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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Just A Few Things I Don’t Understand About Women

Day 11

First, let me say that I love women. Love them. Could not live without the lovely friend and partner who has been my wife over the past 41 years or any of the women I’m lucky enough to have as friends. And this writing group seems to be populated by so many brilliant and thoughtful women. It has been a pleasure to get to meet you all. In fact, the fact that I get confused by the behavior of women is probably entirely my fault.

Have I put in enough disclaimers that I can broach this subject now?

Gift giving. I have always thought that on any occasion it was best to give your friend or partner something that you know that she wants.   So, early in our marriage, when I the electric wok that I purchased for my wife as an anniversary present was met with less than enthusiasm, I was confounded. I knew it was something she wanted. She had said so repeatedly. To explain her disappointment she actually sat me down and told me, slowly and using small words, that kitchenware of any kind was just not an appropriate gift for special, personal occasions. Honest to God, I had no idea. Where was the manual for gift-giving procedures?

Christmas gift giving seems to be more easy-going. Three months, three full months, before a recent Christmas, my wife saw a hanging lamp in a favorite boutique shop that she declared to be the perfect replacement for a dated chandelier-type lamp that had hung in our dining room for years and years. However, she declined to buy it at the time, and I swooped in like a shark. The very next week, I went back on my own, bought the lamp and put it away. On Christmas day, I saved it for after she had opened the more personal gifts (having learned my lesson from the wok debacle), and she seemed truly surprised and delighted as she unwrapped it and opened it up. Hah! I knew it! Perfect gift, perfect surprise! Then she made maybe the most contradictory statement I have ever heard any woman say, “Gosh, honey, this is great, but just because I say I want something doesn’t mean you have to rush out and buy it for me.” WHAT!!?? I thought it was EXACTLY what we were supposed to do. I thought it was exactly what the attentive and thoughtful spouse would be expected to do after 40 years of careful observation. Hmmmm.

Those three little words. Every partner cares about three little words. However, I suspect that the exact words may be gender specific. For me, there is nothing more heart-warming, nothing more life-affirming than hearing my wife whisper in my ear, “you were right.” On the two or three occasions per year that this happens, I usually feign deafness so I can have her repeat it once again, just to extend the satisfaction of the moment.

The expectation of the power of mind reading. As a high school English teacher I worked primarily with female colleagues and individually, I could hold my own with them. But once they assembled in a friendly group, they would all begin talking at once with lots of gesturing, head-nodding, eye-rolling. I would watch them smiling, frowning, smirking all in quick succession all leading to a lull and a sense on my part that something had been decided. Finally, as the token male I would be asked, “What do you think about it, Tom?”

“About what?” I’d ask.

Ah, thank goodness I get to stop at 500 (actually 600) words. I suspect I am in enough trouble already.

 

 

 

“Dish Bitch”

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This started way back.  Way back when apparently our dishwasher began to emit nearly lethal amounts of radioactivity.  I was the only member of our family unaware of it, and apparently the only one immune from it.

We all liked having a dishwasher.  We would have felt deprived with out one.  No one minded putting dishes into it, and I think there was a kind of satisfaction to be the one who would declare, “I think it’s time to run the dishwasher!”  No one, except me, seemed to understand that the appliance became essentially useless once it was sitting there full of clean dishes.

However no one, and I mean no one, would voluntarily empty the dishwasher. Except me.

I accept the idea that there are certain things that are “dad” jobs.  I understand the division of labor.  I knew that I maintained the outside of the house, and that it was my role to fix things (or make them worse at my discretion), to build walls, and dig up pipes.  As a modern guy, I didn’t mind splitting the household chores as well, and the whole family agreed that we were all better off with me not being the head cook.  For some reason though, bags of trash never made it farther than the middle of the garage, as if my two kids and my wife were incapable of the 7 extra steps it would take to go through the garage door and actually deposit them in a trash can.

And there was emptying the dishwasher.

On a Friday afternoon when my teaching friends were gathered at the local pub, celebrating the end of the week with a few beers, I launched into my lament, the unfairness of it all.  Stephanie, ever able to turn the phrase declared, “Oh honey, you’re just the dish bitch.”  Along with everybody else, I burst out laughing at the label.  “Damn,” I said, “you’re right!  I am the dish bitch.”

I went home determined to ditch my new-found title.  At this time the kids were still in their teens, and therefore basically indentured servants.  Chores around kitchen clean-up seemed to be split between “washing” and “drying” only.  Everyone was long gone by the time the dishwasher shut itself off.  It just so happened that we filled it that night and as I fired it up, I declared “Just so you know, when this gets done, I am not going to empty it.”

The kids (and my wife, I think) rolled their eyes, saying silently to each other, “Ah, dad’s having a thing” and went about their business.  The dishwasher sat full, the dishes cleaned, for another two days.  After all, we had other dishes.  If someone had a favorite glass, you could always pull it out.  Eventually, once I had reiterated my stand loudly and repeatedly enough, the kids broke down and split up the task.

And then things went right back to normal.  Every now and then, I’d try the silent, passive-aggressive approach.  After a week or so, the kids might notice.  “Oh, “ my son would say, “gone on strike with the dishwasher again, dad?” and then he would do the responsible thing.  He’d figure out a way to manipulate his sister into doing it.

Now the kids are grown, and it is just my wife and I and the appliance.  For some reason, she takes great care in making sure the dishes are positioned properly, frequently reorganizing them once I have put them in and occasionally pulling some things out and informing me that “these don’t go in the dishwasher!” although the rules about this always seem to be changing.

I knew I had finally lost the war when I returned from a 10-day visit to my sister in Hawaii and in the morning began to clean up my breakfast dishes and put them in the dishwasher.  “Hey,” she said, “the stuff in the dishwasher is clean.  I ran it right after you left.”

I was speechless.   She was busy getting ready for work, and said it so matter-of-factly that I checked myself from saying what seemed so obvious to me.  In fact, to save time, I just ran the dialogue through my head.

Me:  So, you ran the dishwasher and let clean dishes sit in the dishwasher for 9 days until I would return to empty it?

Her:  Look, when you’re gone, I barely cook, I use paper plates. I never needed anything from it.  I don’t even think about it.

Me:  (long silence, since I have no idea how to respond—this happens a lot)

 Game, set, match.  After all, what if Mary insisted we split up the cooking responsibilities 50/50?  She is nearly a professional chef, and I get confused when the recipe says words like “bake for 30 minutes”.  We would live in a culinary wasteland for half of each week.

So now, I embrace my inner dish bitch.  I am one with the dishwasher. I will make sure that it is cared for and well tended, like my vegetable garden.  Putting away the dishes will no longer be a chore, but my spiritual communion with the kitchen gods.  I will hear Rodney Yee’s voice coaching me as he does in my yoga videos. “Feel your sidebody stretch as both arms extend to put the big plates on the second shelf. Breathe…”