Ask a Panda: Significant Others Are People Too

Question: I have been training jiu-jitsu for a while (I am a blue belt), since long before I met my current boyfriend. He is a black belt and runs an academy, and since we have been together, I have taken on an unintended role as a woman in a gym dating the instructor. I help teach kids and do admin work. I watch the gym and open the door when he isn’t there, not teaching adults but making open mats possible.

I didn’t start jiu-jitsu because of him and do not continue because of him but because I like jiu-jitsu and want something from it for me. I have not stopped having big dreams of my own; I train as hard as I can, and I compete, and compared to many people at my gym I am fairly experienced.

But sometimes I feel like I don’t get respect, just because the academy owner is my boyfriend, even from people I outrank. I have had instances where people are nasty to me like they think I think I am just some princess in the gym, which I do not believe I am, or that my successes are a direct result of my proximity to him and not my own work and dedication. Sometimes it seems my boyfriend is harder on me than on some of the other students, and while he does coach me in tournaments, he does the same for everyone else. I do not ask for special treatment, and I do not ever remind anyone that the instructor and I are dating.

My question is: How do I handle the nastiness in my own academy? I don’t feel I should have to explain myself because I know I work hard and am in jiu-jitsu for me. But I also don’t feel I should have to put up with rudeness because some people have jumped to faulty conclusions.

Answer: It’s a shame you are dealing with this. I doubt you are the first significant other to experience this kind of treatment, and sadly, I doubt you will be the last. It is true that sometimes significant others expect preferential treatment and otherwise act entitled, but I can usually smell when people are being entitled, and that is not what this sounds like.

Frankly, I would say the people who are treating you this way are acting lazy and foolish. They are acting lazy because they have just decided to adopt the storied tradition of blaming the girlfriend, which has even been memorialized in the Urban Dictionary under the entry “Yoko syndrome,” without first gathering relevant data (how you treat them, how you act generally, how your boyfriend acts toward you compared to them, etc). They are acting foolish because in large part you are the one who facilitates their jiu-jitsu lives, and if I am any indication, I am much less eager to help someone who is acting like one or more of the body parts that are covered by bathing suits. So, even if you were being overly demanding, it does not behoove them to be mean.

Of course, this does not answer your question, but perhaps you can casually post this story on the wall or on the academy website and suggest people give it a read.

Now, to your question. I have used this saw before, but regardless of what you think of Dr. Phil, the following statement of his is compelling: We teach people how to treat us. In other words, if people are treating us in a way that we do not like and we say nothing, then we are sending them the message that their behavior is acceptable. The question I have for you is: If this were not your boyfriend’s business, would you allow these people to treat you this way?

I mention the fact that this behavior is happening in your boyfriend’s place of business for a reason: I’m guessing that you do not want to rock the boat with his students, who contribute to his livelihood. So, it makes sense that you would want some input from him about the kind of environment he is trying to create. With that in mind, consider these questions as well: What is considered appropriate and inappropriate behavior in the academy, and whose job is it to police the inappropriate behavior? Which is considered more of a priority: keeping students or requiring a certain code of behavior?

It sounds like you do not have clear answers to those questions, and that limits what you can do or say. If you can establish some shared understanding, then you will know how you can proceed, if and when you decide you want to speak up about someone’s treatment of you.

In short, get on the same page as your boyfriend about what constitutes acceptable behavior and about how transgressions of those expectations are to be handled. Good luck, and here’s hoping the people who are acting this way pick up a clue somewhere.