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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

3 Communication Failures

It’s no secret that the genders often struggle with communications.  Despite common languages, we speak in different dialects, and the nuance which is plain to our same-gendered friends can often be completely invisible to the opposite sex.  Every year we devote hundreds of books, thousands of periodical pages and millions of television minutes to this constant battle and yet, despite this war of words, we seem no closer to resolution.  However, as a trained mediator and negotiator, let me offer what is often the most important step to resolution: a view from the other side.  There can be no more vast chasm than the difference between what you ladies believe you are saying and what we men are hearing.  Your light-hearted expression becomes a crushing burden, and your thoughtful insight becomes a throw-away observation - each to your grinding chagrin.  Perhaps, however, if you understood precisely what it is we hear, you might be able to rephrase, restate or simple relax - and cut us a little slack.  And so, in the interest of inter-gender diplomacy, here are 3 things lost in translation:

1. Where in the World?  During my since past online dating phase, I trolled through thousands of profiles, and found one nearly universal “interest” amongst women: travel.  Now when you say “travel” you mean spending time with someone special, far away from the rigors of home and work, getting to know them, long walks on the beach, etc.  You think it makes you sound cultured, adventurous and fun.  Wrong.  It makes you sound expensive.   You want to know what a man thinks when he hears you say that you like travel?  He thinks about double airfare, hotel suites, fancy meals out, nightly entertainment, solely funded shopping excursions and no televised sports whatsoever.  “Travel” is code for two thousand dollar weekends, five thousand dollar weeks and a 50/50 shot at seeing you naked.  “Travel” isn’t a hobby, it’s an expense.  We know you’re not talking about splitting the cost of the trip, because that’s not romantic.  And we know you don’t mean weekends at the lake, because you are careful to also mention your favorite destinations, which always include someplace international (i.e. Paris, Rome, London), and usually someplace tropical (i.e. the Caribbean, Costa Rica, Hawaii).  Here’s the deal, everyone likes vacationing - and listing it as a hobby is like listing “money” on a list of favorite things.  It doesn’t make you sound interesting.  In fact, it’s one of the few things you can say (along with enjoying the Twilight series of books) that actually makes you sound less interesting.  Trust me, if we like you, we’ll be planning a trip with you soon enough - just spare us the knowledge that you’re already expecting it.  

2. The Panic Button.  Despite the numerous protestations to the contrary that I have received when raising the specter of almost universal female knowledge of this next miscommunication, deep down I feel like women know precisely the level of anxiety they inspire with the most terrifying four words in their entire lexicon: we need to talk.  There is nothing that recounts a man’s deepest fears of the trauma that can be inflicted by the often-fickle female psyche like this painfully vague premonition.  What’s worse, even if we’re not particularly worried by the potential consequences, the pain of the process can prove just as worrisome.  Having a conversation with a women about “feelings” is like having a conversation with your first-year Spanish teacher, in Spanish, after just a couple of weeks of class.  Sure, you might know a few words here and there, but for the most part, you’re just nodding your head, trying to keep your eyes from glazing over, and replying to every long-winded soliloquy as meaningfully as you can with “si.”  The universe of potentially bad subjects that can be covered by “we need to talk” runs from breaking up to getting married, from possible pregnancy to where-do-you-see-this-going.  Each of these is comparably enjoyable to a Lifetime movie marathon, watched during a baby shower and while simultaneously undergoing a prostate exam from Dr. Big Hands.  And so, giving us what you might think is “fair warning” is actually sounding a recognizable death knell - only one that leaves us to wonder just how and when it’s going to happen.  If you care anything for us (and want the same in return), do us a favor: when you want to have a heavy talk with us, just start talking.  We’ll gladly take a little surprise over a lot of dread.

3.   Keeping the Resume Updated.  It is a strange time we live in with respect to dating.  It used to be, on some level, a relatively innocent pursuit.  It was charmingly clumsy and awkward, but we were all, in some way, invested in the magic it promised: that we’d find someone in the midst of dinners, movies, dance halls and kisses goodnight, that would be our one and only - and there’d be some happily ever after, even if it wasn’t happily for-ever after.  But in the intervening time from when I started dating to now, it has since become a commodities and futures market: fast-paced, ruthless and stripped down to nearly bare economic efficiencies.  And of all the things that trade well in this market, nothing seems to trade quite so well as an impressive dating resume.  After all, what could be better in proving that you’re a hot commodity than demonstrating just how important, well-heeled, famous, etc. previous buyers have been.  I mention this because, every time I have the audacity to believe that maybe I’ve gotten it all wrong, and that maybe there is still a little magic left out there, I am greeted by a lengthy dating resume.  Most girls seem to bring it up with all the subtlety of an air horn, and run through the list of minor celebrities, band members and private jet owners that they have dated (or who at least wanted to date them) in the past as smoothly as though they had memorized it for an audition.  Which I suppose, in fact, is what it’s supposed to be.  The intended message being: Hey, these impressive men wanted me, so obviously I’m worth wanting.  Unfortunately, what we hear is: I have standards that vastly outpace my worth; I’m expensive, high-maintenance, and if our first date doesn’t involve “shopping” or a $300 dinner tab, don’t even bother.  The only thing more emasculating than this exercise would be an actual castration, so unless you’re applying for the position of regrettable mistake, leave the dating resume at home.  

