Saturday, December 25, 2010

Why Men Don't Listen to Women

Women often complain that men, especially their domestic partner, don't listen to them. Many of these women claim that men can't communicate. A woman said to me today, "All men want is a blow job."

Women would be wise to recognize that many men decide it's unwise to engage in certain conversations.

For example, a man may decide that listening to his wife or girlfriend "process her feelings" will not make things better. It will more likely exacerbate her illegitimate feelings of victimhood, often at the man's expense.

For instance, if a man forgot his wife's birthday, she might go into a tirade about how it makes her feel unloved. Often she exaggerates how bad it makes her feel so she can extract maximum guilt and recompense from him. To gain still more brownie points, she'll bring up some past faux pas he committed--for example, she caught him watching porn or, "John, and this is not the only time. Just last week, you insisted on watching that stupid football game when you knew it was important to me and the family that we visited grandma. I feel totally not loved. I don't count at all!" (Another deliberate exaggeration to extract maximum goodies from him.)

In such a conversation, he's aware she's overreacting, and to allow her to vent uninterrupted would give undue legitimacy to her grievance. Yet if he defends himself, for example, pointing out examples of her selfishness, she'd accuse him of expanding the argument. Nor is she likely to be assuaged if he offers examples of the many ways he has shown his love. She'll likely feel or assert that she's unheard, invalidated: "Does that really justify your watching porn or forgetting my birthday?! Just listen. Stop defending yourself! I just want to be heard. Can't you just listen for once?!" He's in a Catch 22; he loses either way. So understandably, he wants to avoid the conversation, whereupon the women incorrectly believes then men can't communicate, that all men want is a blow job.

Indeed, many women demand being listened to and that the man dare not offer a solution to her problem lest he be denying her her agency. "I just want to vent. I want to share my feelings. When I'm ready to solve the problem, I will."

Many men get frustrated when the woman he loves has a problem he could solve but he's forced to sit there with duct tape over his mouth. Rather than being frustrated, he preempts or short-cuts the conversation, or simply spaces out, whereupon the women often says or thinks, "Men can't communicate. All they want is a blow job."

A study by Georgetown gender communication specialist Deborah Tannen debunks the conventional wisdom that women talk more than men. Fact is, men talk approximately the same amount--16,000 words a day.

The difference, I believe, is that men more often talk when a constructive outcome is likely--Men are not as dumb as women proclaim. Nor is a blow job sufficient to manipulate a man...although it couldn't hurt. ;-)


Anonymous said...

Hey, what happened to the original image for this post?

Anonymous said...

Deborah Tannen is a professor at Georgetown University.

Marty Nemko said...

Thanks. Fixed.

Marty Nemko said...

Re the original picture, two readers complained that it was unnecessarily prurient, and because I didn't want to distract readers from its serious message, I chose to replace it.

Anonymous said...

I relate to this. As a woman, I am tired of being viewed as "cold" because I don't want to listen to yet another woman's angst-filled description of a solvable problem. I'm about to cut a friend loose for this reason. Too many monologues about issues with no interest in solutions. Not at all constructive.

Anonymous said...

It is because of men's propensity to want to solve problems that we enjoy things like clean drinking water, iPhones, supermarkets, SUVs, malls, and mammograms.

Kelly said...

I guess I'm rather man-like in my communications, too. Like Anonymous 8:08am, I'm tired of listening to other women vent about problems they could easily solve by growing "a pair" and doing that they already know needs to be done. A coworker whom I cannot escape is driving me up the wall with her drama, when it's clear for anyone with ears that she is only happy when she feels persecuted.

Thanks for changing the picture, Marty. I couldn't bring myself to read the post while it was there but checked back today to see if you'd removed it.

Anonymous said...

hello - we're holding a debate on whether men listen to women on Tuesday 8 March at Dartmouth House in London - email for tickets (£5)

Marty Nemko said...

Anonymous, isn't the more interesting question, "WHY don't men listen more to women?" I suspect that, framed as it is, the debate will unfairly result in men being, yet again, treated unfairly relative to their merit? As I wrote in this post, men often stop listening to women--but for wise reasons.

Doof said...

Are you kidding me? For a man of such intelligence, you sure are a base sexist. Plus, as supported by the comments, you have a readership comprised of a number of women who buy into this form of misogyny. Rather than suggest ways of making relationships with this sort of dynamic more healthy, you opt to go along with the old "women need to hash out their feelings, you bet they will bring up every instance you screwed up in the past, here she goes again about AGENCY, the poor men can't get a word in OH NOES WHAT ABOUT TEH MENZ???"trope. But at least he'll get a BEEJ out of it.

Yeah, men have it rough. They only get listened to and respected more than women, oh, everywhere in life. Including at home. Shut the hell up and listen to your wives. Maybe if you weren't so unaware of your privilege, you'd actually be receptive to these women and there would be no need for them to be "communicative."

By the way, I'm a Mensan, too. I sought your blog because I saw your piece in this month's Mensa bulletin and was interested in your work coaching high IQ adults. Needless to say, I'm not so interested anymore.

Marty Nemko said...

I was tempted to not respond to your cherry-picked unfair response. Alternately, I was tempted to write a line-by-line refutation. Instead, I've decided it's wisest to simply refer you to two recent posts of mine that I believe constitute a reasonable rejoinder: