What if men and women just talked to each other?

I had a negative experience with a woman recently. What makes this experience negative was not just the result, but the fact that the result was completely avoidable. Through a series of missteps, misstatements, and lack of clarification, a pleasant evening got ruined before it started.

A coworker of mine five years ago once crystallized the problem perfectly. He is a black man in his early 30s, and despite the fact that racial issues were often discussed in the office, he never took part. One day I aksed him why he never offered comments. He replied “Well Eric, here is my philosophy. The problems between black and white are nothing compared to the problems between men and women. Whether black or white, as long as you are a man, there is a chance that I can understand you.”

I truly believe that a large part of the world’s conflicts are based on a lack of understanding. We can pretend to walk a mile in others’ shoes, but that is fantasy. While I believe the war on terror requires a military solution, the battle of the sexes truly can be handled through diplomacy. Maybe this is fantasy, but what if men and women just talked to each other, and better yet, listened to each other. Both sexes would be happier.

As for this woman I was supposed to take on a date…it started with email communication, followed by several pleasant telephone conversations. There was laughter on both sides, and normally this would be a positive thing. However, until two people actually meet, they should not get too “comfortable” with each other. Even after they meet, a certain level of distance is healthy. When both people get comfortable quickly it is fine, but when only one does, the other will push back. Once awkwardness sets in, the damage is often irreversible.

We were supposed to have dinner at 8pm. She needed to reschedule to 6pm, because she was supposed to meet a friend at 9pm. At first I said yes, but then I found out about a dinner party that would be taking place at 6pm. I called her and asked her if we could do lunch instead. She was not able to do that. I suggested we go together to the dinner party. She stated that she felt for our first date, we should be alone (It is vital to know if the two people are “hanging out,” or “going on a date.” This must be clarified or it will lead to disaster). She suggested we get together the next night.

Her suggestion was reasonable, but in an attempt to do too much too quickly, I suggested we just push 6pm back to 7pm. I could make a quick cameo at the dinner party, and then we could go out. She agreed. We were supposed to meet at the restaurant. I suggested we could just meet at my building and then walk to the restaurant. She preferred meeting at the restaurant. I asked her if 7pm worked for her, or should we just do 6pm. She then said “ok, now I am getting weirded out.” Once a woman says that, there is no going back. The damage is done, and even if the date happens, it will be tension filled. This is where the famous line in “Cool Hand Luke” (later done by Guns n Roses in the song “Civil War”) comes in to play. “What we have here is…failure…to communicate.”

I assumed she was uneasy because of the difficulty in settling on a time. Had I just asked her why she was uneasy, she would have told me it was because I invited her to my apartment. All I had to do was ask, and then I could have eased her concerns. Also, she could have told me “I have rules. I do not go to a guy’s apartment on the first date.” I would have immediately respected that.

We live in a world where women get raped, beaten and killed by strange men. Just because I know that I am as safe as can be, she has no way of knowing that. A few pleasant conversations on the telephone does not mean people know each other. This is where the genders break down completely.

Many women would say “Never go to a guy’s building you do not know. Meet at a public place. Be careful.” What they do not factor in is that sometimes going to the building can be safer. I live in a highrise condo building with 24 hour security guards. Rather than park on the street, the woman can approach the gate, where the guards can tell her where to park. Her car is safe underground. She can then go to the lobby, where the guards can call me to let me know she has arrived. I can then have the guards ask her if she prefers me coming downstairs or her coming upstairs. If they come upstairs, I show them the view, and then we leave. Given that the guards recognize her, a man would have to be a complete moron to do something bad, because there are too many witnesses. Then again, some men truly are morons.

There are no villains in situations like this. The woman believes that the man is trying to get her up to his apartment so he can violate her in some manner. The man is thinking that rather than have her wait at a restaurant, they can walk to the restaurant together, which builds pre-dinner rapport.

While I knew at this point that even though we had agreed to the date, I felt the awkwardness had poisoned the situation. I called her later that night and left a message, and I emailed her telling her that I regretted the earlier confusion. I explained that I did not mean to be so difficult with the time. I then got an email back asking what kind of guy invites a strange girl to his home. She canceled the date.

I had no idea what her worries were because I did not ask. She did not get her worries eased because she never told me what they were. Women might say “a guy should know better, I should not have to explain it to him.” Men might say that “women expect us to read their minds, I am not responsible for their past bad experiences.”

I could have asked “what are you concerned about? Did I say something to offend you?” This is not a sign of weakness. It is showing genuine concern. She could have stated that she does not go to a guy’s apartment. I would have explained that I was only inviting her to the building, and that we could have met in the lobby in the safest environment possible. If she would have wanted to meet at the restaurant, I would have been fine with that. Her concerns were valid, but so was my suggestion. The fact that I invited her to join me at a public dinner party, followed by her desire to be alone, in my mind communicated my level of harmlessness. It did not do the same for her.

Some might say that this non-date was a positive experience, because any time one can learn and grow from a situation allows that person to handle things better in the future. I think this is nonsense. This experience was negative because I lost the chance to make a friend. Maybe there would have been a romantic connection, but I was genuinely hoping to make a friend for life.

I could dole out blame and say that we were both 50% responsible for this deterioration of an initially positive interaction, but assigning blame is useless. Had we both just communicated better with each other, we could have had a pleasant evening.

The next time a woman says she has concerns, I will ask her what those concerns are. The next time a woman gives me concerns, and does not ask me what they are, I will just tell her. Things are not always “painfully obvious,” and in most cases, they should not have to be. I will not stop inviting women to my building, because many women simply do not have a problem with this. While there is real danger and terror in the world, most people are good people. While this one particular woman’s concerns were valid, they do not speak for all women. Just because I am safe when inviting a woman to my home, does not mean all men act this way.

Losing a potential friend is a sad experience. It is sadder when it is completely avoidable. Perhaps we will both communicate better in the future. I genuinely wish her happiness in life, and if I ever run into her at a party, the only thing I can do is be nice to her. We are both good people, and by being better communicators, we will be even better people.


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