The subject came up over the week while I was talking to my wooby about how men and women deal with things differently.
inorite?!? Like, ALL the time! </sarcasm>
It’s not enough that we recognize men and women respond differently. If we’re going to get on, we’ve got to get to where we understand why and how. *
Wooby said that whenever his wife (or any other female companion from years past) needed something from him relationship-wise – more time, more sex, take out the garbage, etc – he felt like “he was in trouble”, and this created a sense of panic on his part as his insecurities started to rage. He got defensive, he got testy, he got irrational, and even if the normal part of him agreed that, yes, he probably should take a few more turns washing the dishes, the other louder part of him started freaking out because ZOMG SHEEZX GUNNA BRAK UP WIF MEE! (or something to that effect) due to a lack of performance on his part.
(And every woman reading this just rolled her eyes and nodded, having experienced this at least once.)
(And every guy fidgeted in his chair and thought about surfing away from this page.)
What men don’t realize is that if we chicks didn’t trust you to fix the problem, we wouldn’t ask.
Let that sink in for a minute before I pontificate.
The key word in that whole sentence is not “fix”, nor “ask”, nor even “chicks”. It’s trust.
Yes, ladies may have reached a point of frustration with the lack of performance in whatever category they’re addressing, but if they really thought you weren’t all that, if they didn’t think you were capable of accomplishing the task, they wouldn’t ask. Some women who are a little more self-aware might even ask you for needs to be met before the point of frustration, before it’s a critical issue.
Part of us knows that men often tend to be “bodies at rest” – and bodies at rest tend to stay at rest until acted upon by external force. Part of us also knows that men like to play, because who doesn’t, but this is also a science analogy because an object moving in a particular direction will continue in that direction indefinitely until acted upon by external forces. We’re not trying to be buzzkills and meanyheads when we ask you to help us with a problem, we’re respecting the laws of man-physics by applying external force.
That doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t totally appreciate not having to ask all the time, but the other thing that men perhaps don’t realize is that women asking for things is not (or at least should not be) an act of attack but rather an act of personal responsibility. She’s taking responsibility on herself to get her needs met by you instead of making you guess, and also instead of going elsewhere for her needs.
I offer this concession to men: Yes, a lot of women are really, really bad at expressing their needs. There’s the passive-aggressive sigh, the long stares, and the hint-dropping, and then there’s the “don’t say anything about it until it becomes so overwhelming that there’s a huge blow-up”. Women are not without culpability, but that’s the topic of a different post.
Traditionally, for people experiencing this dynamic, Man who hears “I need this” from Woman freaks out and panics. Man gets defensive and angry. Woman is all “wtf?! I’m just asking you for a favor.” Man is all “RAAARRRR! It’s always about you!” And Woman is like, “Well, duh, I’m the one with the need.” And Man is all, “Why do I keep ending up in trouble with you?!” And Woman is like, “Dude, srsly, wtf?!” And Man is all, “YOU’RE NOT MY REAL MOM!”
The problem is that Man and Woman in this example are not speaking the same language. They’re not even talking on the same maturity level. I have many theories about why this is a prevalent thing in our culture (the systematic stripping of men’s emotional security, the programming of boys to see the world only through reward and punishment, the gross lack of healthy rites of passage), but suffice it to say that there’s not going to be a lot of progress made unless they can find a middle ground.
Here is the observed suggestion from the woman’s side to men:
- You’re not in trouble. We just need a favor. It’s the same as if we were asking you to open a mayonnaise jar, with varying levels of priority. (Sometimes that’s some real nice fancy gourmet mayonnaise.)
- When you act like you’re in trouble, we start to wonder what you think you did wrong. This is not the same as already thinking you’ve done something wrong. The vast majority of the time, you’ve put the thought in our head that not all’s well in Whoville, not the other way around.
- Yes, it’s about us. And it’s about you. Men do not often feel a big need to talk about their needs. Sometimes it’s because they don’t feel comfortable, sometimes they just take care of things themselves, but unless you tell us, women just think they’ve anticipated those needs well enough to address them before you ask. We do not assume the same thing about you.
- On the “being in trouble” thing, we are not your momma. Seriously. We’re trying to have a mature relationship here, complete with the ideally regular exchanging of body fluids and intimate moments. Being treated like an authority figure is not sexy (outside of the obvious fetishistic possibilities, but that’s not the main part of the relationship, usually).
- Don’t read anything into it. This is a double-edged scalpel: if you refuse to read into anything but the words being said, you cannot be held accountable for words that aren’t said. Girl says, “Wow, I’d sure like a diamond,” and you can take that as “she likes diamonds.” You are not obligated to assume that she wants you to buy her a diamond (whether she really meant that or not) because she didn’t say it. Because guessing SUCKS. THIS is how to deprogram the passive-aggressive neediness while simultaneously inviting explicit communication.
The conflict happens when we’re trying to have a mature conversation – and a mature relationship – at least in some parts, and you’re running in the other direction. We promise, it will be much smoother and much more fun (of the mature fashion) if you will try to meet us on that ground. Being an adult doesn’t mean not playing, it just means playing better games.
* DISCLAIMER: Yes, I know that not all men are like this and that not all women are like this, but I have had this argument with multiple partners throughout the years – spouses and otherwise – so there has to be some kind of cultural trend there. I know I’m not the only one.
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