Half and Half: Learning to Listen
Silence Isn't Golden
Women often mistake a man’s silence as disrespect or dismissal. “So it’s very clear she’s not going to give back the twenty dollars, and she’s always such a bitch!” Silence. “How come you never listen to me?” Slam.
Men heighten the tension in already tense discussions by involving their ego and feeling like they need to assert themselves, to win the fight, to make a point; women amp up the voltage in already charged discussions when they misread how their partner is processing the situation and the information she is presenting.
Most women process the world verbally; most men process the world non-linguistically, either with grunts, airplane noises, teasing, or rough play. Many women construct sentences and whole essays in an effort to understand their feelings and repair connections that seem strained, much like directors keeping the whole orchestra on point; most men strategize and problem solve, gathering information and reducing the various inputs to data used to produce a game-plan leading to a solution. Often, women want to “discuss” an issue without having the issue solved, but they do want to be acknowledged and affirmed; men rarely discuss without an end-game of deciding who will win on Sunday, who gets to play in the next pick-up game, or what he should bring home for the grill.
When the female half of the bonded pair is talking, the male half is listening, but he is listening in a different way than she is talking: he is reducing the subtleties and unspoken complexities to an algorithm for which he can either find a solution (why not ask her for the twenty bucks back over email?) or choose to be patient, stay silent, and keep gathering bullet points for the argument he will present when the female half has stopped talking. It’s the silence that gets him in trouble.
What she wants to hear, even before the male half has come to some deliciously precise solution to her problem (she doesn’t feel like she has a problem; she just wants to share and feel heard), is “That must be a tough situation. She should repay the twenty.”
In a Western, patriarchal, still predominately male-driven world, many women do not feel as if they have a voice, and they look to their partners for affirmation that what they say and think has meaning —at least at home—and that their thoughts, feelings, conjectures, opinions, gripes, confusions, appreciations, and other takes on the world are valuable. Movies, television sitcoms, music, commercials, magazines, novels—a great flood of information from when they are presented with Barbies to when they are told to become nurses instead of doctors or jet fighter pilots—informs women they should take subservient, quiet roles: sorry, honey, but what you have to say is just not that important.
At home (or over coffee or on a drive or hiking), women want to be heard and reminded that they are important thinkers, too.
So, my good fellows, the next time you feel compelled to stay out of the conversation your partner seems to be having with herself, take a moment and don’t solve what feels to you like her problem; instead, confirm that what she’s chosen to discuss is valuable and offer to explore the situation. When she asks you for your opinion or solution, ask her a couple more questions. At some point, you will have opportunity to chase the little white ball around the golf course and tell her how you would strategize the difficult par four; but for now, just listen.