* * *

On balance, women are still vastly better communicators than men.  In fairness, they usually get a whole lot more practice, and just by sheer volume, it makes sense that they might actually, therefore, engage in far more dialogue mishaps than their woefully under-skilled counterparts.  Which is to say that, on average, we are probably much more likely say stupider things, but we’ve also learned (to compensate for this handicap) to keep our mouths shut.  Because for as dumb and simple-minded as we are, we still ultimately learn our lessons (albeit the hard way) and we’re just as difficult to fool twice.  Despite what you may think, we do know what you’re saying when you’re not actually saying it.  And the problem isn’t that we aren’t getting the message, it’s that we are.  And so, as the moral to the story, we arrive at a new twist on an old axiom - as there’s little use anymore being careful what you say, to avoid sending the wrong message, be careful what you mean.  


Jen and Tonic said...

I have to say much of what you said here is true. My thoughts:

(1) “I like to travel” is one of the most ridiculous phrases in the dating world. I think it’s a thinly veiled attempt for someone to say that they like to jet around the world like a lost member from the Kardashian family. Additionally, I feel the vagueness is another way of saying that if it’s expensive enough, it doesn’t matter where you go. Someone who is genuine about their passion will say they like camping in the mountains, or spending a weekend in wine country, or having an overnight stay downtown in some big city.

(2) I’m a little out of my league here because I get chills when someone says, “We need to talk.” I think it’s the most combative phrase a person can use in a relationship. Having said that, I’m not sure most women say it to actually be combative. Many of my friends use it as a way of guaranteeing their significant other’s undivided attention when talking about important things. This way they don’t spring the subject on him in the middle of a football game, or when he’s about to hang out with friends. I’ll spread the word that it’s better to surprise the guy with this conversation right in the middle of a Navy vs. Notre Dame football game ;)

(3) I think this depends on what type of woman you’re going after. In your case, you tend to date women who are super hot. This usually means they’ve most likely ridden all members of Journey like show ponies, and have dated internet moguls who once flew them to Paris for lunch. It comes with the territory. May I suggest dating those of us who are in the lower half of the dating pool? I think I’ve recommended this song to you before, but in case I didn’t:

The dating world is a cruel, cruel place….

Katrina_McCullough said...

Glenn – as per usual I love reading your blog and I agree with most of it save the first point… Travel.

I get what you are saying about this particular issue – however I DO love to travel, I try to go to a new country or at the least a new state every year, I do pay my own way and I am thrifty about it. I do feel more cultured by doing this. I also do the camping weekends and I love quick overnighters in nearby places just to “get away”. So – my question to you is, how can I present these facts so that I may advertise my love of travel without it seeming like a “burden” to a potential mate?

Glenn H. Truitt said...

Kat, first, thank you for continuing to be a reader - it's heady praise to keep someone like you interested and entertained for this long! Second, you present a tough question, albeit one that I have considered. But to answer your question, I don't think there is an efficient way to present your ACTUAL love for visiting new places simply because you are in such a dramatically small minority. I think you're stuck with a FULL explanation of your love - the FIRST caveat of which should be YOU DON'T MIND PAYING YOUR OWN WAY, and the SECOND, you don't need FIRST CLASS ACCOMMODATIONS. Knowing your eloquence, I'm sure you can make this lengthy explanation charming enough to keep the necessary attention...

The funny thing about these conversations is that the moment I figure out that a women doesn't EXPECT or REQUIRE nice things is PRECISELY the moment I start wanting to give them to her. Which is to say, you're quite likely to get some solid vacation time out of being just who you are.

Kristina said...

agree with some of it, not others.

What kind of women are you meetin gthat need to try to impress you with WHO they slept with? LOL

The Marshall Family said...

I agree with you on the first. I would assume most people list it because it is the sort of thing one does since everyone else is doing it and therefore safe. As for the second, I think it is dreaded across the board. I don't think I've ever said that to my husband (though I'm sure I've broadsided him many a times) and I know I am filled with dread when he says he needs to talk.. ugh! As for the last, I agree with the other comments. You're trolling in all the wrong places for a good time that hopefully keeps on giving. AND, seems like we're proving your point that it's the females in the species that love to talk and comment on things. :)

Drew said...

How about, "I like to travel for work." It has taken me across the globe and not on my dime.

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