Men Want to Talk, They Just Don't Want to Talk to You

Melissa forwarded me a link to yet another bone-brained dating advice article. As per usual, it's all about gender norms, specifically the idea that Women are all like, yap yap yap, and men are all like, wev. In short, it's a ghastly mess, that doesn't address reality.

But I told you it was a dating advice article, already, so I guess I didn't need to repeat myself.

This particular article comes from Dave Zinczenko. When we last heard from Dave, he was explaining that women need to be whatever they aren't if they want to win the heart of that special someone. Today, he explains the age-old question, "Why don't men talk?"

Now, I actually know the answer to the question, but first, let's see what Dave has to say.
As the editor of the biggest men's magazine in the world, I am privy to something many women rarely hear - straightforward, uninhibited guy talk.

Don't be so shocked - guys do actually talk, and not just about Tom Brady's quarterback rating. Most women think their man is the strong, silent type (or maybe the oblivious, silent type), and they wonder why he doesn't share his feelings.

But here's the truth: Men do want to open up, about their hopes, their fears, and their passions. Yet put him alone in a room with you, and he often turns into a Sphinx. Why can't he take his eyes off the TV and talk about the state of the relationship, or the finances, or, heck, the backyard landscaping? Why in the world can't he just summarize his day for 10 minutes?

In fact, one in five women say that they typically fight about a man's lack of verbal interaction, and 30 percent of men say their failure to communicate is the source of major conflict in the relationship. Why is it this way?
Okay, let's unpack this, because there's subtext here. According to our guy Dave, men will open up...with other men. They don't want to open up with women. This is not a problem, because, uh...look, Tom Brady!

Also, let's note: we're talking about men here, right? And women, right? This is a universal problem that, based on an uncited, hypothetical study, affects between 20-30 percent of couples.

Now, this is where I, being a boy and gifted with a boy brain that can do math, pull out my calculator, and discover that if 20-30 percent of women believe their partner doesn't communicate effectively, that means 70-80 percent do.

I'm just a blogger, but to me, that means this is not a universal problem. It's a stereotype.

But let's ignore the fact that Dave just noted that this isn't an actual problem for most couples, and instead focus on the shiny, glittering generalities.
Guys Are A Little Intimidated

No question, women are expert communicators. They throw questions like Oprah after her third cup of coffee; they're connecting on all cylinders. And like the divine Ms. W, women bring a lot of skill to their game: A special awareness of the people-scape around them, a keen set of emotions keyed to that awareness, and a rich vocabulary they use to talk about anything at anytime.

And they're always practicing their Q&A skills on their many friends, so they're in top talk mode all the time. Men know this. And they also know that more than one-third of women say that men simply can't relate and don't understand women. The result: Men are afraid of saying too much, because saying the wrong thing may get them into more trouble than Lindsay Lohan as a designated driver.

Sweet mocha frappuccino, I'm not sure that the gender stereotypes can get any thicker there. Women are emotional powerhouses, they can communicate better than men could even dream of, they jabber on incessantly with their friends, and men just don't want to compete with that.

Now, as you may have noticed, I like to talk. I'm good at it. I have a vocabulary, and an awareness of my surroundings. I am also, you may be surprised to discover, a man. No, really! And yet I am capable of carrying on a conversation about my life with just about anyone. However, I'll agree that yes, I used to be intimidated about opening up about my feelings with partners.

Why? Because I have always been told that women are so much deeper than men emotionally, so much more able to read people, so able to file things away and pull them out when you least expect it. Be on your guard, I was always told, or they'll use your words against you.

Kind of like this article tells me. Gee, I wonder why men don't open up? But we'll get to my thesis later. Now, more stereotypes!
Guys Need To Decompress

Woman's view: When a man walks in the door, he ought to cough up some of the details about his day. After all, it's been 10 hours since they've communicated, not counting the two IMs, three voice mails, and one actual mid-day conversation.

Man's view: Can I please make a beeline to the bathroom? When men reach home, it's like those ultra-marathoners staggering across the finish line in Death Valley. The last thing they want to do is discuss how bright the sunlight was, and how scarce the water stops were.

Further up on his want-to-do list after arriving home: 14 percent of men want to check email, 12 percent are looking for a little private time in the bathroom, and 10 percent simply want to eat dinner. The common theme here: After they've spent a day serving the needs of others, they want to take care of themselves a little.
Okay, what did you just notice Dave doing in that sequence. Yes, you in the back? Did you say that he painted a picture of domesticity that makes "Leave it to Beaver" look like "Thelma and Louise?" Yeah, I noticed that too.

