Men, Women and Brain Function

brain 4 Sometime between our third and fourth anniversary, I realized my husband and I made decisions from entirely different paradigms. This realization didn’t  distress me, but it made me  curious. I knew that men’s brains and women’s brains were wired for different functions, but I had hoped there might be crossover. Some common ground where our brains could pause and at least hold hands periodically.

I no longer think this is possible.

I have observed that my husband, when asked a simple question that demands an opinion or a preference, spends an inordinate amount of time pondering before answering. When he finally answers, it is usually tempered with a disclaimer. Talk about irritating.brain 6

I have watched his mood change from mellow to tense if forced to make a knee-jerk decision. He does not like it. More comfortable with 24 hours or so to think. Sometimes I attempt to understand why and how he arrives at  decisions. This is frustrating, an exercise in futility, and usually I am forced to short-circuit the conversation. Call it sensory self-preservation.

For instance, today I asked him questions as an experiment, and here are his honest-to-God, unedited answers:

Me:  What is your favorite color?

Husband’s response: Quizzical, thoughtful look. Hand drifts to chin. “I’d have to think about it. When I was younger, it was purple, but now I have to think about what color the things are that I’ve seen lately that have made me happy.

Me: “Really? You can’t just pull out of your gut your favorite color? Like blue or red?”

Husband: Thoughtful pause. “Maybe it’s blue. Or red.”

brain15Me: “Blue and red together make PURPLE.” Sigh. Next question.

Me: How do you decide on a restaurant?

Husband’s response: “The food. It’s all about the food.”

Me: (Thinking to myself, when it comes to food, his opinions are immediate. This reaction is probably common to all men, which causes the question to be relegated to the moot pile. Quick, think of another question.)

Husband:  Generously elaborating on his decision-making premise: “When I answer a question, I am thinking at a higher level than everyone.”

Me: You are? Seriously? I have been married to you for five years, and I cannot believe it! Wait – define ‘higher’.

Husband: Okay, maybe ‘higher’ is not the right word. But before I answer a question, I try to take what the person is saying and apply how it affects me, how it affects others, and how it affects the world.

Me: Staring at him incredulously. “You do? WHY?”brain 18

Husband: “Because I factor in data. I must have data in order to answer a question. That is why it takes me a while to analyze a question. It’s ingrained.”

Me: “AHH! Interesting. Because when I make a decision it is based on sensory and emotional perceptions. I base a restaurant choice on the atmosphere, not the food! I can pull a favorite color out with no problem, because it never changes. It’s magenta, and always has been. Like flowers, for instance. I love flowers because they not only look beautiful and smell good, they elicit a feeling of romance in me.”

Husband: Silence

Me: Thinking the analyst in him will probably never understand the romantic in me. I pull out my favorite conversation-that-I-do-not-enjoy-or-understand short circuit strategy. “You do know it’s all about the woman, right?”

brain 16

Husband: Closes eyes. Nods.

Me: “Good.”

End of discussion.

A Thanksgiving Epiphany

Relationships. Football. Fireplaces. A great family meal. Kicking around autumn leaves during after-turkey walks. I love Thanksgiving! It is, after all, about giving thanks. Something lovely and satisfying about that.

It is not about countless trips to Boscov’s, Belk’s, TJMaxx, Marshal’s, Target, Macy’s, Pier One; anxiously selecting gifts that family members may or may not want, like, or need.

Black Friday shopping-mania. Would you get in a fistfight for the New HALO game? A 42″ flatscreen? These people must really, really need this stuff to risk life & limb for it.

I have been thoughtful this year, introspective. I have come to the conclusion that I prefer Thanksgiving over Christmas, and have explored this epiphany (I really love the word ‘epiphany’) from every angle to discover why.

Stress! Spending thousands of dollars, wrapping hundreds of gifts, mailing to those that are not close by is stressful.  I understand it’s the thought that counts and all that, but hey, let’s get real here. Depending on how many people one is buying for, the temporary insanity brought about by Christmas commercials promising ‘great deals’ on everything from furby’s to flatscreens can set one’s debt-reduction goals back by five years.

After approximately 25 years of planning, buying, wrapping, I am weary. The stress of select-spend-and-wrap far outweighs the joy of celebrating Christ’s birth, and I do not understand the mercenary hoopla around the holiday. Furthermore, I am stomping my foot and saying, “Enough!”

Trying to, anyway.

I decided to introduce this theme after the Thanksgiving meal, when we were all fat, full and happy. Warm and fuzzy. What better time to elicit input from my adult kids and their families?

Apparently, this was not the time.

I was  unprepared for the backdraft of retaliation that nearly burned my face off. One daughter, the most conflict-avoidant among us, was immediately amenable. “That’s fine, Mom. Whatever you want to do, Mom. Uh, we could draw names?” She cautiously sipped her wine, glanced first at her husband, then her siblings, hoping to head off a heated exchange.

The other daughter, very opinion-forward, “That’s crazy! Why, it won’t even be Christmas. No. No. No!  That way everyone would just get ONE GIFT! What is all this about anyway? How much trouble is it really, Mom, to buy and wrap 435 gifts and put them under the tree? Just start shopping, um, sometime early summer.” Indignant glare. My son, the youngest, said, “No way, Mom. No way. This is about money, isn’t it? Isn’t it?” When I responded it wasn’t just the money, it was also the time and stress of selection and wrapping, he said, “Look, I’ll help wrap every, single present. I will.“ Indignant glare.

I was stunned, to say the least.  To have such resistance to a plea to reduce the mercenary aspect of a holiday that is supposed to honor Christ, not gifts, was disappointing. The spouse/fiancee of each of my children wisely held opinions to themselves, and found ways to extricate themselves from the table during the conversation. My husband joined them, secretly hoping our Christmas-related blood pressure levels would go down this year, unwilling to dive into the fray with his relatively new stepkids.

