Written by Grace Campbell
After realising she felt reliant on male validation, comedian Grace Campbell took a hiatus from dating in January 2022. She didn’t expect to continue with her “man ban” – but the self-imposed breather turned out to be transformative.
Content note: this article contains references to rape that readers may find upsetting.
At the beginning of this year, I decided to give up men. That sounds so dramatic. Obviously, I wasn’t planning on giving them up forever. No, men have and always will be my greatest passion.
Passion like the passion Gary Lineker, Rio Ferdinand and Gary Neville have for football. That’s me, except the balls I’m talking about aren’t footballs, and there are no offside flags, only red ones.
I’ve always loved men. But at the beginning of 2022, I realised that I had an unhealthy need for their validation.
Not in a cute, Ariana-Grande-Needy way, but rather in a sending-hundreds-of-WhatsApp-messages-til-you-reply-to-me way.
I needed to change. It felt very off-brand for me to… be so desperately obsessed with men liking me. Especially when so much of my comedy is about me ejecting men. Like, I literally have a routine about being able to fanny fart men’s penises out of me when I get the ick. I was portraying myself in my comedy as this powerhouse who didn’t care whether or not men noticed her, but my reality was nothing like that.
So, while everyone else quit meat or booze for the month of January, I quit men. No dating, no shagging, no facetiming exes when I was drunk to show them how fast my nipple hairs were growing.
The goal was that by the end of the month I would be healed. My need for male validation would have vanished in a cloud of confetti, and what would be left would be a girl with great tits and a healthy, secure relationship with men.
The man ban came in desperate times. In 2021, I had been on the opposite of a man ban, consuming men the way a smoker trying to quit starts vaping much more than they ever smoked.
You see, I’d broken up with my ex-boyfriend. My first love, and probably the bar-setter when it comes to validation. Breaking up with him was awful. It felt like a bad drug trip. I’d flit between sort of finding the whole thing ridiculous to being absolutely terrified I would never find love again.
Instead of dealing with that loss like a normal secure, healthy, happy girl, I developed a bad habit of needing men to be interested in me to feel good about myself. Having lost my constant, I was ingesting new men and their mild adoration of me like they were differently flavoured Elf bars. It was a good fix for a minute, but not quite the same as a real fucking cigarette. (Kiwi Passionfruit Guava, as a person, is a fuckboy who will definitely ghost you, FYI.)
I was becoming addicted to this short-term male validation. Without men validating me, I ceased to exist in my own mind. It was like I was a balloon only visible in the mirror if men were blowing into my ego.
This meant I kept getting into the same situations. Men who would at first love my loud, wilful, sometimes argumentative personality. Men who praised me at the beginning for being so sexually liberated. Then after a month or so they would start to become irritated by those traits, and they’d dump me. And I would internalise it, because I was only ever as confident as the confidence a man put into me.
And so, in the man ban, I had to re-teach myself that I could survive without male validation. I needed to guarantee healthy relationships going forward.
The man ban was dry. I was struggling to adjust. I was like, why do I even have breasts if I can’t send a man a well-lit picture of them?
A few weeks in, I was starting to see how much less stress my mind was going through. A part of my brain space that had just been focused on men could also be spent on work.
February came, and I was shocked when, after my 30-day trial of the man ban, I opted to carry on. I was like saying things like, “I wonder if I’ll ever download Hinge again.”
In the calm, I was also beginning to process something that had just happened to me in America, a few months before.
I had been raped by a man in a hotel corridor on holiday in Las Vegas. In the aftermath of that, instead of processing what had happened, I decided to deal with it the way my brain had been programmed to do: focus on men. If other men liked me and made me feel safe, I convinced myself that that could undo the lack of safety another man had imposed on me.
But what I started to see, in the pause, was that it put unnecessary pressure on men to be able to deal with all of my trauma when, in their defence, their worlds shouldn’t have to revolve around me.
May came, and what started as a month off men had turned into half a year of no real dating. (I say ‘real dating’ because I had shagged five men so far that year, one for every month; I’m only human.)
At his birthday, my best friend Jack told me he thought I was “healed”.
“Honestly, a year ago, you were the worst person in the world, and now you’re, like, this chill girl who doesn’t care if a man is coming or going. If your exes could see you now, they’d be so proud,” he said.
He was right. I hated to admit it, because I despise the notion that girls should be chill, but the more damaging parts of my male dependency had vanished.
I had a newfound appreciation of men now that I wasn’t expecting them to read my mind all the time. Dating felt easier. When I got ghosted by a man after I told him I had a cold sore and couldn’t see him, it didn’t send me into a state of depression. I rationalised it. Maybe he was triggered because cold sores reminded him of someone who used to bully him at school. The man ban had helped me to stop taking everything so personally.
Then came August. And while I was performing at the Edinburgh Fringe over the summer, an article I wrote for the Guardian came out, where I spoke about what had happened to me in Las Vegas. It was an article I’d written to process what had happened to me, while also articulating how frustrating I found it that after I was raped I felt men were using my ‘sex-positivity’ against me as excuses for why I was raped. It felt worth saying something because I hoped men would listen and learn.
When the article came out, I noticed something that bothered me. I got thousands of responses to the piece. Really nice messages of love and support from friends, family and – mostly – strangers on the internet.
But 85% of those messages, I observed, were from women or gay men.
I could rationalise that, although I found it a shame that men didn’t see it as a call for them to speak up more.
What bothered me more about this response was how it affected me. When a woman messaged me I felt loved; when a man contacted me to show support, I felt validated. That’s weird, isn’t it? That my need for validation from them still remained in such a vulnerable moment.
But that makes sense. I am still a girl who started her year with a man ban because she needed such drastic measures. I’ve made huge progress this year, but I’ve obviously not eradicated the need for male validation from inside me.
Perhaps I never will completely. As I always say, men will forever be one of my philanthropical causes. But what the man ban – and this year – has taught me is that loving men is great. Needing them to solve your problems is not.
The 24/7 Rape & Sexual Abuse Support Line can be reached for free by calling 0808 500 2222. Alternatively, visit the websites for Rape Crisis England & Wales, Rape Crisis Scotland or Rape Crisis Northern Ireland for advice and support
Images: Sarah Harry-Isaacs; Getty
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