Saturday, September 4, 2010

Life’s a Breach... of Communication

I didn’t feel like going to the beach. My wife didn’t feel like going to the beach. Our five-year-old wasn’t in the mood for it, either.

So how did we all end up speeding down the highway against our will for an afternoon in the sun, sand, and waves?

The idea first came up well after noon. “It’ll be 2:00 by the time we get in the car,” I said. “It’s not worth three hours of driving for so little time to spend there.”

My wife’s response to this highly logical and irrefutable point -- this is the critical part -- was to argue against it.

She started talking abouProxy-Connection: keep-alive
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low tide and finding starfish and this possibly being our last chance to enjoy a sunny day at the beach before fall.

Listening to all that, I stupidly concluded that my wife wanted to go to the beach.

What was actually going on, I found out later, was that she felt ambivalent, and adopted the position opposite mine as a way of trying to figure out what she wanted.

In other words, she was not saying what she felt, just trying stuff out. How bass-ackwards is that?

Anyway, we went back and forth for a while, and eventually I decided that I didn’t care that much, so if she wanted to go to the beach that badly, we might as well go.

So I said, “Alright, let’s go.” She interpreted this to mean that I wanted to go, and decided she might as well go along with what I wanted, since she couldn’t make up her mind.

To be fair, the words “I want to go to the beach” never left her mouth, and I never asked, “Do you really want to go to the beach?” Still, that was small consolation once we were being serenaded with “are we there yet” and “I’m bored” over and over and over.

By now I’ve been married long enough to have more or less forgotten what it was like to be with other women.

So it’s hard for me to know if most women view communication as a tool for experimenting with ideas and torturing their husbands, or it’s just this one woman who agreed to marry me, presumably as an expression of her actual intent. (If you have any insight on this question, please pass it along.)

At any rate, we ended up spending a fabulous couple of hours at Popham Beach, where the image of my daughter delightfully dancing and cartwheeling along in the shallow waves became my most vivid summer memory.

So I can’t really complain.

Especially since the love of my life would be quick to point out some of my own communication flaws. For example, she often complains that I don’t seem to be listening or paying attention to what she’s saying.

I have a simple explanation for this: my genitals.

In the book “A Cultural Approach to Interpersonal Communication,” Daniel Maltz and Ruth Borker explain how how men and women are trained to use conversation cues differently.

For example, when a woman says “yes,” or “um-hmm,” to someone to whom she’s listening, she is likely to mean, “Okay, I’m listening. Please continue.” When a man uses them, he probably means, “Please take off your clothes.”

Ha! Just kidding. They mean “I agree with you.”

The authors say this type of misunderstanding explains why men can never figure out what women are really thinking, and women feel like we’re never listening.

Of course, it could have something to do with a little trip to the beach...

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