I tried to get a concensus, but they stood their ground. It seemed that Christmas-related uber-gifting was not going down without a fight.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy giving. It is what Christ would have me do, and it’s fun! But to go to obscene lengths because I feel  guilted into it is wrong. I was basically told, in the end, to do whatever I wanted, and that they would do whatever they wanted. I couldn’t believe it. Warm and fuzzy flew right out the window.

Change is hard, but sometimes change is necessary. The people-pleaser part of me was cringing at the Thanksgiving table during the conversation, but the Mom part of me was standing up, putting a stake in the ground. Mom wants Christmas to focus on Christ, like it used to when they were young. When we didn’t even have two nickels to rub together, and managed to enjoy homemade gifts or whatever else we could come up with. When decorating the tree, listening to holiday music, going to Christmas eve services, reading Luke 2 were enough. More than enough. When the gifts were icing on the cake, not the whole cake.

So, I am still not sure what Christmas will look like this year. I hope it will look like a group of people happy to be a family, excited to remember Christ’s birth, glad to receive whatever is given in the spirit of Thanksgiving. I hope it will not be about looking at how much something cost, or if someone got more than another. Somehow my family traditions have become more gift-centered than Christmas-centered, and I am sad about it.

This guy is not my idea of the personnification
of Christmas…just sayin’

Christmas should be about more than giving. It should be about giving thanks, too. If it was up to me, I’d combine Thanksgiving and Christmas and have a month of celebration where gifts are limited. I’d declare a TV-commercial-free month. I’d outlaw Santa Claus, as the whole ‘better not shout, better not cry, better not pout, I’m tellin’ you why’ thing causes kids to look to him as the meaning of Christmas. (Okay, you may disagree, but I have given this a lot of thought and this is my blog.) News flash: Christ’s birth is the reason for the season.

I am hopeful my epiphany will reduce the stress around our family’s Christmas. I know my kids have great hearts, and are considering our conversation. It will take them a little time to adjust, consider, and come to their own conclusions. I am confident that, as a family, we will move a few steps closer to the manger.

Happy Holidays to each of  you, dear readers! May Jesus Christ richly bless you and your family this Christmas and into the New Year!

Walkie-Talkies Go For The Gold

A woman’s mouth can move faster than any other part of her body.

I discovered this last Saturday when I was invited to speed-walk with a group of women.

I showed up in Nikes, hastily applied make-up (the days are long gone where I can zing out of the house without make-up – it would scare people) and an energetic attitude.

I really needed the attitude.

I arrived a little late, a passive-aggressive response to my niggling resentment about a 9 a.m. appointment on a Saturday.

I approached the track at the YMCA and head-swiveled, locating them easily after a few seconds of squinting. They were the ones whose mouths, arms, and legs were pumping like mad, leaving a trail of conversational fumes in their wake.

I waited for them to whoosh by, took aim, and leaped into the group. They all smiled, briskly introduced themselves, and resumed their discussions, never missing a beat.

I felt like I had stumbled into a human whisk, and I was the omelet.

Since my two-year sabbatical from full-time employment, I have become much more relaxed in my approach to life. Conversation is filled with thoughtful pauses, meaningful sharing and phrases like “finding my purpose,” and “focusing on priorities.”

In fact, my whole season of life at this point is a thoughtful pause. On purpose. I will re-enter the hyper-productive and myopically-focused workaday world soon enough, but for now, my tempo is set to “somewhat slow.”

These women were serious about their tempo, and it was set to “presto.” (You musical buffs, know exactly what this means. For you non-musical buffs, “presto” is the Italian equivalent of the American word “presto,” which means really, really fast.)

I was delighted to find that I rather enjoyed the mental exercise.

For every three words out of my mouth, my companion countered with 25. By lap four, I was matching her word for word.

We were so deeply enmeshed in speed-talking, that we began to fall behind in the speed-walking part. At one point, the rest of our group paused and turned toward us with question marks on their faces.

“What’s keeping you?” they asked, as we caught up and they energetically resumed leg and arm pumping.

My companion explained we were talking about ex-husbands. I explained they needed to stop us because it was getting depressing. They looked at each other and responded that they had no experience with ex-husbands.

My walk-mate and I glanced at each other with expressions similar to those that have endured the horrors of war and emerged triumphant, but scarred, on the other side; shrugged, and acknowledged the fact that speed-talking is not a level playing field.

To have maximum impact, a common life experience may be an important consideration.

We let the group whoosh on ahead, content that our mouths might outpace our legs, but at least one part of our body was getting a really, really good workout.

Afterward, the women asked me to join them for coffee at a local deli. I was a bit torn about this idea, because typically on a workout day, I do not use my facial muscles at all. I had tentatively planned to spend 20 minutes in the weight room, pumping other things besides my mouth.

The group stared at me expectantly, waiting for a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ to the coffee. I said yes, figuring speed-talking is an important exercise, too.

The weights could…well, wait.

We talked about everything, nothing, and in between. On this sunny, energetic Saturday morning, my mouth, jaw and brain muscles were fully pumped. If speed-talking was a team sport, we would have won the gold that day.

It was difficult to part ways, but we each had things to do, husbands to see, and laundry to avoid.

I smiled all the way home. Women need other women like plants need water. I had just treated myself to a long, satisfying blast from the hose.

The next day, I kept conversation to a minimum. My jaw muscles needed a recovery period

Article first published in The Capital Journal, “The Lighter Side,” Pierre, SD, March 2010