"The title is, to be fair, an over-generalization. These things are not universally true of all men, and there definitely are women out there who know and understand some or all of them. By and large, though, these five areas where communication between the two most popular genders tends to break down on grounds of incomprehension. Women, this might help explain a few things.
1. We are starved for compliments.
There's an old rule men learn about flirting with women ~ if a woman is pretty, don't expect to impress her by telling her so. People have been telling her that every single day since puberty, and it no longer registers as anything other than background noise.
On the other hand, most men have never been told they're pretty. Or attractive at all. We're supposed to derive value from our success and our careers, not our looks, and there is an overwhelming cultural narrative that we are the wanter, not the wanted, the pursuer, not the pursued, the desiring, not the desirable.
Tell a man (other than Ryan Gosling) that he's pretty, and you will have his undivided attention. You may well be the first person ever to say that to him. Do not assume that an attractive man knows he's attractive. The opposite is probably the case.
2. We are not more shallow than women are.
Sure, some guys only go for women who look like magazine advertisements. Some women do the same thing with guys. But when most women get together with their trusted friends and talk about men, there's a rich diversity of attraction that gets talked about. They'll talk about a guy's sexy voice, or the way he holds them in his sleep, or the look on his face when he's passionate about something, or the lines on his hands. When they do talk about the face and the body, it's not all sharp cheekbones and ripped abs. There are all kinds of types that different women find attractive for their own reasons.
And yet there's a stereotype that men don't do the exact same thing. Believe me, we do. When actual grown-up men get together and talk girls, there's an awful lot of 'I love the way she tells the truth, just straight-out with no bullshit.' and 'It's the freckles. I cannot resist her freckles.' and 'When she giggles a certain way I just want to jump her right there.'
Oh, we do dig the physical aspects too, very much so. But again, it's not about the women in magazines and commercials. Grown men can tell the difference between an airbrushed plastic image designed by a marketing department and a real live woman. We have a very wide range of tastes and types in terms of what we find sexy in a woman, and anyone who tells you different is probably trying to sell you something.
3. There's a reason for that emotional repression.
I'm often surprised by how little women know about the experience of being a teenage boy. It really shouldn't be surprising ~ there are almost no realistic depictions in media of teenagers of any gender. I mean, when was the last time you saw a teenage girl on TV or in a movie acting like teenage girls in real life?
Short version ~ testosterone is a hell of a drug. Those who've taken it as adults as part of a gender transition tend to report intense cravings for physical catharsis, flashes of inexplicable rage, and similar effects. And that's taking it on purpose, knowing that it's a drug, with an adult level of brain development and emotional maturity. Now imagine that happening to you without warning when you're thirteen and have no idea what's going on.
Almost every adult man walking around spent at least part of his adolescence dealing with sourceless, purposeless anger and a desire for violent catharsis. It's like having a little devil on your shoulder constantly making the same unhelpful suggestion.
"I don't know how I'm going to deal with this test Friday. I can't cope." "Have you considered ... VIOLENCE?" "Shut up, shoulder devil, nobody asked you. Hmm, What do I want for lunch?" "Have you considered ... VIOLENCE?" "Shoulder devil, that is NOT EVEN A FOOD."
And so on. We spend years learning that our immediate emotional responses to things are absolutely not to be trusted. The first response to an emotional impulse must be to ignore it and repress it, just for safety. The men who didn't lean that reflex? They're the ones with criminal records for assault.
Once we mature out of adolescence, the hormones calm down and we're fine, but at that point the cultural conditioning has been drilled in beyond repair, a million repetitions of 'man up' and 'crying is for girls' and on and on and on. What was a safety precaution in high school becomes a socially mandated norm, and that's why, over the course of my life, I've shed more tears over the 'Marseillaise' scene in Casablanca than I have over my mother's death. (Though to be fair, I've seen Casablanca probably twenty times, and my mother's only died once.)
4. We are sick of being success objects.
This is one of those things most men don't even have the vocabulary to talk about. It's a nameless pain, an unspoken discontent that eats away at far too many men. Just as women too often feel defined solely by their looks and their dress size, so too are men taught that our worth as human beings comes from our career, our bank balance, our success.
All those gold-digger jokes, all those lines about 'So what if he's short ~ he can stand on his wallet' ... we know on a deep level that they're not jokes. Those lines about how the job of a husband and father is keeping the bills paid ~ we understand those. We know that our attractiveness, our worth, our contribution to our families is all about how much money we can make. And it's exhausting.
