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You Just Don't Understand.


Conversations and understanding between men and women are altered and distorted because they live in different worlds. The problem exists among young people searching for a relationship and affects those who live under the same roof for many years.

When two people of different cultures encounter each other and are confused by the unique differences in language idiom, humor, or provincial mannerisms, the variations and incomprehensibilities are recognized and tolerated.

However, when those men and women who wrestle with each other's alien nature in love affairs, business encounters, and social demands eventually marry, differences become chiseled in granite. Dr. Tannen submits an amusing example of spouses transmitting on different "wave lengths."

A conversation between a man and wife in their car: The woman asked, "Would you like to stop for a drink?" Her husband answered truthfully, "No," so they did not stop. He was later frustrated to learn that his wife was annoyed because she had wanted to stop for a drink. He wondered, "Why didn't she just say what she wanted? Why did she have to play games with me?"

The wife was apparently annoyed not because she had not had her way, but because her preference had not been considered. From her point of view, says Dr. Tannen, she had shown concern for her husband's wishes, but he had shown no concern for hers.

The author's analysis emphasizes that the husband and wife in this example had different but equally valid styles of expressing their wishes.

"Pretending that women and men are the same hurts women," Tannen says, "because the ways they are treated are based on the norms for men. It also hurts men who, with good intentions, speak to women as they would to men, and are nonplussed when their words don't work as they expected, or even spark resentment and anger."

The range of subjects that are perceived differently by the sexes are categorized. Of intimacy and independence, Tannen writes: "Women focus first on intimacy, men on independence. The wife doesn't hesitate to delay a decision by saying she needs to check with her husband. He, however, can be mortified by defraying the decision until after he has consulted with his wife."

The protective frame embraces the gesture that a man makes to be chivalrous, the traditional alignment by which men protect women. "But a protective gesture from a woman," Dr. Tannen explains, "suggests a different scenario: one in which women protect children. That's why many men resist women's efforts to reciprocate protectiveness. It can make them feel that they are being framed as children. These underlying dynamics create sense out of what otherwise seems to be senseless argument between men and women."

In pursuit of freedom: When a woman assures a man she is living with or hopes to marry that he can have as much freedom as he wants, she is communicating in a language that does not mean the same to the man. Dr. Tannen tells about such a relationship in which the man accepted the partner's assurance literally and established a temporary sexual affair with another woman. She heard of it and exploded in fury. He couldn't understand why she would try to limit his freedom when it was clearly understood that he had this assurance.

The clear issue for the woman, says Tannen, is that she couldn't understand why the man was not concerned about her feelings. He interpreted her insistence on their interdependence as "manipulation"; she was using her feelings to control his behavior.

For the most part, Dr. Tannen analyzes behavior and its significance logically. She does not devote enough consideration to the problem of nagging, a device usually used by some women to achieve both subtle and not so subtle ends. Nagging can be used to control, persuade, intimidate, and most of all as means of aggression that effectively hides true motives, postulated Edmund Bergler, the eminent psychiatrist.

"When will you ever marry me?" can be a nagging diversion to obscure the greater need: to be rejected and wallow in subsequent self-pity, he theorized.

The book can serve as a much-needed reminder that two people can hear the same words, read the same lines, laugh to the same jokes, but not necessarily react to them for the same reasons. There are male jokes and female jokes - but each laughs for distinctly different reasons, even if they are not aware of what those underlying principles are.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Vegetus Publications
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Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Nutrition Health Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1990
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