February 10, 2005
The Court of Cupid
It seems a bit disingenuous for women to get all bent out of shape over Harvard President Larry Summers' recent suggestion that innate gender differences may account for variances in math and science skills. After all, most women maintain that innate gender differences exist when it comes to other highly valued skills, like communication.
And, politically correct or not, the culture at large takes our side. Just watch any network sitcom, where the dialogue goes something like this:
Her: Aren't you going to apologize?
Him: I'm sorry.
Her: For what?
Him: For upsetting you.
Her: And why did you upset me?
Him: Um, I don't know?
Well, there's a reason the poor guy doesn't know -- his girlfriend didn't tell him! Oh, she thinks she did. In fact, she'll insist that not only is she a good communicator, but that her boyfriend is a bad listener. Actually, though, he's just a bad mind reader. Because when he asks for clarification, he'll be listening intently as she declares, "If I have to explain it, never mind."
No matter when it's uttered, that simple sentence can detonate even the most innocuous conversation. And on Valentine's Day, it can be lethal. Call it the V-bomb.
Say, for instance, that a guy asks his beloved what she'd like to do for Valentine's Day.
"I don't care," she'll reply.
Most men, despite the clueless boor stereotype, won't fall for this. "OK," he'll say, "But do you want to eat out, go away for the weekend, what?"
"I hate all that gooey Hallmark stuff," she'll say. "Let's do something low-key."
Then, when he lights her favorite aromatherapy candles, serenades her with her favorite Frank Sinatra tune, cooks her favorite gourmet meal and fires up the DVD with her favorite romantic comedy, she'll give him the freeze-out.
"What's wrong?" he'll ask, genuinely perplexed as he tries to put his arm around her stiffened body.
"If I have to explain it," she'll spit back, "never mind."
That's when it hits him: maybe she really wanted to go out to a nice restaurant ... in Santa Barbara. It's a double-whammy. First women withhold conversation, then they withhold sex. And if we have to explain it, never mind.
Basically, anything a woman doesn't say can and will be used against men in the court of Cupid. There's a reason most psychics are female: men are terrible mind readers. Women used to be equally bad mind readers, but thanks to a book called "He's Just Not That Into You" (Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2004) women can read every single man's mind. If he isn't fawning over us 24/7 -- even when he's got the flu, even when he just got fired -- our newfound telepathic powers tell us he's just not that into us.
But since there's no companion book for men called, "She's Just Not That Into You, Unless You Have ESP," let me offer some pre-Valentine's Day tips.
1. If you can't read her mind, read her journal. I know, it's unethical, and if she finds out (remember, she's telepathic) she'll dump you. But why take a cheesy mind-reading class at the Learning Annex when the Rosetta Stone to her brain is right there in her underwear drawer?
2. EarthLink is the link to her heart. She doesn't keep a journal? Hack into her e-mail account. You'll be sure to find tidbits like, "If Steve doesn't get me an iPod with the Billie Holiday box set on it, he doesn't understand me at all."
3. As "Seinfeld's" George Constanza said "Do the opposite." When she says it's stupid to exchange Valentine's gifts, she really means you're stupid if you don't give her a gift. (And it better be from Tiffany's, not Victoria's Secret.)
4. Don't mistake torn out Glamour pages for trash. Wondering why your normally tidy girlfriend has stray magazine scraps strewn about the apartment come Feb. 1? Take note: these are not-so-subliminal messages. Study "Ten Ways to Tell If He Really Loves You on Valentine's Day" (especially the parts she's highlighted).
5. Don't ask, don't tell. Never ask what she wants to do for Valentine's Day because, God knows, she won't tell. And for merely asking, you'll be tried, convicted, then promptly dumped on Feb. 15 (hey, she doesn't want to be alone on the 14th). "Why?" you ask. Again, don't ask. Because if she has to explain it, never mind.
For all our talk about being good talkers, women believe that the best relationships are those that require the least amount of communication. When we meet a guy and "have that freaky mind-reading thing going on," we're convinced we've found our soul mate. He should, for instance, be able to tell by our tone alone whether "I'm so upset" indicates a chipped fingernail or major family illness. For women, the less communication, the more perceived intimacy.
"Since when do you believe in telepathy?" a boyfriend once asked me. "You don't even believe in horoscopes!"
(Well, of course not. Astrology, as with all "sciences," is a male thing, remember?)
"I'd like to explain it to you," I said. "But really, you should just know."
Lori Gottlieb, a commentator for NPR, is the author of the memoir, "Stick Figure: A Diary of My Former Self" (Simon & Schuster 2000). Her Web site is www.lorigottlieb.com.