Some guys get resentful, thinking that even their loved ones just see them as a walking wallet. Some guys get tired, feeling like no matter what they make, it'll never be good enough. Some guys spend their whole lives ashamed, having had it beaten into them that they're only worth what they've got in the bank, and taking poverty or financial reversals as a deep personal failure. It eats away at us daily in a thousand little micro-aggressions, all the ways we're made to feel Not Good Enough, when what they mean is Not Rich Enough.
5. Yes, we actually do need to adjust ourselves like that.
This one's less of a major emotional issue, but seriously, enough with the jokes about how weird and gross it is. The equipment shifts around, it changes shape and size, it chafes, and it is very very sensitive. When it gets uncomfortable, it gets very uncomfortable indeed, so cut us a little slack, could you?"
Last year my son's mother-in-law passed away, after a long illness. Her death was a terrible loss to my son's wife. The loss was almost inconceivable to my grandson, who was ten at the time, and had been very close to his grandmother.
As luck would have it, the information-rich National Geographic website recently published a piece which is welcome to all of us who must try to help children understand death. Virginia Hughes' When Do Kids Understand Death?draws upon research from the 1930s to the present, and places the discussion in the framework of a child's intellectual and emotional development. Her answers, for both children and adults, are illuminating.
"No matter what your age, death is not easily defined. But for the purposes of research, scientists define a child's understanding of death by looking at three specific aspects of the concept.
"The first is death's irreversibility. Once your body is dead, it cannot ever be alive again. Kids under 3 don't understand this idea ~ they'll talk about dead people as if they went on a trip or took a nap, or will hold open the possibility that dead things can come back to life with the help of water, food, medicine, or magic. Children begin to grasp death's finality around age 4. In one typical study, researchers found that 10 percent of 3-year-olds understand irreversibility, compared with 58 percent of 4-year-olds.
"The other two aspects of death are learned a bit later, usually between age 5 and 7. One, dubbed nonfunctionality, is the idea that a dead body can no longer do things that a living body can do. Before this is grasped, kids will affirmatively answer questions like, Can a dead person feel? or If someone died, could he still eat? Can he move? Can he dream?
"Then there's death's most befuddling attribute, at least for me ~ its universality. Every living thing dies, every plant, every animal, every person. Each one of us will someday expire. Interestingly, before children learn this, many believe that there are certain groups of people who are protected from death, like teachers, parents, and themselves. 'Without a doubt, most children understand that some people die before they understand that they themselves will die,' the review authors write. And even children who understand that they will one day perish 'have a tendency to say that their death will occur only in the remote future when they get old'
"These are all generalities and tendencies. Some kids develop more quickly than others. And some studies have found that emotionally traumatic events ~ such as the loss of a parent ~ can speed up a child's understanding of death."
When I was about 6 or 7, my parents and I lived on a farm along the Rocky Mountain Front, in northern Montana. One afternoon I was home alone, after the school bus dropped me off. My mother had driven to a distant town earlier in the day, but should have been home to meet me. My father was nowhere to be found. I was puzzled and confused. Then something surreal happened ~ a car containing two neighbor women pulled into the driveway. They came inside, and told me that my mom had been in a car accident. My dad was with her at the hospital, and I was to come with them to stay at our nearest neighbor's home until we knew more.
Not knowing what else to do, I obeyed. I was friends with that neighbor's children, so playing with them provided distraction from the dark and worrisome cloud of uncertainty which took over my emotions and my thoughts in moments of silence. The day passed into evening, and I'd been tucked into a bed on the sofa when my parents walked into the door, and I ran into their waiting arms. I could breathe again.
I later learned that my mom had been driving home, when an oncoming car with a drunk driver at the wheel swerved and struck her car. In those days before seat belts, it's a miracle that she came out of it with little more than a few cuts and a nasty bump on the head. Thankfully our country roads back then were gravel, so neither vehicle was traveling very fast. The other driver was cited by the sheriff, and after doctors determined that my mom had sustained no serious injuries, she was released from the hospital.
But I still remember those dark clouds in my mind, not knowing if my mother was alive or dead, or how badly hurt. Not knowing is a terrible thing. Only rarely is knowing worse.