Dear Belladonna Rogers,
I just read John Hawkins’ superb column titled “7 Mistakes Women Make About Men.” I’d like to see one about mistakes men make about women.
Muddled Man in Miami
Dear Muddled Man,
Here it is, with a bonus eighth mistake — just because I’m a woman.
But first, a few words of introduction. I love men. I’d like to thank the Creator for coming up with the concept of men and then for following through — on what was obviously an amazingly busy week — by creating Adam. Great work! I’ve long been a fervent fan of the male gender, and couldn’t imagine the many joys of my life without them.
That said, the purpose of this column is not to nit-pick, disparage, or criticize men. My aim is to improve inter-gender understanding. You know — like world peace?
THE TWO GENDERS ARE AS SIMILAR AS KANGAROOS AND BANANA SLUGS
They inhabit entirely different biological and cultural worlds, even though they may sleep in the same bed and sup at the same table. What works like a charm in Cosmos Kangaroo makes no sense at all in Banana Slug Universe.
EIGHT MISTAKES MEN MAKE ABOUT WOMEN
- BELIEVING THAT A WOMAN IN TEARS IS THE FUNCTIONAL EQUIVALENT OF A URANIUM-ENRICHED PORCUPINE
If you happened to be a teenager in the 1950s, you a had a rare chance to see two opposing world views — completely apart from the Soviet Union and the United States during the Cuban Missile Crisis. I refer, of course, to two popular songs, the first of which was the immortal Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons’ 1962 hit “Big Girls Don’t Cry.”
Ah, but Frankie, we do cry, as you saw the following year, 1963, with Lesley Gore’s breakout hit “It’s My Party,“ making exactly the opposite point:
We cry in response to sadness, grief, loss, remorse, regret, agony, ecstasy, desolation, loneliness, as well as anger and frustration born of insults, injuries, slights – to name a tiny fraction of the sources of our tears.
What’s a guy to do?
SEVEN FRANKLY INVALUABLE TIPS FOR COPING WITH A WOMAN IN TEARS
A. Don’t flee the scene in terror. She’s not a radioactive porcupine. You may not have cried in years, but then you don’t have estrogen coursing through your brain, do you? Stay with the crying woman.
B. Try hugging. The expression“a shoulder to cry on” derives from this impulse, which seems to come naturally to women when they’re with anyone who cries. Hold the crying woman in a non-sexual way and let her cry.
C. Don’t suggest she “calm down,” stop crying, or “control herself.” What you don’t understand is that she’s already controlling herself by not screaming at the top of her lungs, clawing at everything in sight, and attracting the kind of attention that leads neighbors to call the police, with the added thrill of seeing your mug shot in tomorrow’s local paper. Let the lady cry.
D. Her crying won’t go on forever and your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to hold her, not to suggest that enough is enough — before it is for her.
E. If you don’t accept this as your mission, don’t be surprised if you’re not the most welcome person in her life, her bed, or her body.
F. If she doesn’t want to be hugged, then ask, “What can I do to help?”
G. If the answer is, “Leave me alone,” then leave her alone for a while, but not for long. She needs to know that you’re nearby and don’t consider her the equivalent of a foul-smelling, rabid hyena.
2. NOT UNDERSTANDING THAT WHEN IT COMES TO EXPRESSING OUR THOUGHTS, MEN ARE FROM HEMINGWAY AND WOMEN ARE FROM PROUST
Women’s brains are different than men’s. One way the difference expresses itself is in language. We utter more words not because there’s something wrong with us, but because our brains are wired differently than yours. Men are from Hemingway, women are from Proust.
Few have expressed this insight with greater concision than Joe Jones in his Top 40 song of 1960, “You Talk Too Much”:
EIGHT TIPS ON HOW TO TALK WITH A WOMAN
A. When a woman says, “let’s talk,” try not to react as if your manhood has just been threatened by all ten of the FBI’s TEN MOST WANTED MOHELS.
