When talking with women

No, I haven’t forgotten. And yes, I offered the opportunity of writing this post to my husband, who laughed out loud.

“No, really,” I said, “would you?”

“I know better than that!” he said.

So I waited.

Two days later I asked him again. He looked startled and said “Goodness, when?” Which being interpreted is, “I would be so delighted to do this thing for you, my dear, truly I would. But as you know, I am much occupied in the winning of bread and the performing of other manly offices. You go right ahead: I believe in you.”

At least, I’m sure it went something like that…

*****

coffee

When talking with women

1. Say a lot

If the rule for women is 49%, the rule for men must be 210%. Which means, you say what you’re thinking—like open your mouth and let it all out—and then look deeply into her eyes and lower your voice and say it all again in slightly different words, gently. Adding a little extra that you thought of during the second go.

You see, when you don’t say what you’re thinking she thinks about what you’re thinking, and 99% of the time she ramps it too high, too dark, too horrible. What you say is less viral than what you don’t say. But please. For your own sake as well as hers, say it

2. Carefully.

I don’t mean to be rude, and I’m making a point of saying that you men are good at many things—if the world depended on me to pound nails and build websites and grow beards and stuff we’d all be dead by now—but really? the subtle cue thing is a little lost on you.

Kronk described it well: “the Cold Shoulder, the Frenzied Eyebrow, the Grimace of Doom, the Sneer of Despair, the Crippling Wince of Guilt, the Scowl of Impending Wrath, and worst of all, the Nostril Flare of Total Rejection.”

Little things like that. It’s important to stay tuned, men, or honestly? You’ll never know what hit you. Even though she gave you fair warning.

3. Ask questions.

I am probably betraying my half of the species by admitting it, but women love questions. Not “Where’d you get this cut of meat and how much did you pay for it and did you remember to fill the car with gas?” but “How was your day? Are things going better with that friendship you talked about last week? What do you think about…?”

When the words “Talk to me, hon. What are you feeling?” come out of your mouth, you achieve instant hero status. Her whole world lights up.

And in the end, if this is all too tall an order and too hot a minefield, do this little thing:

4. Listen well.

Look into her eyes, lay down the paper or the laptop or the smartphone at least for a time, and make sympathetic noises. Grunts are good. Chuckles. Sighs. {Just no farts or hiccups, por favor.}

This will please her. She will go away thinking what a great conversationalist you are.

*****

So then… after my husband said No, he produced this brilliance:

  • Listen much. Talk little.*
  • Your wife can’t read your mind. Surprise, surprise.
  • “I’m sorry” is not an admission of guilt. Unless you are. Then it is.
  • You both lose arguments unless you’re on the same team.
  • Listen when she talks. Then listen when you talk.
  • If you’re in deep doodoo, stop digging.

* No, this is not the same viewpoint as the one his wife expressed above. I’m leaving it in, with a disclaimer—unlike his last point, which I struck from the record entirely: something about “if you have something difficult to say and you don’t know how to say it—don’t.” Utter poppycock. Well, well. You see we are still under construction.

In short, good luck to you boys: you will need it. May your race increase.

*****

I am not sure if any of this is true. Persons of either gender should feel free to amend and correct. I should, however, like to state for the sake of anyone who is in doubt that I am madly in love with my husband.

And as always… But Of Course There Are Obvious Exceptions. You may be one: in which case you may x this window and say “That woman does not have a clue what she’s talking about.” You would be quite right. Although I would prefer that you’d say it to my face. Twice over. Gently.

The fifth suggestion

I forgot one crucial piece I was going to mention about communicating with men.

5. Round up.

Not like a cowboy, like a mathematician. He means well, it just sounds different in manspeak. Round it up to the closest equivalent.

 Hm. = I’m listening, keep talking.
 Aw. = You poor dear girl, I can only imagine how awful that must have been!
 Wow. = You’re a crazy gorgeous lady and I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with you. You stun me.
 Um. = I feel uncertain of what to say at the moment, but rest assured I care, and will be thinking over my answer. {For the next ten years.}
 Hiccup. = Enough said. Go make me a sandwich.

