Men vs. Women
By B. Michael Rubin
Common sense and biology tell us men and women need to be together. Without couples, there would be no children. The continuation of the human species depends on it. As the rock star Jim Morrison sang in the 1970s: “Girls, you gotta love your man.”
In some developed countries, such as the US and Japan and Germany, many couples are choosing not to have children. Some governments offer tax incentives to encourage more women to bear children because without immigration, the overall population of the country will decrease. There may come a time in the future when cultures will need to be preserved, like animals that are put on the “endangered species” list to prevent them from disappearing.
Historically, couples choosing not to have children is a recent development. What’s interesting is that this choice proves offspring are not the sole purpose for men and women to be together. While a small number of people live alone, experts agree that humans, like most animals, are social beings. We function better as part of a group, and living with others provides emotional and physical comfort.
However, living with others is not always effortless. No two people form a perfect union, even those who marry. There comes a time in every relationship when a husband or wife will question the wisdom of marriage. There have been numerous books written on the subject of couples and their conflicts. American John Gray wrote a book that has sold 50 million copies with the title Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. Obviously, there are many people who believe that men and women won’t always agree, even when they love each other.
Newlyweds enter into marriage deeply in love. As the Beatles reminded us: “Love is all you need.” They believe their marriages will last forever, and all their problems will solve themselves. This explains possibly why people spend so much money on their weddings. Also, while the rate of divorce increases each year, the majority of people who get divorced re-marry.
Unfortunately, relationships with others are complicated. Growing up, we learn it’s possible to disagree with our parents and siblings. Having an argument with your husband or wife is inevitable and not a sign of a bad marriage. We can’t always agree on everything with our spouses because, as John Gray points out, men and women are different.
A look at biology reveals the male and female of the same species differ greatly. For example, the peacock, with its magnificent plumage, is the male. The female, the peahen, is much smaller and quite plain looking.
Simple observation reveals obvious differences between men and women, even for a couple that have been living together for a long time. Men prefer sports and action movies and barbecue. Women like romance movies and talk shows and chocolate. The wife might like to sleep with the windows closed while the husband prefers them open. The man might hate yogurt, while the woman eats it every day.
In my home, for example, my wife likes to go to sleep watching TV. She finds that the voices relax her. When we bought a new TV, she was thrilled to discover it had a timer on it, which she claimed proved that the rest of the world was also falling asleep to TV. However, I find it difficult to sleep this way. The conversations keep me awake because I want to see what happens in the story. I prefer to sleep to music.
My wife likes to take a nap after lunch. To prepare for this, she closes the curtains in the bedroom to shut out the sunlight. However, she also closes the curtains in all the other rooms in our apartment, and she never remembers to open them after her nap. At first I thought she simply forgot, so I would do it for her. I prefer to have the curtains open during the day for the natural light; however, she thinks open curtains threaten our privacy.
On any given Sunday, would a man elect to go to the mall? Probably not, unless he had something specific he wanted to buy. A trip to the mall to buy a new TV is exciting. Even a pair of new sneakers can make the excursion worthwhile. A woman, on the other hand, might spend hours in the mall buying nothing. She will be proud of herself for not spending money and enjoy the outing immensely.
Nevertheless, people certainly find great comfort in living together or they wouldn’t do it. While all couples have their differences, it’s impressive how much couples depend upon each other. Husbands rely on their wives for hundreds of reasons, from choosing the correct tie to domestic duties. Wives rely on their husbands for repairs in the house or car, or reaching items on high shelves. Most important, couples rely on each other for making decisions – big or small. What color to paint the apartment? Do we need to buy a new couch? We need to buy a cake for a party, which one? We must fly to the Northeast for a wedding, what’s the best airline? We need to buy a new smartphone, which one?
Researchers who study men and women have found some startling differences, not only in everyday habits, but differences as profound as the way we think. Psychologists believe that the way the brain functions in men and women is different. Men are better at three-dimensional and abstract images, which explains why there are more men who choose to study mathematics and engineering. Women are better at language and communication.
Deborah Tannen, who holds a Ph.D. in linguistics, wrote a book about the differences between men and women entitled: You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation. She concluded that men are more focused than women on achieving status and avoiding failure. However, women are more concerned with involvement and avoiding isolation. As a result, Tannen says, we can understand why women often talk more than men. In a relationship, women naturally consult with their partners, while men will make decisions without consultation.
Even when men and women are talking with each other, Tannen notes, there are differences in the subjects they discuss, as well as how they discuss them. Men are often exchanging ideas or information, while women are talking for the pleasure and involvement of the conversation. Women sometimes feel that when men talk to them, it sounds more like a lecture than a conversation. When a man speaks, there is a goal to his words – to express knowledge. Whereas women are more engaged in their conversations; there’s more of an exchange and two-sided involvement when they talk. Also, women are more likely to show their emotions, and thus exhibit more empathy in a conversation. As a result, women are better listeners than men. It’s not surprising then that more women become therapists, teachers, and social workers.
Men complain that their wives gossip too much, that the women spend too much time discussing other people’s lives – neighbors, family, friends. It’s natural, however, because women are more interested in talking about people than talking about ideas. Men prefer expressing their opinion of a development in sports or politics, and they are not usually interested in hearing another opinion to the contrary.
Thus, women see men as lecturing rather than talking. Women share information because it makes them feel involved with their communities and less isolated. Men share information primarily for the sake of the ideas. Men need interpersonal involvement the same as women, but they can do this without conversation, for example by playing sports or video games with other men.
Of course, trying to separate men from women in this way can create confusion because these categories represent vast generalizations. There are always going to be exceptions, men and women who don’t fit into these categories, for example, gay men and women. However, in general, men tend to be more objective in their analysis, to make decisions with their “head”, while women are more subjective and make decisions with their “heart.” Men are more logical, but women value their emotions more and show more empathy. Men are more outcome oriented and decisive, while women are more process oriented and flexible.
The ways in which men and women are different are endless. Nevertheless, for thousands of years we have found ways to live together. As the popular American men’s joke expresses: “Women – can’t live with them, can’t live without them.” The same is true for women, who are at this very moment sitting in the hair salon complaining about their husbands and boyfriends.
Despite all the complaints from both men and women, our destinies are intertwined. Maybe we can say that as with magnets, opposites attract. Perhaps some mysteries are better left unsolved.
B. Michael Rubin is an American living in Curitiba.