Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

Women and Men

First, some music, just because I like the song, and we haven’t heard from They Might Be Giants in this space for a while (Short video, 1:47):

In early October my wife and I had the pleasure of playing host/tour guide for a gentleman who was in from out of town. How this came about is too long for this space, but neither my wife nor I were particularly looking forward to the day: there had been some unpleasant e-mail exchanges between my wife and this guy in the last two weeks before his arrival. Again, a long story. But we had an obligation to the guy, and, as much as we wanted to just tell him, “Do whatever the hell you want,” we’re not that kind of people.

He arrived in town and we met up with him, took him to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and then out to dinner. Everything was civil and pleasant, we all had a nice time. Finally, we took him to a local bar to watch one of the World Series games (it might have been game 1; I’m not really up on these things). It was very important for him to watch the World Series out somewhere, as opposed to in his hotel room. You see, as far as I can tell, the main thrust of what this guy does is, he collects stories and uses them to build contacts with people. For what purpose, I’m not really sure. So, throughout the day, we heard about how he was in this town or that, how he met this person or that (not name-dropping, by the way; it wasn’t a celebrity name-dropping sort of thing), and what he talked to them about. And we saw some pictures. So, naturally, we also had our picture taken in the bar, with the TV in the background, so that he could undoubtedly say, somewhere down the line, how he watched the World Series in Cooperstown, the birthplace of baseball*. Hey, nifty!

Again, it was more pleasant than I expected, but I was sneaking glances at the clock, willing the hands toward 9:30 when we would have to say goodbye. The kids were at rehearsal, and that’s when we would have to go and pick them up. And then another couple came in and sat just around the corner of the bar from us, and everything changed.

Our guest (we’ll call him ‘G’) overheard something the new man (henceforth known as ‘N’) said, and made a comment. Soon, he had out his blackberry and was showing them a picture of how he was, just a few weeks ago, in the very town they live in! They were from Cape Cod, which was evident the minute N opened his mouth. So, within a few minutes, the five of us were in a cheerful conversation.

After a few minutes, N’s wife (now called ‘D’) came around the corner of the bar and started talking to my wife. I was involved in the conversation for a few minutes and then got dragged into a conversation about hockey, which is a much better thing to talk about than baseball, as far as I’m concerned. As a native New Yorker who somehow grew up as a Bruins fan, it’s rare to have a conversation about my favorite team that doesn’t devolve into “Bruins suck!” (not quite; that was high school, it’s better now). I did notice that my wife and D seemed to be having a pretty serious conversation, while We Men were yukking it up.

All-too-soon it was time for us to go (funny how that changes; I was now sorry we had to leave). The evening, which had been crawling by after dinner, ended up flying. The plot picked up via the introduction of new characters. We said our goodbyes and, on the way to the car, I said to my wife, “Well, you and D seemed to be having a pretty serious conversation there.”

Indeed, they did. My wife learned how D’s father had recently passed away, and N’s brother as well. The trip was a way for them to celebrate N’s birthday privately, a chance to get away for a little bit from the reminders of recent losses. She also learned that N and D were childless, and that D had suffered through at least two miscarriages during the early days of their marriage.

I marveled over the exchange of information and said, “I learned that N’s favorite all-time hockey player is Terry O’Reilly.”**

One of the surest ways for me – or anyone, for that matter – to get into trouble is to make sweeping generalizations about the sexes, which is part of why I sat on this post for so long. And yet, I can’t help it. We spent six hours with G, and never really learned a thing about him, though I can say he also didn’t learn a whole lot about us, either. In forty minutes, we both learned more about N and D than G, and my wife learned far more about D than I did about N. Is this just a case of two people who clicked in a particular way, whose personalities were matched in such a way that information was passed back and forth so freely? Or is this the sort of thing that is much more common among women than men? At the risk of a controversy, it seems, from this man’s perspective, women in general are much more willing to talk about personal stuff than men, even among people they don’t know. But that’s how I see it. Am I wrong? Since my readership seems highly-skewed, I turn it over to you: what do you think?

Thanks for reading, as always, and have a pleasant weekend.

*Cooperstown as the birthplace of baseball is a myth long-since debunked.
**Terry O’Reilly is pretty high on my list of all-time favorites, a great example of how hard work and determination can pay off. Youtube highlights tend to focus on his many fights, but he developed into a pretty good all-around player.

5 Responses

  1. In general, I think women are more willing to talk about personal things, because that's how we relate to each other. You know, emotionally.

    Just a thought. Enjoy your holiday weekend! 🙂

  2. I agree with Carrie. I don't like talking about really personal things with my closest friends or even family. Someone I just met will have to learn about me through nuances in my personality rather than what I actually say.

    Oddly enough, when I talk to someone new I often find myself focusing on their body language, and tone, rather than what they're actually saying. Which might be a bad thing.

    I never really thought about it, but maybe that's the genesis for the "stereotypical man who doesn't listen." It's not that he's ignoring the conversation, necessarily, it's that he's focused on visual cues rather than what's being said.

    Great post by the way!

    I'll have to work on that.

  3. I think Carrie is right, women often relate to each other on an emotional level. We make some of our best connections by sharing very personal information. To be fair you can't throw any two women into a room and get the same result that your wife had with D but more often than not, leave two women to their own devices and they will get to know each other via personal information. I am pretty reserved–at least way more now than I was in my 20s–but I've had many, many, many women tell me their life stories within minutes of meeting them. I think in general women need to talk about things. On the other hand there is a group of women I've been in social situations with for several years now and not one of them has divulged a single personal item to me ever. I can't decide if they are an aberration or they just don't like me. Heh heh heh.

    In my experience if you attempt to talk to any man about anything remotely emotional, they immediately shut down, become angry or employ any/all avoidance tactics in their arsenal. It just doesn't seem like men can handle discussing emotional issues. A sweeping generalization I'm sure but as I said, it's just my experience.

  4. I agree with Carrie as well. Men aren't always comfortable talking about their emotions, and women usually are. And let's face, emotions are who we are.

    Obviously there are exceptions. I'm always amazed at my hubby. I go to the doctor and I've never known the name of the receptionist. My hubby goes to the doctor and he not only knows her name, he knows that she's divorced, has two kids, and has worked for the doctor for five years. That's his nature. It embarrassed the snot out of our kids when they were growing up.

  5. I think this may be a topic for further exploration, and I'm really not sure what else I want to say just now, other than thanks for reading and commenting.

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