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Gendered Games/She said - He said: But is either even listening?

Our infant years of being preassigned color preferences (blue or pink) couldn't have also shaped other choices we would later make, right? Our adolescent years of playing/not playing with dolls couldn't be the reason we think and act so differently, could it? Well, many scholars suggest that some of the reasons why extraordinary humans of differing genders seem to take a liking to one another transcends a biological predisposition to procreation! There has got to be more to it than the occasional acknowledgment that one of us has a high degree of presence (she/he's hot!). Why is it that women and men like, lust, and love so differently?

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I once had an argument with a woman that I still don't quite understand! While we definitely had a difference in opinion, it somehow escalated to an epic emotional exchange! She got upset with me for being condescending when--since she wasn't grasping my point-- I acted surprised before I took another approach to try to make my point! I got upset with her because she was so agitated with me that she continually violated our unwritten rules of engagement and interrupted me over and over again (though I may have been a bit long winded)! Eventually I was so immersed in precisely packaging my points that I couldn't creatively cogitate! Consequently she then decided to overcompensate in an effort to cease interrupting me and went mute. We were then doing our verbal dance in eerie silence, essentially abound in non-verbal vicissitude! Please someone, anyone, tell me I am not alone in being lost in these gendered games!

Yes I am aware of the Mars-Venus rationale. Yes I know that allegedly men are framed as more rational and women more emotional (though our gendered responses to road rage challenge that notion). But what is a person to do when she/he notices this unavoidable pattern of behavior? Do we inform our love interest that he/she is unknowingly conforming to stereotypical gendered behavior? Or do we consider the peril of doing that and in the process possibly manipulating the behavior of our stereotypical acting amour?

I got upset with a woman once because she felt as if I needed to check in with her before I made certain moves, just to keep her in the know! If I didn't call her a certain amount of times a day or take too long (in terms of hours) responding to her efforts to communicate she would either give me some dimension of the silent treatment /pout or just not return my calls for a few days. Ironically she would even get angry at me because I wouldn't get jealous since I am not "usually" the jealous type! She was quite stunning in a variety of ways and had grown accustomed to men in her life exhibiting certain levels of insecurity around losing her. I never felt that way because I was in perpetual disbelief of having even gained her attention! So I almost expected the dream to end! Those of you who have been on different sides of this equation or anything like it, please share your insight. What would you/did you do?

As humans we can frame almost anything we do in the context of a game! It might be more because our competitive urge to succeed rises. However it always feels as if so much more is at stake when we enter the gender games! Is it possible that romantic relationships would be less complex/competitive/contentious if we communicated better? How do we do this?

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I've never been in a situation where I needed to call a partner a certain number of times per day, but I have felt that element of assumed control on both ends. An example: I was in a relationship with a guy a few years back-a long distance one- and he would get jealous and hang up the phone on me if I was around any of my other male friends. Funny, I thought "generally speaking," females were supposed to overreact. Maybe this has been passed down through generations so the truth would be masked: men do get jealous and may act out in fear of losing any power/control/dominance they assumed they had or should have the right to.

This story is silly because what if the males were not his biggest problem? What if females were? He never tripped when I was around my girlfriends and THEY were his biggest threat (not romantically). I listened to them in regards of what actions I should take toward him, and they were rarely in his favor.

As I grew, I found that females may have in fact been a romantic threat to that relationship, had I been honest with myself. A different story: I was in somewhat of a relationship with this woman and found myself falling faster than I wanted. Or maybe I did want it because I let it happen. Any who, I expected more from her than what she could/would give me and in my efforts to be in control over the impossible, I found myself hurt, without a lover OR a friend.

JW, I would say that I would allow the woman you spoke up to get a dose of reality. I would force her to look at herself by denying her what she wants. She may find that she is the insecure one, needing to constantly have someone to love her and prove that they do.

Responding to the "games" idea, romantic relationships are often that. Competitiveness is everywhere. People even compete between the demon and angel on their opposing shoulders. Add another pair, and there's war! If you haven't had an argument within a decent time period, someone is lying.

