In Combat Dating, You Can’t Afford to Fight Like a Girl

February 4, 2010

In my recent post Can Women Run Game on Men? I discussed the book Why Men Love Bitches. There was one particular piece of advice that I thought deserved special attention, because it’s a trap that women frequently fall into.

“A [women with high self-esteem] is polite but clear, and communicates very directly, in much the same way that men communicate with one another.”

This is critically important, and I think that women stand to benefit in their relationships if they can learn to communicate in a way that a man can understand. Men often express that women are emotional, irrational, fond of drama and conflict. We nag, whine, make demands. We can’t let something go, we need to discuss it ad infinitum for hours on end.

Why do men feel this way?

You know why. Because every woman reading this recognizes herself in that description. I certainly do, it’s in my nature. The problem is, our communication style often prevents us from getting what we want. We can shout our demands, but if our audience is alarmed and baffled by our approach, we’ve lost before we’ve even made our case.

There are three highly respected experts in the field of gender communication. Their areas of study differ slightly, but their conclusions are compatible. I’ve condensed a great deal of study into the salient points here, in a bottom-line way (just like a man would):

I. Deborah Tannen, Professor of Linguistics, Author of You Just Don’t Understand

Tannen believes that men and women differ in the focus, or driving force, behind their communication. According to Tannen, men converse with a focus on achieving social status and avoiding failure, while women focus on achieving personal connection and avoiding social isolation. Men want to report, women want rapport. Tannen observed that,

“For males, conversation is the way you negotiate your status in the group and keep people from pushing you around; you use talk to preserve your independence. Females, on the other hand, use conversation to negotiate closeness and intimacy; talk is the essence of intimacy, so being best friends means sitting and talking. For boys, activities, doing things together, are central. Just sitting and talking is not an essential part of friendship. They’re friends with the boys they do things with.

Women cannot understand the resistance men seem to have when asked for assistance or consideration of some kind or another. Women must remember the above scenario and understand that, for men, doing what they’re asked to do means they have lost status in that relationship. Men often feel that women are trying to manipulate them. What a woman might see as a simple request–no big deal– is seen by her man an attempt to manipulate him into a “one-down” position.

Tannen discusses this issue further:

“Women want men to do what we want. We want them to want to do what we want, because that’s what we do. If a woman perceives that something she’s doing is really hurting a man, she wants to stop doing it. If she perceives that he really wants her to do something, she wants to do it. She thinks that that’s love and he should feel the same way about her. But men have a gut-level resistance to doing what they’re told, to doing what someone expects them to do. It’s the opposite response of what women have.”


  1. Since women often think in terms of closeness and support, they struggle to preserve intimacy. Men, concerned with status, tend to focus more on independence. These traits can lead women and men to starkly different views of the same situation.
  2. Men, on the other hand, are less comfortable discussing their feelings. Many men don’t like to talk about emotions and feelings. Men like to talk about current events, business, and personal accomplishments.
  3. Women think it is important to discuss how they feel about a problem. Men, however, prefer to come to a solution.
  4. Men often think that women are complaining, because women want to continue talking about their feelings. Men offer a solution to a problem, and then want to talk about something else.
  5. Men grow up in a world in which a conversation is often a contest, either to achieve the upper hand or to prevent other people from pushing them around. For women, however, talking is often a way to exchange confirmation and support.
  6. Women formulate their requests as proposals rather than orders. Their style of talking is a way of getting others to do what they want, but by winning agreement first. With men this tactic often backfires, because they feel manipulated and respond more resentfully than they would to a straightforward request.

II. John Gray, PhD, Author of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus

Gray distinguishes the overall styles of communication in the sexes:

Women:

  • Use more words to express more feelings
  • Use conversation to think through a problem and work toward a solution
  • Give feedback with tact, tentativeness and sensitivity to the other person’s feelings
  • Often change the topic in the middle of a conversation, then return to it later

Men:

  • Use fewer words and express fewer feelings
  • Think through a problem privately, then express the solution as the bottom line
  • Give feedback directly and with bluntness, without the intention that it should be taken personally
  • Men tend to finish one topic before going on to the next

III. Lillian Glass, PhD, Speech Pathologist, Author of He Says, She Says: Closing the Gap Between the Sexes

Glass has some unique insights to add:

  1. Women tend to take verbal rejection more personally than men.
  2. Women are more likely than men to ask for help rather than figure things out on their own.
  3. Men appear less intuitive and aware of details than women.
  4. Women have a more emotional approach to problems. Men have a more analytical approach.
  5. Men use fewer voice tones and facial expressions while communicating than women do.
  6. Men make more direct statements; there’s less “beating around the bush” with men than with women.

What does this mean for you?

Men are NOT going to learn to be all touchy-feely, expressing their emotions, dragging out the convo for hours to find out how you really feel. It’s not in their nature, and would compromise their pride. That’s a non-starter. If you want to be understood by a guy, and get him to consider your point of view, possibly even give you what you are asking for, you need to learn to communicate like a guy.

