Friday, October 22, 2004

The Contents of Our Own Hearts

Malcolm Gladwell’s presentation here at PopTech certainly got me thinking about a lot of things. One in particular is how women talk with their friends about men they are falling in love with, or would like to fall in love with, or would simply like to like.

If you take some of the things he’d said about preferences and people’s sense of what they like or what they THINK they like, you can see from his thesis – that people’s preferences are extraordinarily unstable and basically in the telling and reporting of what we like, we can often change our preferences, moving towards more conservative and less sophisticated choices – well, put this in the realm of men and women and you have a very tenuous situation.

It has occurred to me – especially as I have seen women friends who will spend a whole afternoon over tea or martinis (as a wonderful writer has put it) raving about a certain man with certain charming qualities summarily dismiss the wonderboy and run off with some rogue – that nothing could be more right than Gladwell’s suggestion that we are very bad at interpreting the contents of our own hearts. Hell, maybe we are just very bad.

Now men, sit down and brace yourself for this, you know what I’m going to tell you is true but you’re not going to like it one bit, but here goes. When women spend the afternoon discussing their flings, flirts and infatuations with another girlfriend, they do a most thorough inventory – they tell everything. Everything. Read it again and if I need to fill in the blanks, I will. They share information about your wallet, about your penis, about the way you order dinner and where you take them to eat, about every single word you said, about the way you kiss well if you do, especially about the way you kiss badly, about every body hair you have and their longitude and latitude, about the stupid music you listen to, about the cool music you listen to, about what you said about your mother, about how clean or messy your room, your car, and your hair is.

Two women discussing a man over a martini do a more thorough job of total relentless intimate dissection than two lab partners pithing the brain of an unfortunate frog. We are dogged.

And if you were to meet that girl of your dreams after this afternoon of male drawing and quartering, both women would politely act like they exchanged no information whatsoever about you. Both know everything from the boxers/briefs/no undies choice to your shoe size and they will stand there and shake your hand demurely and innocently as can be with the faces of angels and pretend they are just getting to know you for the first time ever.

I can only think we are sharing this information for some reason – and I actually think the reason has everything to do with the two women and absolutely nothing to do with the man. This is even more distressing for a man to read I expect, because we are ripping you to shreds and cataloguing everything private about you most publicly (just between us girls) not for your benefit or peril, but for simply getting to be friends with that other woman. Yes, I think it’s a ritual of woman-bonding to drag up every detail of a given man, a raw meat offering at the altar of womanhood and girlfriendship. It’s as if we are saying, here’s why we like this guy, aren’t we smart to like him for these reasons, and don’t you like me for how smart and full of girl-wisdom I am, and by the way, new girlfriend, if you think my preferences are saavy, won’t you be my best friend?

And to get back to Gladwell’s report on our preferences, I think in this endless woman-to-woman recounting of who we like and why we like him, we are twisting our preferences to win the woman’s friendship and admiration and often we don’t like the man at all or for any of the reasons we list. What we want more is to have the other woman like us and think we are cool and the guys we like are just girltalk fodder. And I think this is why all the “he’s so wonderful” raving your friend does over margaritas on a rainy Monday night has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that by a sunny Friday Mr. Wonderful is off the list and – surprise – she’s dating that cad she only gave two lines of description to at the beginning of the week, which included the descriptors, “idiot, cad, selfish brute” or the like. Go figure.