We Both Know I'm Right, answered by Bet van Beeren

Dear Badass,

My boyfriend is SOOOOO moody. He’ll say he’s fine when we both know he’s pissed. Then three days later, I’ll forget to take out the trash and suddenly he’s telling me everything I’ve done to piss him off since the last fight. That’s not even the worst part. He has the nerve to call ME moody! He says women always have to talk about every feeling they have and it’s not necessary. I say the reason I don’t blow up at him is because I tell him in the moment. If I feel jealous, I tell him. If I feel sad, I tell him. Who’s right?

Sincerely,

We Both Know I’m Right

Dear I’m Right,

Bet van Beeren.jpg

I think you’re both wrong. I hate to act out a stereotype, but sometimes women like me are just blunt. I mean Dutch women, of course. What did you think I meant? 

The problem isn’t necessarily your relationship, but the skills you both brought to the relationship. I prefer my motorcycle to bicycles, but I’ve noticed something about bicycles that strikes me as a good description of dating. Young couples in Amsterdam bike holding onto each other, maybe arm in arm, or maybe he has an arm across her shoulders, or maybe they hold hands. They bike in the same rhythm, their knees rising and falling at the same time. 

Young people in Amsterdam can bike in unison like this because two things are true: One, they are attuned to each other and, two, they’ve grown up riding a bike. A couple of people who aren’t that comfortable biking won’t be able to ride in unison, no matter how aware of each other they may be. Relationships are like that. Regardless of how much you love each other, if individually you’re not good at communication or emotional regulation, you’re going to be out of synch.

If it helps, you have an easy challenge to navigate. When I opened Amsterdam's first gay bar in 1927, my customers couldn’t even kiss or dance together. We all knew why we were there, but the only way to keep the space open was to steer clear of the vice laws. I even had a little lamp I’d turn on if someone suspicious walked in the bar. You two don’t need to hide anything, just break a couple of bad habits.

His seems to be communication. I’m with you on that. Life is too short and too fragile to waste it tiptoeing around someone’s mood. What would happen if you said neutrally: “You seem angry.”  If he confirms, you can ask if he knows why he’s angry. If he denies, you can give him space. Go to a movie, go out with friends, read a book by yourself. Don’t be a silent witness to his stewing. What if you do the same thing when he explodes over something simple? Apologize for whatever is actually at issue, but refuse to engage with the laundry list until he calms down. You’ll be doing both of you a favor if you break this cycle. Secretly storing things to be mad about is no way for him to live his life.

Now, to where you’re wrong. Keeping things pent up is unhealthy, but so is making your partner the keeper of your emotions. It may make you feel better to tell your partner you’re sad or jealous, but if he’s even half-way decent, he’ll take your feelings on his shoulders. If he cares about you, he will want you to be happy and will try to fix the problem, even if it’s not his to fix. You should pay attention to when an emotion rises to the level of sharing the burden with him and when it is something for you to acknowledge to yourself before letting it go.

Those of us who lived through the occupation and the hunger winter, we don’t talk about those years. Some of us hid our Jewish neighbors and guns for the Resistance in our homes. Others put their heads down and tried to get by. How could we possibly speak across that gulf? When Amsterdam was liberated, though, all of us rushed into the sun to sing and dance and love again. We threw ourselves into whatever joy we could find because we’d learned how easily it could all go away. I urge you two to find all the light you can, in each other and in your lives. Happiness is too precious a gift to be wasted.

Bet van Beeren

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Born in 1902 in the Jordaan district of Amsterdam, the eldest daughter of a bricklayer and his wife, who had a total of fourteen children.  Died of liver failure in Amsterdam in 1967 and was laid out on the pool table of her bar for her wake.  When Bet opened Café ‘t Mandje in 1927, it was Amsterdam’s first gay bar in the modern sense of the word: a place where gay men and women could find community as individuals and equals.  Throughout her life, Bet was unabashedly herself, open about her preference for women and brashly encouraging of others to live without pretense, as shown by her ceiling of ties she’d cut off customers.  She was a caretaker to anyone who needed help and was known as the Queen of the Zeedijk, her neighborhood of social outcasts.

Bet’s bar is still open and the bridge near it bears her name: http://www.cafetmandje.nl/