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Lost in Translation: For the Ladies

Lately I’ve been observing a lot of miscommunication between men and women I know. I see both genders wasting a lot of energy on trying to convince others that they are right. And I want to ask, do you want to be right, or do you want a positive outcome? Myself, I prefer the outcome. I will sacrifice my rightness for harmony, provided I end up actually getting what I want a reasonable amount of the time.

For example, when I got home from the grocery store today, I opened the garage door so David would know I was coming in, hoping he would then volunteer to help me carry the groceries. David may not have remembered that I was grocery shopping, but this is beside the point. I was tired, grumpy, hungry, and itching to kick someone’s ass. David did not come to the door, nor did he offer to help me with the groceries. So I dragged them in myself, and put them away (in a slightly louder and more percussive fashion than strictly necessary).

Now at this point, I’m faced with a choice: grump at David for not having anticipated my needs and helped me with the groceries (rather than finish his pool game), or instead ask him to help me fix dinner, and forgo the recriminations. I opted for number two, asking “Would you help me fix dinner?”. In return I got to bypass a big chunk of my cooking prep, and also felt less neglected and pissed off. I could have gone the other route and said something like, “I really wish you’d helped me with the groceries, they were really heavy.” The outcome of this action would have been to make David grumpy at me, as he would have felt that jumping down his throat for something that he didn’t know I needed (a decent point), I would have felt guilty, and probably still grumpy, and our evening would have been significantly less pleasant. Would I have been right? Who freaking cares? Would the outcome have been positive? No.

For the ladies, there’s a little trick I learned from Men are From Mars blah blah… Use the word “would” when you ask your guy for something. It matters not at all whether or not if the something is a favor, something you’re entitled to, or common sense (something you thought he should have already known). Not even a little bit.

If you say, “You really should call your mom so I know what to bring to brunch”, you will be met with stony silence, whining, or some other form of evasion. If you say, “Would you call your mom and ask her what we should bring to the brunch?” you give him the perception of a choice. This does not mean you feel any less strongly about your preference for the activity. The difference between a choice and not a choice might seem trivial to you, but to men it is NOT TRIVIAL. One implies the opportunity for him to do something you will appreciate and recognize him for (positive reinforcement is a possible outcome), the other implies that if he does not perform your request, he will be less than adequate/manly/helpful/appreciated – he will be not even meeting the minimal standards, let alone getting approval. This makes for an unhappy guy, and an unhappy guy is less concerned with having a happy girl.

Here is a handy reference manual:

You say: Please take the trash out now, or we’re going to miss the pickup.
He hears: You are a lazy ass (disrespectful).
His reaction: Bite me.

You say: I need you to take the trash out, now.
He hears: I command you in the name of your mother to take out the trash (emasculating).
His reaction: Bite me.

You say: Honey, could you please take the trash out for me?
He hears: I’m not sure if you’re capable of taking out the trash, but I wish you would (belittling).
His reaction: Bite me.

You say: Would you take the trash out tonight?
He hears: I have the option of taking the trash out and getting approval, or not taking it out and not getting the approval (respectful).
His reaction: He takes out the trash.
You: Give him approval.

You might argue that he should know to take out the trash, that he previously promised to, that you don’t trust him to do it if you give him a choice, or that there is no reason for you to give him a choice as it is his responsibility. I have two words for you. Positive. Outcome. And that positive outcome not only includes a happier you and a happier guy, it makes other conflicts easier to deal with because you haven’t worn each other down over stupid shit. Ultimately, we all want to be treated with respect. It’s just that we sometimes have slightly different versions of what that is, and we mistake our own particular preference for that of others. At school we’ve talked about the Platinum Rule, which is “do unto others as they would have done unto them.” I totally concur.

The Further Adventures of Literal Man vs. Symbolic Girl

So I asked David, as per usual, if he would call me tonight when he got to his hotel (he’s fishing with his dad and brothers), to which he replied, as per usual, “I’ll think about it.” Or it might have been, “I’ll try,” which is also interchangeable with “I’ll do my best.” That’s about when my head began spinning around and I started speaking in tongues. Let’s look at a translation, shall we?
My perspective:
Symbolic Girl says: “I would really like it if you would call me tonight.”
Translation: “Call me or I’ll start to worry you ran off with the stripper you met at a roadside diner right before your car flipped over and you woke up with amnesia in a hospital in Bermuda.”

Literal Man says: “I’ll think about it.”
Symbolic Girl hears: “I will call if I feel like it, but I really don’t want to and you can’t push me around, nyhaaa.”

His perspective:
Symbolic Girl says: “I would really like it if you would call me tonight.”
Translation: “I would really like it if you would call me tonight.”

Literal Man says: “I’ll think about it.”
Translation: “I will call barring unforeseen events that might prohibit me from calling, but I won’t say “yes, I’ll call you” because that would mean that if said unforeseen events were to occur I would have to bend space and time in order to call and that might not be possible. Hence; maybe.”

So you see the dilemma: Literal Man hears Symbolic Girl’s question literally and gives her an answer that is scientifically and statistically accurate. But Symbolic Girl hears this answer and tries to interpret what it says about Literal Man’s feelings towards said request (and herself), taking into account his word choice, tone of voice, body language, time of day, and wardrobe.

Symbolic Girl: Ask all questions in the form of yes/no or multiple choice. Be specific. Leave as little room for (your own) interpretation as possible.
Literal Man: Keep in mind that when Symbolic Girl asks you amost any question, be it “Would you call me tonight?” or “How does this shirt look?” or “What time is it?” or “Do you enjoy knitting?” she is usually actually asking “Am I important to you?” Answer accordingly.