 

When talking with men

Let me be clear on this: when I am most mocking and piquant about my husband, it’s a sign we’re having fun. When I start writing serious blog posts entitled Thirty Days of Honor, you can bet we’re not doing so well. Ultimate low point of our marriage, right there. Take my word for it; you won’t get any details. Now–where was I? Ah yes. Mocking.

*****

We’ve all been in this conversation, haven’t we?

whistling

The day you bring him a concern and he sits there and looks at you. The day you realize that the thing you asked him for a year ago has been sitting in the basement all this time. The day you ask him a question and he walks out of the room. The day you complain of shooting pains in your wrist and he says calmly, “It’s probably repetitive stress injury” and goes on typing.

(You think I’m making this up? My imagination’s not that good… true stuff, ya’ll.)

It’s a great story. It’s a pressing issue. It’s an urgent question, for Pete’s sake. And yet he is unmoved.

Are all men like this?

Sometimes I say to him, “Talk to me!” This occurs when I have been immersed in juvenile conversations all day and am desperate for words longer than one syllable; or when I have been talking too long and I know I won’t shut up unless someone else starts vocalizing; or when he is making enigmatic faces and it’s stressing me out.

whistling

Early in marriage, my husband taught me a few rules of basic marital English.

  1. Be as direct as possible already! Don’t make me guess where you’re going.
  2. Use words that start with w, not c. “Would you/ Will you?” not “Could you/ Can you?” that seem to challenge my ability.
  3. Don’t give me a task list when I’m rushed with other things.
  4. Don’t pepper me with questions!

Let me be clear on this: I was raised by a marriage counselor. When I hound this boy, I do it with style.

But sometimes, just to show off, I humor him. He comes home from the fire call or the pastoral meeting or the boy expedition and I think of the fifty-nine things I want to ask him. I think of them all, individually, and then carefully I compact them into one well-worded, all-encompassing, leading, invitational question. “How was it, honey?”

“Good,” he says.*

And exits.

{Shari rushes out of doors to slay something inanimate before she starts hurling china at living organisms.}

* {And perhaps this is unfair. If he’s had a Coke or two to loosen his tongue he may say “Really good.”}

yelling

Here are my (brief) suggestions for communicating (briefly) with men. Some of them may be my father’s, who has forgotten more on this topic than anyone else ever knew.

1. Say less.

A wise friend of mine advises speaking 49% of what you really want to say.

2. Wait.

Men’s ears are like gardens: you put in the seed and then you wait for a while. A long while. He may have every intention of coming around, but he won’t be rushed. The idea has to take root.

3. Say it one more time.

Occasionally, he actually forgets. If so, he will have only hazy memories of your initial conversation, and will not realize you are repeating yourself. Just don’t do it a third time. (He’ll think it’s the second.) That’s so beyond the pale, way out into the nagging camp.

4. Let it go his way.

I’m not advocating being a doormat. Believe me. In the Wifely Olympics I won the prize for Least Like a Doormat so many years running they won’t even let me participate anymore. But—

It’s a good day to remember that eleven years ago, or however many it was, you made a promise that it was going to be all about this man until the day you die. And he’s not the only one with faults.

And some days, magically, you’ll get it just right.

listening

*****

All photos in this post were captured, not staged–and taken by my talented friend Shaunda Stoltzfus. Featuring her son and my daughter.

Coming up sometime, probably: “When Talking with Women.”

Portraits and single ladies

Dear Single Ladies,

To be fair, I must needs direct a few words your way as well. And truly, I have somewhat to say unto thee.

[And they said unto her, Say on.]

There is an enemy to romance lurking in the heart of every woman, single or married, as far as I can tell: the Ideal Man. I just want to say this about him: he doesn’t exist. Now don’t even think about getting all prickly on me and saying you’ve found one; hang on a few years and you’ll know what I mean.

So if you’re looking for tall, dark, and handsome, keep in mind that he will probably be tall and dark but not at all handsome—or dark and handsome though not particularly tall—or tall and handsome and… blonde. And if by great good fortune you find someone who is all three, he is sure to have a caveat somewhere, such as an especially unpleasant family, for example, or a collection of ancient, mushroom-scented footwear he refuses to part with. The earlier you can start laying down the Ideal to take hold of the Real (and it starts with your father, your brother, your friends), the better off you will be. He’s not going to come in a frame.