I’ve never been part of a relationship in which there were a required number of phone calls required to let my partner know what I was doing. However, this is not to say that I had the ability to do as I wanted and never feel an obligation to keep in touch. As a matter of fact, she would never come out and say it but she seemed to need to hear from me to be sure that I wasn’t conforming to the male stereotype of infidelity. So, to alleviate any concerns, I felt no inconvenience (for the most part) with frequent contact. However, upon a deeper inspection, maybe I was so inclined to conform to her communication requests because I too had some type of subconscious need to know what she was doing as well. After all, if we are talking together, there is an equal sense of desire between us (and maybe more importantly, a lack of desire for others).

By hearing from your partner at least daily (as an example) there is kind of a reminder sent to the person on the other end of that phone call/e-mail/text/etc. of what they have and are at risk of losing. Once again, I do not believe that the frequent communication is solely related to the topic of cheating in relationships, but I have found in my experience that it is certainly an important factor. For the record, I have never cheated in a relationship that I’ve had…just thought I should throw that out there.

Sort of straying back to JW’s personal story, I can absolutely understand where constant communication can become a problem. As I already mentioned, the threat of infidelity plays a large part in this tête-à-tête; but by constantly requiring to hear from your partner, is this becoming less of an insecurity or checkup and more of an accusation or lack of trust? Furthermore, along with a need to desire and be desired, people also seem to have a contradictory need of independence and privacy (just part of what makes the human mind and emotions so intriguing I guess). Therefore, while keeping in touch with your partner and hearing from them is important, equally important is the desire to have time away from them and keeping it to yourself (as was the case with JW in his story).

The basic idea of an annoyance with letting your partner know when you’re doing such trivial tasks as laundry or getting food cannot be ignored when determining why JW became upset with the woman. And again, this is all simply my opinions and guesses as to why things went down the way they did. By the way, JW when you say that you “expected the dream to end” was this some kind of subconscious thought that caused you to almost push her away because you never wholly expected the relationship to work out in the first place (either because of the initial shock of attention and the subsequent inadequacy or the age-old adage of “it’s too good to be true”)?

In an attempt to actually provide some real insight into what possible solutions existed for the issue with the woman you were seeing, I’ll throw out an idea. You seem to outline a stunning woman who had become accustomed to men and/or women becoming enamored with her and consequently becoming fearful of her moving on without them. Therefore, they needed to continually prove to her that she had their undivided attention with continuous communication and they were supposed to be jealous if she was with someone else. This apparently carried on to you and you were supposed to be like the other men or women she had been with and she expected you to prove to her that you would be jealous and needed to hear from her as well. So, if you wanted to “play the game”, you would stand out from her past and not give her what she demanded/expected and see how she reacted (if she would conform to the boundaries you set or not). However, if you were to step out from the “game” and risk losing the mystique or coolness associated with “playing the game”, you would simply engage in an open dialogue breaking down why she felt she really needed this constant communication and you would explain your feelings on the issue. But as we all know, these kind of idealistic solutions usually don’t work so I honestly don’t know what I would have done and I’ve pretty much just been rambling with no actual advice…

This blog made my head spin, but I am so grateful for it because it forced me to really think about what goes on between men and women in general, and specifically in a current relationship that, sometimes, makes me feel crazy.
I confess that when I read your first scenario, I just laughed. Not at the individuals involved, I promise, because I could easily have been that woman, but rather at the escalation and your perfect and eloquent depiction of it. I can just see it and hear it.

It seems to me that this interaction, as well as the second situation you describe, could be unpacked on at least 3 levels: what was going on intra-personally within each individual, what was going on interpersonally in the relationship and what society set up, which I think is the gender piece.

The intrapersonal level I won’t go near because it would require that I make some assumptions and analyses of your personality and that of the woman- and I only do that for money. But, as you indicate, there are some pieces of data in your story about the way you and this woman feel about yourselves which would derive from previous events and relationships in each of your lives.

The interpersonal dynamics are about whatever has happened in the course of your relationship with each other and provides context for some of your reactions to each other. I’m curious about this part but it would take knowing the history of the relationship to understand it.

Where you go re: “gender games” and where I will focus, is obviously, at the societal level, (vs. biological) and the 2 of you were so set up for your interaction by the way society constructs the power differential between men and women!

