By Janet Osman
Say what you will about “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus”, but men and women learn to communicate in different ways. Women learn to notice things that men routinely overlook, and vice versa.
There are things that women face regularly that men never have to think about. Women receive messages differently from men, and if you want to get your point across, you have to speak to your audience.
These are a few types of statements that will almost always result in an irritated look at least.
1. What’s wrong with you?
Perhaps she’s had a bad day. Maybe you’ve just said something cringe-worthy in front of her childhood hero. But this question contains the implication that she, not the situation she may be experiencing, must be at fault. Fixing this one is simple: lop off the last two words. That removes the implication that she’s the guilty party. But only ask if you are actually prepared to listen.
2. That (woman who just walked past) is hot!
Even with a woman you are not involved with, this is a bad idea. Women can see themselves in the other woman’s place: being assessed and objectified from afar, and it’s not a good feeling. There’s no way to fix this: just keep your opinions about other women to yourself.
3. You should lose weight/get a boob job/get a nose job/etc.
Even if she has been complaining about the body part in question, adding your suggestion will immediately put her on the defensive. Men and women both deal with body image problems, but what you might think is a helpful suggestion, is actually more fuel for the low self-esteem flames. How to fix it? Tell her she’s beautiful instead. She just might return the favor when you realize that you’re not the same size you were in college.
4. Is it that time of the month? You are telling her that her reaction to a statement or event could not have a reasonable explanation. You are dismissing the validity of her responses. While some women do have great difficulty with hormonal changes, suggesting that her being upset over something must be caused by her supposed inability to react in a reasonable manner will only build resentment.
Even if you notice werewolf-like transformations at the same time each month, be supportive. If her periods restrict several normal activities (besides sex), she may need to see a doctor. But don’t suggest that she’s only upset because of hormonal changes.
5. Mansplaining: If your female friend is a gastroenterologist and you are not, you really should not try to explain that a colonoscopy “isn’t that hard to do”. Mansplaining is when you explain something to someone who probably knows better than you, but you forge ahead, forgetting your audience. Women do it too, but men are great at taking risks- even with conversations, boldly going where no one ought to go. What makes it harder is that women are less likely to tell you “shut it, I’m the one who graduated from Johns Hopkins!” or something similarly helpful. In general, it’s a good idea to be mindful of who you’re talking to.
6. You’re just too sensitive!
People have a right to how they feel about things. Telling someone how they ought to feel about something is presumptuous, to say the least. You may not be able to relate to how what seems to be an innocent exchange or occurrence would enrage or sadden someone, but if you dismiss the reaction, you won’t find out.
Depending on the level of offense, you may not be able to ask immediately about why the event or exchange was so upsetting. At some point, you might be able to ask some version of “can you tell me why this upset you?” This removes the blame from her, but still opens up a way for her to explain just what was so problematic.
7. “If you loved me, you’d _______________”.
This is emotional blackmail: you are attempting to manipulate someone using guilt. This is never a good idea in any form.
8. “You don’t look as good as ____________”
Whether it’s a friend, an ex-girlfriend, or Halle Berry you are comparing a woman to, it’s just a bad idea all around.
9. “You don’t need to do all that much.”
Whether you are referring to home décor, a fancy meal, or primping for a big event, a woman may want to go all out because she likes the effect. You can express your preference for simpler fare, less elaborate hairstyles, or fewer flowers, but if she likes to go all out, realize that it’s not all about you.
Women seem like an impenetrable enigma to men, and vice versa, because we are like dancers in the same ballroom, but half of us are hearing different DJ’s. Learn to turn down the swing you’re hearing, and tune in to the waltz the woman next to you is swaying to, and you’ll be gliding along without missing a beat.