I met someone new at a party - we were talking and hitting it off really well. At some point in the conversation, he mentioned that his girlfriend wasn't ready to have sex yet, so they were waiting. When I didn't react, he started going on and on about how he was totally cool waiting because he respected his girlfriend's choice and didn't want to pressure her into having sex, and this made him such a great guy. He was bragging about it, as if I was supposed to find this impressive. As if he deserved a gold star for not raping his girlfriend! Are you kidding me???
A friend recently told me that most of the things people compliment zem on are things that ze considers basic, like being honest and valuing other people's experiences. I told zem that these qualities are hard to find. But exactly how hard to find are they? Am I lowering my baseline of acceptable behavior just because I was surrounded by people who were hurting me? The act of doing something good is good. The act of not doing something bad is not good - it's neutral. But if something is happening to you that's really bad, then getting into a situation where that bad thing isn't happening is a major improvement. Neutral becomes good. Not being an asshole becomes being amazing. I used to say that my friends were amazing because they were there for me when I really needed them, but after college, I would call anyone amazing who didn't react to me in a bad way. I would think to myself, "Wow - I just shared something personal with you and you DIDN'T invalidate my feelings or tell me that I was imagining things or that it wasn't as big of a deal as I was making it out to be! You must be the awesomest person in the world!"
I was angry at that guy at the party because he was trying to pass off respecting another person's choice as extra-special, rather than something that we should all be doing anyway. And that's what I've been doing since college. I've adjusted my standards based on how I expect people to react, rather than how they should react. I consider valuing another person's experience to be some exceptional quality when it should be basic. But the more I hang around with good friends, with people who do respect other people's choices and value other people's experiences by default, the more I realize that I shouldn't be settling for neutral. I shouldn't be putting people on pedestals simply for not saying anything really bad. I should expect people to believe me and to value my experiences, and if they don't, then that's bad. That's lower than neutral. It's hard to have higher expectations when you're afraid of getting hurt, but it's what I need to do. Because when I tell you that you're awesome, I'm not just lumping you into the category of "people who aren't hurting me." It means you are actually an awesome friend.