I think this part is about some aspect of male privilege. Men, consciously or unconsciously, know they hold the power in their relationships with women. This can cause some to be or appear to be condescending to women. Women, by adulthood, have learned that they have less power than their male partners and their anger, frustration and exasperation can escalate to that place where men see them as overly emotional. This allows men to then disregard the content of the woman’s message because of its impassioned or pressured tone. This woman’s interrupting behavior may have been rude and an infraction of the “rules of engagement” (love that term), but it also may represent her feeling that she will not and cannot be heard. She just gives up and becomes mute-perhaps in resignation- or defiance (or passive- aggressiveness). And you are left wondering what happened and feel “lost in the gender game.”

The second example you give is near and dear to my heart because it speaks to the issue of the pace and rhythm of the communication between lovers or partners and this is something with which I currently wrestle. I agree that here, too, the conflict over frequency of communication and lag time is gender-based and is set up at the very beginning of a relationship. The issue for me, once again, is power.

Women, traditionally, need to wait for the man to initiate the relationship. Yes, there are many exceptions and women are not completely passive here. We flirt, give men our phone numbers, buy them drinks, even sometimes ask them out, but…. I contend that the responsibility/opportunity to move the relationship forward lies with the man. (feminists, don’t shoot me, I’m already disagreeing with myself). It is the man, who, generally, determines when the next contact will be. I realize that this is arguably a power position. The man must then deal with potential rejection. Nevertheless, he is rarely WAITING. For the woman, the process of waiting is experienced in different ways based on who she is and what her experiences have been. Still, it is a vulnerable position in both new relationships and on-going ones. Generally, if he calls, she knows that she is wanted; that contact with her is wanted, etc. If he does not call and she initiates contact, she may assume that at best, the level of enthusiasm for the relationship is not equal. At worst, she may feel that the next get- together is obligatory. The woman can, hopefully, check her assumptions at the door and give him, herself, and the relationship the benefits of the doubt. After all, there is probably much more going on in his life than his relationship with her. But, if the pattern persists, the benefit of the doubt wanes as evidence is collected that, like the title of that book, “He Just Isn’t that Into You(Her)”. A secure woman might just say, at this point, “the hell with this”, and move on.

But, there is another aspect to the situation which, I think, is also gender-based and this has to do with need for connection. Women are all about connection. Men are all about achievement. For some men, “getting the girl” requires connecting. He attends to her, secures her and then has less need for connection. Not because he doesn’t care about her or is some cad, but rather because connection for connection’s sake is not something men typically want or need. He is on to the next achievement. He may feel very strongly for the woman, but is out there- doing his thing -as society requires him to do. She, on the other hand thrives on the contact and communication. She wants and needs to stay close, has been programmed as such. (This may be biological).

There is yet another piece which feels awkward to discuss. This is the notion of men being “whipped” by women who make demands re: accountability. (Sorry, I know this is a family show). If a man is too connected and communicates too frequently, he is at risk for being seen by others (men and women) and by himself, as being “whipped”. This, among other things, strips him of his maleness. It is easier and better to limit his “checking in,” and show no tendency toward dependency or weakness. JW, I am not suggesting that you were defending against seeming “whipped” in your situation. I think your behavior had more to do with resisting what seems to me to have been this woman’s excessive demands for attention and idealization. I like Drew’s advice about trying to get behind the woman’s behavior and try to understand what need is driving it. This gets to the issue of communication and you ask:

Is it possible that romantic relationships would be less complex/competitive/contentious if we communicated better? How do we do this?

It seems to me that much of the confusion arises out of miscommunication and misunderstandings. We project our own needs onto others, make assumptions about why the other is behaving as he or she is. We rarely make good faith efforts to truly understand just what is going on for the other. We interpret the data in our own way through our own frame (full to the brim with stereotypes about gender) without really knowing or considering the frame of the other person. We may talk, but we don’t really communicate. Genuine heartfelt communication is scary. It makes us so vulnerable. What if we reveal to the other our fragility- and they walk?

