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REBECCA ECKLER is one of Canada's most well-known journalists. She has been a columnist with the National Post for five years, including a stint as a New York-based columnist and feature writer. Her work has also appeared in such publications as Elle, Fashion, Lifestyles, Canadian House and Home and Mademoiselle. She was the host of the television show Modern Manners, and has appeared on CTV and CBC television, and on Global television as a reporter, along with numerous stints on radio shows across Canada and the United States.
Why Is It So Hard for Men to Answer a Damn Question?
Communication, according to every single article or book on relationships ever written, is the key to a healthy, lasting relationship. I’d like these “experts” to try to be in relationships with some of the men I have been with and see how long they’d last. I dare them! They wouldn’t last a second. Communication, after all, is a two-way street. One man I was in a relationship with loved to talk. He loved to talk so much, I told him on more than one occasion that he was in the wrong profession and should have been a professor, because then he’d have uninterrupted hours with an audience required to listen to his rants. This man and I could waste hours together talking about nothing at all, which was fun. (We were both procrastinators.) He was also one of the smartest people I had ever met, which is why I was so attracted to him. Except, that is, when it came to answering basic questions. When it came to answering basic questions, this man was probably one of the stupidest people I had ever met. Sometimes, our phone conversations were so painful, I honestly would have rather got naked, covered myself in honey, and lay on an anthill. Getting answers from him for very simple questions was brutal.
This is how our conversations would typically go:
Me: So what did you get up to last night?
Him: Oh, I went out.
Me: Oh, you went out. Where did you go?
Him: Just to a couple of places.
Me: Oh, a couple of places? Which places?
Him: Just to a couple of bars.
Me: Which bars?
Him: Just a couple of bars downtown.
Me: Who with?
Him: Just a couple of friends.
Me: Which friends?
Him: Just [fill in best friend’s name]. And a couple of other people joined us.
Me: Who were the people?
Him: Just random people.
Me: So did you have fun?
Him: It was fine.
Me: Okay, then [silently wanting to pull out his fingernails, or mine, one by one].
Yes, even I can see that from my questions, I look like a royal nag or jealous bitch. The truth is, I didn’t really care who he went out with or where he went. I was not jealous. I was making conversation. And I did care that while he was able to recite the entire history of every single war to ever take place, he was not able to answer the most simple of questions. (Okay, I’ll admit I was 5 percent asking because I can be a royal nag and jealous bitch. But 95 percent of me was asking because I was genuinely interested in what he got up to. I really was attempting what they call “making conversation.”) And if you are wondering, he wasn’t the cheating type. He had the highest moral standards, so he wasn’t being sketchy with his cagey answers. That’s just the way he was. So I ask you, why couldn’t my boyfriend answer the question, “What did you get up to last night?” How much easier would it be when any gal asks her man, “What did you get up to last night?” for him to answer, “I went to the Fox and Firkin with Jim and Bob, and we talked about sports and politics. We had a nice time” ? (Even nicer if he added, “I thought about you the entire time.” But let’s not push it.) Why do men turn us into investigators?
Many of my good friends go through the same experiences with their spouses. One friend says of her husband: “I tell him my every move. But he won’t answer any of my questions when he comes home after a night out. I’m really just making conversation. I’m not checking in.” (And, my friends, unlike me, she’s really not the jealous type at all. She really is trying to make conversation with her husband.)
Another friend loves when her husband tries to pull the whole “What did you say?” trick after she asks him a question. “I’ll say, ‘So where did you go last night after work?’ And he’ll immediately answer, ‘What did you say?’ as if it’s instinctual. I know he heard me. But it’s like he’s buying time to come up with something, even if he is totally innocent. It’s like he just can’t help but say that.” Another girlfriend never gets straight answers from her husband of ten years. She has finally given up asking. “I just read his e-mails instead,” she admits. See? This is not good. We women don’t want to have to break into your e-mails just because you can’t bring yourself to tell us what you did last night. You don’t want us to be that woman either, do you?
In fact, sadly, most girlfriends don’t seem to fare well in the basic communication department, especially when their partners come home from work. When one of my friends asks, “So how was your day?” when her husband arrives home, he actually grunts. (Which makes me feel slightly better about hearing, “Just went out.” At least I get words from my boyfriend, if only three of them.)
Some of my married friends are lucky if they get a “Fine” from their husbands when they ask how their day was. Then their husbands race away from them as quickly as possible to lounge in front of the television or to work in their home offices. One of my friends and her husband got into a fight one day over his “non-answers” to her “How was your day?” question. He screamed at my friend for ten minutes about how he “talks all day at work,” and how he “doesn’t want to answer any questions.” Hello? My friend wasn’t asking questions (plural), she was asking one question: “How was your day?” Like me asking my boyfriend about his nights out, my girlfriend asks her husband how his day was because she truly does care to hear the answer. She truly does care how his day was. In the time he spent yelling at my friend that he didn’t feel like answering questions, he could have just as easily said, “It was a long day. Lots of meetings.”
If I were to grade my boyfriend and my friends’ husbands when it came to answering basic questions, they’d so get a D on the Relationship Report Card.