I learned this lesson through experience when I was in my early 20s. My college years were spent mostly with two guys. The first was a classic Alpha, emotionally reticent. All of our conflicts followed the same pattern. Me getting upset, throwing a fit, crying, and making all kinds of drama. Him sitting there stoically, waiting for my emotional display to run its course. He then apologized. I grudgingly accepted his apology. We had makeup sex. This rather dysfunctional pattern carried us through most of college. I never fell in love with him, and I’m pretty sure it’s because he had so little he was willing to share. When I broke up with him he was devastated, much to my surprise. Only then could he tell me that he thought I was the woman he wanted to marry eventually. We had spent all that time on different planets.

My other college relationship was with a guy who wore his heart on his sleeve, and made more drama in a year than I’d made in the previous three. He was wildly passionate, jealous, possessive and intense. Our fights were “take no prisoners” affairs, and the makeup sex was really great this time around. However, I began to want more than this state of always being at cross purposes and misunderstanding. It was draining, and I was emotionally exhausted.

In my first job out of college, I began seeing someone I worked with, and I fell head over heels for this guy, who was several years older. We kept our relationship a secret, and things moved pretty fast. He said, “I love you,” and I felt the same way. After a couple of months, we went to a work party at a local bar. There I proceeded to watch him flirt like crazy with all the other single women in the office for a couple of hours, with only the most cursory attention directed my way. I was tempted to walk up and throw my drink in his face, but instead I quietly left and went home. A couple of hours later he tried calling, but I didn’t answer. The next day at work he ambushed me wearing an expression of dread. He clearly didn’t want to talk, but he knew he had a rescue mission to perform. He started speaking, and I held up one hand.

“Stop.”

“What? Let me explain. Listen, people here don’t know about us, they…”

“Stop.”

Exasperated sigh. “What do you want me to say?”

“There’s nothing you need to say. Your actions told me what I needed to know.”

“Susan, come on. (rolls eyes) What did my actions tell you?”

“That you need the validation of attention from other women.”

“That’s not true!”

“That’s the way I see it. I don’t think this is going to work out.”

At that point I walked away. All of this was said in a completely calm and neutral tone. He was visibly stunned. That night he called and asked if I would hear him out. I said OK.

“You’re the first woman who hasn’t yelled at me when I screwed up.”

“What would be the point? You sent a pretty clear message, I really don’t have any questions for you.”

“I’ve thought a lot about what you said. You were right. Look, can we just try this again? We need to figure out how to handle this in the office. I know I was a jerk, but I want to try again.”

“If you ever try to make me jealous again, or act with such total disregard for my feelings, we’re over.”

“OK, fine. That’s fair.”

I didn’t have the energy for a high-maintenance relationship, so I just talked about my bottom line expectations. It was the most successful I’d ever been in a conflict with a man, because the way I spoke to him was familiar, I was speaking his language. He never did that again, and our relationship was free of drama, for the most part.

It was a revelation, learning accidentally that I could make myself understood in so few words. I’ve pretty much stuck with that approach. I won’t claim I never raise my voice or get exasperated with my husband, but our disagreements are always brief. When we have conflict, we dispassionately negotiate a solution. It works.

You’ve got to be prepared to speak clearly about what you want. That means being tough but succinct. I guarantee you’ll get better results.

You will not always get what you want. He may say no. But at least he won’t go home with a migraine and the sense that he dodged a bullet.

  • hambydammit

    Great observation and advice. I've learned over the years that there are ways that men can help women “talk like a man,” but it's really helpful if the woman already understands the difference in communication styles.

    Here are a couple of examples of how men can employ “woman-speak” to get “man-speak” back:

    “I understand that you're feeling [X emotional response] and I hear how important this is to you. I need you to help me understand what I can DO or SAY that will make you feel [Y emotional response] instead of [X emotional response].

    See how the trigger words work? The man acknowledges the woman's emotional need, and then focuses the woman on what action she wants so that she can experience the emotion she wants. From this point, a savvy man will keep returning to the question, “what behavior/action will make you FEEL what you want to feel.”

    There's also a “magic bullet” hidden in that approach. When a man says, “I need your help” to a woman, it triggers something. Pretty much all women respond positively when a man asks for help. For a man who understands this, the world is his oyster when it comes to women.

  • Chilli

    This is completely true! It is a major source of frustration for me and I am sure, for many women. Whenever I feel my boyfriend has done something wrong, I find it so difficult to express my dissatisfaction because I am constantly thinking about whether his feelings will be hurt by what I say. I end up making vague long-winded statements with phrases like “that is not to say that…” and “I'm not sure how to say this but…” which neither clearly identify the problem nor aid in solving it. Often, it takes me days or even weeks to digest how and why I felt the way I did about something. Once I have figured that out, I look for a “good time” to bring up the issue, which can also take days to find. Basically by the time I've told him what was wrong, he has forgotten that the incident even happened.

