Whenever I get a phone call or make one, it often begins with me saying, “Nothing much has been going on.”
I used to have lots to say – especially when I was out there in the world, working for other people – but now that I’m home working for myself and in semi-isolation, to boot, I don’t seem to have much to tell. No tales of delicious adventures, of encounters with mysterious strangers or film biz celebrities who were, despite that on-screen 40-feet-high glow, simply human in real life.
Currently I don’t have much to spill. “Got some good pears yesterday.” That’s about it.
During this pandemic-mandated sheltering in place – the place being my apartment – I’m more likely to talk about the welcome plentitude of toilet paper in most of the neighborhood stores. And how Walgreen/Duane Reade now sells Krispy Kremes.
My friend Andrea and I were on the phone the other day. She said, “We’ve forgotten our social skills.” That sounds right, doesn’t it? We’re getting together for lunch next week, by which time we both felt we might have something to say. Certainly, we will practice being what we used to be: talkers.
But actually I probably do have something to say, at least when I sit down with a genuine human being for the purpose of…joint humanbeingness. Sure, my conversation often begins with, “Nothing much has been going on,” but then comes, “Well, actually, something odd happened.” Or if I ask you, “So tell me what’s been going on,” you’ll start a whole flow of meaningful exchanges.
Call it gossip. Women do it. It should never be denigrated as petty. It’s how we women explore thoughts about life, and truth. We start out on the surface but go on to plumb the depths of experience.
(Men gossip, too. They plumb the depth of sports. And other things.)
A while ago I read a book somewhat outside my general interests. It was, You Just Don’t Understand, by Deborah Tannen, about the distinctly different ways men and women talk to each other.
I was fascinated. Tannen clarified why I often found talking to men so irritating. It was one of those magic “Ahhhh!” moments.
In fact, I think it was the only significant revelation that worked so fast on my psyche. I mean, having the fine idea of wearing heels and my mother’s devastatingly elegant black coat to see the Beatles land at JFK on their first US trip – so that no one would think I was a crazed Beatles groupie – did not instantly transform me from Teenager to Woman. Especially when an airport security guide asked, quite kindly, “Are you here to see the Beatles?” Splat.
What I learned from Tannen was not complicated, did not require an elegant black coat. Here it is: what men want when they communicate is to report. What women want is rapport.
Run that simple lesson through your memory bank. I bet you’ll remember times when a man yammered on about what he had done that day, making it clear he was not eliciting your response.
On the other hand, when you talk to anyone, you want an ear, empathy. What you don’t want – and what you’ll usually get from a man – is authoritative advice. “You know what you should do,” a man will say. And then will tell you.
So that’s why we women find it so crucial to our well-being to talk with each other. We listen, we empathize, we do not give advice, unless we are asked.
Speaking of advice, I’ve asked for advice a couple of times but not until I reached a level of maturity, when I’d given up believing I had to be perfect at everything. At that point, I compiled a list of my outstanding imperfections, one of which was my general incompetence at housekeeping. In particular, I had trouble scrubbing dishes and pots. I mean, I could wash them. It’s just that after I did, they weren’t entirely clean.
It was confounding. There I was, at the kitchen sink, a dish in one hand, a sponge item in the other. I had soap on the sponge, I had water running, I scrubbed the dish, I paid attention to what I was doing. But, but, but – the dish was not utterly perfectly clean.
Couldn’t figure it out.
So I confessed my sponge sins at the office and asked for advice. Here’s what I was told: get a sponge with a rough surface. Run very hot water. Wear rubber gloves.
I tried. It got better but it never got perfect.
Until I bought a dishwasher. Now, the only items I wash by hand are pots. Which never get absolutely, utterly, perfectly clean.
Damn. I should have told a man about how I couldn’t wash dishes properly.