Sunday, July 23, 2017

Conversations: Men vs. Women; Your End of the Table vs. Mine

At the end of my last post, I said, “I don't know why it makes me so happy to know that he was curious about our conversation. Maybe because men so often have more interesting conversations than women, which is a rant for yet another day.”

So then I had several people say, “Yes! Please post about this!”


You know how it is when you “know” something is true, but you’ve never examined it closely or had it tested on Mythbusters, and then you do, and the results aren’t quite what you expected?

When Mennonites get together, they tend to migrate into gender-specific groups. Often it’s men in the living room, ladies in the kitchen.

So the ladies talk among themselves, and the men talk among themselves. Usually, I can hear what the men are talking about and my impression was that their conversation is just so much more interesting. I’ve had plenty of times when I wished it was ok to leave the ladies and join the men, but usually it would be odd at best and impolite at worst.

Such as that one time the ladies’ conversation was lagging and fluffy, and I could hear one of the guys expounding on this book he had just read about World War II and the Holocaust, and it was terribly fascinating, and I wanted soooo bad to be in on that conversation.

This is where some of you are thinking that this ought to read like a good Amish novel, where the smart and sassy heroine is stuck in this patriarchal culture, poor oppressed her, but she is so plucky and courageous that she finds the passion to break all the conventions and go flounce onto the couch with the guys and join the conversation and let the fluffy little birds in the kitchen gossip in shocked whispers about her.

To you I say: Please move along. You don’t get it.

Moving on.

I decided to do some informal research.

Paul’s nephew Justin and his friend Jon did a series of vlogs last February on a trip they took to Europe. Last week they were both in Oregon so they posted a new one in which they compared Plexus’s Pink Drink, coffee, and kombucha.

I’ll link it if I can figure out how.

I took the time to watch it, for research purposes. It was interesting, in its way, but maybe didn’t make the best case for guys’ talks being erudite and stimulating. They used more words than I deemed necessary. “Wait wait! If we drink this, how will we know if Plexus was efficacious?” says Justin at one point.

Paul’s brother Steve and his wife, Bonnie, had a few out-of-state children at home last week, so they invited a whole raft of relatives over for dinner.  We ate outside, and when I got my dessert and returned to my picnic table, it was full of guys.

Steve, who reads my blog on occasion, said, “Yeah, Dorcas, you should sit here. Where did I hear that you think men’s conversations are more interesting than women’s?”

So I sat down and took notes on a napkin.  “Is it true that someone offered 43 cents recently?” said Paul to Phil. I think he was talking about fescue seed.

Others talked about straw. “So’d you hear about the new straw baler? Ben Rediger supposedly has a baler that presses the bale so tight that you can skip the press. Cut out the middleman.”

“I bet the straw people are gonna buy them all up!” said another.

“Naaahhh,” said a few more.

“Then the Derstines and Hostetlers can just be brokers.”

“Just think, all the straw sheds, they can store twice as much!”

“We’ll need half as many straw sheds!”

I went inside and joined the ladies’ conversation in the living room. Bonnie and Stephie were talking about how the nieces and nephews love Chris, Stephie’s husband.

Stephie said, “We told the kids that Chris was leaving before I was. Charlotte looked all sad, and she said, ‘I wish that Stephie would go and Chris would stay!’”

Bonnie said, “Chris is just a gem with kids. He is going to make an awesome dad.”

Of course I leaped to a conclusion. “Stephie, are you telling us something?”

“No, no.”

Then Byran’s wife, Amy, and Bonnie’s sister Nancy talked about nursing exams, and passing state boards, and how the tests are set up on computers, and when the test questions stop coming, you don’t know if you’ve done really well or really bad.

Frankly, I liked the ladies’ conversation better.

Men tend to talk in facts and data, numbers and forceful opinions.

Women tend to talk about people, experiences, relationships, dilemmas, and feelings.

But not always.

Sometimes you get a happy combination of men and women who can toss the conversational ball in a lively mix of ideas, history, good questions, helpful conclusions, and personal stories, all with that indefinable essence of wanting to affirm one another and hear and learn from each other.

Those conversations are a rare gift.

But chatty conversations about everyday life are good gifts as well.

What I’ve concluded is that maybe it’s not so much men vs. women as it is my group vs. theirs and the grass on this side of the fence vs. the other.

 You know how some of us have a gift for always getting stuck across from people who sit in silence and let the conversational ball clunk down like a flat basketball, over and over, and down the table, close enough to overhear but too far to participate in, everyone is friendly and talkative and smart and engaged, and the words get tossed back and forth as rapidly as the tennis ball in a Wimbledon match, and there are bursts of wild laughter?  Ooooo it is just painful.

The key to an interesting conversation, in my opinion, is to make sure that the ball gets tossed around, people all around contribute,  and everyone has a chance to speak.  That’s more important than the actual topic.  Silence isn’t good, but neither is dominating the conversation.  Balance is key.

