Shortly after my divorce in 2001, I started dating a man who did not speak English. My girlfriends had insisted that I go out dancing with them and took me to the Latin dance clubs. In the exciting noisy club I didn’t realize that we were not speaking the same language. He smiled and nodded politely at all my chatter and his friends had taught him all the English he was likely to need. After a few dances he told me in perfect English, “You are beautiful.” That guaranteed another dance together where he whispered to me the only other English sentence he knew, “Can I have your phone number?”
Thus began what was to be a fun year long relationship. It wasn’t till our first real date that I realized we didn’t share a common language but by then we were both smitten. The interesting thing about that relationship was that it was no more difficult than any male-female relationship. In many ways it was easier. I realized then that men and women speak different languages anyway. The difference for us was that we knew that going in, whereas most couples assume they are speaking the same language when, in fact, they are not.
Different brains, different languages
I am a firm believer that most of the conflicts between people, whether two people in a romantic relationship, or even two conflicting countries, are based on misunderstandings. So you can see how the conflicts would increase between two people speaking different languages who think they are speaking the same language. (Painfully funny comedy of errors ensues.) Sadly, this is exactly what happens in most male-female relationships.
So let me do my part to help you out with a short lesson in the dynamics of the “Other Language” or more accurately, the language of your “Other”. Much has been said about the differences in male and female communication but most has been said by comedians in criticism of the opposite sex. The jokes are not really too far wrong, but if we look at the differences with an eye to understanding we can find useful solutions to interpersonal conflict.
Peace, Love & Understanding
Let me start with a few magic words for the menfolk that will work wonders to calm and soothe women. Once, a few months into the relationship with my charming Latin man, we were driving home from a date. He was driving and I was pouring out my heart about something very painful. Between long rambling English sentences I began weeping. I knew my friend couldn’t understand what I was saying but I was hurting and just needed to be heard. I babbled and sobbed all the way home. Then when he pulled in and parked something magical happened. He leaned over, put an arm around my shoulder, looked me in the eye and said, “I understand.” It was as if the sun broke through the clouds after a long dark winter. It didn’t matter in the least that he could not have understood my words. He had said the thing I most needed to hear. He understood my feelings.
So, guys, if you want to blow your gal’s mind every time, bottle those two little words and apply them liberally. The thing most people don’t get is that women need to put their thoughts into words just to figure out what they are thinking and feeling. So most of the time she needs to talk about something, talking IS the solution. You don’t need to offer solutions or ideas. Your understanding is enough. You can be the hero if you just listen, nod, and then look her in the eye and say that you understand.
Yeah, Baby, Yeah!
Along those same lines is a magical solution to a woman asking for your opinion. Maybe she’s asked you what dessert she should choose, maybe she’s wondering what you would do about the gossip at work, or maybe its the dreaded question about whether her outfit makes her butt look big. In each case, what you need to realize is that she is NOT asking your advice, she is only weighing your OPINION. Whenever a woman has a choice to make she will often seek out a variety of opinions to help her figure out what SHE really wants. When she hears the opinion that matches her own it will feel right to her. It doesn’t matter who gave the opinion, only that it clarifies her own true desires. This process may cause frustration in those close to her who wrongly suppose she is asking, and then ignoring your advice.
She is not disrespecting you and your advice because she never saw it as advice in the first place. She saw it only as one of many possible viewpoints. She was looking to clarify her own opinion so if yours did not match hers she will keep asking around till she finds one that does. The good news here is that you don’t have to take it so seriously. Just rattle off whatever comes to mind.
The only exception to that magic rule is, of course, your response to “Does this make my butt look big?” or “Does this make me look fat?” The winning answer to a question like this depends on WHERE the question is asked. If you are still at home and there’s time to change clothes the answer should be honest but, softened. Like, “I think the red one looks better on you.” You see that? That answer avoids the pointed truth but also helps your lady look and feel her best. And really, that’s what the question is about, “Can I relax and feel confident about my looks?” is what she really means. So, if you are already out at the party or social event the answer should NOT make her want to go home and change clothes no matter what the truth is.
If you’re already in the public eye the answer sounds like this, “Oh, honey, you look fabulous!” Perhaps followed up with a kiss on the neck. (So as not to smudge the makeup) Some men make the mistake of saying things like, “I like the red one best.” or “You look fine to me.” In Manspeak this sounds like the same answer. In Womanspeak it is quite different. The reason lies in the fact that woman are under tremendous social pressure from other WOMEN to look good.
