Those of us who live with men, love men, partner with men (for business or pleasure), or generally interact with men on a regular basis may have found ourselves in situations that disappoint, frustrate, hurt, anger, frighten, or embarrass us. Often these situations also baffle us because we don't understand what provoked the problem, whether it was something we did, and what we can do about it. What's worse is that sometimes our efforts to "fix" the problems we see only makes them worse.
There are several factors at work here, but they probably can all be grouped under two categories:
:: Hormonal issues
:: Communication issues
And while I will try to talk about the two separately, there will be some unavoidable overlap.
Men gripe and joke about women's hormones and moods, but lordomighty don't mention their tempers or moods or sensitive egos unless you are a glutton for punishment. Men don't have the cyclical hormonal patterns women experience, but hormones have a very profound effect on how a man perceives and interacts with the world and those in it. Those hormone levels change from day to day and from time to time within days. A pleasant mood can turn dark in a heartbeat with the least provocation, just as a dark mood that propelled a butt reaming just moments ago can dissolve as if it never happened.
The primary male hormone is testosterone, but hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, cortisol, melatonin and many others also play important roles in how a man feels and behaves. The sex hormones (testosterone, estrogen and progesterone) can affect a man's sex drive (libido), his temper, his rational thinking and self control, creativity, patience, compassion, his muscle mass and strength, appetite, immune system function and allergies, and a lot more.
The other hormones can either work to offset some of these effects...or they can enhance them. Testosterone, for example, can increase aggression, while estrogen and progesterone can decrease aggression and make a person more mellow. However, cortisol can increase one's impatience, make a man restless, and if high cortisol levels are paired with high testosterone (T) levels, you get a man who is not only feeling aggressive but also antsy/restless and maybe touchy.
Also, changes in hormone levels can have seemingly paradoxical effects on a man. One whose T levels are dropping may experience erectile dysfunction (ED), which in turn makes him feel frustrated, perhaps embarrassed, and angry. He may be angry at himself, at his body's betrayal of him, but that anger can spill over onto those around him in the ways he interacts with them. Which brings us to the second big factor: communication issues.
We all know men and women communicate differently, but many of us may be totally unaware that men and women are using a single language to express what are often very different concepts and intentions.
Imagine going to an alien planet where you discover to your delight that the inhabitants speak fluent English. So you launch into what you think is a friendly conversation only to find the aliens highly offended by every word. Imagine what would happen if their definition of the words "I'm delighted to meet you" meant to them "I want to own you" or "You look delicious"?
Well, the fact is that men and women--and even people of the same gender with different styles--often find themselves in that very position: using one language to mean very different or even opposing things.
Linguistics professor, Deborah Tannen, has described this bizarre phenomenon in many books, which I will cover in later posts. For now, the key distinction you need to be aware of is the difference in objectives for male conversation versus female conversation. While this is not universally true, in general, women use conversation to establish community, equality and rapport, while men use it to affirm individuality and establish status (ideally superiority) in the hierarchy.
Men use real or ritualized combat (whether a verbal argument or a physical fight or competition) as a means of bonding with one another. But when they try to use this technique to bond with a female, their actions and words have the opposite effect of making the female feel attacked, criticized, and distanced.
IT IS WHAT IT IS: DEALING WITH REALITY
These insights are just the tip of the iceberg. I will go into each in much more depth in subsequent posts. For now, the important thing to remember is that when he says or does something that upsets you, the overwhelming odds are that it probably is not meant to upset you. And, in fact, he may be baffled at your taking offense to something either he thought was showing his closeness to you or that was simply not about you at all.
Believe me, I know it is easier said than done to not take things personally. But once you start to understand the dynamics going on inside him, you will become better able to deflect what appear to be arrows and keep yourself from being wounded by them.
By the way, this is not meant to excuse those who are physically or emotionally abusive, although it can offer insights into even those behaviors.
For those dealing with men who have good hearts and honorable intentions, I suggest you give them the benefit of the doubt whenever possible. And try to "catch them being good" as often as you can. Notice when they do something "right" or desirable or whatever is the opposite of the offensive behavior. You may find more of it than you expect.
The more you make him feel like a hero, the more he will try to live up to your ideal of him.
Oh, and this works both ways. So guys, if you're reading this, try noticing and celebrating the things we do right if you want to encourage us do them more often.
Stay tuned for more.