But that’s not what comes out when we say, “If he wanted to, he would.” What stands out is: This man doesn’t want you. put it in your head. If you keep trying to make things happen with him and he keeps mistreating you, it’s your fault. Now, you’re not just undesirable, you’re stupid too.
This phrase firmly centers the power in heterosexual relationships on men. “If he wanted to, he would” – stop caring so much about what straight men want! They care enough to make up for everyone on earth. If your friend is in a relationship with a shitty guy, the last thing you should worry about is what he wants. What does she want? Does she want to be with someone who displays deep levels of caring and listening? An equal partner in all things?
A good phrase to replace with “If he wanted to, he would” is: “Your boyfriend is an asshole.” Or if you’re worried about alienating your friend, try, “It sounds like you’re putting his needs first, but he’s not doing the same.” Or maybe, “I notice he treats his dog better than you do.” Women in shitty relationships don’t need to be emotionally pummeled by luckier women or smugly lectured by weird men.
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Often, “If he wanted to, he would” applies to women who are in the early stages of talking to or dating men and who are still torn between some form of commitment and total estrangement. It is true that these unlabeled situations can be infuriating and heartbreaking, where the lack of communication or intentional manipulation on the part of one person can cause the other person to hope for more, without success.
But I’m sorry, some of you have never dated an introvert before, and it shows! Some of you have never had a romantic relationship with a person with a beautiful heart and a debilitating anxiety disorder. If you’ve lived by this adage, you’ll never connect with someone who thinks too much, or is a little socially awkward, or has a little too much humility. You risk missing out on the rich and rewarding experience of being with someone who is neurotic! I can’t believe I’m saying this, but men with low self-esteem are people too.
Where would any character in TV, movies, or literature be if they believed in “If they wanted to, they would do it?” Harry and Sally wouldn’t even be Facebook friends. Oliver and Elio would never outgrow each other’s fantasies. The whole premise of Pride and Prejudice is, “If he wanted to, he wouldn’t because his sisters and his best friend are psychopaths.” Jane Austen did not write: “If a woman conceals her affection with the same skill from the object of it, she may lose the opportunity to stare at it; and then it will be small consolation to believe that the world is also in darkness “just for some vile influence-hunter to seduce you with the doctrine of self-hatred of” if he willed, he would”.