The rules of engagement need to make safety a priority. No one walks. Time outs when things get too hot are important, but if they last more than a few hours or a day the disconnect takes on a life of its own and is damaging to the trust. We need to tolerate the intense discomfort of the conversation and plow through the muck. Easier said than done.

No, I don’t think relationships will be less complex, with better communication. They may even become more complex as we find out more about the many layers that comprise the other person, but I believe they can become more collaborative than competitive if we can just get on the same side. Contentious? That puzzles me. I think this may be a defense against intimacy or a feeling that arises out of the sexual tension between two people. Or, perhaps it is simply a function of the anger or despair we feel when our fantasies of ideal love are, ultimately, disappointed.

OK, JW, sorry for the long-winded posting, but you do inspire me to communicate.


The blue v pink dichotomy you start up with is a relatively new one. It's also one we can thank the French for. It started shortly after WW2 and has become amazingly popular. If you haven't read it the book Pink Think covers the entire blue/pink thing in one of its chapters. It was a fascinating read. I imagine many of its insights are things you could incorporate into the Diversity class. But then, my imagination at what works in a classroom might be too fantastical, I dunno...

After reading the entire post, the central question seems to be: "Why is it that women and men like, lust, and love so differently?"

And there are a plethora of answers. I could wax rhetorical and quote Nietzsche: "The same emotions are in man and woman, but in different tempo. For that reason man and woman will never cease to misunderstand each other."

Or I could approach it from the evolutionary standpoint--men view sex differntly from women because men are biologically inclined to spread as many seeds as possible to ensure the highest probability of genetic offspring that survives, while women are biologically inclined to find a mate who can protect them during their weakened state of pregnancy and early child rearing (since even a strong independent woman is a bit less strong when she is 8 months pregnant). So there's that approach too.

Then there's the idea you hinted at: different socialization. Socialization probably accounts for most of the differences we encounter in the world. Eating a cheeseburger may seem perfectly normal to me or you, but to the Jew who keeps kosher, or the devout Hindu, eating a cheeseburger is a sin. Likewise, waiting a few hours (or a few extra hours) before returning a phone call may seem fine and normal to you, meanwhile the woman in question views it otherwise.

To really understand why you two had such a complex misunderstanding, you'd have to delve deep into her history, and understand how she was brought up. But even then, with her help, you might very well miss something, something critical, because she herself hides it, or perhaps, because she herself is unaware of how important the missing X was in her upbringing and socialization.

And to add while signing off: I got your txt about this post while at my sisters wedding reception (the ceremony was earlier that day). And boy oh boy, was that ever a gendered event. There were some young children there (around age 7) and I couldn't help but think that this wedding was socializing them towards marriage and the "norm" of American society. Even so, it was a lovely and enjoyable wedding.

Thank you amw! Your post was, like many of your previous posts, like a gift. Your thoughts make so much sense to me. As usual, I am left feeling like you have reached into my mind, turned on the light, and cleaned up the mess. I find myself feeling enlightened every time I read your careful and effectively communicated thoughts. So, when I get ready to read a post, and I scroll down first just to see who I am reading and see amw, I know I am in for an intellectual treat.

This time you particularly struck a chord with me when you commented on male privilege and power, and how it relates to the breakdown of communication. When I read that paragraph, I was overcome with emotion because I realized you had just given me insight as to why I may have responded in a way similar to the way in which J.W. describes the woman he was having a difference of opinion with.

My scenario goes like this: I got edgy and rude, in part, because I didn't appreciate an extracurricular activity my partner was going to take place in so much to the point that I felt I was going to lose respect for him. So, what did I have to lose at that point?The fact that he tried to spring it on me at the last moment didn't help matters. In the heat of the arguement, charged with emotion, adrenaline took over and I temporarily lost my gracefulness. When he tried to draw parallels as to how I had engaged in behaviors that were equally offensive, I felt like I was being manipulated and overpowered. I felt like he was trying to justify his actions by making me look bad. This led to major frustration and a feeling of helplessness. I just wanted to say @#$% this! I felt like there was no way I was going to make him understand how I was hurting because he was going to do exactly what he wanted to do and I felt he didn't want to consider how it would make me feel. I remember saying, "You just don't understand what it feels like to be a woman." I am not sure if he heard me. His mind was preparing to try to prove his point to me about how I was being edgy, rude and inconsiderate. When he was unable to reach me through all my emotional chaos, HE became condescending and rude. Then I became further frustrated and humiliated. I felt like I just wanted to fall down on the ground at that point. I became silent and tears just poured down my face. I hope in the future I will rise above this type of behavior by choosing not to allow a situatuion like that to unravel me. And again, thank you for helping me to sort it out.

