her Real Life Superhero. I loved the points he made. I would go a step further and say that these are 10 ways anyone can be a better person and a better partner.
I’m a big fan of superheroes. From comic books, to cartoons to movies, I am happy to see people rush to the rescue with cool abilities and technology.
What I bristle at is the notion that having the attributes Sama describes makes a man a superhero. Frankly, I think the idea of turning men into superheroes is a destructive one. What Sama describes are characteristics that makes a man, or anyone for that matter, a good partner. Do we really want to limit these to superheroes? I don’t.
I don’t want to be a superhero (well not in a relationship anyway). I want to be a good person and a good partner. I want to focus on the things that make me happy, that resonate with my partner, and that supports my relationship with them. I don’t want to be superhuman. I don’t want to be on a pedestal because, frankly, that’s too far to fall if I make a mistake.
In her TED talk Listening to Shame, Brené Brown tells the story of a man talking to her about her research on shame and vulnerability. He tells her that the last thing the women in his life want to see is him falling from his white horse.
That’s the dynamic we create when we teach men that having good relationship skills makes them a superhero. It doesn’t. It makes them a good human. And humans are imperfect. We should strive to be good and even to be better. But perfection is never a useful goal. It simply sets us up for failure. Or potentially even worse, it discourages us from even trying.
I’ve seen this play out in my therapy practice. A person starts calling their partner a superhero because they believe their partner can handle anything and will always be there. While that sounds admirable, it often doesn’t play out well. At some point it becomes easy to start doing more for others than your superhero. After all, that person is superhero. They don’t need things from you. Only it isn’t true. And the superhero can begin to feel neglected and not valued.
Ouch. But that’s exactly what being a superhero means. You aren’t ordinary. You don’t need the things other people do.
Making men into superheroes isn’t just a problem for men. It is a problem for anyone that wants to be in a relationship with a man. If finding the right partner or partners isn’t difficult enough, it becomes nearly impossible if you need to find a superhero. And, at least in my world, superheroes aren’t that easy to find.
If I was looking for a man to be in a relationship with and had to find a superhero…well, I think I’d resign myself to being alone. That would be too much work.
Then there is the incredible double standard of it all. I would argue that the 10 traits Sama describes are ones I would also want in a female partner. And you know what? They are traits we often associate with females. We expect women to bring most, if not all, of these traits to relationships. And what do we call them? Not superheroes. We call them women.
[And because I know I’ll hear it, no, not all women do all of these things. Some women do them poorly or not at all. Yet, we don’t blink an eye when women do them. We certainly don’t call them superheroes.]
Women do these things and don’t get any credit for being better than the norm. If we want to view men as superheroes for doing what women commonly do, well…it doesn’t say much for men.
Yet I don’t believe that. I think men are just as capable of bringing the same tools and skills and investment to relationships. Not as superheroes, but as men.
I want these characteristics to be part of what it means for a regular joe to be a good person. We shouldn’t expect men to be superheroes. We should expect men to understand perfectly reasonable and achievable behaviors that make them a good partner. And men should do them because that’s what it means to be a good man and a good partner.