No matter how many times I screamed, “Why don’t you just answer the damn question?” my boyfriend just couldn’t do it. Yes, he needed to be in a remedial boyfriend class. But what could I do? Clearly, yelling at him didn’t work.
I Just Saved You $200 and Forty-five Minutes of Your Time (Total: $200)
“Freud” is my therapist, and I see him twice a month. His name is not really Freud, but that’s what I like to call him. (Not to his face. Just to my friends.) He’s a psychologist and knows me better than anyone. He charges $200 for a forty-five-minute appointment. He’s sometimes worth the $200. Sometimes he is not. But the fact is, he deals with couples—both women and men complaining about each other in his office five days a week, eight hours a day—and has for more than twenty years. He must know something about what makes relationships work because he probably has heard it all.
I told Freud how my boyfriend, though he loved to talk about everything, had problems answering basic questions, which pissed me off. Freud said that if your man is being “evasive,” or giving only one-word answers, you need to be honest with him and say, “You sound evasive. And when you sound like that, it makes me feel mistrustful. And I’m interested in having an open, honest relationship.” He explained that for many men, being evasive (and sounding cagey) is a “control thing.” Men, he explained, feel that their wives or girlfriends don’t have “the right to know every single detail.” So we women have to be honest with them. But also, Freud said, we should not come down so hard on ourselves for wanting to know answers. “When women don’t get straight answers, they assume the worst,” he said. He is right. Not only did it piss me off to not get direct and open answers from my boyfriend, but also I assumed the worst, even though he was trustworthy. (As does my married friend, who checks her husband’s e-mails.) Freud said that it’s human nature for women to feel that way, which means I’m normal to get pissed off at evasive answers. (Yay!)
Guest Appearance from a Real-Life Ex of Mine!
Now, since it takes two to tango in a relationship, I decided to go back to some of my exes—the ones who will still take my phone calls—to ask what was going through their heads when I came down hard on them for certain things. (Actually, I have pretty good relationships with my exes, in the sense that because I’m no longer with them, they don’t annoy me so much.) I think it’s important for women to hear the men’s side of things, even if the men’s side is fucking dumb. I figure we can learn something from hearing them out and learning how their brains work. At least that’s what I hope. So I asked my ex-boyfriend, the one who always sounded so cagey when I asked him about his nights out, why he never answered my questions and made me work so hard to get answers. “I just felt it was none of your business. It made me feel claustrophobic and reminded me that my status was no longer one of independence. It made me feel like a lion in a cage,” he ranted. “For men, after a night out, it’s done. It’s like waking up after a party and seeing a little bit of beer left in a bottle. You wouldn’t drink it because you know it’s old and tastes like shit. That’s what it’s kind of like to be asked the question ‘What did you get up to last night?’ It’s done. It’s over. I’m not thinking about what I did last night anymore. Plus, I’ve learned that whenever a girl asks that question, there’s an alternative purpose. No matter how innocent their question is, women are waiting to hear something in our tone. They’re waiting for us to trip up. That’s all they’re really listening for—not what we did but our tone. And my married guy friends? Well, if they have the ‘night off’ from their kids, there’s always a bit of resentment from their wives. So don’t ask us what we did last night. We know it’s a loaded question. A better way of posing it would be, ‘Did you have fun?’ Or better yet, just let it go and don’t ask us at all.” (Is it just me or does he sound bitter to you?)
A Word from a Grade-A Husband . . .
Now, I have exactly one married friend who is completely happy with her husband. She never complains about him. Her husband should be the poster boy for good husbands/boyfriends everywhere. He is not whipped. He is just a good guy who loves his wife, his family, and his life. I “borrowed” him because I wanted to know what a man who has been raised thinks about the problems I and my girlfriends run into with our not fully raised, C-graded men. “Guys don’t really like to talk, but men need to realize that there’s a small amount of maintenance in a relationship that is easy. Answering the question ‘How was your day?’ is easy,” he says.
CLEVER TACTICS/ADVICE ON RAISING YOUR MAN TO ACHIEVE AT OR ABOVE THE EXPECTED LEVEL
(It would be nice to have them at an “exceptionally high level,” but let’s try for “the expected level” to start with.)
1. Do not be negative when asking your boyfriend/husband what he did last night. Try your very best to tame your tone so it doesn’t sound like you are interrogating him or resent him for going out. Give him time to wake up, or unwind after getting home from work, before you start asking questions. He’ll be less grumpy.
2. Talk to him like you’re talking to a friend. “Last night I was on the phone with Sheri and we talked about her job, and then I watched a re-run of Entourage. What did you do?” Pretend your husband/boyfriend is your best friend and you’re just catching up. You’re a woman! I know you can act.
3. Joke that you’re not his mother. You don’t care what kind of trouble he got up to. Joke that you want to live vicariously through him.
4. If you are the type who is strong enough not to ask, maybe just don’t ask.
And maybe he’ll offer it up.
5. Do not look at his BlackBerry for answers. It will just make you feel worse. (Trust me. I’ve been there.)
6. If you do look at his BlackBerry, do not say anything.
7. Play the “If the tables were turned” game next time you go out. Give him one-word answers and then ask him how it feels.