I’ve been a bit of a stress-bomb during these last few weeks. My mother tells me that Mercury is in retrograde and everyone is having a rough go of lately but I’m not sure if I really believe in that stuff. Still, I’ll take it. Especially if it means I’m not the only one going crazy right now.
When I get home, my conversations with J. usually go something like this:
“How was work?” he’ll ask.
“Want to talk about it?”
This is odd for me, because usually I like to talk about everything. But I know if I talk about what’s bothering me, J. will try to fix it somehow. He’ll offer advice, and it will be good advice, but it’s advice all the same, and when I’m tired and stressed and overwhelmed and angry, I don’t want to hear advice. I just want to vent. And men simply don’t understand the concept of venting.
According to women—and Dictionary.com—the definition of ‘vent’ is this:
(verb) To release or give expression or utterance to (an emotion, idea, etc.)
According to men—or at least, to J.—‘vent’ is defined more like this:
(noun) Inexplicable and terrifying bursts or fits of anger, stress, etc. that overcome my wife and must be stopped immediately by my very, very wise words of advice.
And this is why I sometimes think that all communication between men and women is doomed to fail. Men are simply hardwired to fix things. And women, we don’t want to hear your advice. We want to vent and cry and yell until we’re wrung dry of emotion, and then we’ll fix the damn thing ourselves.
I’ve had numerous venting sessions with J. that have devolved into arguments simply because he didn’t realize that I wasn’t looking for a solution. I just wanted a living, breathing human to sit and listen—or even just pretend to listen.
“Every man does it,” my friend Christy said. “My dad does it. Every boyfriend I’ve ever had does it. My husband, of course he does it. They think they’re being helpful, but really they’re just being bad listeners. And sometimes they’re correct, but sometimes I don’t want a solution. I just want to wallow a little bit.”
And that’s precisely it. My wallowing makes J. nervous. It’s like how animals and babies can sense when you’re upset or uneasy, only rather than attacking you or crying, they sputter out solutions.
I think J. and I might have crossed a threshold the other day, though. When he asked me how my day was, I actually turned around and asked, “Do you really want to know?” He looked scared for a second, and then assured me that yes, he did. I motioned for him to sit down and I proceeded to vent—a torrent of words and hand gestures and hand-wringing. He listened to me vent about the broken A.C. on SEPTA, my work stress, those last five pounds. After about ten minutes, I stopped and caught my breath. J. was looking at me, slightly scared. I could practically see the wheels turning in his head. He opened his mouth to speak and croaked out the next words, slowly, carefully, the way one tiptoes around a rabid animal:
“So … are you ready to go downstairs and have dinner now?”
I felt like a game show winner, and I practically expected the ceiling to open up and confetti and glitter to rain down. But I simply nodded and we walked downstairs. Sometimes, I guess, this communication thing actually works.
Does your husband or fiance often try to “fix” whatever problem you happen to be freaking out about?