I don’t know what it is about women, but most of us tend to find relationships utterly fascinating. Get some girls together, and regardless of where the conversation starts, it usually ends up in a discussion centering around interactions between the sexes.
In some ways, I find this truly bizarre. I have absolutely brilliant friends in every field imaginable. We could be talking about politics, or investments, or law, or history, or medieval literature, or classic languages, or psychology, or philosophy, or pretty much anything under the sun.
We might touch on those things, yes. But that’s just the prelude to our real conversation.
A few weeks ago, I sat across from a friend in a dim bar. It had been a while since we had last seen each other, and we had a lot of life to catch up on. But quite soon after concluding the opening niceties, she sat back in her chair and looked at me, intently.
“So, tell me how a relationship works. I always screw them up.”
I stared at her, bewildered. “Why am I the one you’re asking for advice?” The previous week’s bickering and never ending communication fails with my fiance started to parade through my mind.
“You’re an expert.”
I choked on my drink, and gin and tonic shot up through my nose. (This really burns, my friends.) “How…why…have you reached that conclusion?”
She rolled her eyes. “You’re engaged. You’re obviously doing something right. I’ve never been able to get even CLOSE to that point.” She leaned forward, waiting for me to speak. Cornered, quite literally, in a booth, I began to wrack my mind for things to say. Engagement does not an expert make, but I tried my best.
The first thing I blurted out? It’s hard. Sometimes infuriatingly so—but that’s just the reality of two completely different people trying to fit together. Occasionally you want to disembowel the person you love more than life itself, and feed his innards to ravenous dogs. Sometimes you want to do the same to yourself, after you realize what a witch you’ve been.
She looked discouraged. I think she was expecting sunshine and daisies, which might be part of her problem. I tried to inject some joy—because there is so much if to be had, alongside the desired disembowellings.
And so, our conversation continued, meandering on for an embarrassingly long time. In the process, I realized that, from my—admittedly—very limited experience (I’ll get back to you in fifty years), I have drawn three main conclusions. I’ve been trying to remind myself of them every day, with varying degrees of total and abject failure.
1) Women talk way too much. Or, at least, I do. I think my mantra needs to be “Keep it simple, stupid.” Otherwise known as K.I.S.S. In fact, maybe that’s a good idea right from the get go. Just shut up and kiss him, and be done with vile words.
I can’t even begin to count the number of times when my patient fiance has groaned the groan of a man tortured beyond endurance and said something along the lines of “STOP TALKING. JUST TELL ME WHAT YOU WANT TO SAY IN ONE SENTENCE. JUST ONE. OR I’M NOT LISTENING.”
It’s totally more difficult than it sounds. I don’t think I have yet been successful at summarizing everything into one sentence. But he’s nice, so he lets me get away with two or three. Or four.
As hard as it is, the less I say, the better. If I actually DO need to say something, I think about it really hard beforehand and try to whittle it down to the bare minimum. He doesn’t get overwhelmed by words, and is more inclined to listen and give me what I want. Me for the win!
But before I even do that, I try to gauge whether I need to say anything at all.
You know all those quaint sayings “Least said, soonest mended,” or “The less said the better,” or even “Preach always the Gospel, and if you must, use words”?
Yep. They are pretty much true. No joke. Say what you absolutely must, and then put the 95 percent left over into a journal or talk to your therapist, or find a spiritual director.
2) Women are bitches to the men they love. Seriously. Women have this bizarre habit of treating the men they love with an air of condescending superiority, as if they are mindless morons who never do anything right.
Wait. I hope it’s not just me.
Here’s the thing: Men are so vastly different than women. They can’t be our girlfriends. And we have to stop hating them for that.
The times I have been writhing in anguish or seething with anger over something inane, ignoring, in the meantime, all of the amazing things that are done just for me, is actually quite embarrassing. What’s worse, is that sometimes I don’t even register the effort at all.
It really helps to keep a list of all the good things—big and small. Also, be realistic about who you are attached to. If he leaves you one love note for every five or ten you leave him, maybe don’t start wondering why he doesn’t leave you love notes more often.
Maybe realize that the fact that he did it AT ALL is truly a miracle in and of itself. Look for all the ways you can be grateful and thrilled to have him in your life, even if it means being happy about some pretty weird and bizarre things. Remember: he’s a boy.
You might end up being very pleasantly surprised.
3) Finally, and most importantly, and you’ve definitely heard this one: you can only change yourself, so stop trying to change him. I mean it. Stop it.
One of the most incredible minor miracles of my life has been to realize this: if I want him to be more patient, I work on my own patience. If I want him to be more attentive, I make sure I pay close attention to him.
Its the craziest and most humbling thing, but almost everything I get fed up with in him is something I actually need to work on myself. And in working on myself, somehow, magically, without my saying anything, I start to get exactly what I need in return.
None of this is easy, of course. I can cheerfully type this out, and sound as if I’ve got it together. But I know one man who definitely knows otherwise and is probably reading this and wondering who wrote it and where he can find her.
In the end though, it’s not really about where you are starting from. It’s about the effort you make and the direction you are headed in. Find a person who is willing to join you where you are, and who admires your baby steps forward, and you are golden.