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January 17 2013

Understanding her thirst

I think I finally discovered what it’s like to be a man.

My  husband and I dated five years before our marriage during which we walked through every. single. kind. of relational drama.  When we were young and in love, when life was a veritable cartoon love story complete with singing bluebirds and that soft focus of gauzy romance, we experienced—and analyzed— first hand the very real differences between men and women.

I learned that when a man says he’s not thinking anything, he really means it. Exactly nothing is on his mind. His silence does not mean he hates you. He learned to accept my apparent non-sequiters are par for the course. I have a very adorable habit of interrupting silence with a conversation that I’d been having in my head. He finds it disorienting. I tell him most women do this. (Sisters, back me up on this one.)

We learned, together, thanks to Woody Harrelson and White Men Can’t Jump that when a couple faces a problem, their approach to identifying and handling the problem are as different as Adam and Eve.

“I’m thirsty,” the girlfriend in the movie says.

Woody’s character unfolds himself from his comfortable position, fills a glass with water and delivers it to her. He served her exactly what she wanted. He’s figuring on some extra gold stars for that.


She is furious. She never asked for no stinkin’ glass of water. She said she was thirsty. She expains:

“I don’t want you to get me water. I want you to understand my thirst.”

Women, generally—and I generally avoid generalizations, so you’ll grant me this one—confront problems with words. Many, many words. Words upon words until barrels are full of the same thoughts and feelings swimming in a chaotic blend of emotion and speech. So much speech. Men may wonder when they can get off this carousel, because jeez, already.

Men hear the problem—again generally—and want to solve the problem. In fact, they can solve the problem. Bam. Just like that he’s got the hammer out fixing the protruding nail, or he pronounces, “Well, just do (whatever it is that is the solution).” He wipes his palms together, feeling rather victorious. Problem solved.

Thing is, women, as we are talking, know the answer. We know the solution. We’re just processing through every little detail first.

Which brings me to how I know what it feels like to be a man. 

Recently, our teenaged daughter had a weird and complicated and short-lived falling out with one of her friends. In this mother’s view, our daughter was wronged—wronged I tell you—and I wanted to call her friend and give that kid a piece of my mind.

I wanted to tell my daughter all the things that are true. That you don’t need this drama. That if that’s how she treats friends, maybe it’s time to reassess. That this won’t matter tomorrow. That walking away is smart and mature.

Ok, let’s be honest. I did tell her those things. And I probably sounded like my mother, and my daughter probably rolled her world-wise eyes. I wanted to solve the problem and dust off my hands, wiping away her tears and her pain.

“I know, Mom.”

But she cried. And I was impotent to stop the hurt. And I had not weapons to wield. And she cried. She cried that kind of ugly cry we women do, when our faces get all red and pinched up. And she threw herself dramatically on her bed and wailed. Are all teenagers gifted in the dramatic arts?

And all I needed to say was…nothing. Because she knows. And because my open heart is right where it needs to be, waiting. Because I know she needs me to “understand her thirst,” not jump in and fight her battles.

Sometimes, I’m even able to do it, to understand the subtext, to read the words she didn’t write, to hear the cry she didn’t speak.  I’m proud to say I stopped talking. I listened and I let her cry.




  1. Yep, I have a hard time shutting up as well. That’s something I need to learn to get better at. My daughters are tweens, so I know I have it coming to me sooner or later.

  2. Oh the words!!! The other day my sweet husband came home and I guess I was talking….a lot. HE finally, in a momentary pause, asked, “Am I the first grown-up you’ve actually spoken to today?” And I realized, outside of dropping the kids off at the gym, that yes, he was the only grown up. And I cried. Oh, how I cried. And God bless him, as exhausted as he was (this was at 10pm mind you) he let his sad wife continue on and didn’t interrupt once to “help” me with my problems :)

  3. “I learned that when a man says he’s not thinking anything, he really means it. Exactly nothing is on his mind. His silence does not mean he hates you. He learned to accept my apparent non-sequiters are par for the course. I have a very adorable habit of interrupting silence with a conversation that I’d been having in my head. He finds it disorienting. I tell him most women do this. (Sisters, back me up on this one.)”

    – ALL SO TRUE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This made me laugh.

    So good Jen. That just breaks my heart. I’m dreading those years and issues, coming up oh, so soon.

  4. “I have a very adorable habit of interrupting silence with a conversation that I’d been having in my head. He finds it disorienting. I tell him most women do this. (Sisters, back me up on this one.)”

    Yep. My husband does it more often than I do, though. :)

    I love this post. I find myself in problem-solving mode with friends dealing with problems sometimes too. Just to understand someone’s thirst is the real gift, for both parties.

  5. John.

    I had to console my daughter when she was in high school. She had just broken up with a young man and she was inconsolable. As she cried on my shoulder, I started to tell her the story of Michael Jordan being cut from his high school basketball team. She looked at me and asked what that story had to do with her situation. I placed her head back on my shoulder and said,” It’s the best story I’ve got.” As I resumed the story, she started to laugh.
    Men have a limited toolbox but if we try we can find something to help.

  6. Ed

    Lots of head nodding over in these parts. I can totally relate. I like the blank mind time and the solution guy stuff big time.

    One caveat… if there is conflict a-brewing, I’ve learned that I often need some time before I’m ready to speak my mind. the trouble is, I know if I start talking, I may get snarky real quick. So I stay silent, and I’ve learned that can be a weapon in and of itself. So there’s this tension for me where I need to say I’ll respond soon… just not yet.

  7. It’s true. I try to fix things with my wife and our daughters. But I’m also a talker. My girls are 6-&-7 years old and I don’t know what I’ll do when this day comes – as it will all too soon. I’d like to think I’ll take your route, Jen, and just listen. Thanks for sharing your experience. Now…where’s my tools?


  8. My husband and I are a lot like this, but we learned very quickly. But my own parents were just the opposite! My dad had wordswordswordswords for *everything* and my mom had hammers and nails.

    My daughter is a fixer, too. So when she has a problem, she tackles it–and doesn’t want help or advice or even a listening ear. But my son is the talker, and I have had to learn not to try to fix anything with him but just let him get out whatever he needs to.

  9. Good golly, I love this post. And yes, men tend to want to fix things rather than just let us spill. But I have to say that my husband does that starting in the middle of the conversation as often, if not more so, than I do! And he uses only pronouns after first mentioning the people he’s referring to by name. God forbid they should all be the same gender because I am LOST as he goes through the tale, never again telling me which ‘he’ or ‘she’ he’s currently talking about. I sure would love to sit down and listen to you begin your conversation in the middle sometime. You are fabulously funny and smart.

  10. Ummm…yeah. Busted. Dang if I’m not always bringing my son a glass of water.


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