Men: Why It’s Important To Keep Your Mouth Shut

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Even though this group is short on male contributors (and therefore readers), I wanted to share this piece–sort of as a public service.

Please remember my previous disclaimer. I love women. Love, love, love them. They are wiser, more beautiful, more loving, and more compassionate than men are. I have many more female friends than I have male friends. So, I hope you will still be talking to me after reading this. Or even better—leave a comment and tell me if, how, and/or why I am wrong. I will offer you my sincerest apology.

But, I’m not wrong. Not about this.

There will be times, many times if your relationship is long-term, when your female partner will come to you needing to talk. She will come to you with a problem about her friends, her work, the next-door neighbor who annoys her, her physical or mental health.

She will be distressed and clearly in need of your compassionate attention, and as a good friend and partner, you will listen patiently, occasionally uttering sympathetic noises (they don’t have to be actual words), indicating that you really care about her dilemma and that she has every reason to feel as though the world is ending and that she is currently, at this moment, the most justifiably unhappy person in the world.

Once she has exhausted herself, she may then look at you expectantly. And now, you must be very, very careful, my friend.

As men, we like to fix things. We are hard-wired to it and conditioned by our society to assess a problem and come up with a solution. If you have been smart enough simply to listen and let her talk uninterrupted, congratulations. But while you’ve been waiting for her to finish, undoubtedly you’ve been thinking about how to fix her problem, thinking about her best course of action. Her solution, you think, is painfully obvious to you.

If you are smart, rather than suggesting any practical solutions, your best play here is to shut the fuck up.

Why? Why not help her with her problem and “fix” it like you would a dripping faucet or squeaky door? After all, she wouldn’t be sharing all of this if she didn’t want your input, right?

Wrong. Dead wrong. Your solutions are the last thing she wants right now. Why? Because she already knows the solution, already knows what she has to do next. Remember, she is smarter than you.

You look confused. This is normal. Try to get used to that feeling. Embrace it.

All she wants from you right now is for you to empathize with her, to agree with her. In a pinch, you can even repeat things she just said to you with added emphasis to show that you were listening, that you understand, that you care.

In fact, as spontaneous and anguished as her recital may have been, you may be the third or fourth person with whom she has had this exact same rant. She most likely has approached her girlfriends first, and they’ve already sliced, diced, and dissected this problem over wine, chocolates, and ice cream. They will have tried to sooth your partner with affirmations and oddly communicative woman noises that we (males) cannot duplicate or understand, and they have supplied her with the kind of comfort that only calories and alcohol can bring.

Even knowing this, you will have to battle your impulse to help her slap a patch on the problem. If you find yourself start to say something like, “Well, you know, you could…” or “It seems to me like the best thing to do…” or even worse, “Well, if I were in your place, I’d certainly…” put both hands around your throat and squeeze until you are unable to speak.

Make all of your responses as non-specific as possible. Remember, she’s hurt, unhappy, and angry. Take some comfort that it is not because of something you have done. “That’s terrible,” “I can’t believe this,” “You have every right to be upset,” are all appropriate. You can use any of these more than once because it doesn’t matter what you say. What matters is that she thinks you are listening, that you are concerned.

Finally, she may even articulate what she feels is the solution to her problem and what she plans to do. Your job is to agree enthusiastically. Maybe now it’s time to put your arm around her, offer her a glass of wine, take her out to dinner. After all, she’s been sorely wronged by life, and she sought you out to be her person of the moment. You are one lucky guy. Just try to keep your mouth shut.

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No Love for the Tour Guide

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As much as I like to travel, I have to admit that I’m not a confident traveler. I don’t like driving in unfamiliar cities because I may be the only sighted person who needs a seeing eye dog to avoid getting lost. With the amount of traveling I’ve done over the last couple of years, I’ve gotten better, and smartphones are my new best friend when I am on the road. I have learned to research my destination, prepare a list of activities, and determine if I can rely on public transportation or if I have to deal with a car rental agency.

I’ve always held a bias against taking a guided tour. It has always felt like a form of cheating. I imagined being trapped on a double-decker bus, forced to socialize with octogenarians, while the guide peppered us with a constant stream of trivia most of which was eminently forgettable.

However, when I was preparing for a trip to the Bay Area to see Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds perform at the Paramount Theater in Oakland, I had an extra day that I was having trouble figuring out what to do with. A friend sent me a link to a tour company that for $100 would fill up my day by taking me for “spectacular” views of the Golden Gate Bridge (are there any other kinds?), a walk in the Muir Woods, followed by wine tasting and lunch in scenic Sonoma. For the price, this seemed like an easy way to see some sights that I knew I’d enjoy and beat the heck out of wandering aimlessly around the City.

When I arrived at the pick-up location in downtown San Francisco, I was happy to see that the majority of people waiting for a tour were not using walkers, but were in fact, young international travelers. It appeared as though I was going to be the aged geezer of the bunch. When my mini-bus pulled up, it turned out that I was one of only two tourists, the other being a young man from Singapore in San Francisco on business.

Our annoyingly upbeat tour guide assured us that the trip would go on even if it were just the two of us. Originally, I thought of the trip as being a bargain. Now I felt I was being gouged if the tour could turn a profit on only two customers.

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I had to grudgingly but happily admit that I could not have had a more pleasant traveling companion. We chatted easily as we got across the Golden Gate, and strolled through the Muir woods trail enjoying a peaceful walk and taking pictures for each other. We sampled wines together discussing the pros and cons of each at a rustic winery outside of Sonoma and then were whisked away in time to catch lunch at a sports bar where I got to watch Seattle come from behind and destroy Green Bay in the NFC playoffs. My new friend and I dozed most of the way back to the City stopping once to get one more lovely view of the Golden Gate Bridge being swallowed up by the incoming fog at sunset.

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If it weren’t for the tour guide I would have given the experience a solid “A” grade. I suspect many a tour guide is actually a failed stand-up comedian who feels compelled to fill every moment with a stream of amusing anecdotes and historical minutia that, for me, evaporates the moment it hits my ears. As we started off down the city streets headed for the bridge, all I really wanted was some quiet and a second cup of coffee. Even worse, since he had only two riders, he wanted his shtick to be interactive. “Hey, how many stories do you think that building…?” “In what year would you guess this bridge…?” “Hey, I bet you didn’t know that…?” Please, shoot me now. My mind feels like it is about to explode. I begin wondering if Singapore brought any heroin with him.

With only two of us on the bus, even I couldn’t summon enough rudeness to put on headphones and tune out this endless stream of information. Because, see, what I forget sometimes is that these guys really, really want you to like them and have a GOOD TIME, a memorable trip. They want this for you because they are hoping that as you leave you will be slipping them a memorable tip. My Singaporean friend did not know or did not care about the tipping protocol and, even though the guide was nice enough to drop him back at his hotel, he skipped out with nary a word. Since the guide took me directly to a nearby BART station, I tried to be generous and gave him twenty bucks, hoping it made up a little for my friend’s oversight.

I have jumped on several tours since and for me, the jury is still out. I think the whale tours on Maui may have the best formula: out on the water with free food, free beer, and guides who say things like “whale on the port side.” Perfect!