My response to Mark Pollard’s piece on getting a man to open up – apologies for the crass generalisations and largely hetero bias.

highly scientific Venn diagram

highly scientific Venn diagram

Some of my best friends are men, clever and inspiring fellows all, but even they sometimes struggle with what might seem very simple: communicating with the women they love. The specious logic of the “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” hypothesis starts to seem seductive – why should something this fundamental be so difficult unless we are, in fact, speaking different languages…?  Men, this post is for you…

He said, she said…

Women, by and large, are operating on a higher emotional plane than men; we’ve long since accepted complexities that you men are still grappling with. We don’t mind too much; we’re waiting patiently for you to catch up, and then what a joyous world it will be.

We’ve skipped lightly over the blatantly obvious and are dealing with the abstract.  Unfortunately, what this looks like to your average man is that we are saying one thing while meaning something completely different.  It leads to what can appear bewildering semantic hair-splitting.

“it’s not that I want you to do the laundry / watch this Balkan arthouse film with me / call your mum, I want you to want to do it”.

To which you may reasonably enough reply “but of course I don’t – I’ll do it because it must be done, but don’t expect me to be overjoyed about it.”  On a practical level, this is fine, because the outcome has been achieved, the problem solved. But then why is she sulking, sobbing or zipping off down the street with an ominously loud clickingclacking of the high heeled shoe?

Now hear this…

What’s wrong with this picture? You’ve tried to solve an emotional issue with a practical outcome. You haven’t listened to what’s really being said.

We’re speaking in poetry while you’re more prosaic; it’s a high art form where the spaces in between are as important as the words.

I heard a story about a woman married to an autistic man; she was tired and exasperated beyond measure by his inability to read her emotional responses. Having to rationally explain during the heat of the moment that she was upset or angry was proving difficult, and she feared that it would ultimately lead to a cooling of both negative and positive sentiment, leaving her an automaton in a marriage without passion.

Her solution was to hold up cards with the name of the emotion on them; this seemed less disruptive than vocalising and she was able to express herself and be understood.

Women need to give clearer cue cards; men need to work harder at reading them.

We understand intuitively that things (events, tasks, objects) often represent deeper concepts. You’re confused because we asked a friend’s advice about that thing at work and you can’t figure out why you’re annoyed about something which has ultimately nothing to do with you; we already know that you’re hurt because by not asking you, we seemed not to trust you.
Incidentally, the reason we didn’t ask you is because we just wanted to vent, and you have this insistence on solving problems; we need the space to be heard more than we need the answer: listening shows you believe the speaker to be worth hearing.

When we ask you to do something, spend five seconds figuring out what that thing might stand for. Is it demonstrating how much you value us? Is it your commitment to our family, the kids, the dog?

Essentially, this is the blueprint to get out of any onerous task. Figure out what the deeper issue is and solve it in a way that makes you happy too.  Demonstrate that you love the home you share and you’ll never have to go shopping for soft furnishings again (unless you want to).

I’m not saying it’s easy; I’m saying it’s an effort worth making. And you might just find it helps with other stuff too.  Whether you prefer this wisdom to come from the Matrix or from Plato, above all things, know thyself.

12 thoughts on “how to understand what women want

  1. Flash cards with emotions on them? Sounds good. Also, perhaps recording important conversations because I really believe that men have selective hearing difficulties. I find myself repeating key information in the following order:

    “I have an email from [insert name]. We are going to lunch next week.”

    “Who is that then?”

    “We met at [insert social gathering]”.

    “Can’t remember her”.

    “She was sitting next to [insert name, landmark, large pot plant]”.

    “Nope still don’t remember”.

    “She was the blonde with large breasts”.

    “Oh right” [realisation dawns].

    Maybe I have just learned something by repeating this conversation in writing rather than going over it again with my husband. Hmm.

  2. Oh Cathie you’ve done it again.

    The 5 second rule – I like it. If only.

