Attempting to rise above the gender in which I reside and say something about a "between-ness" I see leaves me a tad uneasy. While research in the area regularly reports that there are more differences within genders than there are between them and while no pattern holds true for all couples, I believe there are some themes worth noting about the gender-related collisions of everyday relational life.
Gender Fender Benders
"If a tree falls in the forest and there's no one there to hear it … am I still wrong?" Six guys in the boundary waters howled, hearing Steve's quip during one of our regular conversations in the woods about the hazards of relationship.
"A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle." Quoting this bumper-sticker, 30-some years ago, my colleague Michele laughed merrily and assured me that the women she knows consider it to be quite the hoot.
There's truth in the hoots and howls – and an edge to the stories we carry about relationship. I recall these jokes and wonder about residue buried within us – not just from our personal histories, but also from centuries of gender-related experience – old stories, old wounds.
Centuries of oppression have left women with a residue of indignation – rightfully so – and, perhaps with that, a sense of righteousness. That same history can leave men vulnerable to a shame about being bad or wrong. I remember an old nursery rhyme declaring that boys are made of "snakes and snails and puppy dog tails", while girls are "sugar and spice and everything nice".
Centuries of masculine privilege have left a residue in men that we deserve to be advantaged in the rules of engagement – that somehow we matter more and should be catered to. I wonder about a corresponding vulnerability in women about being expected to serve, about not mattering, not being important.
Collisions are inevitable as these vulnerabilities encounter each other, as stories of "I'm not important" meet stories of "I'm wrong". Complaints, defenses, attacks and counter-attacks fly, as each partner fights for legitimacy. Each fights for the dreaded story not to be true – especially for it not to be true in this most important of relationships.
Collisions are painfully repeated, but eventually they teach us compassion – for ourselves, for each other, and for the wounds we carry. Over time, in conscious relationships, collisions become gentler and fewer – humbling reminders, perhaps, of old routines and the stories that fuel them – common stories, uniquely expressed.
I'm reminded of the somber narration ending each episode of a 1960's TV show about New York: "There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them."