"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Friday, January 30, 2015

“Honey, What’s Wrong? - Why Men Don’t Share Their Feelings With Women

“If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times”, Franco Berner told me over coffee at Starbucks. “What are you thinking? I know something’s wrong. Why don’t you tell me? Every woman I have ever known wants to know what I am thinking, and I am only thinking that they should shut up”.
A bit harsh to be sure and certainly intemperate. However, there was Margaret Harris, the girl from Duke who was so preoccupied with her own febrile feelings that she never once asked Franco about his. She went on and on about her ex-husband, the misunderstandings at work, her parents, and Scottish terrier.  She never shut up, and before long Franco left her on the curb, gums still banging, and clueless about why he hopped the bus.

There was Nancy Biddings, and Iowa farm girl who had been brought up by dogged Methodists who kept her on such a short leash that she didn’t know what was what until she went to community college, found that she had an aptitude for mathematics, transferred – despite her parents objections – to Columbia. She was still in a phase of rebellious sexual expression when Franco met her.  He was was lucky enough to catch her at the apogee of her promiscuous curve and long before she descended down the other side.  Neither Franco nor Nancy Biddings ever talked, they were so busy having sex. They camped in his small Brooklyn apartment for entire weekends in bed, eating take out, sleeping, or watching movie snippets, but never talked unless “Move over” and “I’m finished” count.

After a few months Franco was weary and in need of some intellectual stimulation. For the first time in his life he didn’t see sex as the be-all and end-all of his life.  There was indeed something beyond sensuality, orgasm, and positioning.
After finishing graduate school and finally settling into his marketing career, Franco had a series of long-term relationships; and that was when the questions began. “My feelings again.” Franco had a lot to hide but preferred to nurture spite and hostility rather than ‘get it out’.  There was something to letting snubs and slights fester and bubble over into murderous rage.  Henry Harkins, for example, the prick who wanted his job, deserved every voodoo curse, back alley beating, evisceration and flagrant cuckoldry Franco could muster.  Telling Mary Jane about it would defeat the purpose.
There are few men who have avoided female questioning.  One college classmate somehow got yoked by liberal Feminism early on and felt it would be ‘untoward’ to presume anything about his wife or any woman.  He was so deferential and  bowed and scraped in such abject concern over the plight of women that no woman was interested in what he thought at all.  He told them everything, for it was their right to know and wrong of him to be any less than forthcoming.  He was a dull, bloody bore, and his wife had more lovers than Edith Piaf.  He suspected as much, but felt that a woman’s body was her own and not to be meddled with.

Women question men because it is a challenge to pry some piece of emotional baggage out of the closet. Men have always been brought up not to cry or show weakness.  Information is power in a man’s world, and the closer to the vest you play your cards, the better.  Although men are certainly more ‘sensitive’ than they ever were, they are nothing compared to the drippy faucets they live with.  A man may get choked up about his mother once in a blue moon, but getting tearful over everything from baby pandas to the old woman on 13th Street is simply not part of the male program.
We all assume that everyone else is like us.  Other than different body parts men and women have to be basically the same inside – feelings, emotions, intellect.  So if a man is not sharing his feelings, a woman has to assume that there is a problem, some snare, trace, or trap holding him back. 
Men are far less inquisitive, since for millennia they have ruled the roost. In this confessional and collaborative age men have learned how to act ‘feminine’, project faux sensitivity, and get on with business – a roll in the hay usually. Nothing has changed in the sexual drama except the costumes.
Every psychologist since Freud has tried to poke around our inner rooms with varying degrees of success.  There will always be some small chest of drawers only we can open. “Man is basically unknowable”, said Carl Munger after a lifetime of ministering to distressed Czech patients in the 20s.  Women’s ‘hysteria’ made his job easier, he wrote, for although it was a sign of mental disturbance, it was easier to sift through the melodramatic arias than chipping away a cold stone. Getting men to open up, on the other hand, was like “starting a tractor in the frost”.   He deliberately wrote ‘Man’ and not ‘men’, because although had an easier time with women, they were no picnic.

Franco never fell in love and assumed that no one ever did.  ‘Intimate companionship’ was the best anyone could say for marriage, a psychological wheelchair in old age, frequent sexual release, and light discussions over the morning paper.  Martine Ryder was the closest he could get to his ideal of ‘separate but equal’.  Despite many years of marriage he could not remember a time when she asked him that fated and depressing question, “Honey, what’s wrong”.  They were adults, and if either one of them required consolation or cheering up, they would ask for it. No riddles or Rubik Cubes; and certainly no Da Vinci Code that required insight and spiritual guidance to crack.  People were simple at heart.  Franco wasn’t talking because he was dreaming of Jeannie, pissed at his boss, or plotting a spiteful office revenge.  He was silently worried about a mole, advancing age, godlessness, and the basement which, if it did not get immediate attention would become an impassable fire hazard.

Whatever it was eating him, it would pass; and if he wanted solace or a helping hand, he would ask for it.
Martine, however, had to return to feminine form and simply had to ask him what was wrong when his sullen behavior lasted for more than a day.  She loved him, and therefore put up with his legalisms and ‘interior real estate Do Not Trespass signs’. Her first thought was “Was it something I did?”; but she stuffed that one down in the hamper and asked another, this time out loud. “I know something’s bothering you, and I would like to know what.”

Franco was disappointed.  He thought himself free from that nettling, intrusive, and totally inappropriate inquiry. “Women”, he said to himself. “Wired differently.”  No socio-biologist had ever postulated why ‘feelings’, relationships, and intimacy were so important to women.  Feminists had quickly discarded the hearth theory – women needed to keep men to stay alive between childbirths – and could only suggest that without some emotional affect to leaven men’s brutal, hormone-fueled aggression, the world would not have lasted much past the Garden of Eden.

Whatever it was, a line had been crossed.  Invasion of privacy.  Unwarranted intrusion.  Unlawful search and attempted seizure of the belongings of Inner Room 302.  Nothing would change the tournedos Benedictine or the ratty blinds still on the kitchen window.  They certainly wouldn’t be affected by a confession of angst, exhuming of childhood memories, fears about the future.  “Shut up”, he said to her silently. “Leave me alone.”
I admit that Franco was an extreme case; but like most extremists, he had a point, as illogically farfetched as it might be. The difference between men and women is profound, and the best marriages are the one in which husband and wife stay clear of each other, he said.  “Roll the ball down separate alleys, and go about your own business.

“We may not be born alone, but we sure as hell die alone”, Franco confided to me, “and I am simply getting ready.”
Exaggeration again with a twist of the melodramatic, but again I understood his point. Communal, conjugal life is artifice, a costume drama.
“I have nothing against women”, Franco told me. “Their synapses fire according to their circuitry.  They are congenitally programmed to make a fuss. And I suppose we are hardwired to keep quiet.
“The irony of all this is that when men do finally open up, women don’t like what we have to say.  So it’s better for both of us to keep our traps shut.”

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