Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Explore your values to reach common ground on behavior
Q: I'm seriously dating a guy, and we've talked about marriage. He has mostly had a history of casual dating and living up the single life. This has included going to strip clubs. He says he won't go anymore because of my issue with it. Recently, he went to a bar with some friends where the servers are ridiculously scantily clad. This bothers me, especially after our discussions about strip clubs. I don't want to start a situation where he'd rather just go and not tell me. I'm just not sure if this is a make-or-break issue.
Carolyn: What I'd really like to hear is why you deplore these places, and why his only reason for not going would be to appease you.
Since there's no practical way I can know the details of your values, all I can do is advise you both to share them with each other — on one condition. Have the conversation after both of you have given careful, independent thought to why you both approach this issue the way you do, since this topic is all too subject to the knee-jerk, "because that's what guys/girls do"-type non-answers. Then, go into the discussion with this goal and no other: understanding each other. If it's just about proving you're right, then you'll both forget to listen.
Anonymous: The guy should run from this controlling woman. First, it was no strip clubs. Second, it was no places where servers are "scantily clad." Next it's going to be a request that he find new friends. Who should be forced to live like this? She needs counseling, stat. "Gift of Fear," anyone?
Carolyn: I agree this is one possible trajectory. The early signs that a woman is controlling are more readily dismissed than the early signs that a man is controlling — I believe because many of the female signals are stereotypes that people brush off or, worse, justify.
However, there are so many under- and un-examined "You must never go to these places!!!" attitudes that I think the "controlling" tag is premature until she does the hard thinking about her beliefs. If she rejects complexity and insists on an emotional restraining order that keeps him a minimum of 300 feet from bodaciosity of any kind, then I'm with you.
Anonymous 2: Not to say he gets an automatic free pass because it's what all of his friends are doing, but I think we all have friends with whom we indulge in behaviors that we have otherwise outgrown, and that's okay sometimes.
Carolyn: And a nice argument for examining one's motives, thanks.
Trashy Outlets again: He thinks it's a fun thing to do with the guys, and I'm sure he enjoys looking at, and getting attention from, barely dressed women. That he's interacting with real people in a sexual way is nauseating to me. We just think totally differently about it.
Carolyn: If he enjoys attention from barely dressed women, and if he sees nothing disrespectful about that, then that's who he is. Keeping him home won't change his character or moral composition. Ask yourself what you accomplish in his agreeing to stay home just because you want him to. There's your "make-or-break."