This is the final installment of a 3 part post seeking to answer Professor Higgins’ most eximious question, “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” As you’ll recall (and in review), a little somethin’ somethin’ called “Darwinism” is to blame. My very good friend, Wikipedia, defines this culprit as “inherited variations that increase the individual’s ability to compete, survive and reproduce.” These “variations” are both physiological and psychological. BTW, let me insert here an important disclaimer. As with all my posts, what I’m offering is merely food for thought. By no stretch of the imagination do I consider myself a relationship expert of any kind! (Surely, you did notice the first word in this blog’s title is SINGLE?) That said, let’s talk about a few gender differences as they relate to S.M.A.R. T.’s last two components.
R –reaction—is simple. It’s all about the “r”s, baby. Men don’t react like women do, especially in relationships, because men are motivated to get results. In other words, solving the problem. Period. Women, on the other hand, are motivated by rationale and reasoning. Which means validating the problem. First. For example, a woman tells her man, husband, boyfriend (or whatever) about an issue at work. Often her tirade is less about what happened than it is about how she feels. Uh-uh. That f-word! So while she’s all about validating and venting by discussing her f-f-feelings, he wants to cut to the chase and FIX it. Hence, once he’s identified the problem (amidst all those damn thousands of words she needs to use daily!), he cuts her off. He’s heard enough. He’s formulated a plan of attack—i.e. a response TO THE PROBLEM. Oh, hell to the no! is her reaction. That’s NOT what she wanted. She can probably solve her own damn problem—in her own time and in her own way. And her “way” involves talking about it. Therefore, his cutting her off before she has thoroughly vented is the second worst thing he can do. The first? Telling her what to do. She doesn’t want a solution—yet. She just wants him just to listen—incidentally, one of the worst skills a man possesses.
Let’s try to put it in a plumbing analogy for Clueless Clive and his million plus cousins. (Male issue/male analogy. It should work, right?) Here’s a little dialogue between Wilma Wife and Henry Husband . . .
She: “Honey, I need to explain a communication difficulty we’re having as a result of our fundamentally different evolutionary hard-wiring.”
She: “A woman’s venting is like having air in our house’s plumbing lines.”
She: “Just try to follow along.” She smiles patiently and tries to be specific. (The best approach with a man, BTW.) “Air in the pipes. Got that?”
He: “Ok. Air. Pipes. Got it.”
She: “The solution is not shutting off the tap. But I do understand—especially if I’ve turned on the waterworks—why you’re immediately looking for a wrench.”
He: “Well, I’m going to need a effin’ wrench to shut off the main valve!” (Metaphor—not a strong male suite. Don’t waste your time, ladies. It’s not literal enough.)
She: “Babe, this a comparison—not a perfect analogy.” Wilma takes a deep breath and stifles her growing frustration. Patiently, she explains, “Let’s just say sitting down with me is like shutting off the main valve.” His glazed-over look snaps her last thread of patience. “Oh, never mind! Water’s off. What do you next?”
He: “You bleed the lines.” Now Henry beams. He’s got this! (Direct question=direct answer.)
She: “Exactly!” Now Wilma smiles. At last! She feels success is in reach. “You open every f**king faucet in the house. And just let the water flow. Once the water has all run out, the pipes are empty. The air is gone. You see how it works, honey . . . how I work?”
Okay, maybe this was a little harsh on Henry . . . but I’ll bet it made you laugh.
Previously I wrote about how the only emotion men are allowed to show is anger. I called it their 3-in-one tool with a couple exchangeable heads: blame and distance. Primordially hard-wired into them (as a part of that fight or flight instinct I also previously discussed), anger prepares them to fight. Blame and distance are their version of fleeing the issue. This all affects their R—reactions—big time! Whenever they feel vulnerable in any way, regardless of what it is they really feel, they react with anger, followed immediately with blame and shortly thereafter, distance. Hurt, embarrassed, sorry, helpless, frustrated . . . yep. You guess it. ANGER is what comes out in their reaction to it.