    Worse still, whenever he takes issue with something I've done, he states it clearly, immediately, and succinctly, whether it is a “good time” or not. Often it's just simple statements like “Don't do that” or “I don't like that.” He doesn't like talking about the whys and hows. It makes me feel kind of resentful that he has such an easy time telling me what I'm doing wrong when so much preparation goes into me telling him.

    This article is spot on and I've long been feeling like I need to be more direct in my communication with my boyfriend.

  • susanawalsh

    Haha, a man knowing how to do this would be such a bonus! What's great about it is that it is still within the comfort zone for the guy — he wants to solve a problem, and his question to her is about finding a solution.

    You're also 100% right about help. Women are trained to be nurturing and supportive from a very early age, and of course it's our nature to begin with. When a man doesn't let us do that, it's very hard for us and feels like a rejection. If a man can say “I need your help,” it conveys a bit of vulnerability, that he is taking an emotional risk, even if it is small. Women are programmed to respond positively to this. I might go so far as to say men should actively think of ways to approach their women in this way. It will build a feeling of deep satisfaction in the woman.

  • susanawalsh

    Chilli, but I had to giggle at your description of how you process your feelings and get ready to tell your BF. I recognize my “old” self in that to a T! It's so true that we can stew about something for so long, that by the time we bring it up we have to spend 15 minutes describing the event so that he'll even remember! At which point it's much harder for him to take responsibility for his own behavior, obviously.

    One thing I have a tendency to do is interrupt my husband. I'm an energetic talker – and I love to tell a good story (can you tell?). When I interrupt him, he calls me out immediately, unless we're out with other people. If that's the case, when we get home he says, “You interrupted me several times tonight. I don't like it.” I always feel defensive and ashamed, but it's over quickly, and of course I've gotten better at not doing it over time.

  • aldonza

    One thing I think all women should give up within the bounds of a relationship is trying to convince someone of anything. I do well with feeling messages that are clearly stated.

    “Wow, I felt really hurt when you did X.” Then stop and *listen*. How a man responds to something like that will tell you a lot about him. A man who cares about you will want to make you not hurt. It's that simple.

  • hambydammit

    Aldonza, I'm going to disagree with you on this. Even though I've learned to translate that into man-speak, most men haven't, and some very high quality men will hear that, and — like me — their initial reaction will be something like this:

    “Well, you know what, it really sucked when my boss told me I was slacking at work, but you know what I did? I fucking bucked up and did what I was supposed to do even though my feelings were hurt.”

    That's kind of the point that Susan is trying to make, I think. When a woman tells a man, “I am feeling aggravated and unappreciated since you haven't fixed the toilet after three weeks,” a man hears — [Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, fix the toilet.] At that point, he'll either go fix the toilet, which is nice, but doesn't address what the woman wants addressed, or he'll give the reasons why he can't fix the toilet right now, which will also not address what the woman wants.

    It's not that what you're feeling is invalid, it's that stating it in woman-speak to a man will trigger man-reactions, and the typical male reaction to emotion (even perfectly appropriate emotion) is to suck it up, lock it down, and go about DOING something to FIX something.

    You might be lucky with a man who responds well to that kind of statement, but I don't think it's the norm. Most men need something like this:

    “I am feeling X because you did [did not do] Y. For me to feel Z, you need to do A.”

    Translate your feelings into an action or inaction on their part. Explain to them what their action or inaction represents to you (it makes me feel unappreciated/unloved/taken for granted). Then give them a project, even if it's something like, “What I need from you right now is to hold me for a while, rub my back, and tell me how much you love me.”

    Telling men what to do — “Go take out the trash” — is entirely different in kind from giving men a straight up “IF X then Y” statement. When you tell a guy, “If you do this, I will respond this way,” you're giving him power over both his and your condition, and if he loves you, he will want to make you happy, and will do what you want, even if all you want is a compliment.

  • dan_brodribb

    “This is completely true! It is a major source of frustration for me and I am sure, for many women. Whenever I feel my boyfriend has done something wrong, I find it so difficult to express my dissatisfaction because I am constantly thinking about whether his feelings will be hurt by what I say. I end up making vague long-winded statements with phrases like “that is not to say that…” and “I'm not sure how to say this but…” which neither clearly identify the problem nor aid in solving it. Often, it takes me days or even weeks to digest how and why I felt the way I did about something. Once I have figured that out, I look for a “good time” to bring up the issue, which can also take days to find. Basically by the time I've told him what was wrong, he has forgotten that the incident even happened.”

    I've dated women like you ;)

    It sounds to me like you're reluctant to bring things up that affect you because you worry about a) how he will react emotionally or b) whether the time is right or c)even whether or not your feelings are 'justified '

    This is what I've noticed.

    a) His feelings are not your responsibility. The things that brought me the most trouble in my last relationship were the times were each of us was doing things because we thought it would make the other person happy instead of staying true to ourselves. I have a lot of regret over that one and would love a do-over.

    b) There is never a good time. When people wait to tell me something, I feel blindsided and a little betrayed–“You told me things were all right and all this time they weren't” syndrome, I call it.

    c) It doesn't matter why you feel what you feel or if it's right. It's what you feel.