Talk is nothing to be afraid of! The answer, by the way, isn’t “About what?” with a look that oozes dread and existential angst. The answer is: “Great!” She’ll take it from there. Sound eager to talk. If she wants to talk, consider it the equivalent of your dog wanting a walk. Go with the flow.
B. If you ask a woman a question, don’t interrupt her response by saying, as you impatiently tap your fingertips on the nearest table, “Get to the point.” The point you don’t get is that our intricate narratives — interlaced as they are with our multi-layered interpretations, embroidered with the richness of our subtle observations, and enhanced by our exquisite cascades of details that might well have entirely escaped your notice, and without which your understanding of life would be the poorer — are what an answer is to us. As Walter Cronkite used to say, “And that’s the way it is.”
C. You didn’t have to ask that question, but once you have, and once the answer is flowing with the magnificent force of an aria from Carmen,
don’t interrupt or do the functional equivalent thereof, which is looking at the ceiling. Or at that squirrel unearthing an acorn from last summer outside the window.
D. Look a woman in the eyes when she’s speaking to you. Or, as Niecy Nash once memorably told Tony Shalhoub on Monk, as he ogled her not inconsiderable cleavage, “My eyes are up here.”
E. If you don’t want a full female-brained answer, try to formulate your questions so that the only possible answer is a “yes” or a “no.”
F. When a woman asks you a question, note that “fine” or “good” or “OK” are not our idea of an answer. To a woman, any monosyllabic resply is an insult, an affront, a casus belli (“cause of war” for those of you who slept through Caesar’s conquest of Gaul).
G. Put some verbal meat on those bones. We yearn for data and details. Who was in the room? What were they wearing? Who said what? In what tone of voice? What was the reaction of the others? Did anyone seem angry? Take umbrage? Did long-simmering interpersonal antipathies rise to the surface and explode? If so, what happened next?
H. When we ask, “How did the meeting go,” we are so not looking for “fine.”
3. TREATING A WOMAN LIKE A LEPER WITH HALITOSIS WHO WANTS CURES FOR BOTH CONDITIONS WHEN SHE MENTIONS THAT SHE HAS A PROBLEM SHE’D LIKE TO DISCUSS WITH YOU
When she says she has a problem, to her that isn’t the same as looking for a game plan, a business scheme, or a cerebral analysis of her problem, with the ideal and erudite solution to it. She doesn’t want a lecture.
She’s looking for a pair of ears. Yours. And a sympathetic expression on your face. And some brief, quietly expressed, non-interrupting expressions of empathy such as “Jeez,” “Oh, no,” “Oh, my God,” “How could he?” followed by “What a jerk.” After you’ve patiently listened to a tearful recitation of how just one insensitive lout could have been even more exasperating than a stadium full of vuvuzela-blowing fans, what do you do next?
You don’t say, “Vuvuzelas should be legislated out of existence. I’d like to file a brief at the International Court of Justice in Den Haag to ban their manufacture and sale.” While that’s a swell solution to the vuvuzela problem, it’s not what she wants. Give a her a big, nonsexual hug, with comforting comments along the lines of “You’re so terrific, I don’t see how anyone could act like such an idiot toward you.”
4. NOT UNDERSTANDING THAT NOT EVERY OPPORTUNITY TO TOUCH A WOMAN’S BODY SHOULD IPSO FACTO TURN INTO A WILDLY PASSIONATE SEXUAL ENCOUNTER
Women like sex. We really, really like sex. It’s one of the favorite things we’ve ever done. It’s like being happy, only better.
In all this sexual bliss, however, there’s a “but,” and here it is: when you’re hugging us while we’re crying, or hugging us after we’ve told you our latest misfortune, don’t think this is a golden opportunity to segué into hot, wild, pulsating sex.
Why not? Because we’re still really, really upset! That’s why not! Just because you’re married doesn’t mean that every single opportunity to touch your wife is the perfect time to remind her of how fond she is of Bubba Jr. down there.
