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Posts Tagged ‘gender differences’

by Nicole Krauss

“He went on for some time while I sat listening in silence because I knew he was right, and like two people who have loved each other however imperfectly, who have tried to make a life together, however imperfectly, who have lived side by side and watched the wrinkles slowly form at the corner of the other’s eyes, and watched a little drop of grey, as if poured from a jug, drop into the other’s skin and spread itself evenly, listening to the other’s coughs and sneezes and little collected mumblings, like two people who’d had one idea together and slowly allowed that idea to be replaced with two separate, less hopeful, less ambitious ideas, we spoke deep into the night, and the next day, and the next night. For forty days and forty nights, I want to say, but the fact of the matter is it only took three. One of us had loved the other more perfectly, had watched the other more closely, and one of us listened and the other hadn’t, and one of us held on to the ambition of the one idea far longer than was reasonable, whereas the other, passing a garbage can one night, had casually thrown it away.”

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The image of the strong woman, whether standing confidently alone or supported among her sisters, seems to turn men either to simmering beasts or to jelly, and sometimes both. It cannot have helped our situation, but there is no doubt that the more I felt threatened in our relationship, the more I have withdrawn to this Amazon place where I have reserved all right to myself and become increasingly distant, cold and unforgiving: the Ice Maiden, the haughty Queen, an implacable Fate.

How I can resent being abandoned by someone who has been subjected to this emotional winter is not clear, yet I still feel hurt and bewildered by my loss, even as I struggle to unQueen myself.

Having just seen The Hobbit, the image in my mind is of Galadriel, Lady of Lorien, a mystical figure so calm and controlled until – in The Lord of the Rings – she is offered the One Ring by Frodo. As her chill veneer is briefly overcome she appears as a terrible elemental;

‘.. beautiful and powerful as the morn! Treacherous as the sea! Stronger than the foundations of the earth! …

All shall love me and despair!’

Can a woman be so fearsome? Unfortunately, I think so, yes.

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Catching up with some girlfriends on their various social media of choice, I realise how much more real, more valid, we feel when our voice sounds among our friends, a resonant viola harmonising with the string section rather than a poignant, shrill violin on the lonely wind.

Well, there was a lot of wind, actually, but hot air is soothing too and sometimes a well-directed scalding blast can kindle the parts you thought were forever cold.

There has been some heated discussion recently over whether women are gaining the ascendancy over men, and how morally right or wrong that would be. Would I be betraying my gender if I wonder how important that is to most women, compared to their position in their own family group and peer group? The so-called battle of the sexes must largely be fought by women who have little else to fight for.

The gift I get from my sisterhood is laughter. There’s a lot of giggling in the early stages of a romance, but love can be a sadly serious business and life as a grown-up, modern woman even more so; nothing compares for self-validating power to an unrestrained belly laugh with a group of girlfriends.

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I’m horrified but not surprised to read that research by Japanese doctors in the 90s found that the hearts of people who had suffered an emotional crisis had changed shape, restricting blood flow; some people recover, some die. A Swedish team has even discovered the exact pathology of how you really can die of a broken heart. Older women are at most risk due to loss of oestrogen and testosterone.

But I can’t wallow in that for too long, as I also learned that middle aged men between 35 and 54 are now so much more prone to sinking into depression and despair that they are the highest risk group for suicide. The research by The Samaritans suggested that this is due to men finding it hard to live up to expectations, and lacking the emotional skills to deal with relationship problems which support women and younger people.

So older men account for 50% of the 6,000 deaths by suicide each year. That’s such a lot of death and unhappiness that I can feel my heart changing shape as I think about it; that, and my lonely, loveless husband in his faraway hotel room.

Although at the moment he’s at a Christmas party at Planet Hollywood …

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This evening I saw the English Ballet perform The Nutcracker. I was, probably needless to say, a little saddened to be going without my other half, although the mix of couples and female only groups seemed about even.

It was a truly beautiful performance and Roberta Marquez as the Sugar Plum Fairy was breathtaking. Being softer on the inside than might sometimes be apparent, I am often tempted to cry on these occasions, but tonight I seriously smudged my makeup during the Pas de Deux; a deliciously painful moment of playing the lead in my own tragedy, to a score by Tchaikovsky.

Watching La Marquez take her applause, I thought of how in our everyday lives we lose the gift of graciousness. It is so easy to be short-tempered, brusque, even rude when we are busy, under pressure and taking each other for granted. I know that I have done this often enough. How would our relationship stand now if I had tried harder to be kind, generous and loving?

Ms Marquez was so much the glorious prima donna and yet always gracious to her prince; all a beautiful act, I know, but it made me want to weep again for my own shortcomings.

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One thing he really likes about our lives and I really struggle with is the three day business trips. It keeps our relationship on a limited play with unavoidable intervals when he gets to ‘have some space’ and I get to wonder what that means. Of course, I get to have some space too, which can be a good thing but at the moment I’m all spaced out.

There’s something empowering in purposefully setting off on a journey, with people to meet and goals in mind, which bolsters up the ego, makes you new and relevant and exciting; I enjoy it, and I can understand why he does it.

Perhaps I’m feeling the difference between ‘he who goes’ and ‘she who stays’, or between being the rejecter and the rejected, but I find it less enabling to be purposefully left behind. That’s at odds with being a modern independent woman, so I should say that I’m quite capable of working late, seeing friends, going to the cinema, of functioning as an individual.

What I realising is that there is a cold, empty gulf between being one independent half of a couple and being essentially – forcibly – single, and I am not enjoying it.

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When you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t ask Google. One field of desolation the Google search led me to was ‘men’s mid-life crisis’ which is apparently a reason why husbands become confused, depressed and unloving.

Is my husband suffering a mid-life crisis? Only he could say, and he isn’t saying, but no-one could blame any modern man for feeling down these days. In a demanding and insecure world where dreams all too often don’t come true and we pay the price with our egos, many men do, it seems, question themselves and their achievements.

My husband said he felt guilty and seemed surprised when I told him that to me he was heroic in his efforts to support our family. Perhaps I haven’t told him before, or enough.

And so to the ‘what now’. Don’t change your hair, don’t try to lose weight, don’t buy a new dress, counsels Dr Google – no, change your attitude. I must become kinder, less critical, more praising, offer my love unconditionally. Definitely a man, that Dr Google.

And I will, I promise I will; only just now I really need someone to be kind to me….

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