Spot versus Starbucks. Galleria against Elmwood. Sundays with Bruce Smith in Orchard Park instead of Monet at Giverny. Hot, medium or mild?
Sound familiar? Modern scientific research has conclusively shown that these and other similar sources of friction threaten the conjugal bliss of thousands of households in Western New York. Why do men and women from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Olean -- and all points in between -- have such difficulty communicating?
The answer is simple:
Men are from Amherst, and women are from Buffalo.
Once (just before the War of 1812), there were fewer alternatives, and thus, less to fight about. Chicken? Boiled or roasted? Clothes? Casual or Sunday best? Leisure activities? Quilt-making for women, whittling for men? Everything was clear; life paths and most choices surrounding them were established. And whether you were from the north or south side of Ellicott Creek, men and women cherished their differences. For years they lived together in peace and harmony.
But today, the way we live means the list of local options stretches toward infinity, something akin to the time it takes to finish the S-curve construction in Delaware Park. But today's Western New York couple faces many choices. And because men and women are inherently different, these couples are arguing, more loudly than ever.
How can we turn down the volume, at least to the level of the civilized debate carried out over the size and parking options of the Rite-Aid on Elmwood? We must remember that harmony can be achieved only from acknowledging the authentic differences between men and women. (No slight is intended toward couples where, shall we say, both partners are from the same "location." See my upcoming pieces "Men Are From Amherst, Men Are From Amherst" and "Women Are From Buffalo, Women Are From Buffalo.") But their values are not always consistent, and these differences can lead to conflict. This manual brings you crucial insights and teaches you how to cope with the following stressful and potentially explosive situations:
1. Men tend to offer concrete solutions and ignore feelings, while women need and sometimes crave advice and direction.
For example, Kate comes home from a hard day at work where she has had an unpleasant debate over Peace Bridge design. Her husband, Tony, says, "You know, honey, you could have given them that cost-benefit analysis showing how the signature bridge is the obvious choice. By the way, what's for dinner?" Kate bursts into tears and bolts from the room.
Not one to assign blame, let me just gently suggest that Tony blew it. Big time. Kate craved some gentle guidance and an affirmation for her temporary uncertain feelings. Seeing that Kate was upset, Tony should have taken her in his arms, kissed her, and only then suggested the cost-benefit analysis. Later, he could have called La Nova.
2. In times of stress, men tend to retreat into silence while women need to talk things out.
Picture Bill and Irene, in a long food line at Ralph Wilson Stadium, five minutes before the second-half kickoff. Clearly a stressful scenario. Irene wonders aloud whether they really need these hot dogs after the ones they had at the tailgate party, and perhaps they've had enough Genny already. And does Bill see how fast the line he didn't pick is moving? Bill shuffles uneasily, looks at his watch, realizes he also has to go to the john. A blowup in the making.
I see this situation all the time at my Self-Esteem Kiosk at the stadium (located adjacent to the first-aid and CellularOne booths). The solution is obvious: Bill must go to the bathroom. Men have very small bladders and become irritated and distracted when prevented from answering a call from their higher authority. But he should encourage Irene to voice her concerns and work out any anxiety verbally. At the same time, while waiting in line for the john, Bill should practice his own verbal cues, playing over and over again the mental tape that will create instant marital harmony: "God, honey, you're right."
3. Men are motivated when they feel needed. Women are motivated when they feel cherished.
Chicken wings have simmered between Jim and Sue for years. Jim liked hot; Sue wanted mild. Jim wanted to pick them up; Sue preferred delivery. This couple was on the verge of separation when they came to see me. Once they began to understand what motivates each other, their choices for marital bliss became clear: Jim (feeling useful) would pick up the wings, which were invariably mild (showing he cherished Sue). Both got what they needed. Understanding motivation, not to mention a refrigerated home bottle of Hasek's Hot Sauce, has saved many a marriage.
4. Men and women commonly misunderstand each other because they speak different languages. Women speak with the goal of fully expressing themselves. Men speak in a more primal fashion: Whenever it fully expresses their feelings, the "grunt" remains the phrase of choice.
When a man says: He really means:
Take the kids to the zoo? I'd love to. Opportunity for dogs and beer.
Take the kids to Sherkston? I'd love to. Opportunity to look at half-naked women. Also dogs and beer.
That *!?&! driver cut me off! Those *!?&! Stars never scored that goal!
When a woman says: She really means
No thank you, I don't want to go to the mall. I hate all those businesses that moved from Buffalo to the suburbs.
We can't afford a fancy vacation this summer. I'm furious you didn't file the state reimbursement forms on time, costing me $8.9 million.
Sure, I could go for a Bocce pizza again How about you arrange for a sitter and we go tonight. to Salvatore's?
5. Ultimately, men and women should understand the four seasons of love, and each opportunity provided. Falling in love is like the Bills' Fredonia training camp. Hopes are high, we feel we will be happy forever and Super Bowl bliss is almost certain. It's the opening of the Erie Canal, the first stages of the Pan-American Exposition before that little mishap at the Temple of Music.
Throughout the summer camp of our love, we realize our partner is not as perfect as we thought, and we have to work on our relationship. It is the opening of the Kensington Expressway, the boom in suburban growth at the expense of city neighborhoods, the last wheezing gasp of the elm trees that once blanketed our streets.
During the autumn of our ardor, we experience a more mature love that accepts and understands our partner's imperfections as well as our own. We realize there's room for Sherkston and Angola, the Lexington Coop and Wegmans, Waterfront development and the Parkside Zoo.
Finally, there's the winter of our love. As we shovel 20 to 30 inches of slush off our feelings and snow-blow a path to our emotions, we glide down the slopes of the Holiday Valley of our hearts, hopefully acknowledging our differences and trying hard not to careen into trees.
But if we wait long enough, spring comes again. Our love can feel renewed and timeless, like the reportedly soon-to-be finished version of those S-curves. Whether you're from Buffalo or Amherst.
Nicole S. Urdang is a psychotherapist and homeopathic educator in Buffalo. Her commentaries appear regularly on WBFO radio.