    That said, you aren't alone. My communication style pretty much follows the 'feminine style' checklist, so I can relate.

  • aldonza

    I can't imagine saying “I feel sad because the toilet is broken and you didn't fix it.” I'm sure there are women who can and do say stuff like that. What I can imagine saying is, “The toilet still needs fixing. Can you do it this weekend or shall I call the plumber?” Or, knowing me, I'd have the wrench in hand to fix it myself, but I've learned from experience that that's not always the right response either as it can make a guy feel unneeded as a man.

    But when we're really triggered and emotional about something, even making the jump from reactive outbursts that mostly just confuse people around us to expressing actual feelings and the reasons behind them is huge. In fact, most of us cannot do it consistently. We're hurt, upset, angry and our higher brain functions are overwhelmed by the hormones produced by the old brain's “fight, flight or freeze” reactions.

    You do bring up the next logical step…explaining what would've been a better way to get the desired response. But most people aren't even sure what would make them feel a certain way. Certainly if I were upset about a man who didn't call when working late, your suggestion works. “I felt very upset and anxious when you didn't call to say you were working late. If you call, I feel more relaxed, know you're OK, and can plan my evening accordingly.” However, something like “I feel like having sex” immediately gets trickier. Most women aren't even sure why they might not want sex. It isn't as simple to say, “I don't feel sexy because you didn't help with the dishes.” While a woman might have more time and energy for sex if a man helped out more, that doesn't necessarily equate to more sexual desire.

  • hambydammit

    Well, the toilet example was meant to be silly. Damn the lack of facial expression!

    You bring up the classic dilemma for women. Emotional outbursts don't necessarily lead to clear cut “action” solutions. The whole point is that gee, I'm feeling this emotional reaction, and if I knew something to do about it, I wouldn't be having it in the first place, now would I?!

    Part of the solution for this problem is for women to figure out how to trace their emotions to actions (or more often, inactions). Cognitive behavioral therapy is great at this, and it's really effective for women, who tend to have more emotional triggers than men. The basic idea is that when we experience a conscious emotional reaction, it's tied to a “core belief,” which may or may not be reflective of reality. The whole exercise of CBT is to learn to discover the core beliefs by asking a series of questions, often in the form, “So what does that mean?”

    For instance, if a man leaves his dirty underwear all over the floor, a woman might get upset, but then the whole thing comes to a stalemate when the man says, “Look, it gets to the laundry at the same time whether it's on the floor or not. What's the big deal? The woman says, “The big deal is I want the bedroom to be clean.” The guy says, “Well I want it to feel 'lived in.' What makes your want more important than mine?”

    And the whole thing grinds to a halt, and nothing gets done.

    However, if the woman works through her emotions, and discovers that the bedroom to her represents where she gives her man her body, and that is a huge deal to her, she can discover that it's not about clean. It's about respecting what she gives to him. She can then say, “Man of mine, my body is my best and most intimate gift to you, and when you toss your dirty underwear on the floor, it's the equivalent of telling me that you don't respect me or how much it means to me that I give you my body on this bed. When I feel respected, I feel sexy, and I love giving myself to you. When the floor is dirty, I feel disrespected and cheap, and then I don't want to give myself to you.”

    If men are bad at tying actions to emotions, women are equally bad at the reverse. Both men and women should be better educated on how to discover what their own conversational style represents to the other.

    Interestingly enough, this ties back into the theme of the week… Game. In many of the PUA strategies, there are instructions for how to discover a woman's core values by interpreting stories. For instance, if a woman is talking about her father, she might say how much she loved it when her father would lift her up and carry her on his shoulders and tuck her into bed. Emotionally unintelligent men might try to do the exact thing, but it wouldn't work for building emotional bonding. More savvy men will begin asking questions about how the girl *Felt* when her father did that. Three girls telling the same story might appreciate three different things. One might say it felt comforting and familiar. Another might say it made her feel safe, and the third might say it made her feel like a special princess.

    Without knowing what the action represented to the girl emotionally, a guy doesn't know what traits he ought to try to display. Having worked out what the action represents, he can pinpoint a certain trait that the girl finds attractive in men.

    The same kind of mechanism works in established relationships, and savvy women are just as capable of asking themselves the same kinds of questions to elicit the *MEANING* of the actions.

  • susanawalsh

    Great dialogue here! It all seems quite complicated, and that's because it is. One point I'd like to make, though, is that I pretty much turned around my own way of dealing with men by mimicking their communication style. Pragmatic, bottom-line oriented, as devoid of emotion as I can make it.

    For example, in the story above, I didn't tell the guy how his behavior made me feel. If I had said, “It hurt my feelings when you ignored me last night. And I felt like you were enjoying making me jealous when I couldn't say a thing about it,” I think it would have been an improvement over my previous drama-laden crisis management style, but he would still have felt scolded and defensive. I basically dialed the emotion down to zero, basically saying “I think I might have bought a lemon, and I'm returning you under warranty.”

