Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Why Guys Don't Get It- And Women Don't Either


It was all going so well...

He was so attentive, so handsome, so perfect.
She was so adoring, so lovely.

She was already beginning to imagine the perfect life she was going to lead with him. It would be an endless round of balls and soirees, they would tour about visiting friends, perhaps abroad. And there would be a magnificent house, fine linens and imported china. And she'd have a family of beautiful girls and handsome boys, and he would be an adoring, attentive father.

He had already checked out her stunning figure, corsets and panniers notwithstanding, and by the time his gaze finally reached her face he was already imagining having her in his bed. Her marvelous assets did not end there, of course, and he had reached the stage where he knew she brought good family connections and dowry, would bear sons of fine quality to inherit his title and fortune, and her able skills would manage his household and social life while he was away on more important matters. By now, he could hardly keep his eyes, not to mention his hands, off her.

But then she did something so utterly female. Something any woman would understand.

I love this lithograph, AB Wenzell's The First Spat, from 1899. The body language says it all. Although I think it helps that she has a great corset, it's obvious she is defending herself well, despite his authoritarian stance. It's just as clear he sees her as the one at fault and it's his job to bring her into line.

Or maybe he was the one who did something utterly, clumsily male. From the look on his face in this engraving (sorry, I don't know the artist), I'll bet he has no idea what it was, or at least why it upset her.

Male-to-female mis-comprehension shown at its best. I say "mis-comprehension" even though I know it's not a real word because that's what it ought to be called. These pictures may belong to another century and have that era's markings in its dress, culture and manners, but they portray a never-ending conflict.

Men are different. It's not just that they love all those phallic symbol weapons- although it's clear they do. They both think and act differently from women.
Their brains have different wiring.

This last weekend I had the privilege of hearing an excellent speaker, Cassiel Knight , who talked about body language and how our bodies express what we're thinking even better than our words do. This isn't news to me or probably not to most romance authors, but she covered a lot of ground including some new information on the way men and women think differently.

Most of us won't deny that men tend to be more aggressive than women- although women are definitely learning not to be as passive as they used to be. But that's only the most obvious difference. Where we run into trouble in relationships is often in dealing with body language.

Joseph Christian Leyendecker's painting, Cu Chulainn, just about oozes testosterone. But it also portrays the difference between battle stance and comrade stance. His comrade stands by his side, while they ride together to face the enemy head-on. Men interacting with other men as co-workers or friends tend to not quite face each other directly. They will tend to put up non-confrontational body language when forced into such a position. This is also a leader-to-follower position, though, so it has to be interpreted carefully.

Women tend to face each other when interacting. One reason I'm showing you this painting called the Bower Meadow by Dante Gabriel Rosetti is that there seems to be something a little eerie, unnatural, about it. this s common with many of Rosetti's paintings showing several women. Can you see it? They're facing each other, but they're not sharing eye contact, despite other mutually intimate behavior like dancing together.

It could be, I guess, that women were more acculturated to not making eye contact in the late 19th century when this was painted. And yes, they are absorbed in playing musical instruments, and possibly doing more hearing than seeing. But it almost seems that Rosetti himself found the female eye contact and face-to-face communication uncomfortable. Women tend to see themselves as a part of a community of women, and their face-to-face communication can sometimes be almost beyond male comprehension. OR-- maybe they don't actually see it.

Two things that get in the way of men understanding women: First, they're not looking at their faces. (Yes, we know where they're looking. Another way they're obviously hard-wired.) And second, they're not genetically programmed to pick up very well on the clues on faces when they are looking at them. Both of these are strong points for women.

I think it's interesting that babies of either sex seek out faces and direct face-to-face interaction. While this doesn't change much with women, it begins to differentiate in boys at a pretty early age. Historically, at least in England, but also in many cultures over long periods of time, women have been thought to be in the same class as children, needing protection and provision, but not having the necessary intelligence, strength and skills to manage their own lives.

We've changed a lot over time. But we still have the same brains our ancestors had. No wonder we get so confused sometimes. If you follow the Zits cartoon in your daily paper,
http://www.arcamax.com/zits you'll see that teenagers may communicate with their tapping thumbs at the speed of light, but they still don't get how the other thinks.

First Girl: "Do you remember that girl in our kindergarten class with the brown hair?"

Second Girl: "The one who wore the skirt you liked? Yeah."

First Boy: "Do you remember anything about anybody you've seen more than five minutes ago?"

Second Boy: "I'm not even sure if I remember you."

Still different. Still confused. Good thing that in romance, we celebrate the differences, and actually make an effort to figure them out.


  1. Yes, we know where they're looking. Another way they're obviously hard-wired

    LOL. At least that makes it easier to understand them. One of the common refrains in my critique group when it comes to writing realistic males is TSA: Too self-aware ;)

  2. My heroes are too empathetic. That's why I'm having lots of fun writing a highly sensual novella in the hero's POV. Heroine is not human- she's sort of a goddess, except he's never figured out what she is, and all he gets back from her are enigmatic replies that only leave him more puzzled. Sound like any guy you know?

    They're already the center of the universe- what else could be more interesting? Oops, slap self's wrist. That wasn't nice.

    Oh, Jess, need your correct email address. Your gift card email bounced.

  3. Great post and comments!! Someday I might even read Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. But it is sooo obvious that we don't think, listen or communicate the same way... even after 23 years of marriage! LOL


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