    Or alternatively, we could stop speaking in code. Trouble is, that wouldn’t be half so much fun, would it?

  3. Flippin ‘eck. It took me years to learn this simple rule. “At the moment you want to ask her where a particular item might have been left, keep looking for a further 30 seconds.” *cracks knuckles, prepares to re-read post* Well, back to it…

  4. What still puzzles me is why, as more emotional operators at a higher level, woman can’t say actually talk about the emotion they’re feeling. It strikes me that, in fact, women are just as out if touch and useless with their emotions as men.

    There’s only two reasons I can think of for taking about emotions in code (eg do the ironig so I feel valued as a person): women don’t understand the underlying emotion; or they’re just fucking with us poor slobs. I choose to beleive it’s the former 🙂

  5. Cathie,

    I thoroughly enjoyed this post and have shared it with a lot of friends.

    The basic truth is that we are different and neither is right or wrong. It just is. The differences make life interesting.

    Men a wonderful creatures. Hopefully, one day I will understand them a little better. Thanks for helping our side explain.

  6. Question: If women want men to care rather than necessarily do (well, ‘do’ but care about the doing), what’s the secret behind why women always have something for the man to do? Crass generalisation, too… but you know it’s true.

  7. Ironically, your post is it self an example of “men are from Mars [etc.]”. (By the by, while I consider the book border-line idiotic, it would be helpful if you outline what you mean by “specious”, because the general concept is correct.)

    You say e.g. “Women, by and large, are operating on a higher emotional plane than men; we’ve long since accepted complexities that you men are still grappling with.”, which is simply wrong: Women handle their emotions differently than men, but they are certainly not on a higher plane.

    Similarly, “We understand intuitively that things (events, tasks, objects) often represent deeper concepts.”: In the communication of the typical woman there is a lot of subtext and hidden messages; however, the typical man has a considerably lesser amount. That he does not read you like you want to be read is a consequence of his having a different, more explict communication style—not in a female superiority in understanding subtext. On the contrary, as men can testify, women often interpret a meaning into the actions of others that simply is not there… (In an analogy, they buy a lower rate of false negatives with a higher rate of false positives.)

    In both cases, you interpret the world and men’s behaviour from a woman’s/Venusian’s perspective—while ignoring the male/Marsian perspective.

  8. How do Michael,

    I’m not sure it is ironic, as I’m intentionally using this device as an attempt to call the ridiculousness of the whole mars/venus framework into question.
    I think it’s patently absurd to categorise all men or all women like this – I don’t believe men and women have inherently different capabilities and styles of thinking, but rather we’re socially conditioned to behave, react and process information differently.
    I don’t think that asserting that this *is* correct helps to push the debate forward; I envisage a time when we will judge people by their words and deeds, not by gender.

  9. @acatinatree

    I see at least two problems with your comment:

    1. The idea of “gender as a social construct” has been disproved after a brief spell of popularity—with evidence ranging from physiological brain differences, to differences in behaviour in infants, to observations on intra-uterine testosterone levels on the future behaviour of the child.

    Yes, part of the differences are acquired; no, not all of the are—and the more basic the difference, the greater the chance that is a biological issue. (And, yes, I know that gender-feminists still tout a different story, but they do have a strong ideological interest in “gender as a social construct” being true, because without it a very large part of their frame-work collapses—whom are we going to trust: Scientists or the ideologically driven?)

    2. You seem to assume that belief in a biological mechanism implies that men and women are treated differently through over-generalisation. This, however, need not at all be the case—and (at least) most men do tend to judge both men and women based on their words and deeds. (They also often fail, but then typically in a way not based on sex, but on e.g. “charisma” or the presence/absence of a friendship.) In particular, a biological mechanism does not rule out considerable individual variation.

  10. Pretty great post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wanted to say that Ive really loved reading through your opinions. Any way Ill be coming back and I hope you submit once again soon.

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