|on being a woman||
It is not unusual for my male companions to grunt quietly in response to my philosophical reflections and questions, and then hours later burst into vigorous debate when another male person is available--only to fall silent again when the other males are gone.
An early boyfriend of mine seemed like a perfect companion, at first. We were both philosophy majors and were enrolled in some of the same classes. Our friendship started because we spent a lot of time talking about philosophy. Once the romance developed, he spoke with great gusto of sex, and threw himself happily into long strings of puns, especially upon words I was using in some philosophical argument I was developing. But other than that, the conversation from his end ceased almost completely from the moment he was allowed to come into contact with my body. At first, being young and stupid, I continued to talk as I always had, filling in his end of the conversation when necessary. When I noticed that he no longer spoke, I began waiting silently for responses to my words. It became a waiting game on my part, to see just how long he could go without speaking. Days, it turned out! I can remember having "conversations" during which I'd ask him a question, and then stubbornly refuse to prompt him or add anything else. I might wait as much as half an hour to 45 minutes for a response, which usually came in the form of an incomplete sentence. If I didn't make any statements upon which he could make sex-puns which devolved into suggestions that we repair to some more private venue to make good on the pun, he said absolutely nothing.
But there were a couple of other philosophy majors around, all boys, and a few other friends of ours, also all boys. If one of them was on the scene, suddenly my boyfriend became Mr. Socrates, engaging in intense philosophical disputes with the other boys, sometimes about our course readings, sometimes about life. He frequently repeated theories and textual interpretations that I had put forth to him earlier, though to my consternation he never, ever said, "Carolyn and I were talking about this," or "Here's what Carolyn said this morning." When we were alone, I would confront him about his failure to give me credit, and especially about these sudden verbal outbursts in the presence of boys. He always said that he didn't know what I wanted.
Conversation seeming like a basic feature of being human, I didn't know what to tell him I wanted. All I could say was, "Why can't we have a conversation, the way you were having a conversation with them?" And he said, "You keep saying that! I don't know what you mean by 'conversation'!" I can remember one fight during which I said, "You know, conversation! I say something, then you say something, then I say something, then you say something!" If I pressed him on the issue for more than a few minutes, he would say that I was "nagging." Sometimes I talked to my sister about this, and she suggested ways of getting responses out of him, but of course they treated the symptoms, not the causes, and were thus doomed to overall ineffectiveness.
The year in that boy's presence was my Year of Silence. I became very taciturn myself, since there wasn't any point in saying out loud what I could just as well think in my head.
I only spent one year at that school, and transferred back to my women's college after that, where conversation was abundant. He never wrote me a letter, this philosophy major (that would have involved Words), but he would call me on the phone occasionally. At first I would happily talk into the silent receiver. I think I just granted that we were having a conversation because that is what two people do over a telephone, so we must have been doing that. After a few of these monologues, though, I at last figured out that
the only reason I hadn't ended this silly relationship was that my need for conceptual interaction with human beings was being supplied by my girlfriends. As my sister said at the time, when I consulted her regarding the idea of breaking up (and I quote verbatim), "You know what you like to do, Carolyn. You like to sit up all night with a stupid pot of tea and talk. Is he giving you what you want?"
Looking back on it, I have to conclude that he was so unconscious and so habit-driven in this area (certainly in most other areas, so really no surprise), that he wasn't doing any of this on purpose. He didn't purposely clam up when he was with me, and he didn't purposely change when he was with the boys. He literally was unable to comprehend the difference between the way he was interacting with me, and the way he was interacting with them.
Although his resolute silence in the presence of a woman was extreme, I have seen degrees of this behavior all my life. I assume that some guy just doesn't talk about ideas at all, given my inability to engage him in discussion. I've known lots of men with a professed interest in objectivism who were willing to be pleasant and silly with me, but unwilling to discuss philosophy unless there was another man around. And I've also known men who I knew for a fact were getting together for the purpose of discussing philosophy with each other, but one of whom would not say a word in front of me even if his buddies and I were talking. Some of these same split-personality men have complained bitterly at the dearth of intelligent women!
I presently offer no hypothesis to explain this, nor connections to other kinds of behavior or stated dissatisfaction with women. I entreat men to suggest explanations. It occurs to me to mention this because of the puzzling claims I've heard recently regarding the difficulty finding idea-oriented women to talk to. In this particular case, the hypothesis that I myself have nothing interesting or abstract or idea-oriented to say and so couldn't expect an intelligent man to be bothered to talk to me, simply won't work. It makes me wonder how often the complainants actually talk to women.
It's 2001. Within five years, Fabreeze odor-remover will have been determined to have caused systemic allergic reactions infants and children and to have aggravated asthma in teens and adults, and to have caused significant levels of atmospheric pollution and elevated susceptibility to upper respiratory infection in mammals, and will be banned from the market. Living creatures will breathe a collective sigh of cleaner air.
Hypothesis: The reason that people use such high doses of Fabreeze is that it doesn't remove odors; it masks them with a lot of really nasty perfume. People whose clothes continue to smell bad blame themselves in embarrassment, and resolve to add an extra cup to the next load and supplement the detergent with drier sheets supersaturated with the stuff.
Just out of bed, in pajamas, watering the garden early this morning. Not exactly at my most restrained. The manager comes by, glances up at my flowers fluttering in the wind. I worry hazily that he's going to scold me for bougainvillea flowers falling on the pool deck, and I prepare an apology in advance. The owner of the complex is deeply hostile to vegetation and indeed to any externalities resulting from the residents' efforts at beautification. But, no, no flowers have fallen yet, so we should be safe:
manager: "Summer's comin'. All these flowers are gonna go."
caro: [that sounds like a maintenance threat!] "What?"
manager: "Summer's comin'. Gonna get hot. All these plants are gonna die and the flowers are gonna fall off and the plants are gonna look ugly."
[Oh. He's talking about the Earth's proximity to the sun, not about the day-laborers (a.k.a. "gardeners") with their scythes and machetes. But this is what he said to me in the fall, substituting the word 'winter' for the word 'summer'. I remember it distinctly.]
caro: "What are you talking about? My plants bloom all year!"
manager: "Everything dies in the summer! It's too hot and dry!"
caro: "Do you have amnesia?" [oops]
One of these days I'm going to get myself evicted. This time, he just looked startled for a moment, then laughed and disappeared.