Having been a woman for several years now, I know that it's an unfortunate trait of our gender to not say what we mean. Unfortunately, this habit doesn't seem to go away once you're married, so I thought I'd offer a few common phrases and their real meanings, just in case. These are obviously not 100% universally accurate, but it’s a good place to start. (Readers, feel free to add any I may pass over.)
- When we answer "Nothing" after our snarky retorts, sullen silences and door-slamming finally prompt you to ask what's wrong
I know that answer is frustrating and unhelpful, but believe me, it’s not because we think you’re stupid or easily fooled. OBVIOUSLY something’s bothering us. Contrary to popular stereotype, it can be just as difficult for women to talk about their feelings. “Nothing” can usually be loosely translated to one of two things; either “Something that I feel stupid for being upset about” or “I don’t know and I don’t feel like talking about it until I DO know.” When faced with a response of “Nothing,” the best thing you can do is let us know that you’ll be there to talk when we need to and then let the subject drop. Pressing the issue will just aggravate her more.
- “I think these pants make my _______ look gross. Would you look and tell me what you think?”
This one is a little counter-intuitive, because it sounds like an overt plea for automatic compliments, but at least among the women *I* know, it means “I feel like these pants make me look like someone stuffed a watermelon into a Ziploc baggie and I’m afraid I’m going to embarrass myself if I go out in public like this.” I know it’s a terrifying prospect, but if the offending article of clothing is really unflattering, be honest with your spouse. Even if her feelings are hurt, it will be fleeting and ultimately she’ll be grateful.
- “Do you think I’m pretty?”
Conversely, this one really IS fishing for compliments, but usually it’s less an issue of vanity and more “I feel ugly.” Obviously we know you think we’re pretty, you love us and you have to! We’re looking for specifics, hoping to be waxed rhapsodic about for a few minutes. A simple “Of course!” isn’t going to cut it.
- “What are you thinking about?”
Let’s be honest here; when we ask that question, most of us are hoping that the answer will be that you’re thinking about us, or our future, or some conversation we had earlier that we ourselves have been mulling over. That’s why sometimes we look put out when you say “Nothing,” or “video games.” It doesn’t mean that you’ve done anything wrong. It probably means that your neutral face looks very deep and contemplative.
- “Would you please shave/change your shirt/comb your hair?”
This is not our less than subtle way of telling you that you’re starting to smell funny or that you look like a rumpled hedgehog; most women are pretty straightforward about telling you that. The point there is that we like to feel as though you try to look presentable for us, even on your days off. Nothing big, but . . . if you don’t wear a beard, shave off the stubble so you don’t give her rug burn when you kiss her. If you’re going to sit on the couch and snuggle, don’t wear a shirt that you’ve dug out of the laundry three days in a row. Small things, but they show consideration and effort, which mean a lot to us when they’re present and are conspicuous when they’re absent.
- “What do you think?”
Somehow, many MANY men misinterpret this as “Tell me what you think I want to hear. Don’t say “Whatever you want is fine,” don’t say “I dunno.” When we ask that question we want to know that you care about the issue, which means thinking about it and telling us what you REALLY THINK. If you really don’t have an opinion, at least tell her you’ll think about it. Even if you agree with her, say that instead of “whatever you want,” because that says that you were listening.
I’m sure there are more that have yet to occur to me; I’d love to hear some more!