I didn’t expect these doors to upset me as much as they did. I mean, cliché fonts and misspellings do normally upset me, so I was prepared for that. But I wasn’t prepared for a huge wave of insecurity over the age-old stereotype that women talk more than men.
Look, I do my best to smile thinly at gender stereotypes and move on. Most of the time I can rant underneath my public face about how I know half a dozen women who aren’t like that and how no guy I know would ever say this.
But this time the gender stereotype cuts too close to home. I talk a lot. I do. And I’ve always felt insecure about it — particularly when it came to my relationship with Erich.
We could have been the inspiration for this stereotype. Erich can sit in silence for days. The only reason he doesn’t is because, if he fails to respond within one minute, I wail about how he doesn’t love me anymore. To which he says, “Huh, no, I love you,” with that exact inflection, and I say, “See?” and we carry on with that topic for awhile until I realize that he doesn’t require normal human conversation to sustain existence.
Me? I talk to myself. In the mirror. In the shower. In the car. Out loud.
Erich has only commented on this once, early on in our marriage, where I took a particularly long shower and decimated bad theology in one go. “Are you talking to yourself?” he called from a room away.
“No,” I called back, and whispered the rest of the conversation to myself.
Talkative people get a bad rap in general — people who prattle on and on as if their companion is listening (or cares), whole “conversations” where only one person is relaying all the movies they’ve watched in the past year (in detail) and the other person smiles and nods until they realize their smiles are turning into yawns and their nodding is turning narcoleptic.
I remember tag-teaming such conversations with friends. We’d decide through subtle eye movements whose turn it was to smile and nod and who could safely make up an excuse and walk away.
The irony is that though I love to talk, I cannot stand talkative people. Some days it’s so bad that the only reason I listen is to respond. It’s terrible.
My dislike of talkative people probably fuels my insecurity about how much I talk.
The other factor is being a woman who loves to talk.
Do men feel the same insecurity about being talkative? I’m curious to know. My insecurity about this gender stereotype came from Jane Austen novels and all the Proverbs groaning about a woman’s tongue. A woman’s words were dangerous. Destructive. Annoying. Unproductive. As helpful and as interesting as a dripping faucet.
(Have you ever lived with a dripping faucet before? Not a metaphorical one, a real one? I once spent a whole weekend alone with a dripping faucet. It drove me insane. Nails on a chalkboard insane. And no, I didn’t fix it because the gender stereotypes about women being unskilled manual laborers most definitely apply to me.)
Lots of women’s articles and books talked about women and their nagging, about women and their chatter, about women and their need to get a grip and give their men some mental space already.
Maybe that’s why women apologize a lot. I know that’s why I do. I lead off every work conversation with, “Sorry to bother you, but — ” Especially with men. I’m convinced my boss cringes every time he sees me open my mouth.
It’s a subconscious thing. Words, words, words. Too much of them. Too much of me.
It’s the same thought: too much words = too much of me. I wear my heart on my sleeve.
Here’s the thing: I don’t enjoy “talking.” I really don’t. When I talk, I mean something — especially when I’m talking a lot. I’m not gushing blah, blah, blah. Not trying to, anyway. I’m trying to communicate something that matters to me.
That’s why this stereotype grates against my skin. It reduces my passionate rants to the drip, drip, drip of a faucet. It equates my attempts to connect and unburden with the prattle of stupid women. It assumes the mechanics of moving my jaw and vocalizing syllables is the be all, end all to this conversation. It’s all blah, blah, blah — no substance, no meaning, and not worth hearing.
That frightens me most, I think — an endless scream into a void, the perfect words falling on deaf ears, feeling disabled from communicating with the rest of the world.
And it makes sense, of course, why people would start interpreting a monologue going on ten minutes as blah, blah, blah. If your words are so important and meaningful, why air them so often and so repetitively?
My husband pointed out to me during our infamously horrific newlywed car rides that I “spoke in triplicate.” I’d repeat my main point three times. He’d keep count: “You just said that. Oh — that’s the third time. Do you know you speak in triplicate?”
“Yeah, well, that’s the third time today you’ve pointed it out,” I’d snap.
He didn’t mean it as an insult. He says he’s fascinated, frankly, by how much emotion and verbiage I can muster up every day. And I know he’s telling the truth — because when Erich says something, I listen. It’s easy to keep straight what he has said, because he doesn’t say it often.
Last night, for the first time in our relationship, I got to say, “Yep, you told me that story already.”
He uses that phrase with me every day.
Speaking of repetitive, here’s a phrase I used to use every day: hard to love. Hard to love, is how my talking made me feel. Hard to love, because my emotions — not the exhausted cry or the ticked off anger, but the soul-stuff that makes life bearable or not — were bound up in my words. Heart on my sleeve, like I said.
Nobody, I thought, could handle me with my emotion-words. Nobody, I thought, would get that I didn’t talk to fill empty space but to empty the space where I felt things the most. Nobody would understand that every time I opened my mouth (except with small talk — a whole other story), I meant something.
I felt like I prostituted my words.
My words are intimate and sacred — and I want them to stay that way, even if I talked to five different people about the same thing. But it makes me feel dirty and used up, talking so much.
It makes me feel dirty right now, writing this all down. Makes me feel whiny. Insignificant.
Well, I learned a few things as a talker. I learned that I wasn’t hard to love. I was quite easy to love, actually. I was very self-regulating. All I needed was a good listening ear, a hug, and some quick affirmation, and I could work my way through any problem. Erich is that listening ear for me now (and he gives great hugs, too).
Even though he’s a man, a strong and silent man, he finds me underneath the waves of emotional verbiage. He knows they matter. That I matter. I had to learn those things too, along with him, because I struggle more than he does to believe that my words and soul-stuff mean anything.
I also learned that there is some soul-stuff that no talking and no listening can fix. I use a different medium of words for those situations.
Silence is good too, I’ve found. That, or talking to myself in the shower.
Are you talkative? Is your best friend or partner talkative? How do you feel about it?