    The game changer in that scenario was 1) I presented his behavior as a problem that needed to be solved (by him), 2) I remained calm and did not resort to hysteria and 3) I made it clear where my boundaries were, and that I was willing to walk away. I WAS willing to walk away, and that made me feel in control, even though I would have been unhappy. I was already unhappy, and in no mood for a steady diet of being made to feel insecure.

    More than anything it was #2 with that particular man. He was so relieved to be talking with someone who had no desire to make an emotional scene, he couldn't get over it. It made him view me as someone with a lot of confidence and strength, and he really liked that.

    One of the worst things about emotional speech is that is makes the speaker seem needy, clingy and insecure, even if none of those things are particularly true. It dilutes the message to something so far from man-speak that you might as well be shouting German orders, so taken aback and miserable will most men look during those kinds of conversations.

  • hambydammit

    Susan, I pulled out a book from my bookshelf because I've been thinking a lot about the idea of “Female Game.” I think you've hit on one aspect of Game that women can use to their advantage. I'll quote the book (Yes, it's a PUA book.)

    “The fourth thing you must control is the relationship. Never buy a woman drinks or pay for her dinner, except as a reward for sex she has already given you. Never let her break a date or treat you poorly. Always let her know that you are prepared to walk away, and she will be the one that comes crawling to you every time.”

    Harsh, and definitely geared towards the pump and dump PUAs, but it's still rooted in truth. A more sensitive and compassionate man would understand the occasional broken date, and might even foot for dinner, but if he's a savvy dater, he will make his boundaries very clear, and will stick to his guns. The key phrase here is “you are prepared to walk away.” It works. If a woman is already into you, and you make it clear that she must do X, Y, and Z for you to stick around, she's very likely to do X, Y, and Z. (Yes, there are healthy and unhealthy ways for this to happen, but we both know we're in agreement here.)

    It works for women, too, but I need to add that women have to wait until they're in a relationship for it to be especially effective. During the pre-dating attraction phase, men are saying, “This is who I am. Want me for it, because I'm not changing for you.” That's part of what attracts women. Strong self-identity and confidence. Most men will walk away from a woman they haven't had sex with if she puts down any kind of ultimatum.

    Once a relationship has started, however, a woman has a lot more power to exert. No matter how much shit a man (especially a PUA) talks, most men are loathe to toss away a perfectly good vagina, knowing how hard it is to find another one. As long as the boundaries and demands are reasonable, most men will toe the line so long as they realize that their supply of vagina is dependent on it.

    So, when you put it in non-emotional “If X then Y” language, you got exactly what you wanted. You were in the position of taking away the vagina if he didn't live up to your standards, and he chose to do what you wanted — which, importantly, was a reasonable request.

    I do think that two approaches in combination are better than one, though. If you constantly take the “man approach” you described, you're going to eventually be labeled a cold hard bitch. If you save that approach for the things that are especially important, and show some “feminine” emotion, while translating into guy-speak, I think that taps into a man's “fix-it” instinct. Females hear “I need your help,” and leap into action. Males hear “This is broken,” and leap into action. We bitch about it a lot, but men do like comforting women and making things better. We just get annoyed when it becomes a regular chore.

    Oh… and just to be clear, I've said before that I believe men and women in healthy relationships should never withhold the essentials. Men should never withhold compliments, affection, an attentive ear, and gifts (whether actions or material). Women should never withhold sex or sexual release. (Both within reason, of course.) This may seem like a contradiction, since I just said women should always be prepared to take the vagina away. But this is two different things. Walking away is different than withholding. Sure, sometimes we're so mad at each other that sex, or compliments and cuddling are just not gonna happen, but from a therapeutic point of view, if the relationship is to the point where either partner cannot give what the other needs, it's probably time to walk away for a while, even if just temporarily, to try to figure out why.

  • AT

    One thing I've noticed that's very effective is when women go quiet when a man messes up. I'm not talking about a passive-aggressive silent treatment, but more often than not, most men expect us to be nags that they're already ready to tune us out when we open our mouths. What I'm talking about is, when a man screws up, he's already readying himself for a major verbal lashing, and let's face it, we women CAN verbally lash out like there's no tomorrow, and at a certain point all they hear is blablablablayouscrewedupblablablablabla. But when you quietly wait for him to explain himself, his defensive mode doesn't go on overdrive, and he doesn't shut down and tune you out. THEN he hears you better when you make your point.

  • susanawalsh

    Hahaha, AT, I love the way you express yourself. Yes, yes. This is exactly right. A soft voice will accomplish far more than a raised one, in my experience.

  • Dilithium

    I agree very much with the theme of this post, that being able to speak plainly and directly can make a woman much more attractive and appealing, both for the stated reason (it connotes self-esteem) and others: it relieves men of the need to be a mindreader, which so many of us find downright nightmarish.

    Following Tannen's line as describe above, it makes sense that if women discern things intuitively, then they may often want men to do the same. In many, many situations a woman will communicate what she wants to get across indirectly, through “signals” rather than speaking plainly. A man is supposed to be able to “read” these signals without needing to have anything stated explicitly, and the better ones often can — but when a man can't read signals correctly, both people are likely to be disappointed and confused, or worse.

