It just means he likes you

A scenario that has played out several time over the course of my life has been on a loop in my head over the last several days.  It goes a little something like this.

7-year-old Rachel: “Mom, (insert boy name here) was really mean to me at school today.”

Mom: “Don’t worry, it just means that he likes you.”

In any given situation the boy in question probably did something relatively small.  Calling me a name (there was a boy named Matt in my kindergarten class that never called me Rachel.  He always substituted a mean name), telling me that my pants looked weird, chasing me and my friends through the playground when we told him to leave us alone.  Just small indicators that they didn’t actually care about what we had to say or our identities.

But now, imagine this scenario.

19-year-old Rachel: “Mom, Jim called me stupid and then forced me to wash his dishes.”

Mom: “Don’t worry, it just means that he likes you a lot.”

Wait, what?  That doesn’t make any sense.

Just let me say, this scenario didn’t actually happen in real life.  I know that if I would have said this to my mom (or dad, for that matter) they would have said, ” Jim is clearly not a good guy.  What can we do to help you get away from him?”

My point here is that as a seven year old a boy being mean meant that he liked me.  As a 19-year-old it is a sign of abuse.  So, I really have two thoughts here.

Thought number one: Why are we setting up our daughters to believe that if a boy is mean to you it means they like you?  That is clearly not the case and I don’t think we should be teaching our kids these things.  As an adult if I believed that mean-ness was a sign of affection I probably would have ended up marrying Jim. You’d be hard pressed to find someone more “affectionate” than him.

Thought number two: Why are we teaching our sons that it is not okay to talk about their feelings?  I feel that it is critical to teach everyone that violence is not an effective way to communicate.

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17 thoughts on “It just means he likes you

  1. Wow, you make a GREAT point. I never thought of it that way, but it makes total sense. We should not be teaching our little girls that mean boys are somehow appealing. Great point.

    1. Thank you. It’s really been occurring to me recently how much of the stuff I (and lots of other girls) heard growing up is not actually that good. For example, when my mom would brush snarls out of me and my sisters hair she
      would always say “beauty takes pain,” and in that context it makes total sense. It’s good to brush your hair every day. But that message could be taken to the extreme as well.

  2. Rachel, these are excellent observations. I too wonder why we give our children mixed messages. Little boys, when they cry, are taunted by their fathers or older siblings as “drying like a girl,” hence making the boy feel like he’s not allowed to cry. Girls, on the other hand, are instructed that “boys will be boys.” Are you kidding me? I have two adult children and they were instructed that being mean is simply that, being mean and there’s no excuse for acting this way. I taught my girl that when women get disrespected verbally, for example, it’s because they allow it. She learned to set boundaries and expect her boyfriends to treat her with the respect she deserved. Anyone not adhering to this policy was given marching papers. Great post!

  3. I think what the status quo tries to teach girls isn’t necessarily that boys actually like them if the boys are being mean, it’s a friendly spin on, “When someone treats you in a way that you don’t like, you are responsible for forgiving the behavior because you are probably misunderstanding the motivation.” Girls are conditioned to take care of the feelings of others before they are expected to have time for their own, and it starts very young. Maybe being mean is some form of childhood flirting, but more likely it’s a form of young social boundary testing. And boys are emboldened because over and over and over, the girls who they are mean to, are greeted with an adult face that says, “Oh, I’m sure he’s just being harmless.” I think the behavior is normal. All children test their boundaries. What I *don’t* think is normal, or acceptable, is that we don’t haul the boy in and say, “It’s NOT OKAY to pull Mary’s hair. Don’t do it again,” or, “If you’re going to hold Mary’s hand, you need to ask her if that’s okay. Don’t just do it.” Everyone needs to learn that all people are allowed to set boundaries, and expect that those boundaries be respected.

    We do need to do better at teaching boys to talk about feelings. I’d give a whole ton of money to have “like a girl,” “sissy,” “pussy,” and every other female-centric slur eradicated from language.

  4. Hey Rachel! I have a 7 year-old boy in first grade. Not that long ago, he told me he had a “girlfriend.” (Bona fide puppy love.) He informed me that the school discourages kissing (um, so does mom), but they’re allowed to hold hands. You can see where I’m going with this—my son treats girls with kindness and respect. That’s because it’s what he’s learned at home. On the flip side, there are lots of girls that have treated my son poorly. Since I’m a Room Parent, I’ve seen it first-hand. Somehow Karate chopping a boy is cool because Drew Barrymore did it in Charlie’s Angels. And isn’t there a double-standard when it comes to physical behavior? I wonder what the girl’s mom would have thought if my son had punched her daughter in the head. I’m pretty sure it would have ended up in the principal’s office. It’s a simple concept: Respect Yourself and Treat People the Way you Want to be Treated. What you learn about the nuts and bolts of relationships happens very early on in life. Hopefully, as we mature, we revisit the topic and remember what we want from our relationships (that includes friendships), what we’re willing to put into it and what we’re expecting to get out of it as well. Peace!

    1. Thanks for the comment, Jennifer! I definitely agree that there is a double standard and that violence on either side is definitely NOT okay. I was mostly speaking from my own experience here, having been in an abusive relationship before. Also, there seems to be a lot more violence in the home now than there was when I was a young child. I’m hopeful that my kids won’t be exposed to “Charlie’s Angels” so early in life.

  5. Excellent post. I’d add that another undercurrent to that this also tells little girls that the only reason boys interact with them is out of romantic/sexual attraction. We make the two extremes not, “boys who are nice to you and boys who are mean to you,” but rather, “boys who pay attention to you and boys who don’t.”

  6. This is so true. Recently, a guy I’d literally JUST met who also happens to be seven years older than me messaged me on Facebook and said that I shouldn’t make vulgar jokes on my profile because it “degrades women’s beauty” when they make such jokes. Then he was like, “I think you’re really beautiful so don’t let me down.”

    Of course, I promptly told him where to shove his opinions on women’s beauty, but when I related the story to my mom, she suggested that this was merely his way of “flirting.”

    Why is it that when men say controlling and creepy things to women, it’s “flirting”?

  7. Hello, I am going into counseling psychology and was thinking about using this as a basis for my research. By chance, have you come across any research or articles about this? Anything you have heard would be helpful. Thanks!

    1. Hi Carissa. Thank you for stopping by. I haven’t seen any studies to speak to my opinions, but I will offer a suggestion if I may. I’m assuming from your e-mail that you’re in Bemidji (I’m from Eveleth, so I’m familiar with the area somewhat.) Being close to the Range, I’m sure you could find a lot of women to interview on this topic. And then maybe tying (sp?) what you’ve found in the interviews into more general research on the psychology of abuse. Or maybe you’re not in Bemidji and you’re doing the distance program through HCC. Either way, it may not be a bad approach.

      Good luck, and I’ll let you know if I come across anything!

    2. Okay, replying again. Haha, I should have “googled” before I replied the first time. If you type “it just means he likes you” into Google Scholar (amazing tool, you can actually select the BSU library as your institution and it will tell you if the school has the full text of the study) you get a ton of (in my opinion) really interesting and possibly helpful results.

  8. Thanks so much for your ideas, I am in my first year of the program and so basically just seeing if there is enough out there to do research on this topic. Thanks again, and I will let you know if I find anything 🙂

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