Front Porch: Men, women communicate so differently


I had lunch with a good friend the other day, someone I don’t get to see often enough. We met at noon, lingered afterward and chatted, found ourselves still engaged at the dinner hour, ordered an hors d’oeuvre and continued until about 7 p.m., at which point we decided it might be time to get on to our respective homes to check in with the spouses.

I see nothing wrong with that.

My husband was amazed. “What on earth did you talk about for so long?” he asked. Our children and work, mostly, and everything that makes us happy, sad, worried and angry with both. Recent trips. Health matters. Vacation plans. You know, the usual. And we didn’t get to everything.

“What could you have possibly missed?” my husband asked incredulously. We never got to politics, I replied – the presidential candidates, the economy, the latest political gaffes, euro zone woes, Afghanistan. You know, the usual. That would take another whole afternoon.

Bruce walked away, shaking his head.

So what’s with that? Unkind though it might be to say so soon after Father’s Day – well, he’s a guy, that’s what.

I could easily hold my breath with no discomfort during the length of a phone call he has with even the best of his friends. The conversation takes place with a brief greeting, followed by a short statement of purpose – say, agreeing on a time and place to meet for a bike ride – then a goodbye and immediate hang up.

Our follow-up conversation goes something like this:

Me: “How did that biopsy turn out for him?”

Spouse: “I didn’t ask.”

Me: “Well, why not?”

Spouse: “I figure he’ll tell me when he’s ready.”

Me: (groaning) “Well, at least did you ask if his mother-in-law is out of the hospital yet?”

Spouse: “She’s in the hospital?”

Now it’s my turn to walk away shaking my head.

Drum roll please: Men and women communicate differently. OK, this isn’t exactly a brilliant observation, but it continues to amaze, bemuse and confound me. If I were talking with a friend who had shared with me she was undergoing a biopsy, there is no possible way on this planet that I would not inquire as to the outcome and how she’s feeling. Indeed, I am quite certain that any female friend would be hurt or at least puzzled that I didn’t ask. My silence would be taken as indifference, lack of concern or something.

But in my husband’s guy-world, it’s seen as respect for privacy. And you know what, his friend will indeed tell him the results when he’s ready, they’ll talk about it in the way that they do – briefly – and they’ll go on to ride their bikes. It will be a bonding moment for them.

Or sometimes the men can and will converse at some length, but never – and please let me emphasize, never! – while seated in a restaurant booth, living room or, God forbid, in front of people they don’t know. But let them be up on ladders ripping the roof off a shed or something, and they can chatter on like crazy.

But for most conversations, just give them the bullet points. Now, true, some people (women) just go on and on pointlessly, but when visiting, in person or on the phone, background and nuance are often the heart of the thing, as are details that give the narrative bounce or context.

I’ve watched my husband’s face when someone is telling a long and even interesting story, and I swear I can see his mind wander off to guy-land. He’s wondering if we’ll get home in time to fill the tanks in his work truck or if it’s going to rain before he mows the lawn in the morning.

Bruce and I have long conversations between just the two of us. I don’t know if that’s just a long-married thing or what, but they’re good and they are part of what makes us close. But for most other necessities of speech, he’s of the school of please-get-to-the- point-and-move-on while I prefer to linger on the words and the emotions that go with them, to hear all the environmental aspects of the event on the conversational table and take in the experience of the story and the time spent with the friend just listening, speaking and sharing.

Not that I don’t appreciate keeping it short and cutting to the chase when time and circumstance dictate that’s the appropriate course, but I equate a good conversation with enjoying a good meal. You do it slowly and savor the experience. You don’t wolf it down.

But then again, I’m not a guy.

Voices writer Stefanie Pettit can be reached by e-mail at upwindsailor@ comcast.net.

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