What I Wish I Once Knew About Women
Men Can Grow Up
I don't know how it happened, but I grew up. I'm not perfect, but more and more my imperfect moments are accompanied by an understanding of my own mistakes. I've never been a stereotypical "guy" in some ways: I like reading and writing fiction, I'm not too much of a drinker, I don't drive particularly fast on residential roads. I've never even been to a Hooters restaurant, and I don't really care.
Sometimes, though, I wonder if I'm more typical than I think. I do share qualities with most other men I know: I love sports, I love steak, I love my country. I get frustrated with people who constantly make excuses for themselves, and I can sit for strangely long periods of time without saying a word. I also once had that other shared trait with virtually every other man on the planet; I once couldn't understand women. At all, really. Oh, I understood a man's image of a woman, but that's all wrong. It took a long time to figure out that everything I had figured out about women was nonsense. That was me growing up.
Women Don't Need Fixing
Most men who grow up discover that they've been mistakenly trying to fix everything. I still have a hard time not seeing the world in terms of what needs fixing: the baseboard in the dining room, the cracked cellar window, the conversation with my wife. The whole world is a big ball of broken stuff to many men. Our roles often revolve around mending our homes and our families, and it's sometimes hard to turn that off. Just now, for instance, I remembered that I forgot to get my truck washed on the way home. Yeah, it's nagging at me. That's a typically male thought.
Most women, on the other hand, don't speak simply to get to a solution. There are always exceptions to every rule, I know, but based on my experience, women often talk just to share and connect. When my wife would call to tell me she was lost and driving around a random neighborhood five towns over, I used to respond with "did you bring the GPS?" or "well, why didn't you give yourself more time?" I was an idiot. What my wife wanted to hear was "I'm sorry...that must be really frustrating," followed by "is there anything I can do to help?" The majority of the time, my wife wanted to hear that regardless of where she was, I was emotionally right beside her.
That's such a tough lesson for men. Most men, myself included, don't think about emotions all that much. We might have emotions, but we don't think about them much. They come and go, and when they leave they leave. I used to think that being there for my wife involved fixing her problems, but my version of "fixing" wasn't hers. I have honestly never called someone because I needed to feel like he/she were emotionally beside me, so it took a long time to understand that such a solution could even exist.
Listening For Real
Another by-product of growing up is that a man loses his earplugs. Men too often fail miserably in the listening department. A lot of men who know that they don't listen well still don't listen. This applies to listening to other men as well as women, but honestly, because of the difference in styles of communication, many men have a vastly harder time listening to women talk. This doesn't apply to a brand new relationship, of course; a new girlfriend requires an investment that most men understand. After a few months, though, too many men slip away into a world with no sound. She'll discuss her day while you're watching Monday Night Football, and you'll nod and "uh-huh" and hope for the best. Sometimes she'll notice, but she probably doesn't understand just how much you weren't listening. You really haven't heard a thing.
Listening to a woman is the equivalent of foreplay. If men were taught this early on, they'd hang on every word. Listening, without interruption, might be the single kindest thing a man can do for a woman, and yet, so few do it. I figured out that there's no fighting some elements of my nature; if my wife wants to talk, I pause what I'm watching. I put down my book, I turn off the radio. If my wife wants to talk, I can't also work on my laptop. There's no room for distractions if my wife needs me, so I don't put myself in that position anymore. The more I've listened, the easier it's gotten. As simple as that sounds, making the conscious choice of stopping an unimportant activity to listen to the woman he loves takes some maturity on a man's part.
All Things Are Equal
Young men in particular are often convinced of their own faultlessness. They believe that nothing they care about should ever deserve disdain; they feel determined to value their own judgments above all others. Too often, they feel driven to diminish any idea that might challenge their own, and this often comes out as condescension. This trait can be found in both genders of all ages, of course, but I think overall, young men are the worst offenders. Because of this, many men enter into relationships with a skewed notion of what's valuable. I used to think that a new jig-saw would always be more valuable than an evening out, for example. I was most definitely wrong.
Women often value material things that provide shared time or memories between people. This is why women want big weddings much more often than men; this is why my wife pressed us to go to Disney World with the kids when I thought we should fix the roof. While I still think we probably should have fixed the roof (it's hard to shake that!), I have to admit that if we lived by my instincts, we'd have a pretty empty life. A new roof doesn't enthrall my children, just as a new jig-saw does nothing to reinvigorate romance with my wife. If I always went with my gut reaction, so much of the joy in my life would be replaced with cold functionality.
Realizing I was often wrong about the importance of things was a huge step. Men who grow up recognize that a woman's priorities, while sometimes different, are valuable. My wife has a natural ability to know what to feel in any given situation, but when I was younger I couldn't recognize the importance of this. I was too busy fixing things to understand why I was fixing them. I thought feelings were either extra or unnecessary, and even though I'd reassure her that I understood why she felt the way she did, I didn't. I couldn't. Back then, I'm not sure I had the capacity to get how right she had been all along. Genuine connections between human beings supercede anything else. I don't know why so many men fail to grasp this.
Never Too Late
I wish I had learned these things about women years earlier than I did. Not in a distant, academic sense, which is how so many men learn, but rather I wish I had absorbed them. I wish I had been open enough to recognize my own limitations, and to realize that there's never one version of right. I think of all those years when I didn't get it, and I wish I could take them back. Ah, well. I guess what I really wish is that I had known all these things about myself. I'll never be just like my wife, but that's a good thing, too; our differences keep us interested. I suppose if we were too much alike, we'd get sick of each other fast.
All right, then, I'm tired of listening to myself, so I've got to go. My brain's shifted gears. The game's on ESPN, and that truck's not going to wash itself.
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