JW, AMV, and Brennan-

As I sit down to type, I realize that this post will be as much in response to AMV and Brennan as it is to JW.

JW...we’ve discovered in the past that we, at times, look at things from different perspectives. You paint with a much larger brush...looking at things from a societal perspective, digging into the roots of deeply engrained behaviors. I, on the other hand, tend to focus more on the individual. I give less credence to societal forces, and more to each individual’s ability to choose how they are going to behave.

Just about all of us can appreciate the example JW gave to us. We’ve been there. We’ve experienced it. We’re human, just like him. But, to boil it down, it was a disagreement between two people. I recognize the story was used as a means to begin the discussion. And although the two individuals are engaged in a common, completely believable scene, inferences are made from that scene and are applied to males and females across the board. I think it’s unfair to say that one dysfunctional interaction is representative of gender relations as a whole.

Before I continue, JW, let me say that as I work through my argument, I want to make clear that I’m lumping myself into criticisms about the way we behave. As I said...we’re all human, and are flawed in much the same ways. When I refer to the example you gave, and am critical, I don’t mean it personally, I use it only because it was the impetus to the discussion.

The discussion shows two individuals who are flawed...not two genders which are flawed. We are only hearing about JW’s encounter BECAUSE it was flawed. For every discussion like his, there is one in which the man and woman dealt with the situation civilly. If only an example like that were given, would that mean gender relations were ideal? No, because the situation is indicative of only those two people.

It’s obvious from AMV’s response that she is deeply invested in the topic at hand. I am impressed with the depth of thought she put into her reply. But I have to take issue with one point...the same point I’ve taken issue with JW in the past...that of men having power over women in their relationships. Let me ask a question first. Are you making a generalization about the population as a whole, or do you really think that men have power over women in all relationships? The reason I ask is that if you’re looking for the historical/societal cause of certain behaviors, then I may concede a small point to you. However, on an individual relationship basis, only SOME men have power over women. And, for that matter, SOME women have power over men!

In a nutshell, my argument is that I do not like to use solely dysfunctional behavior as a starting point to a discussion. For every couple out there with a domineering, chauvinistic, privilege-loving male, there’s another where couples actually talk, and think about the appropriate ways of dealing with things. Why are these examples always excluded when dealing with global issues like gender and race and tolerance. Why do the creeps always drive the discussion instead of the reverse? Why not put up an example of a (get this) healthy relationship, and talk about why it works, rather than a broken relationship and wax about the number of reasons why it broke?

We’re all responsible for the way we act...and despite the fact that some of us, depending on our background, are lead down certain paths, we still have the ability to act appropriately. I have too much faith in human nature to believe that our lives are pre-determined by events prior to us. Influenced? Yes. But not to the point where we don’t have the power to recognize what’s right and wrong.

I guess this is in response to Whaler, although, I imagine that others who follow this blog are in agreement with many of his points. Actually, so am! I really like the expression, "You paint with a larger brush" distinguishing the societal and individual perspective. And this is probably the pivotal difference in our reactions to JW's blog.

There are really only 2 points I would like to make. One is that I think it is understood that even when we are talking in generalities about gender or anything else, there are bound to be many exceptions. There are no absolutes and it would be absurd to suggest that there are. Certainly not all relationships are ones where the male has the power. There are many other sources of power and kinds of power that are gender-neutral. For example, one other power differential that I believe is often at play is when one partner is more heavily invested in the relationship than the other giving the less-invested individual the power. It's just interesting to step back and wonder, in JW's scenario, whether there are some aspects of the interaction that might be about gender and might have some universality.

