On ABC’s hilarious “Modern Family,” we get a look into the contrasting male and female psyches when Phil takes a trip to the spa. We see him in all his nouveau-masculine glory, in a green facemask and white bathrobe, sitting at a pedicure footbath, feet soaking while the manicurist massages kiwi lotion into his hands.
“OK, I’m confused,” Phil says. “You’re saying that if she tells me she has a problem, I’m not supposed to help her?”
The woman lounging in the chair next to him leans over. “Not unless she asks for your help.”
“But if she lets me help her, I can make her problem go away,” Phil says.
The women all laugh. “That is such a male thing to say,” one remarks. “She doesn’t want you to solve her problems. She just wants you to give her support so she can solve her problems herself.”
“And sometimes” — the first woman takes up the cause — “sometimes she just wants a sympathetic ear.”
“Whoa,” says Phil. “Maybe it’s all the creams, but that just made sense, girlfriends.”
Deborah Tannen, author and professor of linguistics at Georgetown University, wrote about this language divide between men and women in an issue of “Scientific American Mind” published last year.
“Say a woman tells another about a personal problem and hears in response, ‘I know how you feel’ or ‘The same thing happens to me.’ The resulting ‘troubles talk’ reinforces the connection between them,” Dr. Tannen writes in the article. “Because this is not a conversational ritual he is used to, a man may well misread her conversational gambit as a request for help solving the problem.”
The result, says Dr. Tannen, is frustration all around.
“She blames him for telling her what to do,” she writes. “Whereas he thinks he did exactly what she requested and cannot fathom why she would keep talking about a problem if she does not want to do anything about it.”
A friend’s brother, Jake, who is cute and athletic and funny but entirely anti-commitment, likes to dabble in easy romance. He meets women at salsa class or picks up waitresses in coffee houses. He is notoriously untethered. Or he was. Until he met Chloe, a bright-eyed 23-year-old with all the fiery spunk and fierce independence it takes to intrigue a man like Jake.
While he never used to worry about the thousand small efforts it takes to keep a relationship going, now he turns to his sister for advice, asking every day what he can do to keep Chloe happy.
“Just listen to her,” his sister,
Susie, tells him. She’s told him this before, in the midst of other relationships, but he didn’t hear. Or he heard, but he didn’t care. Now, though, he takes notes. And he reports back with his successes.
“You wouldn’t believe it,” he told
Susie recently. “Chloe was telling me about a problem she’s having at work. I just listened to her.
I didn’t try to fix it. When she got done, I gave her a hug.”
“How’d she take it?” Susie asked.
“It was incredible,” Jake said. “Like it was exactly what she needed.” ¦