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‘If He Wanted to He Would’ Is Horrible Relationship Advice

But that’s not what comes across when we say, “If he wanted to he would.” What comes across is: That man doesn’t want you. Get it through your head. If you keep trying to make something happen with him and he keeps treating you badly, that’s on you. Now you’re not only undesirable, you’re also stupid.

This phrase centers the power in heterosexual relationships firmly 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 else 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 a person who displays deep levels of caring and listening? An equal partner in all things? 

One good phrase to substitute in for “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 prioritize his needs, but he doesn’t do the same.” Or maybe, “I notice that he treats his dog better than you.” Women in shitty relationships do not need emotional bludgeoning by more fortunate women or smug lectures by strange men.

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Often, “If he wanted to he would” is applied to women who are in the early stages of talking or dating men and are still teetering between some form of commitment and total estrangement. It’s true that these unlabeled situationships can be infuriating and heartbreaking, where lack of communication or intentional manipulation on one person’s part can keep the other person hoping, fruitlessly, for more.

But I’m sorry—some of you have never dated an introvert before, and it shows! Some of you have never romanced a person with a beautiful heart and a debilitating anxiety disorder. If you lived by this adage, you will never connect with anyone who is an over-thinker, or a little bit socially awkward, or has a little bit too much humility. You may miss 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 from TV, movies, or literature be if they believed in “If he wanted to he would?” Harry and Sally wouldn’t even be Facebook friends. Oliver and Elio would never have progressed past each other’s fantasies. The whole premise of Pride and Prejudice is, “If he wanted to he wouldn’t because his sisters and best friend are psychos.” Jane Austen didn’t write, “If a woman conceals her affection with the same skill from the object of it, she may lose the opportunity of fixing him; and it will then be but poor consolation to believe the world equally in the dark” just for some vile clout chaser to seduce you with the self-hating doctrine of “If he wanted to he would.”

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