Open Gently

Musings on the introspective life.

You Can Get Him to Talk!

Men and women can learn to talk more easily.

There's been a great deal of talk about the differences in male and female brains, to the point that men and women are said to speak different languages. The truth is that the brain reflects our culture--it is not the same from birth. Men and women do think differently, but both can change and both can adjust to each other.

As Deborah Tannen explained years ago in her book You Just Don't Understand, traditionally, "For women, talk creates intimacy. Marriage is an orgy of closeness: you can tell your feelings and thoughts, and still be loved. Their greatest fear is being pushed away. But men live in a hierarchical world, where talk maintains independence and status. They are on guard to protect themselves from being put down and pushed around."

This difference can be overcome if we do the "step in his shoes" trick. For example, men can understand that sometimes a woman who gives advice is trying to get closer to him, make herself needed. She isn't focusing on his inadequacy to hurt him.

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And when a man doesn't "share" a woman can remind herself that he's probably not rejecting her as a confidante--he just didn't see the need to talk, the way she does.

If you're trying to get closer to someone who doesn't volunteer information naturally, the following questions can work beautifully. They were developed by Dr. Arthur Aron of the Interpersonal Relationships Lab at Stony Brook University, NY, who published his results in "The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness" in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (1997).

I dated a very tactiturn man who enjoyed these!  

Each of you will take your turn answering each question.


Here they are, in order:


1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?


2. Would you like to be famous? In what way?


3. Before making a phone call, do you ever rehearse what you're going to say? Why?


4. What would constitute a perfect day for you?


5. When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?


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6. If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you choose?


7. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?


8. Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.


9. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?


10. If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?


11. Take four minutes and tell you partner your life story in as much detail as possible.


12. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained one quality or ability, what would it be?


13. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?


14. Is there something that you've dreamt of doing for a long time? Why haven't you done it?


15. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?


16. What do you value most in a friendship?


17. What is your most treasured memory?


18. What is your most terrible memory?


19. If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?


20. What does friendship mean to you?


21. What roles do love and affection play in your life?


22. Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five items.


23. How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people's?


24. How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?


25. Make three true "we" statements each. For instance, "we are both in this room feeling..."


26. Complete this sentence "I wish I had someone with whom I could share..."


27. If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.


28. Tell your partner what you like about them: be honest this time, saying things that you might not say to someone you've just met.


29. Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.


30. When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?


31. Tell your partner something that you like about them already.


32. What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?


33. If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven't you told them yet?


34. Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?


35. Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?


36. Share a personal problem and ask your partner's advice on how he or she might handle it. Also, ask your partner to reflect back to you how you seem to be feeling about the problem you have chosen.




37. If you could choose the sex and physical appearance of your soon-to-be-born child, would you do it?


38. Would you be willing to have horrible nightmares for a year if you would be rewarded with extraordinary wealth?


39. While on a trip to another city, your spouse/lover meets and spends a night with an exciting stranger. Given they will never meet again, and you will not otherwise learn of the incident, would you want your partner to tell you about it?

Temma Ehrenfeld is a New York-based science writer, and former assistant editor at Newsweek.


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