An incident: I was at lunch with Chris and
Steve the other day. I had ordered some garlic bread and could not finish it. I asked the
waitress if she would put it in a box to take home, and she did. On the way past the
cashier, I realized that I had forgotten to take the box from the table. I said,
"Rats! I forgot the bread!"
Chris said, "Go ahead and get it, we'll
I thought for a moment and said, "No, its not
that important." and started to walk out.
Chris: "It'll only take a moment."
Me: "Yes, but I have to go all the way back,
and I probably won't eat it anyway, and it probably won't reheat very well, and..."
Chris then said in jest, "Sounds like a bunch
of excuses to me."
In fact, they really did sound like excuses to him.
But to me, the reasons I had presented to him for not going back for the bread were not
rationalizations, but actually legitimate concerns.
At the heart of this difference in perspective is
the difference in the way female and male brains are "softwired". As a result,
neither women nor men can see into the heart of the other without finding a lack of
Here is a line by line comparison of the steps
leading from having too much bread to the differing interpretations of my response to
forgetting the box.
That's good bread, but I'm full. I might take it
home, but I'm not convinced it will reheat. Also, I've really eaten too many calories in
the last few days, I'm two pounds over where I want to be and I have a hair appointment on
Wednesday and a dinner date on the weekend with a new friend I want to impress, so maybe I
shouldn't eat anymore. The kids won't want it, but I could give it to the dog, and if I
get hungry myself, I'll have it there (even though I shouldn't eat it if I want to lose
that two pounds!) So, I guess it's better to take it than to leave it.
"Waitress, can I have a box to take the bread
Chris understands Melanie to mean:
I want to take the bread home.
The balance sheet:
To me there was only a tendency toward bringing the
bread home, and barely enough to justify the effort. To Chris it was a binary decision: I
wanted to bring it home or not.
"Rats! I forgot to bring the bread!"
Chris says: "Go ahead and get it, we'll
The balance sheet:
I'm thinking, "How does this change the way I
feel about the situation?" Chris is thinking, "How can she solve this
Well, I really don't want to be tempted by it,
this unexpected turn makes it easier to lose the weight. If I go back I'll be tempted or
give it to the dog. If I don't go back I won't be tempted, which is good because I know I
usually give in to such temptations. Of course, the dog loses out, but we just bought some
special treats for the dog so she won't miss what she wasn't expecting. All in all, the
effort of going around two corners while everyone waits just so I can get an extra doggie
treat and lead myself into temptation isn't worth it.
"No, its not that important."
"It'll only take a moment."
The balance sheet:
I'm thinking that since I was right on the edge of
not wanting to take it in the first place, even this little extra necessary effort is
enough inconvenience to make it not a positive thing but an irritation, so I'll just drop
it and not pay even the minor price. Chris is thinking that since I made up my mind to
take the bread in the first place, how is it that this little inconvenience could change
my mind 180 degrees. I must be lazy or embarrassed because I forgot it.
"Yes, but I have to go all the way back, and I
probably won't eat it anyway, and it probably won't reheat very well, and..."
"Sounds like a bunch of excuses to me."
The balance sheet:
I'm trying to convey about a thousand petty
concerns that went into my emotional assessment that it was no longer worth going back
for. Chris just hears a bunch of trumped up reasons, none of which are sufficient to
change one's plans.
I operated according to an emotional tendency to
bring the bread home that was just barely sufficient to generate even the slightest degree
of motivation. Chris doesn't naturally assume motivation has a degree, thinking that as a
rule you're either motivated or you are not.
The differences between the way women and men
evaluate problems lead them to see justifications in the others methods.
Making sense of each other:
Now, what does all this mean? When men look at
problems, they see a single item that is a specific irritation and seek to correct it.
When they look at inequities, they see a number of problems interrelated. Women look at
single problems the same way, but sense inequities from a completely emotional standpoint,
measuring them on a sliding scale of tendencies to respond in certain ways.
For a man, a problem is the focus of a branch tree
with inequities being created as multiple problems interrelate. So at one end is the
single problem at the other end, multiple problems which are seen as inequities.
For a woman, a problem is an item out of balance
that stands alone. Whatever is done to or about it has no impact on anything else. An
inequity is a whole mind operation in which every fiber of the mind is effected by the
In order for a woman to communicate the fullness of
her inequity to a man, she would have to list every thing in her past, present, future,
AND the way things are going to build up the full extent of what balances the natural
tendency to want to solve the problem. That is impossible. And when a woman throws up her
hands and tries to list the major points, often they do not add up to enough to convince
the man that they are just "excuses".
Imagine an old balance scale - the kind they used
to weigh gold. On one side, you put the desire to solve the problem. That has a specific
weight. On the other side you have a whole bag of things that taken altogether outweigh
the desire to solve the problem. But, you can't fit the bag on the scale (which is the
same as not being able to share your whole mind with a man) so you open the bag and start
to haul out the reasons - biggest one's first.
Well, it turns out the first reason by itself is
much lighter that the desire to solve the problem, so it isn't sufficient. You pull out
the next one which is even smaller, and together they aren't enough to tip the scales. So,
you keep pulling one more reason after another out of the bag until the man stops you
saying, "Sounds like a bunch of excuses to me."
To the man, it becomes quickly obvious that there
aren't enough reasonably sized pieces in that bag to make the difference, and anything
smaller than a certain point is inconsequential anyway, so what's holding her back from
solving the problem?
But the woman knows that there may be only a few
big chunks, but the rest of the bag is full of sand. And all those little pieces together
outweigh the desire to solve the problem. If she went ahead and solved it anyway,
everything in that bag would suffer to some degree, and the overall result would be less
happiness in her consciousness rather than more.
This is why it is so easy for one sex to lead the
other into justification: each isn't looking at part of the picture. For a man to lead on
a woman, all he has to do is give her enough sand to keep the balance slightly on his side
and then he can weigh her down with all kinds of negative things because it still comes
out positive overall. For a woman to lead on a man, all she has to do is give him a few
positive chunks and then fill his bag full of sand with the things she wants. He'll never
Of course if you push too far from either side it
tips the balance and all hell breaks loose. But if you give to the other sex the parts
that are unimportant to you, not only will you get what you want, but you'll make them
very happy as well.