It took five months of marriage, eight months of being engaged, and another year of whatever the hell we were doing before we got engaged for me to learn something about my wife. Actually, that's misleading. I've learned many things about my wife in that time period. I learned that she owns both a snuggie and a onesie. And I learned that she's prone to wearing both of them at the same time. But, there's one thing in particular that didn't quite dawn on me until last week.
Panama and I were talking about the Rolling Stone story controversy. It eventually segued to Cosby, which then segued into a realization that there's a common thread in each of these types of stories and the tenor of the conversations surrounding them.
Trust. Well, the lack thereof. Generally speaking, we (men) do not believe things when they're told to us by women. Well, women other than our mothers or teachers or any other woman who happens to be an established authority figure. Do we think women are pathological liars? No. But, does it generally take longer for us to believe something if a woman tells it to us than it would if a man told us the exact same thing? Definitely!
This conversation is how, after five months of marriage, eight months of being engaged, and another year of whatever the hell we were doing before we got engaged, I realized I don't trust my wife.
When the concept of trust is brought up, it's usually framed in the context of actions; of what we think a person is capable of doing. If you trust someone, it means you trust them not to cheat. Or steal. Or lie. Or smother you in your sleep. By this measure, I definitely trust my wife. I trust the shit out of her. I also trust her opinions about important things. I trusted that she'd make a great wife, and a trust that she'll be a great mother. And I trust that her manicotti won't kill me.
But you know what I don't really trust? What I've never actually trusted with any women I've been with? Her feelings.
If she approaches me pissed about something, my first reaction is "What's wrong?"
My typical second reaction? Before she even gets the opportunity to tell me what's wrong? "She's probably overreacting."
My typical third reaction? After she expresses what's wrong? "Ok. I hear what you're saying, and I'll help. But whatever you're upset about probably really isn't that serious."
I'm both smart and sane, so I don't actually say any of this aloud. But I am often thinking it. Until she convinces me otherwise, I assume that her emotional reaction to a situation is disproportionate to my opinion of what level of emotional reaction the situation calls for. Basically, if she's on eight, I assume the situation is really a six.
I'm speaking of my own relationship, but I know I'm not alone. The theme that women's feelings aren't really to be trusted by men drives (an estimated) 72.81% of the sitcoms we watch, 31.2% of the books we read, and 98.9% of the conversations men have with other men about the women in their lives. Basically, women are crazy, and we are not. Although many women seem to be very annoyed by it, it's generally depicted as one of those cute and innocuous differences between the sexes.
And perhaps it would be, if it were limited to feelings about the dishes or taking out the garbage. But, this distrust can be pervasive, spreading to a general skepticism about the truthfulness of their own accounts of their own experiences. If women's feelings aren't really to be trusted, then naturally their recollections of certain things that have happened to them aren't really to be trusted either.
This is part of the reason why it took an entire high school football team full of women for some of us to finally just consider that Bill Cosby might not be Cliff Huxtable. It's how, despite hearing complaints about it from girlfriends, homegirls, cousins, wives, and classmates, so many of us refused to believe how serious street harassment can be until we saw it with our own eyes. It's why we needed to see actual video evidence before believing the things women had been saying for years about R. Kelly.
There's an obvious parallel here with the way (many) men typically regard women's feelings and the way (many) Whites typically regard the feelings of non-Whites. It seems like every other day I'm reading about a new poll or study showing that (many) Whites don't believe anything Black people say about anything race/racism-related until they see it with their own eyes. Personal accounts and expressions of feelings are rationalized away; only "facts" that have been carefully vetted and verified by other Whites and certain "acceptable" Blacks are to be believed.
So how do we remedy this? And can it even be remedied? I don't know. This distrust of women's feelings is so ingrained, so commonplace that I'm not even sure we (men) realize it exists. I can do one thing, though. The next time my wife tells me how upset she is about something I'm not sure she should be that upset about, trust her. After five months of marriage, eight months of being engaged, and another year of whatever the hell we were doing before we got engaged, it's the least I can do.