Back in our grandma’s day, a woman knew she was blessed just to get a good steady man who could hold down a job and support the family.

Nowadays that’s only scratching the surface. Nowadays we want it all: a man who stands boldly for truth and leads the pack in righteousness and expresses himself with passion but also a man who comforts the fallen, bathes the wounds of the outcasts, and wipes his boots before he comes indoors. He should sing well. And dress well. And use good table manners. And make pretty much money but not care too much about it. He should be a man’s man with a deep voice and an easy laugh. He should be good with kids. And animals. And difficult people. And if he plays a mean game of baseball and has arms like a sailor’s we’re not going to complain about it…

Girls, we don’t make it easy for him either. He says “Will you please?” and we say “Hmm. Twelve out of twenty criteria? Ummm, no thanks.”

(By now you may be wondering if I have a secret plot to marry off the whole world. You’re getting close. I have found no better institution than marriage for ending aloneness and enforcing selflessness.)

Did you know that many men show their best colors in close relationship? Don’t judge him from a distance, by “what you know of him so far” when you’ve only met up with him in herds and crowds. Give the guy a chance to do his wooing! You will soon know if it’s not working—there are people who simply do not gel—but you may be very, very surprised by the man you discover.

A man in love is a crazily compelling thing. And a man who stays in love and finds persistent, foolish, wild ways to show it—triply so.

He doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful. Thanks for giving him a chance.

Love,

Shari

Scenery and single men

Dear Single Men,

It’s been a while since I’ve directed any comments your way, so lest you get too comfortable I thought I’d jot a note to light a fire under your collective rumps.

I may have reminded you before that most single women are not single by choice. (Is this ringing a bell? Okay, good.) You wisely pointed out that this is also true of most single men. Well said. Having gotten this far, I would like to add another piece to our logic: it’s time for you to stop ignoring the women over thirty.

I don’t plan to crack open the whole “Is it God’s will for me to be single?” bit, partly because I can’t decide for you and you certainly can’t decide for her; but mostly because the question itself goes against my understanding of God’s will as we know it. However I am certain of this fact: there are quite a number of magnificent adult women out there who would be better off with good men in their lives.

It’s startling to think about, really, because the women who do singlehood best make it look so effortless. They are engaged in fulfilling work, they are surrounded by relationships, they are maturing graciously, and they laugh often and delightfully. God be praised. But don’t be deceived. There may be a Christian woman or two in the world for whom singlehood is effortless, but I have not met her yet. Behind every gracious action and every appearance at yet another event alone lies a large dose of will power and heartache.

She has become a stronger person because of her life alone; I don’t deny it. And as a result, she is the kind of gem you will come across only once in a lifetime. She is serene. She is faithful. She is well-versed, well-traveled, well-rounded. She is truly beautiful.

And you almost don’t notice her.

She fits easily into the scenery of your local church, or mission, or school. You hang with the slim and ditzy twenty-year-old chicks and to you, she is just an Aunt Jane—the pleasant, wise, and completely safe person you so deeply admire. Platonically, of course.

Would you stop divorcing esteem from romance, and get Aunt Jane out of your head? You are not making this easy. She is a woman, and anything but immune to manly attention. She notices the way your eyes twinkle, the things you laugh at with her, the way you talk to a child. She knows that to you she is just a part of the scenery, but she dreams of a knight who notices.

Some of you have asked girl after girl, only to be met by a string of refusals, and I am sorry.

Ask a woman next time.

She may turn you down as well—though she longs for love she is not fool enough to accept anything with a beard—but her sympathies will be on your side and she’ll sure as shooting think about it. She will think about how good you are with children and what books you like and how you use your money. If you dream of Miss Gorgeous, she admittedly harbors hopes for Mr. Studly, but your lack of studliness will never be the deal-breaker. She knows enough of human nature to look deeper.

(And the minute she starts falling for you she’ll think you the studliest thing she ever saw. So it’s all good. Did I mention she’s a woman?)

I want to say this, with no disrespect to the hot young things: not one of them can hold a candle to her. She has a femininity that’s been tempered by time, mellowed, sweetened, tested by fire. She will comfort you as no one can comfort—follow your lead, admire your strength, and honor your manhood; time has taught her their value.

She is priceless. Thanks for noticing.

Love,

Shari