Why Do We Applaud Men For Doing The Bare Minimum?

Stop me if this sounds familiar. Maybe you’ve been talking to a guy, and it just feels like you can’t do anything right. You’re making all the moves and getting nothing in return. You can’t get a text back, or even asked out on a formal date.

By Gwen Farrell4 min read
Why Do We Applaud Men For Doing The Bare Minimum?

And then suddenly, you get a notification. Maybe he drops you a text, comments on a photo, slides into your DMs. Either way, you feel unstoppable. Like he’s finally opening up to seeing how great you would be together, but he just has to take it slow.

Maybe you’ll even go on to date, deciding to get serious at some point. But there will always be something missing — maybe you’re the one doing all the emotional heavy lifting, and he always has an excuse for not putting in more effort. Maybe he isn’t “good at relationships,” maybe he has family trauma or emotional baggage which prevents him from putting forth effort. Maybe he relies — a little too much — on his mental health as a crutch, or you stay together so long it’s hard to remember that this is not the way actual, healthy relationships function.

Eventually, you’ll start to make excuses for him, too. You’ll go to your family or friends with your inevitable problems, but you’ll stick up for him, rather than seeing what’s better for yourself. If you have really good, dedicated friends, they might be concerned that this relationship isn’t going anywhere because he just won’t commit fully, but you won’t be interested in listening until you can’t ignore it anymore.

If I sound painfully aware of this, it’s because I am. And I believe all of us to a certain extent have been with that person, the person you love and care for who could do literally anything — even if it means doing absolutely nothing — and you wouldn’t bat an eye. Not only is accepting the bare minimum destructive for our personal relationships and our search for a quality partner, it’s also influencing an entire generation of men and how they behave towards us.

Are Porn, Hookup Culture, and Feminism to Blame? 

If you look at the guys who are the most comfortable putting forth little to no effort (and getting rewarded for it), there seem to be a couple of influencing factors.

First of all, porn has ensured that all men, no matter how young and vulnerable, can have access to instant sexual gratification. Repeat this cycle day after day, especially during formative years, and you have a recipe for disaster, specifically when it comes to emotional maturity and sexual health. When the arousal centers of our brain are triggered and rewarded with gratification, we train our brains to associate those hormones with images, videos, and media, not with actual people, especially people we’re trying to cultivate relationships with through love and respect.

Porn has ensured that all men, no matter how young, can have access to instant sexual gratification. 

It works almost the same way with hookup culture. Anyone can find a dating app and likely find a sexual conquest within a short amount of time. When we’ve rewarded that behavior, we continue to seek it out. Why wouldn’t we? 

All of that would be great, if it didn’t seriously impact and hinder our ability to form relationships. And if men in particular are used to constantly being rewarded and gratified for essentially not doing anything, why would they be interested in playing the long game? What is it about a serious romantic relationship, one that requires sacrifice and effort, that they could contribute to? 

Take another influence — feminism. Almost everywhere you look, men are denigrated and repeatedly told that they contribute nothing to society, and are more of a hindrance to our modern culture than they are a help.

You know the old saying, don’t encourage the behavior you don’t want to see? Too late. Is it crazy or misguided to think that many of the guys we know today are lackluster and lazy because they’ve internalized the overwhelmingly clear message of today? Why would anyone make an effort, try to impress a potential mate, or go above and beyond in a relationship when they’ve already been told they’re not expected to?

Are Women at Fault?

So how much of the blame do we need to take? Well, if we’re encouraging the bare minimum, and making excuses for it for that matter, we can’t complain or be surprised by what we get in return.

If we’re encouraging the bare minimum, we can’t complain or be surprised by what we get in return.

What might start out as seemingly harmless can quickly go from bad to worse, especially when it fundamentally affects the relationship, and more importantly, makes us question how much we deserve. If our relationship is so toxic that we begin to believe that we’re not deserving of effort, not deserving of grand gestures or attention or love and respect, we’ve let our partner’s bare minimum approach completely take the wheel.

We probably are at fault to some extent, but it’s possible to be so gaslighted, or hazed, or blindsided, or even just in love with that person so much that we don’t see it. Of course, that makes the aftershock and the effects so much worse for us when we eventually do realize what we’ve been putting up with.

The Consequences of Enabling Bad Behavior

When we reward bad behavior, even by just explaining it away or excusing it, we shouldn’t expect anything else.

The bare minimum in a relationship can look like a lot of things. Maybe it’s not doing chores around the house and playing video games all day. But maybe it’s more than that. Maybe it looks like him being constantly dependent on you, even if he’s a grown adult. Maybe it looks like someone who refuses to communicate, but resents you for not knowing or understanding what they’re thinking. Maybe it’s playing mind games, and pushing you away just so they can reel you back in. Maybe it’s leaving you to figure the big things out by yourself, whether it’s your relationship or your problems that you have as an individual that you should be sharing.

Sacrificing your own health and happiness shouldn’t be a consequence of being dedicated to your partner. 

If this sounds like you or a past relationship, there is a silver lining. Psychologists say that intelligent women often have toxic romantic relationships because they’re convinced they can work hard enough to make the relationship a success. But sacrificing your own emotional and mental health and happiness shouldn’t be a consequence of being smart and being dedicated to your partner. 

Closing Thoughts

If there’s one thing we know about bad relationships, it’s that we always deserve better than we think we do.

If you’re in the early stages and not getting what you need, or even if you’re years into a relationship, now is the time to act. If you want a text making sure you got home safe, find that guy. If you want flowers on your birthday or chocolates on Valentine’s Day, look for that guy. If you want the laundry done or the dishwasher unloaded, search for that guy. If you desperately want something better, something that you’re not getting, it doesn’t make you selfish or entitled. It means that you’re not getting what you need, but there could be someone out there wanting nothing more than to give it to you.