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FiXXing it: conversations and chromosomes

January 19th, 2004 · No Comments

Yesterday I read Jay at makeoutcity’s quote of Dean Esmay’s post on Women’s Strength .

Indeed, I have one recommendation for every male on the planet, one that I think each and every male needs to learn: When a woman is upset about something, and she is telling you why she is upset, do not make any suggestions about what she could do to fix her situation.

I mean it. Don’t do it. If she’s describing to you why she’s upset, about almost anything, never, never, never, never, never, never, NEVER give so much as the hint of a suggestion as to what she could do about it. Just listen, and nod, and tell her how that you can relate to how and why she’s upset.

I hadn’t had a chance to write my own response when I saw Lisa’s . (Interesting that yesterday Fran at Northwest Notes also wrote about a simliar topic in It’s a guy thing . )

Dean mentions that our generation, raised in the 70s and 80s, was taught to believe men and women were the same. Between Free to Be You and Me, and the Boy George androgyny, gender didn’t seem to matter. Give the boys dolls, the girls dump trucks and everyone the same clothes.

For me, growing up in a family split by divorce, I was raised to believe that women had to be the same as men. Without a dad around, we females (my mom and I) had to do many of a father and husband’s functions for our family of five. And while men remained mysterious to me, they also seemed disposable, dispensable in a sense. I wasn’t sure what the differences were, if they were more than matters of dress and anatomy or not.

Being married has been quite an adventure for me. Ted and I were the best of friends before we took our vows, and our relationship has only deepened in the past twelve years. But time has taken us through some intense moments that have tested our ability to communicate and illuminated the gaps between us.

I think it’s difficult to make generalizations about gender. Or even make blanket statements about particular people. We all change day to day, and everyone is different.

But I will say that being married has taught me much more about the differences between men and women. I don’t know if some of these differences though are personality and psychology rather than XX versus XY. But I’ve learned that Ted and I don’t think the same way, we don’t react the same way and we don’t often see the same.

That’s why I married him though. I wouldn’t want to marry a mirror image of myself, someone who only sees what I see. I like it that Ted is different. And I even like it that he tries to help fix things.

Lisa emphasizes that women often need someone to listen, someone who will not offer solutions, but let her release all the emotions and enter into her feelings until she has calmed down. In her books on how gender influences how people talk, Deborah Tannen notes that “Men talk to report, women talk for rapport.”

Dean thinks that women don’t always know all the reasons why they are being emotional. Furthermore, I tend to think that women are less “in touch” with their feelings than men are. They tend to feel things more deeply, but are less conscious of the fact that they do. In fact, I find that they tend to believe that whatever emotions they are feeling at the moment are entirely rational and sensible, even when they’re obviously not being rational.

I think both of these are true of me in my relationship with Ted. Many times I just want to spill out what’s bubbling up inside me. But I also am open to hearing and receiving solutions if he has one.

For example sometimes I get upset because I can’t fix something. I like to try to do things on my own but I’m not always successful. This is particularly true with the computer, where I lack expertise and experience. At this stage of life where I am, I get frustrated easily because I don’t have a lot of time and energy to try to figure out what’s wrong. Although I’d like to know how to do things, the truth is that I often don’t know how, or that I don’t know how to do it as well as Ted does. Sometimes I need help. Sometimes I want my husband to fix it.

One Sunday morning Ted got up and I was already quite frustrated about some things I was trying to do with some software. Ted listened to me, sure, and then he went and fixed it for me. I was grateful for his help. While I could have kept trying to hack away in my own awkward way, I see my own limitations with what I can do, and I’m glad he can help.

But sometimes I just want someone to listen to me.

Like last night. I was quite upset about something but I wasn’t even sure what it was that was making me upset. So I was babbling on and on in my stream of emotion and tears. I didn’t know what to do about my dilemma. Or about the feelings I had, a big spaghetti mess of frustrations, tangled in my mind, causing me to cry.

Ted listened to me. I was overcome with all kinds of feelings and I could tell from the look on his face that he was feeling overwhelmed too. I felt bad about that. But he still listened and let me continue. He looked at me and didn’t say much.

As we talked, he did offer a few suggestions. Things I could try to do. That was okay with me. I want to know if he sees something different from me. I want another perspective on my problems. And in his suggestions, his proposed solution, he confirmed what I wanted to hear. That it was okay to let go of this particular problem. His attempts to fix it gave me peace.

I know that when Ted is trying to fix something, he’s showing his care for me. And if I don’t want him to fix it, I can say so, and he’ll stop. That’s how much he cares for me.

I know too that I sometimes try to fix stuff for him rather than listening. I can be just as guilty in the Fix-It department. Especially when I’m tired or when I feel I don’t have enough left in me to go deep into someone else. I’ve done that with others too, not just my husband.

It’s not as if I as the woman need a listener more than he does. He has his days when he needs an ear or two to hear him talk it out too. That’s part of why we got married. To be the one at the end of the day to deal with the dump, go through each other’s garbage, so to speak.

Fran writes If you ask a guy how something feels emotionally, he typically says, even with the best of intentions, “I don’t know. I hadn’t thought about it.”
I think that’s true for us too. I can go on and on with my words while Ted is often quieter. Sometimes I need to help Ted with emotions, asking him questions about his and pouring out my own, and sometimes he needs to help me be open to solutions. Other times he has more insight to cut through areas where I feel cloudy.

I realized too that I don’t expect Ted to understand me completely, just as I don’t understand him completely. Some of this has to do even with our daily lives: he doesn’t know what it’s like to be with the kids all day long every day, and I don’t know what it’s like to create a compiler or get a headache from hacking. But part of it is gender too. He’ll never give birth or carry a baby in his belly, but then again I’ll never have a man’s body or his hormones either.

Even other women friends, good friends, never understand me all the time, and I don’t understand them every day either. So I think in part how well a marriage or any relationship functions depends on expectations, irregardless of gender. I don’t expect any person to understand me perfectly.

Last night, Ted and I were each sharing our woes of the week. We were both tired and so that made it more difficult for each of us to reach into each other’s world. He was telling me about problems he had and I had to try hard to use what mental energy I had to comprehend. And I was trying to unwind lots of the week’s worth of tangled feelings that had wrapped themselves around my mind, giving me a headache and a funky mood. We each needed each other. We each needed someone who could listen and care.

But I was feeling frustrated about feeling frustrated, feeling I was only working my way into a pit, going nowhere. Ted and I were trying to talk about it all but we weren’t getting to a better place. Exhausted and confused, I was pouring out my feelings but feeling that they were only becoming wild water rapids running faster.

At one point, Ted looked over at me and said, “I think I understand.”

And with those words, the crazy currents inside me stopped.
He was trying to listen. He was trying to understand. And some nights, at some moments in marriage, that’s as good as it gets: “I think I understand.”

We give each other grace for the rest, reaching across the gap between us with faith, forgiveness and hope.

Tags: marriage