This misconception comes from the romanticised idea of love we get from the entertainment media: that loving someone means you’ll always be in harmony with one another; that you have the sort of connection that enables you to finish one another’s thoughts. Maybe you can do that, but the ability usually comes from years of being with another person: so through experience, you know what they like and dislike and so on.

The misconception is easy enough to dispel: love and understanding aren’t dependent on one another. There’s a Simpsons episode where Lisa is upset because Mr Bergstrom, an excellent substitute teacher, is leaving. She wails at Homer, “You don’t understand!” Her baboon of a father tries to comfort her with, “Oh honey, I understand; I just don’t care.” On the flip side, to love someone doesn’t mean we know what they’re thinking. Try swapping the two verbs: “if you understood me, you’d love me.” It doesn’t work, does it? We might pity them or empathize with them, but we wouldn’t necessarily love them. Whether “love” means “in love” or “choosing what’s best”, the answer is still the same.

This misconception tends to be gender-specific: although males can say that they don’t understand women, I’ve never heard a guy equate understanding with love, saying that if his girlfriend doesn’t understand him, she doesn’t love him. If understanding comes with love, women should understand that men need issues of emotion and expectations spelled out to them: hints, even what girls think are strong ones, usually don’t work. Your female friends can see your message written in the sky with 50-metre-high letters of fire, but a man needs a sniffer dog, a map and a team of cryptoanalysts before he begins to think that maybe you’re telling him something. If he asks you for confirmation, “Is something the matter?” it isn’t because he doesn’t love you; it’s because he genuinely doesn’t understand what is so obvious to you. So the accusation “If you loved me, you’d know what was wrong!” is untrue. The other possible retort “Nothing!” is unfair as well, because the girl’s non-verbal expression says the complete opposite. (This is the only female non-verbal phrase a guy can detect.) After “Nothing!” guys have a choice: to either play a guessing game or let the girl alone to vent off steam. Sure, there are rare guys who are attuned to female communication: he would be on the alert the moment he saw that you had garnished the vichyssoise with basil instead of chives. But even the most haute couture metrosexual can’t compete with any woman when it comes to communication between the sexes.

Think of communication between men and women in terms of colour. Girls communicate using all the colours in the visible light spectrum. Guys talk in black and white. When he says, “You look fine”, he means you look fine. When you ask him which pair of shoes you should wear with your outfit and he shrugs and says “They both look okay”. There are no subtleties in his tone or emphasis. He means simply that they both look okay. If he thought about it he might add “I understand that you’re asking me because you want to show that you value my opinion and therefore respect me and my input into our relationship and I thank you for that but I don’t have your sartorial sophistication. I think you’re beautiful whatever you wear – yes, I know I don’t say it enough – and I know you love me even though you don’t understand that I don’t care about the shoes. If you understood me you’d bring me a beer, drink a beer with me, tell me how well I drink a beer, rest your head on my shoulder while I drink a beer, or find the TV remote.” But he rarely does think about it; he just sighs and wonders why women take so long to get dressed.

Maybe you think he doesn’t understand you because, despite your best efforts and hints, he doesn’t improve himself or offer you a more permanent relationship. You become frustrated with him but continue to provide him with sex, food and clean shirts. In fact, he understands well enough but, because you supply all his needs without explicitly talking about what you want, why should he make an effort? His desire to avoid commitment may go so far that, if you don’t cook for him he says nothing but gets takeaway; if you don’t wash his shirts he sniffs them and hangs them out to air. It is only when you stop having sex with him or threaten to leave him that he might pay you attention. However, if this kind of emotional blackmail is the only way you can get him to pay attention to you, do you really want a long-term relationship with him? Do you really expect that coercion is the means to “happily ever after”?

Almost a decade ago, Dr Gary Chapman wrote a book called The Five Love Languages. He stated that there are five different ways of expressing their love for another person. This may be by spending time with the other, giving them gifts, physical affection, doing things for them or by telling them. It’s more than possible that we can express our love for another person using a love language that they don’t understand. If my language is through physical affection and hers is through giving gifts then, when I cuddle her she wonders why I can’t keep my hands off her; and because I rarely give her gifts she thinks that I don’t really love her. On the other hand, she gives me little presents but isn’t keen on being embraced, so I think she’s prodigal with money and isn’t attracted to me physically. We’d both think that the other person doesn’t understand us, which would be correct as far as we misinterpret each other’s love language. However, it would be wrong to infer that we didn’t love one another.

Men aren’t as wholistic as women: a woman’s thoughts and emotions work in greater concert with one another – and so affect one another more – than a man’s do. Males can keep their emotional life separated from their thoughts. This difference is the strength and the weakness of both genders; it is how men and women complement each other. The male provides greater objectivity and stability, the woman brings a depth and richness to the relationship. Of course women can be objective and rational and men can let their emotions rule them; however, we’re looking at broad, rule-of-thumb differences between the sexes. These aren’t absolutely true for every single person and every person doesn’t have the same integration, or segregation, of mind and emotions.

I tend to think that, painting the picture with broad and crude brushstrokes, men and women provide the answers to the “how” and “what” questions of life: men are task-focussed, and are meant to be the answer to the question, “What do we do with our lives?” Men protect and provide for their families and for those unable to provide for themselves. Women are relationship-focussed and are meant to be the answer to the question “How do we make the best of our lives?” Women are best at creating and maintaining community with others. In the Bible, God Himself said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” Without other people to share life with, life has no joy. And He created the woman. (To forestall or stop howls of derision and accusations of misogyny and bigotry, recall that I said at the start of the paragraph that this was a broad and crude picture. I’m not suggesting that men should work and women should stay home with the kids. We are all relational creatures who find significance in what we do.)

Broadly speaking, men focus on getting things done, so when you come to him with a problem, he’ll try to solve it. It’s difficult for us to appreciate that you just want us to listen and empathise to how you are thinking and feeling. To the male mind, a problem is something to be solved and shelved. The male mind says: here’s a problem. The sooner the problem is solved, the sooner you’ll be happy. Here are some possible solutions. Try them until the problem goes away.

For example, take a couple living on a farm. The problem: not enough rain, and the pitiful crop that does grow is eaten by kangaroos that are breeding in record numbers. The girl wants to talk about things: We may have to leave our friends and community. What will we do? We may both have to work, so who will take care of the kids? We might have to take shift work to pay for the kids’ education. Will we see enough of each other? How are you feeling about this? Is there any way I can help you so we get through this together?

The guy takes a spotlight and shotgun, and culls the ‘roos. The low-fat meat is good to eat for pets and people. The skins make excellent leather; they can be tanned and sold. Members of Parliament can be lobbied for government assistance: primary production is a vital contributor to the Australian economy, so it must be protected until crops improve.

Of course, the guy does care about the future and their home and their family, and the girl does get things done. But we’re talking about how each sex most naturally responds: by action or by communication.

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