It is a nightly ritual all across this great land of ours, and it has nothing to do with sex. It has to do with intercourse. Verbal intercourse.
What happens is that millions of husbands and wives sit down at the table to eat dinner together. They begin the meal -- take a bite of this, a sip of that -- and, before you can say, "Pass the salt," there's trouble: The wives attempt to make conversation with the husbands and the husbands act as if they've been cornered; the wives attempt to make more conversation with the husbands and the husbands get that I-don't-understand-what-she-wants-from-me look; the wives become angry and frustrated with the husbands and the husbands either assume a ridiculously defensive posture or retreat into their imaginary cave. It should be noted that this nightly ritual is occurring in spite of our awareness of the problem and in spite of generational shifts in attitudes. It is occurring because, like cotton, it is "the fabric of our lives."
No, not every woman is a brilliant communicator and not every man is a blockhead. There are, for example, women who are so unspeakably dull that men have a duty to tune them out, just as there are men who annoy women by overcommunicating.
In the majority of households, however, it's the women who are the more adept talkers and the men who need remedial help. At least, that's the conclusion I came to at the tender age of eleven.
I was a bookish eleven, an intense eleven, an inquisitive eleven who didn't have many friends, probably because I planted myself in the front row of every class and raised my hand to answer all the teachers' questions, and didn't care about clothes or boys or making out. A nerdie, know-it-all eleven, in other words.
What interested me more than that kiddie stuff, more than my school work even, was my parents and their inability to get along. Night after night I observed their conversational adventures at the dinner table, studied them as if they were a science project. (My mother: "You never talk to me, Alan." My father: "Not that again, Shelley." My mother: "Yes that again. Would it be asking too much for you to share some small shred about your day?" My father: "I told you about my day. I said it was fine." My mother: "Fine. Thanks for nothing. How are we ever going to achieve intimacy if you won't communicate with me?" My father, raising his voice: "Enough already with the intimacy, Shelley. The more you talk about it, the more I don't want to achieve it." And so on.) I couldn't make sense of these arguments, couldn't get a handle on them. They seemed so unnecessary.
Sad to report, my parents divorced when I was in high school. Fueled by the certainty that it was my father's failure to communicate with my mother that caused their breakup -- and my own failure to identify the problem in time -- I vowed to research and find a treatment for this male pattern badness.
And I did. While going for my Ph.D. in linguistics, I confirmed that my parents' situation was far from unique and that, in the overwhelming number of case studies involving conflicts between men and women, women were sharper, more intuitive, more intelligent than men when it came to communication. I thought, if only men were able to talk to women the way women are able to talk to each other, wouldn't the sexes coexist more smoothly? If only men could become fluent in the language of Womenspeak, wouldn't the world be a more harmonious place?
These questions formed the basis for what became the Wyman Method (my name is Lynn Wyman), which I introduced in my dissertation and later expanded upon in my bestselling book. The gist of the Wyman Method was that men could be taught linguistically how to relate better to women; that, by making simple adjustments in their speech patterns, by tinkering with their words, and by coaching them on their delivery, even the most clueless, verbally challenged men could, within a few short months, learn to be more sensitive, more forthcoming about their feelings and, best of all, less exasperating to live with.
Copyright Jane Heller, 2001. All rights reserved.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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