This was the characteristically gross move that the great Feeler of Our Pain himself, William Jefferson Clinton, in 1994 put on Kathleen Willey, who had just tearfully informed the sitting president (who happened to be standing at the time) of her husband’s suicide. Good ol’ Bubba began with one of his patented hugs and the next thing the grief-stricken Mrs. Willey felt was the presidential paw on her newly widowed breast.
As the Washington Post reported this insensitive maneuver:
He says it was nothing more than a friendly hug, and perhaps a kiss on the forehead intended to comfort a woman in despair. She says it was a sexual advance, surprising and unwelcome: a hug that was “more than platonic,” a reach for her breast, a hand that grasped hers and placed it on his groin.
He’s America’s own Dominique Strauss-Kahn, behaving with all the grace and sophistication of a rutting chimpanzee.
Don’t try that Clintonian ploy. Your hug should remain an act of caring solidarity, unless of course, the woman herself suggests by word or deed that she has an idea of what would make her feel much better than even your kind embrace.
5. IN BED, THINKING THAT WHAT DROVE JANE INTO AN ABSOLUTE SEXUAL FRENZY OF ORGASMIC ECSTASY WILL BE A HUGE TURN-ON FOR KATE. AS DIFFICULT AS THIS MAY BE TO IMAGINE, WE’RE EACH — HOW ELSE TO PUT IT? — UNIQUE
Think of sexual relations as a joint (ad)venture, not as a one-size-fits-all (no pun intended) activity that, if it worked great in 1962 when you lost your virginity to a not-particularly-discerning 16-year-old — who also happened to be a virgin — that’ll be the way to go for the next 50 years with nary a modification. It’s never too late to try novel approaches, even if you’ve been happily married to the same woman for decades. Just don’t try that new approach the first night you return from a business trip. Some wives might have an inkling under what circumstances you discovered your titillating new technique.
TRILLION DOLLAR BONUS TIP (PRICELESS, REALLY) FOR MEN WHO’VE READ THIS FAR: Ask a woman what she enjoys the most, even if you’ve been with her for decades, what she really enjoys, or what she’s always wanted to try. Many women won’t volunteer this precious intelligence, but if a man takes a moment to ask this simple question, the answer can go a long way to turning what could be a mundane experience into an unforgettably exquisite voyage to the windswept oceans and the highest mountains of star-filled galaxies neither the woman nor you has ever visited in your entire lives.
This is a stunning example of the truth shall set you free. You wouldn’t believe just how free until you’ve asked and acted on a woman’s reply to that one simple question.
6. YOUR WIFE ISN’T YOUR MOM. IT’S AN EASY MISTAKE TO MAKE, THOUGH
This mistake comes about when a man assumes his wife or significant other is going to behave exactly as Mom did, not only by picking up his socks wherever they may roam, but by being a stoic, kind, him-centered woman as long as she lives.
As fondly as as you remember your mom, there aren’t too many women like her and like the impeccable June Cleaver now. And, not to put too fine point on it, you’re no longer a little boy or a teenager yourself. Try not to hold your wife to your mother’s standards, as wonderful as she may have been. Your wife is a completely different human being, with a different childhood and different parents from your mother’s who grew up in a different era and will never be exactly like your mother. It’s an unreasonable expectation for her to have to meet.
If you had a good mother, you experienced her as someone enormously devoted to you, whose major goal was to protect you and prepare you for your present life. She poured countless hours, days, nights, weeks, months, and years into concentrating on you. The best of wives will try to do something like that, but it’s never going to be quite the same again.
For one thing, your wife thinks of you as an adult, a person who doesn’t require the constant support and intense concentration your mother believed was necessary to devote to you. You mother may have seemed to be as omnipresent and omnipotent as Alexander Portnoy’s memorably-depicted mother in Philip Roth ‘s magnificent 1969 novel Portnoy’s Complaint. (Note: that one brief, exquisite novel by the peerless Philip Roth has more literary brilliance and unforgettable wit than the entire opus of the late Saul Bellow.)
