Reader David J. White commented last night, on the thread about male-female communication:

Seriously, look at the self-help or relationships section of any bookstore. You will find a whole shelf of books dedicated to explaining men for women and none at all dedicated to explaining women for men.

There is a lot of truth to this. I once worked in an office where I had a little cubicle in a room other wise full of women. Sometimes they would get to talking, and forget I was there. It was very educational! (I learned a lot about vaginal yeast infections one day!) But they did spend a lot of time talking about men and relationship, and female friends of mine have corroborated that much of the conversation among groups of women (though, of course, not all) is concerned with men and relationships. Among men, very little of the conversation deals with relationships, and the comments about women tend not to extend much beyond, “Look at the rack on that one!”. Honestly, I think the truth is that men don’t really find women very interesting as a topic of conversation. So, I think you’re right, that the reason men “don’t understand” women, at least as women perceive it, is that men really don’t care enough to make the effort.

When I was in grad school at Penn in the 80s, one of the undergraduate student newspaper columnists wrote a column about the graffiti in the women’s restroom in the library. Apparently women sitting in the stall would pour their heart out, ask for advice, receive it, and essentially there was a running dialogue on the walls among the various users of the bathroom stall. This writer suspected that these women were being so open in part because they knew that they were speaking just to other women, and so they felt comfortable being open and honest. This writer confessed frustration with the men in her life and the fact they they never seemed to open up to her or to other women, but she suspected that, like women, men opened up around other men. So, she snuck into the men’s bathroom stall, hoping to find similar confessional graffiti shared among the men. She was beyond shocked and disappointed to discover that the graffiti in the men’s room consisted of little more that dirty limericks, suggestions of anatomically difficult acts that certain parties should perform on themselves, drawing of penises, boats of sexual conquests, and intimations that certain men known to the graffitist would perform certain sexual acts on request. The last thing she had expected to find was that men not only didn’t open up to women, but that they didn’t open up to other men, either.

Honestly, ladies, men are pretty simple. Women are more complicated than we are, and so you assume that we are complicated, too. Sorry to disappoint you!

It’s really true, though I swear, try telling that to them. One of my favorite Far Side cartoons captures this dynamic perfectly, except Gary Larson got the sexes wrong. I can probably count on one hand the in depth conversations I’ve had over the years with my male friends about their relationships to their spouses. Mind you, I tend to enjoy talking about these things, mostly, I think, because I really like to explore what makes people tick. One thing that makes women tick is that they really and truly can’t believe that the men in their lives don’t think about relationships like they do. If a man is going to think about emotions and feelings, it’s usually going to be in a context of how to use emotions to conquer someone else — a woman he fancies, or a guy he wants to subdue in some way.

Don’t take my word for it. I recently came up with what I thought was a pretty great idea for my next book. I thought of it as something mostly spiritual and philosophical, but with an emotional core. Both my agent and my editor said it was a no-go. You’re aiming this book at a male audience, they said, and men don’t buy books about their emotions. “But it’s not about emotions, I protested, it’s about –” and off I went talking about how it’s not a self-help book, but really about an examination of conscience in light of literary this, philosophical that, theological whatnot.

Doesn’t matter, they said. Self-help is how it’s going to be received by men, the natural audience for the book, and nobody’s going to buy it. Men don’t go for that stuff. Hate to admit it, but they’re right.