I watched my three daughters sitting on our trampoline. It was late on a sunny afternoon the day before school started earlier this week. The girls, ages 13, 10 and 8, were simply talking. Endlessly about everything and about nothing, about feelings and dreams and about the end of summer.
I sat working in the yard at a distance and took it in and smiled.
Recent research shows that women use about three times as many words a day as men do. (That's from a book called "The Female Brain" by Louann Brizendine, a neuropsychiatrist at the University of California, San Francisco.)
I sometimes think that, in my house, with three girls and one son, that ratio is more like 10 to one. But what's important is that it turns out it's OK.
Or it can be, until a woman tries to make her man into her best girlfriend.
One of my own best women friends recently sent to me a piece that her husband (without comment, it turns out!) had e-mailed to her: "How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It" by Barbara Graham from O, the Oprah Magazine. Its subtitle says it all: "Forget everything you've heard about frankness, sharing your feelings, getting him to express his. Research into the functions of the male mind makes it clear that discussion may be the fastest way to shut down communication. (Oh, you noticed that, have you?)"
Graham sat down with psychotherapists Patricia Love and Steven Stosny. They teach extensively on gender differences, and last year co-wrote "How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It."
Stosny explains that "talking about feelings, which is soothing to women, makes men physically uncomfortable. There's literally more blood flow to the muscles. They get fidgety and women think they're not listening."
So women are wired differently.
The authors reveal that studies show boys have several times as many startle reflexes as girls. So often they have to withdraw to keep from being over-stimulated. But if there's a conflict, girls and women want to talk about it.
My own experience is that we females want to talk all the time about everything. Conflict is just another excuse to gab.
In contrast, boys and men often need to pull away from conflict.
"A man's greatest suffering comes from the shame he feels when he doesn't measure up, which is why discussing relationship problems (i.e., what he's doing wrong) offers about as much comfort as sleeping on a bed of nails," Stosny told Graham.
What's the answer? Start with connection, the authors say. From simple touch, to doing things together, to sex. Let the words flow from the bond. Don't try to get the bond to flow from the words. In fact, Stosny says, "When couples feel connected, men want to talk more and women need to talk less."
Maybe it's because I have three older brothers, but such thinking has always seemed to make sense to me.
In fact, I once had a wise woman friend note that women used to rely on each other for much of their emotional support. But in recent decades, some in the culture have told us that we had to get that from the men in our lives instead.
Well, I've known many unhappy wives and girlfriends who just don't understand that no matter how crazy we are about our fella, it's never a good idea to ask him to be our best gal pal.
Conversely, the strongest relationships I've observed are always ones in which the women have close, longtime women friends or sisters and look to them for much of their emotional sustenance.
My 15-year-old son wasn't with his sisters on that trampoline that day. Had he been, their much-loved brother would have wanted to bounce or roughhouse or talk about movies. He would not have been interested in discussing feelings or emotions with the little sisters he clearly adores.
Well, I hope I'm raising daughters and a son who know that's just fine.