    In my experience, women's preference for “sending signals” over speaking plainly is almost universal; but the degree is something of a matter of taste. Some women, for whatever reason, are absolutely loathe to speak plainly; and for them a man's ability to read signals correctly is of the utmost importance and it's something she will absolutely insist on. But women who are willing to relax this requirement and state her thoughts more directly will enjoy many advantages, including access to a vital but under-exploited national resource: worthwhile but somewhat clueless guys.

    Here's a true story, in the form of an exchange that actually took place among some buddies of mine when we were all in our 20's:

    “You know, I think that girl you met at that party actually liked you.”

    “Really? What makes you think so?”

    “These signs were all there, [etc. etc.]“

    “Maybe you're right. What I've really got to do is decrease the time between when a girl shows that she likes me and when I figure that out.”

    …later…

    “How's the project going?”

    “Well, I've gotten the time down from six weeks to about three days. If I can just get it under two hours I'll be golden!”

    Yes, you may chuckle (or worse). But the fact remains, that a girl who was just willing to be a little more forthcoming and explicit could have had a great time with these guys. Generally they were first-rate “dad” material, smart, funny, interesting, not at all the player type; but they were also a bit too literal-minded, unable to decode social cues well, perhaps even a bit undiagnosed ASD. Not to everywoman's taste, to be sure! But a woman who was willing to overlook that oddity and use plain language would have been a godsend for them, and not made out too badly herself.

  • Rebecca

    But what if he doesn't explain himself and uses that to his advantage to not have to? Or maybe he doesn't even know that he fucked up? I mean staying silent is powerful – but.. how would you go about doing this so that the guy knows he fucked up but you don't have to say anything? I'm a little confused.

  • ExNewYorker

    While it's useful for a woman to know the “male” form of communication, it is useful for a man in a LTR to understand the particulars of the woman he is with.

    For example, my wife is a generally introverted person, and if she has a bad day at work, she's not likely to immediately vent to her girlfriends…she'll vent her emotions to her husband first.

    Now, even if I'm busy watching Monday Night Football (I can set the DVR to record), it makes sense to realize that all she needs is a sympathetic ear, with me avoiding “solving” her problem. I want her to feel better, and a firm hug (with my mouth shut) works wonders. Wanting my woman to feel comforted doesn't detract from my manhood.

    Yes, a woman can benefit from understanding the male form of communication, but for us men in LTRs, we can also benefit from understanding how our women communicate too.

  • AT

    This means you don't attack outright, but you talk to him, tell him how you feel, ask for his side and then you WAIT. The silence is something that can be very powerful, because it shows him you're willing to listen, instead of immediately jumping to conclusions. It can also make some men uncomfortable, because you're not engaging him in the usual manner, e.g. yelling and arguing and nagging–but you're letting HIM fill the silence.

  • susanawalsh

    Yes, women always have more (any?) leverage once they're in a relationship. However, a woman's behavior in the initial stage of sexual attraction can also make a big difference. As I said in the recent post about self-respect, having a walk away point from the start saves a woman a whole lot of time and heartache is she isn't being treated well, or see red flags about a man's character. And women need to heed that boundary when it's most difficult, in the flush of sexual attraction.

    Also, I have found that “take it or leave it” is a pretty effective approach for some women. In fact, when two people are well matched in their self-confidence and sense of identity, the sparks fly. This is what the classic films featuring those sexy sparring adversaries were all about. It ties in to the concept of negging – I have seen many women knock guys back on their heels by matching wits with them. For a practiced PUA? Maybe not, but there really aren't so many of them around.

    I like your observation that men actually like comforting women and making things better. So a little emotional upheaval can make a man feel competent and needed. That's good news for most women, who really can't go the cold, hard bitch route on a regular basis.

    Re taking away the vagina, is that really what it boils down to every time? Here was a guy I'd been seeing for a couple of months, and it was an emotionally intimate relationship, not a fun lark at work. I've always believed he didn't want to let ME get away, he could have had any number of other vaginas. That was clear the night that I got upset.

  • susanawalsh

    Silence is a very, very powerful tool. Far too few women use it effectively. You can't start out silent, obviously, but I agree with you. You state your case, and then you let that silence sit there like the elephant in the room until he fills it. I have actually had situations where he didn't fill it, and I left. And then our relationship went silent until he came back to respond.

  • susanawalsh

    Dilithium, I confess I cracked up at that conversation. Your description really is a perfect example of how clueless both sexes can be re attraction. And I can guarantee you that that girl spent the next few days (at least) thinking, “Wow, I thought he seemed kind of interested at the party, but now here he is in the cafeteria and it's clear he's not into it. He's just sitting there with his friends, not even coming over to say hi. FAIL.”

    I encourage women to indicate interest VERY CLEARLY when interacting with guys who may have had less experience. This feels risky to women, though, many of whom have had the hypothetical experience I've just described. Also, it's easy to spot real Players by their swagger and reputation. But assuming that a cute guy from the school of engineering is going to treat you well has burned more than one woman. Sometimes that guy is more interested in trying on the role of Player than of BF.

