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Roll Your Eyes If You Must, But Jump In Anyway
on February 19, 2004
Finally after 12 years and fourteen worldwide very successful million copies, MEN ARE FROM MARS, WOMEN ARE FROM VENUS comes out across the USA in the more affordable paperback. Rather than the typical "I liked it, but" format, my experience with the book was that I wound it liking it more and more as it went on, but the introductory chapters almost stopped me flat.
In school we were warned not to write in "Glittering Generalities," yet Gray does his best to make a virtue of that. Who but a stand-up comedian would dare say "Canadians love Good Government, Americans love Liberty"? Or: "Californians crave B vitamins, Midwesterners crave protein"? Gray's whole thesis sounds just as simplistic at first. (In general, and with exceptions), Men are from Mars: Competitive, individualistic, not into "caring and sharing," wanting to be admired for their ability to hang tough and deliver the goods yet unwilling to communicate the fact they need admiration. And Women are from Venus: Craving respect from their men, looking for emotional bells and whistles and not so much material status symbols as their men might suppose, prone to cycles of emotional fatigue and dependent on their mates to cherish them. In the beginning it all sounded so like a 1950s Tupperware Party I almost gave up.
But I didn't, and eventually the book works, in no small part because Gray writes patiently and simply but not simplistically, supported by a huge pool of real-life examples from his own therapy sessions (and apparently lots of "plugs" from earlier editions of his books at its successors). It's hard to argue with people who tell you their marriage was saved by this book.
Gray deals with language a lot in this book, because "Martians" and "Venusians" speak different languages, and each is only remotely connected to English. (He even uses phrasebook-translation techniques at times!) If a man comes home mulling over something and seems withdrawn, his wife may ask him, "What's wrong"? He might say, "It's okay." This is Martian for, roughly paraphrasing, "I need to withdraw into myself (his "cave," Gray says), and mull over a situation. It may be a small technical matter or something more significant. I first have to isolate the matter, then chew on it, determine its scope, and try to solve it on my own. Trust me to have enough sense to try to solve it rationally, and trust me to have enough sense to seek advice from the right source if it's something I can't handle on my own. Please DO NOT keep offering help. That's a waste of your time and mine; and it's a double insult to imply that I can't solve most of my own problems and that you somehow would be better at solving my own problems that I am." So the woman cannot interpret "It's OK" into Venusian ("Please help me") or even literal English ("Everything's fine; I'm going to relate to you normally").
On the other hand, suppose Mars and Venus are in the car, getting ready to leave the house for a long-planned camping trip. Mars turns the ignition key; Venus suddenly sighs and says, "I feel all the life is being squeezed out of me. You NEVER do anything with me anymore." Mars should not, SHOULD NOT, respond to the challenge of "never" by saying "If I 'never' do anything with you, what the Hell do you call this trip?" Which would lead to hurt feelings, bickering, perhaps an all-out fight. And Mars probably has no clue his spouse is uttering Venusian dialect meaning something along the lines of "I'm at an emotional low. All the planning and packing has drained me. I need love and sympathy. Please show how much you care for me so that I can start re-investing my trust in you." His best response might be . . . no response at all. Or maybe something like "mmmm." (Gray is very big on non-verbal verbal communication.) Martians have to listen beneath the words, beneath the contract, and learn to hear the tone ringing through the context.
Sound difficult? It is. That's why it takes a medium-sized book to broach the subject; and my paraphrases, however glib, have been worked as much as possible to be accurate. Gray's theories are convincing in structure, attitude and -- as I've said above -- outcome. Not for everyone and not all the time, but maybe for eighty percent of American couples who aren't "newlywed or nearly dead." The mass of people who haven't given up -- who care about keeping their relationships intact -- especially those who come out of an argument truly puzzled as to why mere misunderstandings escalate into wars of words, or why their problem-solving seems to ground-out at the level of "S/he's always got to WIN an argument." This book is not just for stereotype Alan Aldas or Stepford Wives; to borrow a phrase it has worked for a lot of people who worked it and will continue to do so. Just don't confuse John Gray with Moses, lest the "Commandment-like" tone of his opening chapters put you off this very good and useful book. ;)