To illustrate, here’s another true story regarding my ex then husband. I had a brand new laminate floor installed in the kitchen. You could only mop it with either a special solution provided by the manufacturer—or with plain water. Anything else would ruin the shiny finish. (I bet you know where this is going, don’t you?) One day I came home from the grocery store. Clueless Clive had mopped the floor with Dawn dish soap. Yep. Ruined! His reaction when I started to cry? Anger, profanity, blame and distance. The fight went like this:
“How the f**k was I supposed to know?”
“Because I TOLD YOU! And did you ever see me mop with Dawn? Of course not. Because you don’t notice sh*t! You don’t listen!”
“You should be happy I was trying to help. See if I ever help you out again!”
He didn’t speak to me for hours. The saddest part is, I know he felt bad. But he just couldn’t express it. (Of course, maybe it was just him. After all, I did eventually divorce him.) Moving on . . .
A woman, on the other hand, often swallows her anger. (Along with its side dishes of resentment and disappointment.) Remember, maintaining the community entails preserving harmony! Unfortunately, even when it appears to have been “forgotten,” a woman’s anger (and hurt) over a perceived relationship deficit never really goes away. It lingers. And it builds upon itself. Until she explodes at a provocation that truly has next to nothing to do with the real cause. Of course he’s confused as hell—which results in his one and only go-to: anger. It’s a vicious cycle. World War III breaks out because he mentioned she burned the toast. Again, this is all very over simplified.
Let’s precede now from the psychological to the physiological and discuss T—thought. How men think is vastly different from how women think because of very real biological differences in our brains. In fact, here’s a fun fact: Researchers have discovered nearly 100 major differences between the male and female brain, involving processing, chemistry, structure and activity! Among the differences:
- the male brain is 10% larger (BTW, his skull is almost always thicker than a woman’s—who knew “thick-headed” was true!)
- men use 7x more gray matter; and women use 10x more white matter. (Whatever all that means. Like most women, math and science aren’t my forte. It’s true. So don’t take offense. None is intended.)
- right and left hemispheres are not the same, moreover men are left-brain dominant, while women are more evenly balanced (see “gray matter” above)
- they have a smaller, less deep limbic system, which results in less connectivity between the brain’s word center and memories or feelings (Who knew? There’s actually a bona fide reason they can’t “talk about their feelings!”)
In a nutshell, the brain’s functional differences between the sexes result in functional differences in thought. Evolutionary physiologists trace it all back to that damn evolutionary need thing. Men are less socially adept and more task-oriented. Women are more intuitive and empathetic, better capable of picking up on emotional clues. (They can also better understand a lot of info flooding in at once.) Women are group-oriented, possessing better communication skills and emotional intelligence which allows establishing strong group bonds. Scientists label men’s tendencies as “systemizing,” i.e. they analyze, explore, construct, solve and seek to understand THINGS. Women, on the other hand, have “empathizing” tendencies. They seek to understand PEOPLE.
Men are logic based, women emotional. For example, take a couple of dear, dear friends of mine who live in Oakland, CA. On what planet would a man think his wife would be thrilled (remember they live in Oakland!) with a weekend trip to Monterey or Napa to celebrate their 50th anniversary? Oh, I know! I know! The planet MALE—where logic (it’s close, ergo it’s cheap) rules!
Often the failure to not only recognize—but to appreciate—the differences between the genders leads to frustration, disappointment and tension. All of which can destroy a relationship. Sorry, ladies, there are no easy fixes–you’re fighting 400,000 years of programming. Experts do, however, offer coping advice: Be aware, accept and avoid the temptation to change the other (you won’t be able to). Then compromise. It may well be a nearly impossible task—evolutionarily speaking. But if anything is up to that challenge, it has to be a human emotion that has also survived (and strengthened) over those same 400,000 years. The best part? It’s shared by both sexes. A little somethin’ somethin’ spelled L-O-V-E.