    No wonder the American birth rate is declining!

  • susanawalsh

    Well said, ENY, because as you can see from Rebekah's question, it's a very big burden I'm asking women to assume when I say communicate like a man. It means holding stuff in, staying clearheaded even when our emotions are kicking into high gear.

    Men can offer enormous support, as you do, without compromising their own style of communication. Just knowing what's up with women helps a lot.

    BTW, a guy who is willing to delay a sports game to support his woman is such a keeper! I know my husband feels that there is no point in watching any game if it's not live. He just can't do it. Probably the only exception would be the Olympics when they're on the other side of the world.

  • AT

    Susan, you and I have the exact same approach it's uncanny–I do the exact same thing, too! Like you, I could go silent for as long as it took him to respond. All of my boyfriends (as with my husband) told me it really made them stop and think–and even made them feel nervous because when I went quiet, they couldn't read me anymore since they didn't know what was going on in my head. They had no cues whatsoever, lol!

  • hambydammit

    Well, I think for both men and women, there needs to be a “point of no return.” For instance, many women have a zero tolerance policy on hitting. If a man hits them, it's over. (I think that's a damn good policy to have, by the way.)

    If I didn't make it clear, I'm not talking about threatening to leave anytime you don't get what you want. I mean that confident people — both men and women — have boundaries beyond which they will not stick around. One of the reasons that relationships sometimes deteriorate to horrible new lows is that we humans tend to count time as an asset. That is, we place more value on a person just because we've been with them for a long time.

    I can't recall what it's called, but poker players talk about this error in judgment. When someone is heavily invested in a pot, they tend to call hands they should fold, but it costs them even more money to do so. In other words, they end up losing MORE money than they've already invested because they didn't want to lose what they've invested. The best poker players know that the best policy is to cut your losses when the odds are stacked against you. The next hand will be dealt soon.

    So it can be with relationships. And that's why, regardless of how long two people have been together, both partners need to know there are minimum requirements. This attitude works best if it's there from the beginning. As you're saying, some people just don't take shit from the very beginning, and if they resist the urge to compromise their principles simply because they've invested a year, or two years, or ten, well… so much the better, right?

    I do think that time can earn us mulligans. That is, if a woman's been in a relationship for two months, and a man hits her, there's no excuse for sticking around at all. But if it's been ten years, and he's never raised a hand before, it's worth giving him one 'get out of jail free' and explaining in no uncertain terms that it will be the LAST time it ever happens. Weird shit happens, and time does buy something, but again, in poker terms, if you have a man who's been a wonderful partner for ten years, you've got a strong hand. So, I guess what I'm saying is if we haven't got any “Ultimatum Boundaries” then we really don't have any power in the relationship.

  • susanawalsh

    Word. The poker analogy works well here. Re time already invested, another mistake women frequently make (maybe men too, I don't know), is to say, “I remember how sweet he was when we first got together!” Even if they haven't seen that guy for two years. What you've got is the hand you're holding right now. That's it. Yes, people make mistakes. But so often women choose to believe that the “real” guy is the one that courted them, and this unpleasant fellow can be transformed back, rehabilitated.

  • Decoybetty

    Hm, I have no direct experience in this type of thing. I am not so much of a fighter. I have given ultimatums in relationships and I have walked away when my needs haven't been met. I do think it is really important to be able to “speak” male and “speak” female. It's important for men to be fluent in both too. I tend to think it's a bit unfair that women have to do all the changing. Women have to change the way they speak and think and express themselves to get a relationship…men act like douches and get laid? Ladies, ladies, ladies….there is something wrong with this picture.

    The only fight Inspector Climate and I have gotten into is that I wanted him to like these super amazing gluten free brownies and he didn't. Dear lord. It's amazing we're still together. ;-) le sigh.

  • verie44

    That's a good point. One thing that I used once by accident without really knowing why it worked until after the fact was interpreting an action as a negative characteristic on the man's part. A guy I was dating was talking about other girls in front of me when we were out with his friends to the point that it was very disrespectful to me. His friend even prompted him to shut the hell up, saying “but you have a very nice beautiful girl with you right now.” He was basically trying to show his friends who had the balls in the relationship, and that I was so into him I'd put up with his BS.

    Instead of reacting, I stayed quiet, didn't get upset, and enjoyed the rest of my night. When we were both leaving, he mentioned something about his friends, and I said, “Yes, why are you so insecure around them?” He said something to the effect of “I don't know what you're talking about.” I just said “Well, you looked like you were just really trying hard to impress them with all those stories about your conquests, you must really look up to them a lot” That's all I said, and he actually looked really surprised and admitted that it was insecure. He hasn't done that since — men hate looking weak, especially in front of a woman. If you can tie his negative behavior to something like that, they'll stop doing it pronto. If he does it again, I'll try tactic #2, embarrassing him back in front of his friends, which I think would probably be less effective.

