"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

The difference between men and women is no more pronounced than in the theatre of conversation.  Men guard their feelings jealously regardless of how insignificant or petty; and women feel the need to know them.  While men are just stewing, sorting, and aligning the nettling or disturbing events of the day - bad bosses, slights by colleagues - women assume that they are somehow involved.  It must be something they did - a misdirected or unintentional comment, dissatisfaction with the house, lovemaking, or the children.  Impatience, boredom, or an affair with another woman.

Women take marriage vows quite differently from men.  For them it is far more than a convention which legitimizes children and assures their heritage, rearranges tax benefits and liabilities, fixes social place and  community recognition.  It is a personal contract which has as many items and codicils as the most complex corporate one.  Fidelity is first and foremost.  This remnant of the Paleolithic past - a need for male protection - has not disappeared despite dramatic gains in women's social and economic mobility.  It has always made more sense for women to keep one man than many; and if a woman found a strong, able, and attentive mate, she fought hard to keep him.

The premium on fidelity may not be as high today as it was 10,000 years ago, but it has very definite residual value.  We are far from the gender-flexible, sexually open, and permissive society that many find politically imperative.

Women's personal marriage contract includes much more than faithfulness.  Husbands must treat them well - a concern borne of the millennia of abusive male dominance enabled by law, tradition, church, and state.  Despite the advances of feminism and increasing female confidence, women still feel the need for special protection.  They may project a political image of the defiance, strength, and unstoppable will; but they still look for protection.  Safe spaces on campus are necessary because men are still predatory.  University courts must a priori favor women's grievances. Affirmative action is still needed in many professions.

Husbands must respect their wives, and no indicator of compliance is more telling than listening. Women are profoundly social, far more than men, and rely on interpersonal relationships as means of sorting out complexity.  Men, from women's point of view, are often socially ignorant and ignore important clues to behavior, intent, and purpose.  Men simply don't listen and their tone deafness is a sign of their immaturity and male arrogance.

Men, on the other hand, have little interest in listening.  They have been brought up to sort out their own feelings, to deal with emotional adversity with a stiff upper lip, and to move on; and women should be able to manage the same fortitude and resolution.

Feminists have made a cause celebre out of the issue of listening.  Men don't listen because they have no respect for women's feelings, personal integrity, or inherent value.  They are congenitally ill-equipped to pick up on the more subtle and refined signals given off by women; and this, compounded by millennia of ascribed but empty authority, has held men back from any real evolutionary progress.

Men disagree, of course.  Their communicative indifference has nothing to do with respect, but a dramatically different view of personal legitimacy and character.  Their silence is not a function of dismissal, but of self-protection, strategy, and self-interest.  Information is power, and men who historically have fought all the battles of Wall Street, corporate America, and K Street, know this well. Information within a marriage is no different.  Men will always stray and continually plot their indiscretions.  Withholding information, spreading disinformation, and the telling of strategic untruths are necessary, important means of successfully negotiating sexual freedom within a restrictive covenant.

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Of course 'keeping it all in can have corrosive results'.  It is one thing to be guarded about sharing information for strategic purposes; but another thing altogether to let anger, resentment, jealousy, and insecurity fester. Every psychologist since Freud has tried to explore men's inner rooms with varying degrees of success.  “Man is basically unknowable”, said Carl Munger after a lifetime of ministering to distressed Czech patients in the 20's.  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 at a cold stone. Getting men to open up was like “starting a tractor in the frost”.

This need for psychological release and resolution, however, does not alter the principal and fundamental informational relationship between men and women.  A psychologically purged and restored man will still plot his exit strategies, move his marital chess pieces to advantage, and figure out a way to retain dominance or at least a primus inter pares standoff.

Many men, convinced of the impossibility of a real sexual partnership, never fall in love and assume that no intelligent male ever did.  ‘Intimate companionship’ was the best anyone could say for marriage, a psychological wheelchair in old age, frequent sexual release, and simple companionship; children; and a stable base for sexual adventure.

Franco Harter confided to a friend that his current wife was the closest he could ever 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 codes that required insight and spiritual guidance to crack.

Franco thought himself free from that nettling, intrusive, and totally inappropriate inquiry; but after twenty years of marriage, his wife became surprisingly intrusive, nettling, and bothersome.  Perhaps because he had become more secretive, or that his affairs had indeed increased; or because she was feeling the anomie of late middle age, she persisted.

“Women”, he said. “Wired differently.”

Franco was perhaps an extreme case; but like most extremists, he had a point. The difference between men and women is profound, he said, and the best marriages are the ones in which husband and wife stay clear of each other.  “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.

“I have nothing against women”, he said. “Their synapses fire according to their circuitry.  They are congenitally programmed to act up; 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 quiet”

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