Wednesday, May 24, 2000

Tackle or talk

"Fight-or-flight" vs. "tend-and-befriend."

That's the difference in the way men and women handle stress, according to a recent report by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles. "Studies have shown that females facing a predator, disaster or a particularly bad day at the office tend to respond by caring for their offspring and seeking contact and support from others, especially other females," says the Associated Press report on the report. While men tend to respond by punching someone or wordlessly watching televised sports.

This may explain why men don't ask for directions; they'd rather forge a previously unknown path to the destination or just go ahead and drive the wrong way for 100 miles or so. And why their wives spend that drive time stewing, leading the kids in road songs, and thinking about how they're going to tell their friends about this bonehead maneuver. Women are always thinking about how they're going to tell their friends things. That's what friends are for--to provide support and advice, sure, but also to be an audience to the incredible behavior to which we are subjected. At any given time on the all-mother e-mail support group I belong to, about 80% of posts are about stressful incidents and how to deal with them. About 75% of the incidents involve men. Hey, UCLA researchers, study that, why don'tcha.

My husband's pretty much a flight kinda guy. His way of dealing with stress is to pretend it's not there. If I just go about my business and put one foot in front of the other, he seems to think, that bothersome thing will just go away. That's all well and good if the problem does not involve me. But when the problem is, say, that I'm annoyed with him, his flight plan sends me ranting to my friends. And if the problem is that he's annoyed with me, his complete disinterest in confronting the situation drives me crazy. I finally asked him the other day to kindly let me know when he was done being angry, since it was somewhat hard to tell. I think he said okay, but then I never heard anymore about it. I don't think he's still angry; I think he just finally ran fast enough, then forgot. I never forget. And if I do, my friends remind me.

As for tending the kids in time of stress...well, gee, does yelling at them for minor infractions that I'd ordinarily ignore count? Usually, when I'm upset about something, I'm too busy befriending to tend. But when my husband and I disagree about a child-rearing situation, then I do tend to tend. Become Supermom, is what I do. All knowing, all caring, all powerful. If the kids know what's good for them, they go along. And Papa stomps into the bedroom to watch the ball game.

Leaving me free to call someone and complain.

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