The subject comes up in magazines, on talk shows, and sometimes in my book group when we stray from discussions about symbolism, character development, and narrative style.
Our ponderous query:
Are men and women constitutionally incapable of speaking the same language?
There is "manspeak," an abbreviated system of monosyllabic responses and an occasional sentence.
And then there is "womanspeak," which undulates and flows with meaning and nuance. Words come easily and are plentiful. Compound sentences and multiple paragraphs are common.
So what happens when you plunk down two different language speakers in one household?
Confusion. Irritation. Frustration. And, of course, communication gaps.
I live with a man who can honestly sum up his entire day in a couple of pithy and logical sentences. He does not see the need to expand on those thoughts or toy with hidden meanings.
He lives with a woman who can spend twice as much time describing a room as she spent in that room. This woman also loves to repeat thoughts (he would say endlessly and tediously) as she mulls them over.
Can this marriage survive?
Of course it can.
It's just that every now and then, I pause to remember that men and women (and, yes, I know, not every man or every woman) have opposite ways of expressing themselves, and that in these situations, talk is not cheap. It is, in fact, risky.
For example, I may want to explore why, precisely, one of our daughters is not calling us.
Is it a case of her being passive-aggressive? Is she striking out on her own, seeking breathing space and independence because she feels smothered by over-involved parents?
Is she feeling hostile because we've paid more attention to one of her sisters?
I could go on and on and on … and often do.
Her father will say, simply and logically, "She's probably busy." End of subject.
Get the picture?
My sister and I can discuss people, problems, the past, present, and future for hours. We can dissect all of that, analyze, conjecture, and somehow swerve off the track and analyze material about our childhoods, other people's, and almost always our schedules so that we can make another phone date to talk some more.
My husband will get up from a long nap and comment in a tone of disbelief, "You're still talking?
(I might mention that, in my opinion, men do excel at napping.)
And now I'm told even corporate America is getting in on the act, that companies are setting up seminars on the gender differences in communication. You can bet some "consultants" are making a fast buck on this one.
My female friends could have told them this is a problem that probably began when Eve asked Adam, "How was your day," and he looked at her and answered, "Fine."
And heaven help me if my husband happens to answer the phone when one of our adult daughters calls and I'm out.
So what's happening with Jill or Amy or Nancy, as the case may be, I ask eagerly, ready for an exposition about how and what that daughter sounds, feels, worries about, and, oh yes, how her job is going.
My husband looks back at me somewhat dazed. "She's fine. She got the car inspected," he might add expansively. My husband has a fascination with matters like car inspections and tire rotations, while I'm desperate to know about the condition of each daughter's soul, and, likewise, the souls of our grandchildren.
There's the story my friend told me of the phone call her husband took about their daughter's news that her longtime boyfriend had finally proposed marriage.
My friend wanted to know the where of the proposal, the precise words, whether the daughter was crying, a description of the ring …
Her husband, a totally decent and loving father, shared, "The guy is a Giants fan. Can you believe it?"
I rest my case.
Sally Friedman writes from Medford.