  • susanawalsh

    D, I agree that it's not the responsibility of women to do all the changing. I just think it's going to help them get further if they can dial down the emotion somewhat. Also, to be honest, I think it's easier to take emotional speech out of a conversation than try to add more in, if that makes sense. I think women are more capable of doing it both ways than men are. We are taught to connect and nurture through conversation, which I believe makes us more elastic in our communication style. Since men tend to have more pride invested, and view conversations as competitive in nature, they are naturally more guarded in terms of what they're willing to give away.

    So often, it comes down to the difference between the sexes. I agree that both men and women should make real effort. I just think women are more easily able to make adjustments than men are. At least, that was my experience.

    I am so sorry to hear that you and IC have had an argument. It's very important to be on the same page when it comes to brownies, so I hope you'll be able to work it out. Since he's been friendly to the whole gluten-free shtick, I'm betting that you will prevail.

  • susanawalsh

    Oh, Verie, nice move! I love it – you peered into his psyche and analyzed him, haha! I can imagine how effective that was if it implied weakness. Also, he was obviously trying to prove something to you, assuring you that he had been successful with many women. Instead of being impressed, you effectively said, “Gee, that was sort of lame.” Well done.

  • aldonza

    First of all, I strongly disagree with the statement that women have more emotional triggers. I think both sides have lots of triggers, big and small, they just chose different ways to express them.

    I do believe that a lot of things we're upset about *now* have very little to do with the actual event and everything to do with what's going on behind the scenes. However, I can't see any man listening to that diatribe about “respecting my body by not throwing your underwear on the floor” with a straight face.

    I do think you're on to something with the “how did it feel” thing. I think a lot of our current emotions are echos of things that happened long ago. The event today is the trigger, but the actual feelings are mostly about the past.

  • aldonza

    It occurs to me that a lot of things that I do naturally in dating are almost certainly screening mechanisms for PUA tactics. If a man doesn't offer to buy me drinks or dinner, I might choose to enjoy some time with him, but I automatically put him in the “suspect” category. If any man threatens, directly or indirectly, to walk away, I let him. Yes, even a high-value man. I admit that I'm hyper-sensitive to anything that I perceive as controlling behavior.

  • aldonza

    I second this completely. The most scared any man has ever been of me hasn't been when I was ranting and raving. Most men are pretty immune to that. But if you go deathly silent and instead wait for him to explain, it's a quite powerful thing. In fact, this is a good tactic for just about anything. Just shut up and look at him. Most men aren't used to silent women.

    That said, there *are* men out there who are flat out emotionally withdrawn and use silence on their side as a controlling mechanism. If you go silent, and he goes silent…it becomes a stand-off. There is no winning a stand-off with a man like that.

  • susanawalsh

    Aldonza, it sounds like you've had a lot of exposure to PUAs. Have you met a man who has used Game to be a better man and lover? Just curious, not out there in the trenches myself.

  • susanawalsh

    True. That's when you fold.

  • aldonza

    Honestly? I haven't. I wish I had as it would've been fascinating to discuss with him. It seems when I've bumped into men who are clearly “playing by the book”, they are not doing it for self-improvement. They're doing it to get laid. Of course even the ones who are doing it for self-improvement are doing it to get laid too. LOL!

  • ExNewYorker

    Ha! Well, the DVR is a neat little invention, so I take advantage of it… :-)

    Now that being said, support is something that comes with the territory as a married guy. However, there is a difference between support, and drama for its own sake. I think its important for a woman to understand that we'll make some accomodations for the women in our lives, but if it's to hear the nth time about the same argument with a coworker, then we'll turn on the football game again.

  • susanawalsh

    Haha, true that, but I'll take Jedi Game over Sith Game anyday.

  • susanawalsh

    Haha, fair enough!

  • Passer_By

    Susan:

    I thought you might enjoy the attached regarding the skewed dating numbers on campus. Notice how the women (and the author) accept as a given the hypergamic notion that all women (as a group) are of course going to rule out half of the men as potential mates.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/07/fashion/07cam

  • Passer_By

    Never mind – looks like you'd already seen it. You're new post showed up right after I made the above comment.

  • susanawalsh

    haha, great minds think alike! And yes, my main thrust was to take on the hypergamy.

  • hambydammit

    Heh… well, being as diplomatic as possible… I suppose a lot of women have to use smaller and fewer words to communicate to their men. But, if a man is too much of a lunkhead to listen to the reason underwear on the floor pisses his woman off, I say the woman is getting what she paid for, and I have very little sympathy. There are a lot of men who would be thrilled to learn how to prevent their partners from being upset.

    The “how did it feel” thing isn't mine. It's the cornerstone of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which is the most accessible and successful form of psychological therapy being used today. It's also been grabbed up by PUAs, and ties into just what I was saying… women tend to work off of emotional triggers. Which isn't to say women have more emotions than men. That's nonsense, of course. It's saying that women DO tend to be more socially aware, which means they are reacting to emotions with emotions. Men tend to try to work around their emotions.