A woman asked why men seem to become detached and stoic when they have bad days and, at the same time, seem to get annoyed and try to problem solve when a woman just wants to share and relate the problems she’s experiencing, not have them solved for her.
The below epic response by user intensely_human eloquently explains exactly how men and women think differently and how understanding this can lead to better communication and better relationships.
I can give a little insight into this:
- Stoicism is preferable to rage. Stoicism is what guys learn after they rage a few times as a teenager and get the wrath of society down on them. Our natural tendency is to get scary, and that is completely unacceptable in our society (like to the point you can get in trouble with the law for scaring people), so we just crank up the inhibitory signals and this makes us quiet. Both lashing out, and reaching out for help, is often punished in men, so we just withdraw.
- Getting annoyed when you won’t let us help you solve the problem: we have our own problems that we are just being silent about. When you come to us to unload, and if this happens too often, we are overwhelmed with the combination of our own problems plus yours. Since you are sharing your load with us, we expect to be able to use our load-reducing strategies on that load. But you stop us, ostensibly because it’s your problem not ours so it’s your call how to approach it, from solving the problem. So what you’ve got is a combination of a new load being applied as well as someone stopping us from dealing with that load as we see fit. So it’s like if someone came by with a bunch of trash and said “the dumpster at my building is full, can I leave these here?” You say “sure”, and they put the trash bags in your living room. You start to pick up the bags to take them outside, but the person says “no no no! Stop trying to take out the trash! I just want you to see it.” Imagine how annoying that would be. When you ask us to hear you complain about your problems, you are making them our problems. But you aren’t letting us solve them, just stew in them with you. Guys don’t like to stew, we have enough already that we’re stewing in. If you’re not open to our solutions, we don’t want to be open to your emotional hardship.
Just wanted to add another way of looking at the second bullet point here. Between guy friends, we basically keep our problems to ourselves as a default state. My problem, my job to fix it. In friendships, we allow this to break down a little bit, but only in measured ways. The tighter the friendship, the more likely we know we can rely on help if we ask for it, but we still hesitate to ask, because we don’t want to load our friends. So basically guys operate in units of one or more. As soon as you and at least one other guy join forces – on any problem – then responsibilities for that problem are sort of automatically divvied among the pair or group of guys. Imagine a bunch of guys from a tribe out in a hunt. They come across two other guys from that same tribe. Those guys might join the hunt, or they might go on just chilling or whatever. The thing is, if they join the hunt, they are in the hunt 100% – they will instinctively think with regard to the entire hunting unit, will act in the name of the entire hunting unit. Those two guys will not follow along while doing their own thing – maybe shooting for birds while the others are going after boar. One group, one goal. If those two guys want to shoot at birds they’ll form their own separate group and follow a different path.
“This is just a very long winded way of saying that guys can click together like Power Rangers into well-coordinated multi-person structures that get things done as a whole. We got this through endless eons of hunting and war – of putting down grievances with our enemies, and fighting alongside them 100%, the moment an even larger enemy appeared on the horizon. Guys have a sort of networking protocol where they can plug into a group and allow themselves to merge with the group mind.
When a guy friend comes to you with a problem, it’s almost always because he’s reached the limit of what he can do with it himself. Many guys can and do seek advice before it is absolutely necessary, but as you may notice this is commonly a discipline that an adult has developed, something they’ve had to develop with work as different than what their instinct says. So a guy friend comes to you with a problem, and underneath his description of the problem is the question: “Would you please join me in this problem? Would you please activate your own resources so that together we can solve this?” Note this doesn’t mean it’s always equal, like in the hunting case. Guys will often agree (again through unspoken understanding that the minds work alike) to take a limited or narrowly-defined role in helping another guy solve a problem. For example one may act as advisor, hesitating to throw in entirely so as to allow the requester to exercise his skills, or simply to allow the responder to maintain his own time and resources without tying them up in the requestor’s problem.
Basically when guys complain about problems there is an implicit message “I’m telling you this because this problem has gone beyond my own abilities to tackle.” The implicit agreement has a few features, and the key here is that they are a package deal:
- Feel the fact that I feel bad about this problem.
- Step into the problem space with me.
- Suggest things I could do, or we could to together, to solve this problem.
- I’ll owe you one.
Please note all of that goes unsaid. The only thing that gets consciously communicated is “Oh fuck I don’t know what I’m gonna do about my flat tire! I’ve got no money until payday”, to which the listener thinks “oh shit my friend is in trouble, what can I do?”, and then says “Well I can drive you to work this week, until you get your paycheck and can get a new tire.”
The taking on the feelings of the problem, the stepping into the problem space (it’s our problem, not yours), the response using plans and strategies, and the owing you one are all just part of the protocol – they’re not explicitly arranged.
When a woman comes to a man and complains, perhaps without realizing it she’s activating that entire contract. Or at least he thinks she is. So he takes on the feeling of the problem, steps into the space like the problem belongs to both of them, starts suggesting fixes or next steps, and expects her to be willing to help him out in the future, given that she’s using a co-hunter protocol.
But then she:
- Continues to wallow in the problem, seemingly unaware that the man has linked his own empathy and is now feeling what she feels.
- Sees it as her problem that she has to face alone.
- Rejects solutions, seeming to think they imply a lack of feeling
- Doesn’t help him move his couch next month.