Monday, April 25, 2011

The differences between men and women

Stop me if you’ve heard any of these:

“A woman has the last word in any argument. Anything a man says after that is the beginning of a new argument.”

“To be happy with a man you must understand him a lot and love him a little. To be happy with a woman you must love her a lot and try not to understand her at all.”

And my favorite: “God made man before woman so the man would have time to think of an answer for the woman’s first question.”

Now I’m not here to slam either sex. It’s just that I am consistently intrigued and constantly blown away by the differences in the thinking patterns and overall brain functions between the male and female psyche.

I’m going to make some generalizations here, so the minority of you “unique” men and women out there who transcend general gender stereotypes need to just relax. So here are my observations:

To me, this dates back thousands and thousands of years ago, when cavemen went out and hunted and gathered and women stayed back and took care of the little cavelets. Both worked equally hard – I doubt that Cathy Cavewoman was chilling on some animal rug watching The View reruns all day long. Nor was Carl Caveman bellying up to the bar kicking back some Tiger Blood with his hunting homies.

I have to take care in how I say this, so I’ll just use myself as an example. I have always wanted a career. Even after I had children, I expected to still have my career. But extenuating factors (a husband in the military) altered my plans, at least for awhile. Which probably wasn’t necessarily a bad thing – I tip my hat to stay-at-home-moms. To me, it’s one of the hardest jobs out there – but entirely worth it. So when I became a single parent and went back to work, my loyalties were conflicted. Here was my career – which I coveted and loved and wanted to put 110% into… yet here were my kids that needed me as well – and more than just between 6 and 9:00 every night. So instead of applying for a “traditional” job, I opted to wait it out for something that would offer me the flexibility to try to “have it all”. The problem is that I still am not sure that I give 100% to either one – it’s definitely a Catch-22. What I keep telling myself is, hey, these kids won’t be kids for long. If I have to forgo the money and the climb up the ladder for a few years until they grow up, then so be it. I’m a mom first.

Men? They’re pre-programmed by society to work. They are the financial providers. That’s what has been instilled in them as their role. In the same way that a mother kisses her son’s skinned knee and makes everything OK, so the man sees bringing home the bacon as his nurturing role in the traditional family. Now I’m not saying for one minute that the same man doesn’t come home and change diapers, attend parent/teacher conferences and shoot hoops with his kids. What I’m saying is that in my opinion, a man’s role is more defined than a woman’s. I feel constantly conflicted between work and motherhood, and though dads may have some of these feelings at times, overall I think they believe that their primary role is to provide for their families. Some may think this is sexist, but in my opinion, it’s true.

Again, I’ll use myself as an example. I’m not the greatest communicator that ever lived. I guess if I could write everything instead of speaking it, perhaps I’d be better off. But a part of me strives to not fit that woman stereotype of the needy, “God, she has to talk about how I’m feeeeeeeeling…. all the tiiiiiiiiiime.” I don’t want to be that “chicky chick”. So I have a tendency to go the other way – to make it appear that it’s OK, or that it doesn’t matter, or that it’s no big deal, or that I’m not actually sitting here stewing over something you did last week but never actually told you about.

But honestly, when I do finally sit down and regurgitate all the warped emotions that are swirling in my brain, I do think that they often fall on deaf ears. And it’s not that the opposite sex isn’t listening. I just think that just like I don’t understand the male emotional brain, my attempt at a deep conversation often incites some kind of fearful/nervous/vertigo-ish type, “fight or flight” response. They’re not thinking, “Hmmm… I hear what she’s saying, and this is how I feel, so I’ll say…” They’re thinking, “Crap. What can I say that she won’t take the wrong way that could somehow piss her off and make this conversation go on indeterminately?”

OK, maybe they don’t always think that way. Maybe that’s my own insecurity. But I do think that some women go to great lengths (and lengthy verbiage) to try to make men “understand” their complexity, which men are innately able to sum up in very few words, which at times really pisses women off. And I also think that at times women just want to vent their problems, and men are designed to “fix” things, so they try to help by offering solutions. The women get defensive because they don’t realize that they’re not being judged, but this also is not their bestie who is going to give her a big hug and validate that yes, that room mom was totally out of line for not including her in the 2nd grade classroom party chain email.

Now this part I get. I don’t disagree with it, and I don’t dislike it. I understand it and embrace it, but it took me awhile. My thoughts on men vs. women when it comes to children can be best summed up in a quote that I say to my older son time after time when he compares his dad to me. “You can’t have two parents like your dad, and you can’t have two parents like me.”

Nor would he want to. I’m probably more of a “traditional” mom. I have a lot of my own mother in me. I think I’m pretty strict for the most part. I don’t put up with a lot of crap. I fully believe that as much as I want my kids to love me, they don’t always have to like me. I wasn’t put on this earth to be their buddy – at least not yet. Their dad and I are thankfully for the most part on the same page when it comes to childrearing, and even though we do it separately, we are in it together. But he is and always has been more of the playful one – the one that wrestles with them, that delights in hunting for elusive Hot Wheels cars, the one that lets them do things I would never let them do, like ride their bikes down Knoxville Avenue. Plus he flies a helicopter – so he’s been Mr. Cool since they’ve been born.

That used to bug me, but I remember him telling me once, “When they want to play, they come to me. As soon as they get hurt, they want nothing but you.” That kind of summed up our roles. Now I’m not saying I can’t have fun with my kids, and he’s the first one to come running when he hears one of them is hurt. But it’s apparent that we have our definitive roles. Our kids see us as serving a different purpose in each of their lives, but together in turn, we manage to give them a parenting whole, even divorced.

I’ll say it again – I’m making some very wide generalizations here. There are stay-at-home dads and 60-hour-a-week working moms. There are men who love to discuss their feelings and women who consistently clam up. There are as many Merrymaking Moms as there are Disneyland Dads. But I think that sometimes, some of the problems that men and women have when it comes to life and communicating is that each expects the other to be like them. And they’re not.

I wholeheartedly believe that God created man and woman so differently to complement each other – no, not “compliment”, as in, “Gee you look really nice today,” but complement – as in to supplement each other – to complete each other, if you will.

And the more we can understand and accept that, the better we’ll get along.

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