Thursday, May 31, 2012

Manly Thor's Day Special: Her crisis and yours

When cats feel threatened and angry they wag their tales in wide arcs moving more quickly just before they strike. When dogs want you to love and trust them they wag their tales back and forth moving faster the more intensely they feel the need to win your love.

Now you can see why cats and dogs have communications problems.

For a woman, a crisis is an opportunity to race her emotions the way a young man might want to drive a car fast and hard.

Before I go on, stop a moment and think about how men compete at sports and games. There is s a lot of suffering involved. For starters, someone has to lose. But even before that there is pain and stress. And yet most men keep doing it. We see it as a worthy discipline, an opportunity to learn and grow morally and a way to bond with others. And no matter how much it costs, we keep doing it.

And most women treat emotional risks the same way men treat physical ones.

This leads to serious problems of communication between men and women. At the height of an emotional crisis she will tell you, with absolute sincerity, that she hates it that this has happened and wants to change things so this never happens again. And you'll believe her and get pulled into the plans. Oftentimes these plans will mean sacrificing activities and things you like or love. At the very least it will mean changing a routine you have gotten used to.

And then, sure as night follows day, the exact same kind of emotional crisis will recur with the same talk about how she wants to stop this from happening.

It's not that she wants it to happen. At the same time, however, she has no intention of making the changes that would actually prevent this crisis from recurring. She is like an athlete about these things: she doesn't want to lose so she plans to win but she'd rather risk loss or even a fiery crash than stopping racing her emotions. No matter how much she says she hates the crisis at home, at work or in love, she will continue to behave in exactly the ways that make it inevitable that she will have another emotional crisis at home, at work or in love.

And, odd as this will sound, you don't want to stop her. Truth be told, she'd be miserable if she wasn't allowed to run the risk of emotional crisis. She'd be far more miserable if forced to give this game up than any of her crises ever make her. (Another thing you don't want to do is get roped into her plans to "prevent" the next crisis: those are really plans to make sure you are in just as deep as she is.)

She doesn't want emotional failure. She wants emotional success just as you want to win when you compete. She wants to throw herself into whatever it is she throws herself into with abandon and come out triumphant.

I knew two sisters once who hated one another. They had nursed long grudges against one another all their lives. And yet they couldn't resist the opportunity to get together at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter so they could bring about a repeat of the same emotional conflict (which was always a replay of a conflict they'd had since they were children). And it would always turn out badly. They knew one another inside out and they both knew exactly how to deeply wound the other. There was zero chance that either would come out triumphant: they'd always both lose. But they could not stop.

After each holiday they'd rail for days, if not weeks, about how they'd just had it with the other. But never once did either go for the obvious solution of simply not going to Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter with the family this year. They kept doing it even after both their parents had died and there was just the two of them and their husbands and children, all of whom grew up dreading and hating the holidays. (The two husbands had different ways of dealing with it. One would wait a while and sneak away to find a television and watch some sports program. The other would start drinking whisky at noon.)

Yes, we men have our contradictory traits too. The difference is that everyone talks about those nowadays. It's no longer allowed to point out that women tend to do the same irrational things over and over again.

I could say a lot about this but today I want to focus on why a woman will often be useless at helping you with your crisis and why, no matter how much she claims otherwise, she doesn't really want to hear you talk about about your feelings.

A very instructive thing for a man to do is to watch a group of women interact; a gaggle of teens, sisters or "best-friends forever". Don't participate. Just listen. The conversation will move from pleasantries to what might be called unpleasantries very quickly. These friends will spend a lot of time wallowing in unhappy things. And you will notice that no one will offer any solutions to the problems discussed. To the contrary, they'll help one another amplify the emotions.

And then they will take turns trying to match or beat the crisis described by the others.

Most women have done this with other women all her life and it is a deeply embedded trait. And that is why telling a woman that you are unhappy will so often fail. You go to her because you want to stop being unhappy but she responds by jumping right in. She thinks this is great—she can finally play with you the game she loves playing with her girlfriends. 

Next, she'll have a crisis of her own. She'll do that because that is the way the game is always played. Girlfriend number one tells about her crisis with her boss and everyone will nod sympathetically and then one of the group will try and match if not beat the story with one of her own. So too a woman will often respond to your emotional crisis, by promptly having one of her own.

In its most perverse variation, she will sometimes have a crisis because she has hurt you. You go to her to tell her she has hurt your feelings or neglected your needs and she will initially respond by listening sympathetically but rapidly get so consumed with guilt and self-hatred that any chance of her apologizing and changing her behaviour will rapidly vanish. To you, this will feel like a passive-aggressive avoidance strategy: every time you have crisis, she has one too thereby undermining you. You get the feeling that she is punishing you for having problems and daring to bring them up with her. And you're not crazy; it often is a passive-aggressive avoidance strategy and she really doesn't want to hear about your problems, especially your problems with her. Another part of the problem is that you are not playing the game the way she's always played it. She sees this as away to connect with you through a shared activity the same way a bunch of guys will sit around talking about sports instead of playing sports together.

Sometimes she will see you are unhappy and come to you to "Talk about it". But the thing is, she doesn't really want that sort of relationship with a man. She can get that with her women friends any time she wants. She is attracted to you because you are different. You are emotionally solid and different from her. You are the rock in her life while her emotions run rampant (and if you are not, you should man up and become that).

And you don't want that sort of relationship with her either. For starters, she doesn't have sex with her friends and you want a relationship with her that involves sex or, even better, that involves a lot of sex. And take a close look at how she treats her friends and you will quickly figure out you don't want her to treat you that way.

There is a problem here, though, and I'm sure you can see it: What happens when you aren't feeling so solid? What happens when you really do have a crisis? I wish I knew the answer to that. I can tell you what isn't the answer though: don't talk to her about it.

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