How to Talk to Women

Men — especially the one I’m married to — get a certain look on their faces when they’re trying to give you a compliment.  You can see the struggle, the sheer earnestness on their features.

So, I knew my husband, whose face was screwed up in the effort of it all, had good intentions.  What he said, though, was this: “You should have been there for the conversation.  Those other women were just like you.  Their minds were a jumble of gossip.  You would have loved it.”

My mind is a jumble of gossip?  I stared back at him.  He looked happy and relieved, the way he always does when he thinks he’s delivered a flattering statement to me.

“What do you mean by that?” I snapped.

“You know what I mean,” he said.  “You like to talk about other people.”

“You mean, I am interested in the human condition,” I said.  “Deep, reflective, concerned, compassionate.”

“Yeah, whatever,” he said, sensing the conversation was taking a darker turn.

” But you make me sound like an audio version of People magazine,” I said.  “A jumble of gossip?”

He bent over his Iphone and pretended to be busy.  That’s what he always does these days when he wants to escape.

Well, isn’t that typical?  Here I am, deeply interested in the human condition, in the ebb and flow and minutiae of daily life, struggling to make sense of it all.  If I don’t zero in on the finer details of other people’s lives, then who will?

Not my husband.  He is capable of coming home from work and making a casual, completely unsatisfactory remark, such as, “Well, April had her baby last night.”

“Oh, really?” I’ll say, waiting for a little more elaboration.  Such as: How long was April in labor?  Was it a vaginal delivery or a C-section?  Did she get an epidural?  Was she at a hospital?  Was the baby a boy or a girl?  How much did it weigh?  What’s its name?  Who’s the father?

“Oh, I don’t know,” my husband will mutter, turning to the wretched IPhone again.  Fifty years ago, men had to stare at their fingernails or gaze out the window when women pressed them for highly significant details about the stuff of life.  These days, they use technology as a prop, an escape mechanism.  It’s sick.

Inter-sex communication does not take place when you’re surfing the Internet and the person at the other end of the phone line can hear your tell-tale computer-key clicks.  It doesn’t happen when you’re staring desperately at the TV, with the remote control in a death grip.  It doesn’t occur when you act like life as we know it will end if you don’t get your stupid email in the next five seconds.

You want to know when successful inter-sex communication happens?  It’s when your husband says, “Oh, I wish you could have been there.  With your brilliant, comprehensive knowledge of human relationships and your thirst for details about life and love and the vast array of human experience, you could have added so much to the conversation.”

Got that?  I don’t see the words jumble of gossip anywhere.

(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)

14 comments… add one
  • How right you are! Adored this witty, scintillating post. And sooooo glad that I’ve stumbled on a blog created and maintained by a woman of such insight into (our) very human condition! Keep up the very excellent work.

  • Brilliant post as usual, Ruth! So true and painfully true…

  • Ginny Agnew Link

    And did April eat the placenta? We need to know these details because we are brilliant, with comprehensive knowledge of human relationships and a thirst for details about life and love and the vast array of human experience. Again you hit the truest of true notes. Thanks for being out there writing the truth.

  • Robin Link

    You rock, Ruth

  • Winston Link

    Oh, your husband is only guilty of misstating the facts—
    as preserved in your Permanent School Record,
    where I am sure it is clearly written (with indelible ink):

    Ruthie possesses a natural inquisitiveness about her peers.
    Shares all discoveries with her unerring communication skills.


    Good insight and good marital survival skills, Ruth.

    You have chosen to explore how a husband seeks to understand his wife, even though his raw data is necessarily, yet unfortunately, being filtered through that male theorem: all things relational can be stated in five words or less.  Else you would have immediately packed a bag and spent the ensuing five days at the Bon-Ton Hotel in a teary-eyed huff.

  • The bit about April and the baby could not be more dead on!  To get a full story out of my husband I have to make him back up to: “And when I arrived at work…” and start from there.

  • Steve Link

    Hold the iPhone here!  Sorry, Ruth, but Jamie’s comment was NOT intended as a compliment.  It was just an observation.  Compliments may not come natural to many of us who are chromosone-impaired, but I doubt even Jamie would claim it was an attempt at a compliment.

    On the other hand, I did hear as I read this post a male songwriter’s  lyrics in Angel from Montgomery:  “How the hell can a person go to work in the morning, And come home in the evening and have nothing to say.”

    I don’t know how.  I just know I can.

  • I totally get this! Those stupid iPhones.

  • Oh man!  So funny, and true!  When my husband goes to his work parties (where spouses aren’t even invited – the shame!), and answers my inquiries with “nope, no stories”, I want to strangle him.  I can go to the refrigerator and come back with a story!

  • That was fun to read.  And the one about your daughter was so true.  Lovely.  I am enjoying sitting at the Washeteria, waiting for laundry, just catching up on so many good posts.  Nothing to post here in Manley.  I fear the Rottweilers on the prowl.

  • When we first moved into the area where we live now, I was commuting 40 km each way to work and then going straight to university at night, so I would leave here at 6 am and get home around 10 pm. The First Husband was the one who got to know the neighbours; it was a good three months before I met any of them. It was so frustrating! He could tell me the depths of all their wells, how their septic systems operated, and whether or not they mowed their own lawns – and that was it. He didn’t know the names of their wives, how many kids there were, whether any of the women were working outside the home. Nothing useful at all. I got more information about my new neighbours from #1 Son, who used to pick it up at his daycare. Men truly are from some other planet, at the far, far end of the galaxy.

  • Ha! Been there done that with April and the baby. My husband simply does not know the right questions to ask, although he has been trained to make some sort of effort. I invariably need several details it never would have occurred to him to ask.

  • So did April eat the placenta? This is a great post. I feel sympathy for your husband  — he was trying to be nice (does he get points for that?!). Maybe the long intimate conversations about the human condition just aren’t ones you’ll be having with him…

  • Someone should really teach a class for men about what to say and not to say to women. Like the following are not compliments:

    * That outfit really makes you look skinny.
    * You don’t look so tired today. Did you sleep better last night?
    * I’m glad the PMS phase is over and you are no longer so bitchy.
    * Wow, you didn’t scrape the car tires against the curb for once. Good job!
    * You actually figured out where it was without getting lost?! Way to go.

    I could go on. And, yeah, they never ask the right questions about babies or ever get the right details when a loved one has been admitted to the hospital.

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