An Open Letter to Men (and women)
I’ve been a man most of my life. I enjoy my male-ness. I enjoy metaphorically snapping towels in the locker room of male interaction. I like telling off-color jokes. I enjoyed my time playing team sports. However now, as I enter the year in which I will qualify for Medicare, I enjoy watching team sports. I watch now while at the same time deluding myself that I could have hit a two-seam fastball on the outside corner if only I had better coaching. I like how sometimes men lie to themselves about their capabilities. I like women too. A lot. Which brings me to why I am writing you this letter.
With Valentine’s Day and the start of Spring Training now upon us, I want to suggest a Valentine’s Day gift idea for your significant other. No discount coupon for chocolates here. Nor any suggestions for florists that deliver in an hour. You’re on your own for all that. No, the gift suggestion I want to pass along is this: Give the gift of your recognition that your partner matters and is important to you.
What inspired my idea to send you this letter is an article I read recently (thanks to Zina Gleason, divorce mediator). The article has a poignant title and a powerful message about us guys and our relationships: She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes by the Sink. I think this article needs to be required reading for every boy who is about to go out on his first date. Or, required to qualify for a marriage license. Or should be read by every man after each and every argument he has with his partner.
So giving the gift of your recognition of your partner’s importance to you starts with the following:
Shut up and listen: Winston Churchill once said, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” Knowing when to speak and when to listen is an art. Having a mouth only entitles us to fill it up with food. Every other use it has, from brushing our teeth to speaking, is our choice. I’ve come to realize that there is far more which can be learned by listening than there ever is by speaking. Try it. You might be surprised what you can learn.
Be curious not furious. Newsflash: relationships are hard. We only add to the difficulty by allowing our emotions to take over. Most of the time when I ask what someone was feeling or experiencing during an argument, the typical answer I get is “frustrated.” I often conclude that what seems to frustrate people is a failure to take enough time to understand. As men we are, in many ways, hard wired to solve problems. While this trait serve us well in many areas in life, we find it contributes to our frustration with our partners. That is, we want to get to a solution too quickly. In relationships, understanding the problem from the other person’s point of view can be, and often is, far more important than solving the problem. In order to understand, we not only need to listen but, also ask questions. We cannot be curious when frustrated nor frustrated when curious.
And lastly . . . Never give up. Again quoting Churchill, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” Remember the “relationships are hard” part? They are. And, unless you have chosen to live alone on an island, they are also immensely important to how we see ourselves and our place in the world. Elite athletes are always trying to get better at what they do. They practice their craft more than they play the game. They use each failure as motivation to get better. There is no reason we cannot bring an athlete’s mentality to the most important endeavor in our lives; our intimate relationships.
By listening, remaining curious and not giving up, you are saying, “I am going to be a better listener because I want to better understand you. And, when I fail, I will not give up trying to be the best I can be for both of us.” Is there any other conclusion your partner (or you) could draw but that she (and you) do matter and are important? Can’t being reminded that we are important and matter to someone else be the gift that keeps on giving? Ultimately, this gift is priceless when given from yourself to your partner and from your partner back to you (i.e., re-gifting encouraged).