Friday, May 21, 2010

Woman-to-Geek Dictionary, Part Six

Why, you ask, can’t women just be direct? Why, all of the women of the world ask, can’t men just be direct? Why can’t people say in actual words what it is that they have on their minds?

Let me defend the indirect.

If you start listening to people, even the people you think of as direct, you’ll realize that humans are almost never truly direct. It almost never occurs that a person says what s/he really means. I hate to break it to you, but communication is not solely an act of words. Let me give an example. Woman says to man “Can you close the window?” Does she literally mean “Can you close the window?” No. At the very least she might mean “I want you to close the window for me.” But, of course, this doesn’t even tell us why she wants it closed. (Let’s even put aside the instances where something much deeper and conflicted is going on--like “You’re so inconsiderate--you know I get cold all the time and here you go leaving the window open again.”) She is leaving out a lot of information. Is she cold and getting sick? Can she not hear you over the lawn mower next door? Does she want to have noisy, raucous sex without the neighbors listening in? The need for having the window closed could mean all sorts of things. And usually a person does not need to spell out why because usually it’s obvious why and it would take a lot of time out of our lives if we explained everything we said or wanted. A person who did that would be an open book to you, and you would never be confused about where she stood or what she wanted.

You would also be bored to death and would find yourself constantly interrupting her because you would want her to get to the fricking point some time in this decade. In fact, this kind of person is usually the butt of jokes in television shows. Woman to man: “I would like you to close the window so that we can engage in uninhibited and possibly loud sexual concourse without the embarrassment of the neighbors hearing. I do not want the neighbors to hear because they are Jehovah’s Witnesses and would be appalled at the premarital physical consummation of our relationship, and I do not wish to cause them discomfort.” Shut up already and take your clothes off!

For the most part, people assume that other people are a lot like them--since they often are--and that what they are saying will be readily understood without them having to spell it out. And if you do come from similar cultural backgrounds, this is a pretty good assumption. Until it isn’t a pretty good assumption and you say something that you don’t fully explain and it gets taken the wrong way.

There are, of course, instances where people are intentionally indirect to soften the blow. For example, “I don’t feel comfortable giving you my phone number” is some times a nice way of saying “Fuck off and leave me alone.” Most people would rather hear the former even if they know it means the latter.

And there’s the reverse, where a person is trying to find out how you feel without backing you into a corner where you have to say to them “Fuck off and leave me alone.” Most people would rather figure out indirectly that you want them to leave you alone than be told to fuck off.

Even your friend Ms. Di Rect is saying something more than “I think your position on xyz is utterly moronic” when she says “I think your position on xyz is utterly moronic.” These words sound direct and without need for interpretation but sometimes verbally “direct” people are the most defended people, not the most open. What is so threatening to Di about this other world view that she expresses her opinion in such extremes? She might give a reasoned and logical explanation for her stance, but that’s rarely the whole story. When people phrase their opinions in such forceful ways, what they are really communicating is not the literal words they say but “Don’t you dare disagree with me.” And then your guess is as good as mine as to why a person would be that insecure that s/he can’t deal with differences of opinion on a given subject.

So, you see, even when people are “direct,” they are actually obfuscating.

Deal with it.

You’re that way too.

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