Waste of Space and Time
October 23, 2017 § 3 Comments
When my marriage was less than a year old, I had this brilliant idea for the funniest gag ever. My wife’s birthday was coming up, and I thought it would be hilarious if I got her a couple of books titled “Men Are from Mars, Women Are From Venus”, and “Mars and Venus Together Forever”, as her birthday gift. “You’re married now, honey,” I remembering quipping. “You’ll need these.” I was mystified when my gift got a cold and distant reception: apparently the joke wasn’t as funny it sounded in my head. She never told me exactly what she thought of the presents, but I gathered that she was expecting something slightly more romantic than self-help books on relationships. Perhaps I needed the books more than she did, but I didn’t read them at the time.
Flash forward twenty years to the present day. I finally got around to reading the first of my abortive attempts at humor: Men Are from Mars. I’m not afraid to admit it. I boldly went where no man – or woman – need ever go again.
It’s utter rubbish.
It isn’t that John Gray gets everything wrong. Some of the advice is even sane, for instance, where he tells his readers not to get upset when their partner points out a mistake or omission, or when he says nobody is ever upset for the reason they think. His basic thesis, based on which he has whipped up this little book (and possibly his entire career), isn’t to be sneezed at either:
We mistakenly assume that if our partners love us, they will react and behave in certain ways – the ways we react and behave when we love someone
In other words, we often do unto others as we would they do unto us, but sometimes they’d rather be done unto in a different way than we would they do. Unto us, I mean. If they’d been the doers and we’d been done unto. Instead of the other way around.
It’s as simple as that!
Yet, out of this patently self-evident statement, Gray derives an elaborate, poorly researched, and profoundly erroneous theory that ALL men behave and think in one way, and ALL women behave in a totally different way, and this, he says, is the reason men and women find it hard to understand each other. Just how different? It’s as if, we are told, all men came from a strong, cool, masculine planet like Mars, while all women hailed from a sizzling hot feminine planet like Venus, and they pretty much fell in love with the first individual of the other species that they set eyes on.
How exactly are they different? We are assured that unlike the goal-oriented men, women are relationship-oriented and “more concerned with expressing their goodness, love, and caring.” For instance, men who go to a restaurant with a male buddy do so to eat food; the women at the next table, on the other hand, are there “to nurture a relationship”. Men come home from work and want to unwind in silence; women want to yak annoyingly about how their day went. Men have a win/lose attitude: they need to win, but they don’t care who loses. Women have a win/lose attitude too: they don’t mind losing as long as their men can win. And on it goes.
But fear not: Gray has you covered. His “list of 101 little ways a man can keep his partner’s love tank full” include such gems as “#1: Upon returning home, find her first before doing anything else, and give her a hug”, “#24: Give her four hugs a day”, and my personal favorite, “#25: Call her from work to ask how she is or to share something exciting or to tell her ‘I love you’.”
By the time I got to Chapter Six (“Men Are Like Rubber Bands”), this particular rubber band was ready to SNAP.
You see, I work from home, while my wife is a busy executive who works really hard in a city office so that she can make it back home at a reasonable hour. Since she’s the one in and out of meetings all day, she calls me when she has a few minutes to spare: usually to discuss weekend plans or the kid’s play dates. She comes home to me. It used to be the other way around, and when that changed, our behavior changed in subtle ways and remained the same in other subtle ways. We both enjoy hugs, and always did: sometimes more than four a day. All this works for us, and I’m sure we’re not the only ones.
Look: there is no “All Men are This”, or “All Women are That” any more than there is an “All Indians are Socially Awkward Tech Support Nerds“: but that’s really OK, because in order to make a relationship work, you don’t need to understand what all members of the opposite sex are like: you need to learn (and VERY quickly) what that ONE person is like that you want a relationship with.
There is some irony in a man named Gray seeing people in black and white categories, and in none of the shades in between. Many men are relationship-oriented, some women don’t like to talk about their workday, many women like to solve problems, some men are great listeners. What a person is like depends on a number of factors: how they were brought up, where they live, who their role models and influences are, how they are treated at work, how well they are paid, and so on. Their gender is probably a factor, but nowhere close to being the only one. When you overlay the gender-based differences with all the other factors, you will find that most men are more Venusian than Gray gives them credit for, while most women are more Martian than he believes. In fact, I suspect most people are somewhere in between these two stereotypes.
Somewhere between Mars and Venus? Why, we might even be on Earth. Who’d have thought, huh.