Welcome to my first blog post. Excited? … me too!
My goal in these blog posts is to discuss the interactions (often personal) that I have had with the people I encounter and the lessons that I learn from those interactions.
Today is my two year wedding anniversary (Hooray). In honor of my anniversary, my first post will be about a very specific interaction with my wife, Lorraine.
When Lorraine and I moved into our first apartment in NYC, we settled in a third floor walk up above a pizza shop on the Upper East Side. It had a slightly noticeable slope to it, and could easily reach 110 degrees in the summer. A real estate agent would describe our space as… cozy, our bedroom did not fit the gigantic furniture that I had brought from South Carolina.
So the four poster bed had to be squished into the corner, which meant that someone had to sleep on the inside of the bed against the wall and climb out every morning. When we set everything up, Lorraine said something along the lines of “Well, looks like you are sleeping on the inside,” which for some reason really made me angry. I had to walk outside to calm down. There was an obvious disconnect between what Lorraine had meant to say and what I understood.
Before we got married, I was given a book that helped me understand disconnects like the “bed incident.” That book, You Just Don’t Understand by Deborah Tannen, discusses the different styles that men and women speak. Tannen says that women engage in “rapport-talk” where they communicate to promote social affiliations and emotional connection. While men engage in “report-talk” where they focus on exchanging information and maintaining independence. There was one example that she uses in her book that really helped me internalize her analysis: talking about having a bad day.
When a guy tells you that he had a bad day, he just wants you to tell him how much that sucks, exchanging information. He does not want to hear about how you had a bad day as well (Bro, why are you trying to one-up my day? My day was definitely worse), maintaining independence. A Woman on the other hand does not want you to sit there quietly; she wants you to connect with her and her horrible experience (OMG, my day was sooooo bad too!), building your emotional connection with her. She also has no interest in your solutions to her bad day, which she might see as a breakdown of your social affiliation.
Basically, we sometimes don’t speak the same language. What is language if not a medium through which someone can understand your intent? My problem was that I thought we always spoke the same language, and that everything I understood must have been the way Lorraine intended it. My great epiphany was realizing that we speak different languages: I speak Male English with heavy macho rugby undertones and she speaks Female English with a lot of in-your-face Brooklyn.
With that in mind, we can now understand my reaction to Lorraine’s comment, and Lorraine’s reason for making it. I understood it as her telling me what to do, a breach of my independence. I would have been much more comfortable discussing the merits of why each person might need to be closer to the outside of the bed, like if one of us (read: Lorraine) gets up in the middle of the night multiple times to go to the bathroom. What she actually intended to do was address the fact that the bed simply did not fit in our room, and that we’d have to decide who would have to sleep on the inside. She was trying to make a joke of a situation.
After realizing that, at times, we do not speak the same language, I have found myself more able to control these strong emotional reactions. It’s not that I stopped having the reactions, I am just able to take a step back and realize that the person on the other side of the conversation was not trying to force me to into something but perhaps only suggest it. I now try to explain to Lorraine when something evokes an emotional response from me, so that she can learn to speak Rugby Man, while I Duolingo Brooklyn Lady. I only recently realized that my repulsion to being told what to do has hurt my ability to tell others what to do at work. Instead of being direct, I sometimes leave objectives open ended which has hurt our ability to achieve goals.
The bigger takeaway: not everyone who speaks English actually speaks your language. Know that there are people who will not understand you, and that you will misunderstand others. Sometimes an innocent comment can evoke a very emotional response. With a little effort and understanding on both sides of the conversation, we could all communicate better, and perhaps be a little happier.
Hope you guys enjoyed post #1. I have some awesome posts planned for the future. If you liked this post, share it with everyone you know (Aviv, don’t tell me what to do).
Love you Lorraine!