You know, not for nothing, but there are quite a few women coming home at the end of a ten-hour day of serving others, and they may want some private time of their own. Or they may want to decompress by talking to, I don't know, their life partner or something. Similarly, men may actually want to tell their significant others about their day, or they may need some quiet time to think about it. This may vary, incidentally, from day to day, and from person to person.

Of course, if men are told that they're not supposed to talk about their day, and women are told that they need to play grand inquisitor...ah, but I'm getting ahead of myself again. There's more inanity to cover.
Guys Are More Comfortable With Actions Than Feelings

Rather than talking about how he "feels," often a man would rather express his love by changing her oil, or bringing home a flower, or relinquishing control of the remote.

And when men do talk, they'd prefer to talk about actions rather than emotions. For instance, a lot of guys would choose to express their long-range faith in a relationship by talking about next summer's vacation plans, not by launching into a soliloquy about undying love.

Both conversations can mean the same thing (that he plans on sticking around); he just prefers to say it with plane tickets, rather than poetry. It's one of the reasons men are more comfortable talking at work (the practical universe) than they are at home (the castle that emotion built).

Unga unga, me Jeff. Me no want talk about my life. Me go kill mastadon now. Shut up, woman! Me no want talk!

Seriously, can we just, please, once and for all stuff the "Men are all about action" motif? Please? Because for the love of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, if men are uncomfortable talking about their feelings, the answer isn't just to say, "Well, that's how men are! He bought you a diamond ring, that means he loves you!"

Some men are more comfortable with action than words. Some women, too. And the opposite is true.
Guys Don't Want To Be Put On The Spot

When men talk less and women want more, the scenario can escalate. Like when the bad cop is pummeling the reluctant witness, more silence equals more questions. A full 65 percent of men we surveyed recently told us they don't want their partners to ask them more questions about themselves.

It's clear that some men are just plain tired of feeling like they're on the witness stand. They're not necessarily hiding anything; many guys simply prefer not to have to relate confusing feelings that they may not even understand themselves.
You know what? When I've wanted to avoid questions in relationships, every single time it was because I didn't want to give an honest answer. Sometimes I gave a dishonest answer (not something I'm proud of, mind you), sometimes I complained about the questions, but always I knew the answer, I just didn't want to admit it.

You see, when someone's reticent and unwilling to open up, it can be a sign of trouble. People aren't crazy to see silence or shortness as incompleteness. And they're not necessarily wrong to push onward.

So why don't men talk? I think you can guess my answer, but I'll give it to you in Dave form.

Guys Are Told They're Not Supposed to Talk About Their Feelings

We are. From day one. I guarantee you that 95 percent of the men reading this have been told that boys don't cry. To suck it up. To be a man. To tough it out. We are told that the strong, silent type is what men aspire to be. What's more, we are told that men who show feelings are wimpy, too soft, or God forbid, gay. We are told to bury our feelings deep, and not to share them with anyone -- not our partners, not our friends, not even ourselves. We are told this in a thousand ways, every day, the same way that women are told their value as humans resides in a clean house and 2.5 children. It's part of society, and as everyone knows, it's difficult to overcome what the patriarchy tells us to do.

Moreover, it's more difficult when the message is constantly being reinforced. Ultimately, what's the point of this article? It's in Dave's penultimate sentence:
An age-old tactic can make things better: Back off a little, give him room to operate in a conversation, and he's more likely to open up.
Or he'll simply clam up. Indeed, that's more likely, isn't it? I'm not saying that pressure should be applied at all times and in all settings; it isn't always called for.

But the real answer is not backing off -- it's creating safe space. If someone is struggling with a partner who can't emote, telling him or her that the answer won't bring derision is a good start. And those of us who struggle with expressing our emotions need to challenge ourselves to open up and be vulnerable.

Articles like this one prevent that from happening, because in the end, they simply say that men lack emotion and communication skills, and what are you gonna do? Helping men gain those skills, as always, is out of the question in articles like this. It would be nice if instead of lecturing women about accepting their partner's reticence, Dave helped men realize that it's okay to open up to your partner. But that would mean recognizing that there is no fixed nature for men and women, and that we can all grow and change. And that's beyond Dave Zinczenko's capibilites, I guess.

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