She is not trying to impress other men and she’s not really trying to impress you. Let’s face it, to be asked such a question she will already know you are attracted to her and you have probably already seen her morning face and maybe even smelled her morning breath. Your woman is trying to avoid the sometimes harsh criticism of other women. Like movie stars, the more attractive the woman the more carefully she will be scrutinized. She is asking for your help to avoid being the brunt of nasty gossip. She wants your objective opinion. But all she REALLY needs to hear is that you’ve got her back, you are on her team. Personally, my favorite response to “Does this make my butt look big?” is “Oh, yeah, baby, YEAH!” with a Austin Powers accent. That says it all.
Would you, could you?
Now a few magic words for the ladies. I, of course, am a woman but I have worked very hard to understand men. So one short sweet magical word for the women is “Would”. When asking a favor of a man always ask, “Will you…” or “Would you…” rather than “Can you..” or “Could you…” The reason for this difference is that men feel that when you ask “Can” or “Could” you are literally doubting their ability to help. They feel challenged to prove to you that, of course, they can do such an easy task. Unfortunately, they also feel manipulated and resentful that you would question their abilities. (Guys, just for the record, in Womanspeak “Can” and “Could” means you may decline without being mean. You can answer, “Oh, I’d love to help but I can’t because of…constraint A, or B” But a person who says “No” to a “Will” or “Would” request is just not nice! So to us a “Will/would” request is more manipulative. )
Men don’t like to be manipulated. Except when they do. When I was reading relationship books to improve my chances for a good relationship I read many times that men do not respond well to hints and games. So I changed my language with men to be more clear and direct. But much of my frank language was met with extreme resistance from the guys. Men, it seemed, actually preferred the subtle manipulation girls are trained into to the direct requests they like from other men. The truth is actually somewhere in between. Men don’t like to feel ordered around by their womenfolk, but they don’t like to feel like puppets on a string either. Herein lies the woman’s dilemma.
Work it, work it real good!
Gals, your man can be a strong leader but he’s going to need a good administrative assistant, like all leaders do. On the home front, this job falls to YOU. (I didn’t make the rules, I’ve just studied them.) The main difference in men’s and women’s thinking comes down to the fact that women have a multi-track mind and men have a focused, single track mind. Women can be given a list of tasks and will go to work on all of them simultaneously. Men will focus on one till it is complete. Then he will need to be reminded of the next task. You, my Lady, must remind him.
Please do not become resentful or angry when he needs repeated reminders. Just accept that this is the way he is wired and make the most of his strengths. He will not keep lists of household chores that need doing. He will not keep the social calendar. You must do that for him and you must patiently, and persistently remind him. You must wake up each morning and say, “Honey, will you fix the dripping faucet, please?” And then post a friendly note on the faucet repeating the request. And then give him time and space to do it in his own particular way. Then thank him and admire his work.
When your birthday or anniversary or dinner with the Smiths is approaching you should do the same. If you’d like a gift or a special night out, cut out a picture of a few things you want and post it with a note saying, “Any one of these would make the perfect birthday gift. My size is 8.” Consider making reservations yourself and thanking him for the romantic date. If you’re beginning to resent being a secretary, consider how many men interpret their office secretary’s kind & respectful organization skills as love or friendship. Its not just that she’s attractive, its that she organizes and reminds him without resentment. You may then see the wisdom in taking on this role before someone else does. You may also enjoy being the organizing assistant when you realize you can and should exercise this role in the bedroom as well. Friendly, kind, persistent reminders then admiration and thanks.
These few pointers will do wonders for your relationships with the opposite sex. If you are facing other problems that I didn’t mention just consider the differences in the wiring of men’s and women’s minds to work out the solution. Men, as I mentioned, are gifted with a sharply focused but single track mind that is mostly devoid of emotional interference. Women, as one comedian put it, have minds like a big ball of electrical wires soaking in a conductive fluid called “emotions”. Everything gets mixed and emotionally saturated.
Women can handle complex emotional situations without stress but may need help sorting out her own thoughts and feelings from the thoughts and feelings of others. Men can focus on difficult tasks without being distracted by most emotional issues but will need assistance to keep track of more than one task and will shut down under intense emotions (such as when his woman is angry with him for forgetting something or “ignoring” her emotional needs. Actually, he’s not ignoring. He is genuinely unaware.) Together we can make a great team. Only we need to remember that we each have different strengths and short comings. And it helps to remember that we really ARE speaking different languages.