The Modern Girl's guide To Understanding Men
Women who think men speak a different language may get a little translation help from the book Himglish & Femalese. We speak to the author about this modern girl’s guide to understanding men, asking why men and women get their wires crossed, and how women can make men understand them too.
In a gentle way of asking her partner to clear up the messy kitchen, a woman remarks: “Look at how many dishes are in that sink.” Her unsuspecting husband replies: “Yes, there’s loads” - and carries on reading the paper.It’s a classic case of a man not understanding what a woman’s saying - and of a woman not saying what she means.
Men and women speaking a different language is an age-old problem, and writer Jean Hannah Edelstein is putting herself forward as a translator. The 28-year-old American has written a new book, Himglish & Femalese, in a bid to explain to women why men don’t get them, and vice-versa.
She says: “Despite the fact that things have changed a great deal since the 1960s and the sexual revolution, we’re still not really understanding the opposite sex. “But there are things you can do to improve your comprehension.”
She says the core premise of her book is to show how men’s communication style tends to be brief and straightforward, while women use more metaphorical language, and often communicate in a roundabout fashion.
Or, put another way, women speak in code and men don’t.
Researchers have found that the average man speaks 65% fewer words than the average woman, but Edelstein insists: “Often, Femalese can be a very functional way of communicating, particularly when you’re trying to sound out the feelings of the person you’re communicating with, or if there’s some ambiguity.”
Part of the problem women have with the way they listen to men, she says, is that they assume men speak in the same way they do, and infuse their simply-meant sentences with a deep meaning that wasn’t intended. That can cause chaos,” she warns.
Although she’s currently single herself, Edelstein says she’s learned plenty from her and her friends’ experiences, as well as research.
For example, one man thought the way to get her interested in him was to take the mickey out of her American accent. But he blew his chances: “I just thought he was rude,” she says. “The thing with playing games is that you may not be playing the same game.” She says she’s found that the biggest mistake women make is not asking directly for what they want, because they’ve been socialised to believe that the worst thing you can do is nag a man.
“They also think another cardinal sin is asking for commitment from a man, and as a result, women have learned that the only way to get a guy to commit is to pretend they’re not interested in him. “So a lot of women think that if they imply something, or behave in a certain way, a man will figure out how they feel. “But a lot of men won’t, and then women feel stressed, upset and angry.”
Instead of playing games or dancing around an important subject, Edelstein says both sexes need to be brave, and just say it how it is. “If you ask outright, or communicate things clearly without being bossy, you’ll get the message across. “It takes more courage to be straightforward, but ultimately it’s the better way.”
She says the difference in the way men and women communicate is down to a variety of factors including neurology, genetics, and socialisation. But whatever the reason, communication between the sexes can improve if people engage their brains before their mouths, she says.
She advises women in relationships to sometimes try talking to their man using ‘we’, instead of addressing a problem as being his alone - even if they secretly believe he is the one at fault. So instead of saying “I feel like you don’t listen to me”, say: “We need to listen to each other more.”
This approach stops people getting defensive, says Edelstein, and makes it seem like you can both work on the problem together. Ultimately, her main advice to women is to state what they want, and think about what they’re saying, being careful not to hide their message with unnecessary verbal padding.
And a woman listening to a man should be extra-careful not to read too much into what he says. Edelstein concedes that couples will, of course, normally talk naturally without giving too much thought to what they’re saying or how it might be construed by their partner. But she advises: “When it comes down to sorting out issues, that’s when you have to put more thought into it. “Ask yourself if you’re having an argument because there’s a problem, or because you’ve not been clear with him. “Sometimes, if people take my advice, they’ll have shorter relationships because they’ll realise faster that they’re with the wrong person.”
And if it is time to split up, telling your partner straight is the kindest way, rather than dropping hints or cruelly dumping them by text message. “I see the value of using e-mail or phone to initiate issues, but ultimately you need to tackle the big issues in person. “People sometimes do it by text because it’s very decisive - it’s difficult to argue with a text message.”
She says rather than the explosion in electronic communication making it easier for men and women to communicate these days, it’s actually even harder. “There are more ways than ever not to understand each other,” she stresses. She gives the example of how a woman might spend a long time writing an e-mail to her new man, agonising over what to write and how to phrase it, and might even ask friends for advice. She’ll excitedly send the carefully-drafted message to him - and get a one word response. “Women tend to infuse everything with shades of meaning, and men tend to read everything at face value,” says Edelstein. “He won’t get it at all.” She points out that in electronic public forums such as Twitter and Facebook, there can be an element of performance in messages between the sexes and recommends that people are thoughtful about what they write. If not, it could have serious repercussions - last month a law firm which specialises in divorce claimed almost one in five of the divorce petitions it dealt with cited Facebook.
“Know the difference between your public life and your private life - just because we have the tools to feel like we’re celebrities doesn’t mean that we should broadcast everything. “Electronic communications, where the lines can be blurred between public and private, add more complication to something that’s already complicated.” She stresses: “Women have to understand how men communicate, and men have to understand how women communicate as well.” To illustrate, she adds: “Just because a man remarks that he also loves your favourite book doesn’t mean you should start shopping for a wedding dress. “It means that he loves your favourite book.”