Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Much ado about 'nothing'

01 Oct 2007, ST

Talking to a woman can be like watching Shakespeare: It requires a lot of concentration and it's difficult to understand

By Jeremy Au Yong

IT STARTED innocently enough.

I was having tea with a friend at a coffee shop. And we were engaging in what I thought was a casual chat when, out of the blue, it happened.

'It' refers to my friend getting angry with me. It would not surprise you to learn that this friend was female. Let me recount to you the chain of events leading up to this unfortunate incident.

1. The Australian World Cup (yes, World Cup!) rugby team scored a try against Fiji.

2. A cheer rang out from the TV behind me which was showing the game.

3. Instinctively, I turned my head to the TV to see what had happened.

4. No more than two seconds later, upon seeing that Australia had indeed scored a try, I turned my head back to continue the conversation with my friend.

Let me just stress at this point that guys cannot help but look at the TV if somebody scores. It might be any sport, football, cricket, canoe polo, it doesn't matter.

If there's a sudden cheer, we must look. We cannot not look. It's in our DNA.

That doesn't mean we are not paying attention to you women. For example, during the briefest of moments I had my head turned, I had diverted some extra brain power to my ears to monitor the words she was saying, just in case I was given a spot test.

Women are always giving men these listening spot tests. 'What was the last thing I said?' they will ask in a stern teacherly voice. And if you don't get it 100 per cent correct, you will be in trouble.

Sometimes - as in my case - I got it right and still got in trouble.

Apparently, she was in the midst of saying something important, something momentous, something so crucial that it required my full undivided attention.

Yes, so monumentally important and urgent this piece of information was that - in the absence of my undivided attention - it shrivelled up, died and was reduced to 'nothing'.

She: I have decided that..... (notices the turned head)

I: (turning head back after a split second) You have decided that...?

She: (with upset look) Nothing.

Now, let's consider why this has happened.

Women might say it was because I was being insensitive.

Just when someone was opening up to you about something she felt very deeply about, you decided it was more important to look at some strangers a few thousand kilometres away run with an egg-shaped ball across a line. 'How incredibly dense are you?' women will say.

Men in turn will respond that, once again, women have taken a trivial matter and blown it right out of proportion.

I say it's just one big misunderstanding.

You see, women and men have vastly different approaches to talking. For men, it's just a means of telling people what you want. For women, it's an event, an experience to be enjoyed and is full of little nuances,

That's why talking to a woman can be like watching a play by Shakespeare. It requires a lot of concentration, it's difficult to understand and it always takes longer than you think.

It's quite clear men have the far superior approach.

For example, no man would ever get angry at another for ignoring him momentarily to check out sport. As a matter of fact, men would find it quite strange if another did not actively look. ('Are you okay? You didn't look at that goal?'')

In fact, if there is a TV with sport on in the vicinity, it is quite likely all men will talk to one another without ever making any eye contact. It's a very efficient system.

Men are also more efficient with the phone. Our conversations are short and straight to the point.

('Eh, help me buy 1143, $2 big, $2 small. Okay, bye bye.')

Women, on the other hand, are unable to have a phone conversation under 30 minutes.

('Can help me buy 1143, $2 big, $2 small? It's not too much trouble, right? I mean, if it is, just let me know, I can go myself. I just thought that since you are in town you could help... Sure? Okay, thanks. Oh, do you know why I am buying this number, it's very funny. You see, yesterday my son was on the bus coming home from school when he saw this horse...')

And it goes on and on. A casual call from an old friend can take upwards of two hours. If they are planning a birthday, it can stretch to two days.

Aside from being more efficient, men are also easier to understand. That's because we adopt the dictionary meaning of the words we use. Women, on the other hand, invent new ones, especially when they are angry.

For example, 'Fine' never means 'Fine'. It means something more like 'Very very not fine and it's all your fault'.

'Nothing' means 'something very very bad that is all your fault'.

But even when they are not angry, the meanings of words tend to get muddled. Among the most problematic are 'hungry' and 'full'.

I have a friend capable of moaning about how 'hungry' she is on the way to a restaurant, and then order a salad of which she will eat only half.

I have another friend who - no matter what she eats, it could be two peanuts - will proclaim: 'I'm so full. I ate too much.'

It's indeed a serious problem. One that men and women have to tackle together.

Women can try to talk to men only when the TV is off.

Men, in turn, can try not to take everything women say literally.

It's worth a shot.

I mean, we've got 'nothing' to lose.

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