Portnoy’s mother was endowed by her creator with magical, gravity-defying powers that enabled her — and, as far as Portnoy knew, her alone — to suspend slices of peaches in Jell-O. This was nothing less than a miracle to Portnoy’s boyhood eyes. How did she do it? With what supernatural powers was she endowed?
Even if your wife did prepare sliced peaches in Jell-O for you, you wouldn’t have a child’s capacity to feel the same awe.
Don’t ask your wife to fill your mother’s shoes. Let her be your wife — a unique, different, separate woman from your mother, although one who’ll also take good care of you as you go through your adult lives together. At best, however, you’ll be partners, co-equals She won’t do everything for you just like Mommy. You’ll never be her baby or her little boy, no matter how much you’d like to recreate those halcyon days, when, as Dylan Thomas (1914-1953) wrote in “Fern Hill,”
…I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes…
It isn’t your wife’s responsibility to help you remain a five-year-old, “golden in the heydeys.” Her task is to accompany you on a very different journey, with all the love, good counsel, shared goals, physical presence, and sexual bliss of which she is capable. Dont’ expect her to be your Mommy, too — except when you get sick.
7. THINKING GALLANTRY IS DEAD, ALTHOUGH ITS SURVIVAL DOES DEPEND ON YOU
Why not reach out and open a heavy door (even though we, too, work out), allow a lady to precede you out of an elevator, or do anything else that was once known as chivalrous? Yes, Dave Chappelle likes to say that feminism killed chivalry. But what kind of a man wants to live in a universe ruled by the editorial board of Ms. Magazine?
Gallantry includes the heartfelt bestowing of well-deserved compliments. While there isn’t a woman who doesn’t appreciate a kind word about her appearance, it will improve your relationships with all the women in your life — both personal and professional — if you compliment them on a range of traits, abilities, and activities that have nothing to do with their looks, such as their steadfastness, courage, loyalty, morality, spunk, hard work, devotion to you and your family, kindness, energy, humor, sense of adventure, saintly patience, originality, wit, generosity, tireless diligence, vim and vigor.
Nothing is too minor when it comes to acknowledging with gratitude and deep appreciation what a woman — or a man, for that matter — contributes to your life, that of your business, and to the lives of others. With the invention of email, it takes but a few seconds to express an encouraging word.
8. MISINTERPRETING A WOMAN’S STRAIGHTFORWARD QUESTIONS ABOUT A MAN’S LIFE TO MEAN THAT HIS THOUGHTS, WORK, CONCERNS, ACTIVITIES, SPORTS, PRIVATE LIFE, HOBBIES AND CHILDREN ARE SO MUCH MORE FASCINATING THAN HERS THAT HE NEVER HAS TO ASK HER ANYTHING ABOUT HERSELF. AFTER ALL, ISN’T HE THE MOST FASCINATING PERSON AT THE TABLE FOR TWO?
This mega-mistake could be called the Sun King error — named for the French King Louis XIV (1638-1715), who was something of a narcissistic control freak, regulating all around him, even choosing his own sobriquet to suggest that like the heavenly orb at the center of the astronomical universe, he, too, was the center of the world. Which, in 17th and early 18th century France, he actually was.
It’s dangerous to make this error of mistaking a woman’s concern and interest in a man’s life for an implicit message that he’s the only one — between the two of them — who counts as an interesting human being. It can lead to the end of a marriage, a love affair, and even a long friendship.
A word to the wise should be sufficient: such relationships cannot be sustained forever. Women, all women, tire of Sun Kings, and other self-centered men.
No one said it better than Carly Simon:
Send your questions about personal, political or any other matters to Belladonna Rogers at email@example.com. All correspondence with her is confidential, and all names, locations, places of employment and ages of the parties will be changed to protect the privacy of the readers who write to contribute questions