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An incident: I was at lunch with Chris and Steve the other day. I had ordered some garlic bread and could not finish it. I asked the waitress if she would put it in a box to take home, and she did. On the way past the cashier, I realized that I had forgotten to take the box from the table. I said, "Rats! I forgot the bread!" Chris said, "Go ahead and get it, we'll wait." I thought for a moment, said, "No, its not that important." and started to walk out. Chris: "It'll only take a moment." Me: "Yes, but I have to go all the way back, and I probably won't eat it anyway, and it probably won't reheat very well, and..." Chris then said in jest, "Sounds like a bunch of excuses to me." In fact, they really did sound like excuses to him. But to me, describing why I did not want to go back for the bread was not making excuses, rather I was just describing the reasons I had for not going back .
At the heart of this difference in perspective is the difference in the way female and male brains are "firmwired". As a result, neither women nor men can see into the heart of the other without finding a lack of coherence.
Here is a side by side comparison of the steps leading from having too much bread to the differing interpretations of my response to forgetting the box.
Melanie is thinking:
"That's good bread, but I'm full. I might take it home, but I'm not convinced it will reheat. Also, I've really eaten too many calories in the last few days, I'm two pounds over where I want to be and I have a hair appointment on Wednesday and a dinner date on the weekend with a new friend I want to impress, so maybe I shouldn't eat anymore. The kids won't want it, but I could give it to the dog, and if I get hungry myself, I'll have it there (even though I shouldn't eat it if I want to lose that two pounds!)" So I tell the waitress to bring me a doggie bag.
Chris' interpretation of Melanie:
She wants to take the bread home.
To me there was only a tendency or balance toward bringing the bread home, and barely enough to justify the effort. To Chris it was a binary decision: I wanted to bring it home or not.
Melanie: "Rats! I forgot to bring the bread!"
Chris: "Go ahead and get it, we'll wait."
I'm thinking, "How does this change the situation? Well, I really don't want to be tempted by it, this unexpected turn makes it easier to lose the weight. If I go back I'll be tempted or give it to the dog. If I don't go back I won't be tempted, which is good because I know I usually give in to such temptations. Of course, the dog loses out, but we just bought some special treats for the dog so she won't miss what she wasn't expecting. All in all, the effort of going around two corners while everyone waits just so I can get an extra doggie treat and lead myself into temptation isn't worth it. So when I said, "Rats! I forgot the bread", I didn't mean I was unhappy that I didn't have it, but that I was unhappy I no longer wanted it enough to get it. Chris is thinking, "How can she solve this problem?
Melanie: "No, its not that important." Chris: "It'll only take a moment."
I'm thinking that since I was right on the edge of not wanting to take it in the first place, even this little extra necessary effort is enough inconvenience to make it not a positive thing but an irritation, so I'll just drop it and not pay even the minor price. Chris is thinking that since I made up my mind to take the bread in the first place, how is it that this little inconvenience could change my mind 180 degrees. I must be lazy or embarrassed because I forgot it or something. So I try to explain.
Melanie: "Yes, but I have to go all the way back, and I probably won't eat it anyway, and it probably won't reheat very well, and..."
Chris: "Sounds like a bunch of excuses to me."
I'm trying to convey about a thousand petty concerns that went into my emotional assessment that it was no longer worth going back for. Chris just hears a bunch of trumped up reasons, none of which are sufficient to change one's plans. I operated according to an emotional tendency to bring the bread home that was just barely sufficient to generate even the slightest degree of motivation. Chris, as most men, doesn't naturally assume motivation has a degree, thinking that as a rule you're either motivated or you are not. The differences between the way women and men evaluate problems lead them to see the others' methods as excuses and justifications.
Now, what does all this mean? When men look at problems, they see a single item that is a specific irritation and seek to correct it. When they look at inequities, they see a number of problems interrelated. Women look at single problems the same way, but sense inequities from a completely emotional standpoint, more like disharmonies, measuring them on a sliding scale of tendencies to respond in certain ways.
For a man, a problem is the root of a branch tree with inequities being created as multiple problems interrelate. So at one end is the single problem at the other end, multiple problems which are seen as inequities.
For a woman, a problem is an item out of balance that stands alone. Whatever is done to or about it has no impact on anything else. Disharmony is a whole mind operation in which every fiber of the mind is effected by the problem.
In order for a woman to communicate the fullness of her sense of disharmony to a man, she would have to list every thing in her past, present, future, AND the way things are going to build up the full extent of what balances the natural tendency to want to solve the problem. That is impossible. And when a woman throws up her hands and tries to list the major points, often they do not add up to enough to convince the man that they are just "excuses".
Imagine an old balance scale - the kind they used to weigh gold on. In a conversation, the man has one scale and you have another. Both are properly calibrated, and each one works consistently for its respective owner. Now, you wish to show the man why you made a particular decision. On one side of the scale, you put the desire to solve the problem. That has a specific weight. On the other side you have a whole bag of things that taken altogether outweigh the desire to solve the problem. But, you can't fit the bag onto the man's scale (which is the same as not being able to share your whole mind with a man) so you open the bag and start to haul out the reasons - biggest one's first.
Well, it turns out the first reason by itself is much lighter that the desire to solve the problem, so it isn't sufficient. The man discounts it and takes it off HIS scale. But from your point of view, you assume it is still on the scale being weighed. You pull out the next argument which is even smaller, and together they still aren't enough to tip the scales. So, you keep pulling one more reason after another out of the bag until you feel you have shown why the balance was tipped. But meanwhile, the man has been taking each one off his scale after they had been weighed, sees that the new arguments are getting progressively lighter and finally says, "Sounds like a bunch of excuses to me."
To the man, it becomes quickly obvious that the trend indicates that you aren't going to pull a sufficiently weighty argument out of the bag, so what's holding you back from solving the problem? But you know that there may be only a few big chunks, but the rest of the bag is full of sand. And all those little pieces together outweigh the desire to solve the problem. If you took the man's approach and went ahead and solved it anyway, everything in that bag would suffer to some degree, and the overall result would be less happiness rather than more.
This is why it is so easy for one sex to lead the other into justification: each isn't looking at part of the picture. For a man to lead on a woman, all he has to do is give her enough sand to keep the balance slightly on his side and then he can weigh her down with all kinds of negative things because it still comes out positive overall. For a woman to lead on a man, all she has to do is give him a one positive chunk and then fill his bag full of sand with the things she wants. He'll never even notice.
Of course if you push too far from either side it tips the balance and all hell breaks loose. But if you give to the other sex the parts that are unimportant to you, not only will you get what you want, but you'll make them very happy as well.
For more information about male/female
mental differences visit:
The Mental Relativity Home Page
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