Miscommunication between men and women is a pretty well-known problem. Regardless of whether you are close friends who understand each other well or an old married couple who knows every quirk of their spouse, there will be times at which you completely miss the point of what is being said, and there will be times when you unintentionally cause offense.
Some people have proposed that men and women simply speak different languages to explain this problem. I don’t think that’s the whole story. Efforts to establish translations run into far too many difficulties for that to be the case, largely because impersonal translations can’t be contextualized as the behaviors of men and women so often are. I propose instead that men and women share a language, but also have distinct ways of communicating in addition to it.
For example, a man will generally show that he cares for a woman by doing things for her. When she asks for advice, he gives it. When she needs help moving furniture, he shows up and stays as long as it takes. When something breaks, he’ll fix it or replace it. When she wants a night on the town, he’ll take her out. When things are crazy at work and she needs to vent, he’ll sit there and listen. This is why, on the numerous occasions when I’ve gotten asked by a female friend, “How do I tell if he really cares about me?” I will ask her what he does for her.
For another example, a woman will generally show that she cares for a man by responding to him in a way that communicates her caring, often implicitly rather than explicitly. When he seems confused and asks for advice, she says things that are supportive and uplifting, perhaps suggesting a few constructive options. What she’s communicating to him is that she thinks he is capable and that she wants him to do well. When he has a bad breakup with his girlfriend, she’ll give him a comforting hug and maybe invite him to get out and do something so that he isn’t moping all day. What she’s communicating is that she is there for him and wants him to feel better. When a man tells me he doesn’t understand women, I tell him that he needs to learn to read between the lines, that a woman often means more than she says.
Obviously, these are generalizations that may not apply to all men and women because not all men have typically masculine ways of behaving and not all women have typically feminine ways of behaving, and we need to take the whole person into account when communicating with them. But having a sense of how men and women are often socialized to communicate is very useful in a variety of situations, whether you’re trying to make new friends or trying to get a date or trying to build a better marriage. Miscommunication doesn’t do any of us much good, and we might as well minimize it.