couple - Celebrating our Differences
Picture by Mulsanne

Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario. Here’s this week’s!

No matter how much sociologists try to convince that gender is only a “social construct”, I don’t buy it. Men and women just seemed hardwired differently, especially when it comes to love.

Do this thought experiment with me: would you be more upset if you caught your spouse having a physical affair, or an emotional affair? The answer usually depends upon your gender. In general, women are more upset if their husbands are having an emotional affair, whereas men are more upset if their wives are having a physical affair.

At first blush this may not make a lot of sense, but if we understand the differences between the genders, then it becomes clearer. Women’s first instinct is to bond emotionally with people. Men don’t. When my husband, a pediatrician, sees a woman we know while he’s working on the maternity floor, and I later ask whether it was a boy or a girl and how long the labour was, he can’t tell me. He’ll know the weight and whether or not the baby was healthy, but everything else doesn’t register. If I, on the other hand, had been in that room with those new parents, I’d emerge fifteen minutes later knowing the baby’s name, the colour of the nursery, the mom’s plans for staying off work, and the older siblings’ attitude towards the baby. We women talk. And talk. And talk.

Talking, then, isn’t exactly an intimate experience. We share our hopes and fears and moods with quite a range of acquaintances, from co-workers to people in line at the grocery store. What we don’t share as readily is our bodies. For a woman, sex is more intimate because it’s not something we’re as likely to share with strangers (though we all know women who seem to have broken down this taboo!).

Men, on the other hand, seem to operate the opposite way. No matter how much Alan Alda tried to teach men to vent their feelings, men don’t vent. It doesn’t feel right. So if a man has bonded emotionally with a woman that is not his wife, he’s really opened up with her. He’s taken time to develop a relationship. And he’s also toast, as far as I’m concerned.

Here’s another area where we’re different: Would you rather your spouse didn’t love you, but did respect you and felt you were competent and capable, or would you rather be respected but unloved? Chances are the answer to that question depends on your gender, too. In general, women will choose love, whereas men will choose respect.

And that’s only the beginning! Women like to talk face to face. Men like to talk side by side. Women like talking out problems, even if you don’t find a solution. The talking itself is rejuvenating. Men like looking for solutions, otherwise the talk is superfluous. Women go to the doctor when they’re worried. Men go to Home Depot. And the list goes on.

We have two choices with all these differences. We can act all superior, claiming the other gender is wrong and just plain stupid, or we can embrace the differences. And remember, you fell in love because you were different, not because you were the same. If we’re the same, there’s nothing new to discover, and the relationship becomes stale. But we’re not the same, and that means you have a lifetime to explore all the differences between you. I think that makes life a lot more fun. So stop complaining that she doesn’t care about football, or that he doesn’t care about paint colours. Just be glad those of you who are part of a couple have somebody to love—even if they are very strange to you.

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