I discovered a long time ago that Paul and I differ on our opinion of people who talk too much. I don't mind one person talking more than others as long as everyone gets a chance to talk if they want it, here and there, which is much better than cold and awkward silence. And sometimes I don't feel like talking, so I ask a leading question to unplug the dam, then I sit back and listen and enjoy.

But it bothers me when someone takes charge and never gives others a chance to talk, such as the guest we had one time from back East who talked nonstop through the whole dinner.

I expressed this, later, and Paul said, “But she was interesting to listen to.” He felt that this made her behavior at least tolerable, maybe even justifiable.

But that brings us back to the elusive “interesting,” which is a very subjective thing.

Paul and I agree on the types of monologuers who do not qualify as interesting:

1.       The blow by blow relationship dissecter. “So then John told my brother Ken that he wasn’t going to be at Bible study because he had to deliver a load to Portland, and Ken told me, and I was like WHAT? because I thought him and I were going to meet after Bible study to talk about the songs for VBS, so I was like what in the world because the next afternoon was the only time I had off to get the posterboard, and I like to get it at Hobby Lobby and the closest one is in Springfield. So I sent John a text and I was like, I thought we were going to meet after Bible study, and he didn’t answer until the next morning, and I was so mad, it’s like, he gives me all these vibes and he even told Mark that he felt like God might be leading us together, and then he doesn’t answer my text until I’m at work the next day, and Loren doesn’t like it when we text at work but I was like, I need to figure this out because VBS is next week.”
2.       The winner of arguments with people who aren’t present. “These evolution people, they always pull out their thing of billions of years. Like anything can happen if you give it billions of years. Ha! You really think if I put some wires and stuff in a bucket and left it for a billion years that we’d open it and pull out an iphone? I’d like to see ‘em answer that!”
And we think: helloooo, we all believe in Creation, no thanks to you.
Although I admit that *somebody* in this house has a tiny tendency to argue with people who aren’t present, now and then.
Me: Marcus said that some animal-rights people snuck into a mink farm by Eden Valley and released 38,000 mink last week. And thousands and thousands have died already, from thirst and stuff. They have no idea how to live in the wild. It’s really awful.
Me: Um. I know this. I agree with you.
3.       The single raging obsession expounder.  We had a guest one time who was sure that there were stray electrical currents coursing through farms and cow barns in the Midwest. There was some sort of conspiracy behind this, he just knew, and the solution was complicated and vaguely spiritual but also involved the government, maybe? I think this guy was also making money off the solution, which raised some question marks in our minds, in addition to the ones already there. He talked about this and only this all afternoon. Paul talked louder than necessary about the actual science of electricity and conductors and such. It was one time when I was happy to duck out of the men’s conversation.

So. I’m not really reaching any far-reaching conclusions of any sort, only that we should all practice the art of tossing the conversational ball back and forth. This includes me, because I can rattle on when I'm with a good listener. I am very fortunate to live in a world of people who have good stories to share and really, there are plenty of times when the wild laughter is at our end of the table and not at yours.

Quote of the Day:
[from our table in the fellowship hall today]
"Harold": I was sixteen and a half. And one Sunday morning my dad said, 'You take the pickup on to church. I'm takin' Mom to the hospital." So I did. I didn't know why Mom had to go to the hospital. And that boy there [indicating his brother across the room] was born that day. I had no idea!
Me: What?!
Harold's wife, quietly: His mother was kind of a large woman...


  1. When my husband is together with other men they always talk about cars and the latest technological inventions. This is really boring.

  2. Thanks for clearing this up for me. =) When our friends get together we have one woman doing most of the talking. I often told hubby after the fact, "Next time I'll just sit with you!" Thanks for reassuring me that I'm not really missing out, trucks and engines aren't my strong point. jane

  3. This was a great read!!:)

  4. I LOVE the quote of the day. If my husband hadn't been the baby of his family, he could easily have been "Harold"!

  5. I don't find men's conversations more interesting. Both men and women usually are having small talk that isn't particularly fascinating, in my experience.

    But I had to smile at your picture of a dinner companion who cannot, or will not, toss back the conversational ball. I went to exactly ONE high school reunion, number 40. I walked around and tossed a few words to people standing alone to get the ball rolling. Hardly any of them gave me much more than a tight-lipped response. Sometimes one word. I'm thinking, "For heavens sake, you're at a reunion. You have to work at this a LITTLE bit." Oh well!

  6. You did it! Thank you :). I feel very enlightened after reading the 'grass is greener' analogy; I do think you are right! It's impossible, of course, to count the times the 'conversational ball' I've tossed has landed with a very sodden 'splat'; I've moaned about it many times. I'm trying to learn to believe that so many people really do struggle from the Blank Slate disorder:("I just couldn't think of ANYTHING to say!!").