Our society has rules about what it means to be a ‘good little girl’ and a ‘good little boy’. Most of us like to believe that we are enlightened enough to have outgrown archaic ways of thinking and many of these rules have been debunked and are ignored. However, collective indoctrinated beliefs still effect us in subtle and not so subtle ways.
Gender conditioning starts at a very young age. Some of us have been more conditioned to the ‘opposite’ style, ie, a guy might have a bigger dose of the female conditioning because he grew up in a house with sisters, or a girl might have been a tomboy and picked up more of the male style. Regardless of which type you have absorbed, most of us have a pretty strong dose of gender conditioning of one type or the other.
One of the problems is that the rules are really different. The scary part is that this conditioning blueprints us with beliefs about the world and communication tendencies that are so transparent to us that we think that this is how the ‘world’ really is. We don’t even realize that we are speaking different languages. This causes us to completely misinterpret and misunderstand each other because even the words that we use can mean totally different things.
My husband and I like to call the more ‘female’ conditioned style the ‘yin’ style, and the more ‘male’ conditioned style the ‘yang’ style.
These foundational beliefs effect the way that we demonstrate respect. For example, when I am making plans with a girlfriend, I automatically consider what things she would like to do, her timing, her needs, her interests and her mood. I wouldn’t even want to make plans that she wouldn’t be happy with. If she isn’t interested in an event, it wouldn’t even be fun for me to go. I am not talking about ‘codependent’ behaviors where I am giving up my own needs resentfully or trying to get love by being a ‘pleaser’ or a ‘rescuer’. I am referring to what feels respectful to me and how I want to relate to others.
For me, and for many of the women I have talked to, respect is demonstrated by considering each others’ needs and trusting that the other person will do the same. Part of the fun for both of us is in discussing the plans and getting to know each other better as we consider all of our options, together. Even if we never solidify our plans, and all we wind up doing is drinking coffee, sharing our favorite new gluten free recipe, doing some research on Pinterest, or talking about ways to make a margarita, our time spent together is successful and enjoyable because we laughed, we cried, we talked, and we got to know each better.
On the other hand, my husband, when deciding what to do with his guy friends, will just say something like, ‘Dude, lets go play basketball’. And if his buddy doesn’t want to, he will say something such as ‘No way. We just did that last time. Let’s go catch a movie’. And then they might ‘battle’ it out, with sarcastic quips and logical arguments, until one of them ‘wins’ because they either have the best argument, or they simply wear the other person down and he gives in. They then go engage in that activity. The ‘battle’ is fun; it is a form of mental sparring that they thoroughly enjoy. The goal is to get to the activity as soon as possible and to get past the decision making process quickly. The event doesn’t even start until they are at the bball court, or at the movie. Anything that happened up until then is inconsequential. Respect is demonstrated by each person taking care of himself, and trusting the other person to take care of himself also.
As you can imagine, problems begin when two people with these very different styles try to make plans together. When I try to engage my husband in a dialogue about 4 or 5 different activities we could go to, I am looking for relationship, dialogue, process, and a mutual consideration of both our needs. The ‘date’ begins as soon we start the conversation. The tone of our interactions and the relationship that occurs as a result are all a part of the event, and in some ways, the most important part. It is even acceptable if we wind up not going, as long as we have fun connecting, planning, and talking.
For my husband, and many other men that we have shared this perspective with, this process is torturous. He is expecting and wanting me to be decisive and state what I want. He will then state what he wants, and according to his way of doing things, we will battle it out and quickly come to the ‘best’ conclusion based on whose arguments are better. I, on the other hand, will do anything to avoid that battle. It is painful and torturous. I really hate it. Very few events are worth ‘fighting’ for in this manner. In other words, he is trying to engage me in a debate that I am trying with concerted effort to avoid, and I am trying to engage him a process that is painstakingly boring to him and he will do anything to get out of.
Fighting, hurt feelings, disappointment, anger, inadequacy, and bewilderment ensue.
This difference in how respect is demonstrated and how we want to interact shows up in many areas of our lives. Simple things like choosing a movie or going to a restaurant, as well as more layered choices such as deciding what house to buy or whether or not to have children are all affected.
I do not believe that anything I say here is ‘true’ or ‘fixed’ or who we really are. I do, however, think that all of us are swimming in a pool of conditioned beliefs which includes ideas about what it means to be a ‘man’ and what it means to be a ‘woman’. In spite of our best intentions to find an equal stance for both sexes, we are inundated with collective indoctrination that effects us all regardless of sexual orientation, gender, race, or religion.
By bringing the assumptions that we take for granted into our awareness, we can see why conversations fail so miserably and where relationships go wrong. Once we accept that the other person has a valid way of doing things, and we see that half the population would understand their style, we can stop thinking that there is something bad or wrong about the other person.
Once we accept their behavior as a legitimate way of operating in the world, we can then begin to learn the other language and start to actually communicate.