The second point is that I am not so happy with the term "dysfunctional" because it seems judgmental to me, but if you mean that the interaction doesn't get either partner what he or she wants, then I guess the interaction, or perhaps the relationship does not function well.

We could deconstruct JW's interactions with his female "friends" on many levels. For example, in the first scenario, it could be that JW, as an "impassioned orator" (which we know from others of his postings, especially one impassioned exchange with Whaler, if I am remembering correctly), may not fully appreciate the strength or volume of his efforts to make his point or confront his lady friend on her violation of their communication rules. And she may need to dial down her frustration and defensiveness. So, yes this could all be examined on the level of the individual. Even more so in the second example because what was going on there probably had much more to do with their individual psyches than to their respective genders. But these different levels are not mutually exclusive and they lay on top of each other (if you'll excuse the expression).

The part where I most agree with Whaler is in the need to take responsibility for our words and our actions. It is so easy to rationalize careless or destructive verbal behavior or action as being about gender thereby putting society in the driver's seat. More examples of interactions in which we work things out effectively would be great, agreed. I could personally use some more models of that. And yet, I think it takes some courage for JW to put it out there and for me, personally, while other peoples' communication debacles don't justify mine, it does make me feel a little better as a flawed member of the human race to see that I am not alone.

The point made by E, I would argue, was the most valid yet in this discussion about gender differences and the guts, or rather the heart, of relationships. A couple can be arguing, debating, conversing, however you wanna label it, and a perception by one can significantly shift that individual's mood, no matter if that perception is rational or not, valid or not, right or not, though I would argue the latter is impossible to prove. But what matters is that in that moment, one individual, among the two connected, yet separate individuals, is hurting, is scared, is vulnerable and fragile and, in that moment, that is what needs tending to, and frankly, it don't matter if it's rational or not. What's more important, protecting your partners heart in the moment and delving into the root of the matter later, or being right in the moment and further emotionally harming a partner, whether intentional or not, who should feel safe with you? I would say the former and would further argue that someone who chooses the latter is lacking in emotional intelligence and depth, and it is that kind of skill that an array of convincing arguments claim is the most important. And the reason I say skill is because like anything, love takes work, it is an art. Anyone who doesn't feel me on that one should read Fromm's "The Art of Loving."

And again, before someone makes a nit-picky argument, I am speaking of people in genreal terms and know there are exceptions to the rule, such as the person who always acts emotionally hurt when challenged simply to manipulate the argument to get their way. No, we should not cater to that person.

I should mention that Whaler makes excellent points as well. I argree that environment can influence a person, but people have it within to own who they are, as well as their actions. But that is easier said than done as many people, because of the extreme damage wrought by their environment, will never address their perceived failings nor realize the power within them because it is buried under beatings, rapes, molestations, neglect, drugs, extreme poverty, and the list goes on, and without assistance, such people will likely forever make poor decisions in life that negatively impact others and never realize their potential. Of course that doesn't mean we excuse their actions, but it is a reality to consider when devising a remedy.

Wow, this Blog is packed with emotional intensity. I still, after 49 years, marvel at relationships. I’m certainly not the wiser and often find myself muddled by my own. But, what I have come to understand and would like to share is the notion of how “intimacy” in our relationships shapes the nature of our communication with one another. I’m not talking just about sexual intimacy, but that intimacy that allows us to be “open” in our most meaningful of relationships: open to dialog and/or physical touch. Intimacy, or if you will “openness” in our relationships with our children, parents, best friend; I imagine for all of us as has ebbed and flowed. Maybe the intimacy one desires in a friendship is not measured the same by the other. How will that relationship change if I withhold that intimacy (gender games) or can no longer give it? Whatever the dynamic, I don’t believe an intimate relationship can be sustained without open communication.
Then I believe we need to place this intimacy in the context of time and place or proximity. Is my access to you complicated by distance or as in JW’s experience is this access overwhelmingly suffocating? How does this then affect my desire to be intimate with another? I wonder now with the advent of cell phones, texting, IM’ing , how this ability to be connected to each other so readily and persistently is going to change how we navigate through our relationships.
What I often remind myself of is: “be mindful of your relationships…for you don’t understand the power you hold and how it is weighs differently in the arms of those close to you”. abv

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