Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Tiff

I suppose I should introduce myself: I am an American from North Dakota, transplanted by several degrees of fate to a city in northern Germany. I am divorced and have 3 children, and have a long-term German girlfriend, with whom I do not live.

My girlfriend and I don't argue much.

Partly this is because we agree on so many things, partly because our arguments are of necessity in German, and partly because I am congenitally a Pathetic Arguer, and can only think of rebuttals about one hour after the dispute.

The French, by the way, have a name for this phenomenon: L'esprit de l'escalier, literally translated means The Thought in the Stairway, that is, that brilliant thing that you could have said, the manifestation of your rapier wit, occurs to you only as you have left the party and are going down the stairs.

But then, occasionally, we have a lengthy exchange that leaves me completely baffled. One of these happened last night. Our conversations are in German, so I am doing a rough translation.

"I am so disappointed in you sometimes," she says.

"OK, that is odd because I have always assumed I was perfect, but what do you want to say?" I ask

"Tell me what is going on!"

"What do you mean, what is going on?", I say.

"You know what I mean, I don't have to tell you!"

Actually, I have no idea at all what she means, and say so.

"Don't lie to me!" she says.

"I am not lying, I really don't know!"

She wants an admission of guilt from me, and as it happens, I am feeling quite innocent. I search my conscience and discover a number of embarassing things, but they either predate my relationship with her or have nothing to do with us.

It takes me an hour and a half to glean the information from her that she suspects me of trying to meet up with a young Turkish female pianist, because she had seen an email I had written. It didn't do me any good to explain that I had not met up with her, that she was young enough to be my daughter, and I had written on behalf of my son, who will be traveling to Istanbul next month. I didn't even remember writing the email, which of course made the whole thing even more suspicious in her eyes. And in getting to the point of what she was talking about involved a circuitious route that took her to accusing me of smiling at a Bulgarian girl on a beach in Croatia one year ago, and leaving my bicycle in one place for 5 hours, ten years ago.

OK, so what I want to know is: when we men accuse our wives/girlfriends of something, we generally go right to the point and say, "Hey, why did you sneak off to the movies last Thursday with So-and-So?" whereas women will say, "What is going on? Tell me the truth!" but not tell you what it is you have done wrong, isn't it the law that you are innocent until proven guilty?


The Blonde Duck said...

Interesting topic. I've always been blunt about everything, so I couldn't tell you!

K said...

This topic and question is a good one yet challenging to answer, because I'm trying to do it as objectively as possible. I think that the 'innocent until proven guilty' is true if we are being honest with ourselves. Perhaps I might have done something to upset my husband, so I'm 'guilty' but unless I put my husband's feelings and viewpoint first then I can't honestly assess the situation; I'm still stuck in a 'me world' to know whether or not I am really innocent.

When my hubby has done something that upsets me I get very quiet and hold a grudge. It builds and builds and the silence gets worse and worse. He always calls me out on it by saying "what is wrong? I know something is bothering you." and so this is all I need to release what I've been thinking and how I feel. He tells his side but tries to see my side and we talk about it and we end up both seeing each other's sides usually. So neither of us feels that only one side was innocent and one was guilty; both sides are partial for both. Does this make sense? I guess this is how it works for my hubby and me, but it's hard to explain it in words. Communication between a couple is always more than just words!

Susan said...

Disclaimer: this hit a hot spot with me and personal experience...sorry for the LONG comment!

I used to hold everything in... only to learn after my divorce (through years with an amazing therapist) that this behavior was LEARNED.

When I spoke my opinion or concerns or disagreements while growing up, my words or feelings didn't matter to my Dad - he was a wonderful provider in many ways with too high expectations I believe, yet his word and opinion and thoughts were final and all of our views were not correct, or good enough or sensible.

I think alot of women grow up with some of this learned behavior from either a parent, sibling, or other role model, and then it becomes a learned behavior. I was trained for years that it's not worth being up front and opening up, because you feel ALL MEN WILL RESPOND LIKE THOSE IN YOUR EARLIER LIFE! That I wouldn't be listened to, that my opinion didn't really matter, or it wasn't correct. Period.

KNOWING this now (thank you dear, amazing therpaist!!) makes me so aware of my behavior - and it literally took years of working on little ahievements in being honest and upfront with people, and realizing that in doing so, you usually DON'T get the reaction you were expecting!

Discussing this openly with our therapist when we first got married allowed my husband to be aware of WHY I might revert back at times to holding something in and walking around "silent"... and now he knows how to identify it and call me out on it in a way that will foster us to just sit and talk. That's truly what i love about our marriage and my husband.

I wish I could add more eloquent writing here because it goes to show how big and deep those "little" things can be.

Good luck!

TisforTonya said...

from one pathetic arguer to another - I apologize on behalf of women everywhere, or maybe just the ones that fit that stereotype... I don't think everyone does - but it sure it a dominant trait - and yes, annoying!

Because I rarely argue with the Man of the House I have to be pretty blunt about anything that's bothering me... Grousing around because he forgot our date will get me nothing - but coming out and saying "Hey - so where are you taking me?" usually gets me at least a dinner!

I LOVE "The Thought in the Stairway"... wish I could speak a little French so that I didn't sound like an idiot stealing that phrase :)

MakingChanges said...

Hmmm, way to make me think. Do I do that to Hubby?

Well, you should know that we are mind readers and expect you to read minds too. Also, when we ask "What is going on?" usually this so general that we get more info from you than if we are specific. Not saying it is right, just saying it might be why the girlfriend does it.

PS Guilty consciences don't have to confess to anything- as in your case, so not to worry.

BUT- I must admit, we really shouldn't do that, huh?

wendy said...

Oh that's funny --- the part about you being perfect (or thinking so) I giggled. I DO NOT KNOW why we women can't get to the point of issue. DUH. would be so much simpler sorry, I am female and can't figure out these female genes myself.
thanks for your contribution here

Shelle-BlokThoughts said...

I learned after a few years of marriage that, that didn't work on my guy. So What I do now is follow him around, room to room until he says ANYTHING to me.

I cool like that! lol!

Melinda said...

I like this post a lot, you write so well! I'm pretty upfront with my husband, but he wouldn't get it if I weren't anyway. I'm not sure why women do that, but what Susan said makes a lot of sense to me! :)