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New Fantasy & Science Fiction

Are Men and Women Really From Different Planets?

editorial by David M. Switzer

2009 Note: Another book that's useful for learning how to communicate more effectively with your partner is Women Can't Hear What Men Don't Say by Warren Farrell.

What if all men used to live on Mars and all women used to live on Venus? John Gray uses this almost science fictional idea to explore some important differences between the sexes in his book Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. Gray isn't saying anything about Mars and Venus specifically -- just that men and women are so different it's like they're from different planets.

It's human nature to assume that, at some level, other people will do things the way we do. But, of course, many people are different from us. Other people constantly surprise us by the seemingly unfathomable things that they do. In particular, members of the opposite sex are often very different from us. Falling in love is indeed magical -- it happened to me recently. But in order for it to last, you need to understand where your partner is coming from.

That's what John Gray helps us with in his book. Of course, not everything he says is going to apply to you -- he talks about generalities. I was, however, surprised at how much did apply to me. The first step is to realize what the differences are between men and women -- then we need to respect and accept them.

Men and women define their very beings differently. "A man's sense of self is defined through his ability to achieve results." And men like to achieve these results by themselves. They don't like to be told what to do or how they could do things better. If they have a problem they need help with, they'll ask. Women have a tendency to offer help without being asked, and this is precisely what they shouldn't do if they want to avoid upsetting their partner.

When a man is stressed out, he will retreat into his mind to think about the problem until he finds a solution. This will make him feel better. If he can't solve the problem, he will do something to take his mind off the problem. When a man is in the middle of solving a problem, he can be distant and unresponsive -- which may make his partner incorrectly assume that he's upset at her.

"A woman's sense of self is defined through her feelings and the quality of her relationships." Women like to share their feelings. They want empathy from their partner. When a woman talks about problems that she's having, her partner probably has a tendency to offer solutions. But if she's upset, she doesn't want to hear solutions, she just wants him to listen.

When a woman is stressed out, she will talk in detail about her problems with someone she trusts. This will make her feel better. She often talks about different problems that may seem unrelated, and in no particular order. She's not concerned with finding solutions, but wants to express herself and be understood.

In the above situations, one problem is merely timing. A man will be receptive to suggestions -- if he's asked for them. A woman will be receptive to solutions -- if she's not upset. "Both men and women need to stop offering the method of caring they would prefer and start to learn the different ways their partners thing, feel, and react." Women will find themselves appreciated if they allow their partners to retreat into themselves when they're stressed out, and men will find themselves appreciated if they listen to their partners when they're stressed out.

Men and women speak a different language -- even when they use the same words, they mean slightly different things. When a woman expresses her feelings, she assumes "poetic license to use various superlatives, metaphors, and generalizations." If a man interprets what she says literally, he will be misunderstanding her intended meaning. It seems to me that becoming fluent in the other language is going to take some time, but Gray gives us some translations in his book to start us off.

For a woman, a big challenge is to correctly "interpret and support a man when he isn't talking." Men generally don't think out loud like women do -- they silently process information before speaking. When a man is silent, a woman may instinctively ask him questions about how he is feeling -- but this will likely only annoy the man. A woman may even fear the worst -- that he doesn't love her any more -- when a man is silent for some time.

Partners shouldn't try to sacrifice their own true natures, but small changes can greatly enrich their relationship. For example, when a man is going to be quiet and think to himself for a while he could reassure his partner so that she doesn't worry. When a woman is complaining about various problems, she could assure her partner that the problems aren't his fault and she's not blaming him.

Men have an intimacy cycle: they get close, then instinctively feel a need to pull away. If they're allowed to pull away, though, they'll come back ready to be intimate again. Women have a tendency to try to maintain intimacy when a man is pulling away -- understanding that this is a natural cycle, they should instead let him go. When he comes back is the time to talk and get closer. Women often want men to talk more -- but demanding that they talk isn't the right approach. If the woman opens up to the man, gradually the man will open up and talk more.

Women have a self-esteem cycle: their self-esteem "rises and falls in a wave motion." When a woman is at the bottom of the wave, she especially needs to talk about problems and feel that her partner understands. Not understanding this cycle, a man might assume that his partner's mood has changed because of something he said or did. He might also try to improve her mood, but this also is not the right thing to do. When a woman comes back up the wave, her partner may incorrectly assume that all the problems have been solved -- and then feel frustrated when they return the next time she hits bottom.

If partners understand each other's needs, they can support each other. Men and women both have a tendency to try to "fix" each other: they think their partner will be happier if they could be more like them. But this is a mistake -- men and women are different, and always will be.

Understanding people is difficult, even when we all ostensibly speak the same language. Even when I worked as a technical writer, where it was our job to communicate effectively, I noted people misunderstanding each other. I think we'd understand each other more if we made fewer assumptions and asked more questions.

I was stunned at how useful Gray's book is. It gave me a language to express things I wasn't able to express on my own, and offered practical suggestions that has already improved understanding between me and my girlfriend. The suggestions Gray gives aren't quick fixes -- they're things that require practise. But isn't your relationship worth it?

This is our fifth anniversary issue, if you can believe it. It's something of an accomplishment and I'd like give a pat on the back to everyone who helped make it happen -- editors, authors, artists, and consultants of various sorts. There isn't anything particularly anniversaryish about this issue -- although we do have the first part of my special collection of science fiction and fantasy artwork. As you might have noticed we haven't quite been quarterly lately, but we do plan to be again in the future. We hope you'll stick with us because we'll be bringing you the best science fiction and fantasy stories and artwork we can find.

Recommended Reading

John Gray, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. Harper Perennial, 1992.

David M. Switzer recently celebrated 15 months of happiness with his girlfriend Lesley-Ann. Things they like to do together include watching movies, going for walks in the park, and playing games like Mancala and Upwords. At the end of April, the two of them went on a 1-week holiday in Seattle and Vancouver. They visited friends and relatives, saw the beluga whales at the Vancouver Aquarium, and watched the Imax movie The Amazing Caves which was indeed amazing.

Cover artist Rhett Ransom Pennell lives in Sparta, New Jersey with his lovely wife Margaret and a scruffy horde of cats with interesting digestive problems. He is usually a children's picture book illustrator (at this very moment he's working on a new one called Hey! There's a Goblin Under My Throne). The first book he wrote -- Excuse Me, Are You a Dragon? -- is currently being turned into a musical extravaganza by the StoneLion Puppet Theatre in Kansas City, Missouri. Rhett has illustrated a number of stories for Challenging Destiny and is happy to be making his cover debut. At long last, the gap between science fiction and super market coupon flyers has been bridged.

Last modified: July 25, 2009

Copyright © 2002 David M. Switzer

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