17+ quotes from You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation by Deborah Tannen

Quotes from You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation

Deborah Tannen ·  352 pages

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“We all want, above all, to be heard. We want to be understood—heard for what we think we are saying, for what we know we meant.”
― Deborah Tannen, quote from You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation


“A woman will be inclined to repeat a request that doesn't get a response because she is convinced that her husband would do what she asks, if he only understood that she really wants him to do it. But a man who wants to avoid feeling that he is following orders may instinctively wait before doing what she asked, in order to imagine that he is doing it of his own free will.”
― Deborah Tannen, quote from You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation


“But the manner of giving voice to thoughts and feelings becomes particularly significant in the case of negative feelings or doubts about a relationship. The difference was highlighted for me when a fifty-year-old divorced man told me about his experiences in forming new relationships with women. On this matter, he was clear: "I do not value my fleeting thoughts, and I do not value the fleeting thoughts of others." He felt that the relationship he was currently in had been endangered, even permanently weakened, by the woman's practice of tossing out her passing thoughts, because, early in their courtship, many of her thoughts were fears about the relationship. Not surprisingly, since they did not yet know each other well, she worried about whether she could trust him, whether their relationship would destroy her independence, whether this relationship was really right for her. He felt she should have kept these fears and doubts to herself and waited to see how things turned out.
As it happens, things turned out well. The woman decided that the relationship was right for her, she could trust him, and she did not have to give up her independence. But he felt, at the time that he told me of this, that he had still not recovered from the wear and tear of coping with her earlier doubts. As he put it, he was still dizzy from having been bounced around like a yo-yo tied to the string of her stream of consciousness.
In contrast, the man admitted, he himself goes to the other extreme: he never expresses his fears or misgivings about their relationship at all. If he's unhappy but doesn't say anything about it, his unhappiness expresses itself in a kind of distancing coldness. This response is just what women fear most, and just the reason they prefer to express dissatisfactions and doubts - as an antidote to the isolation and distance that would result from keeping them to themselves.
The different perspectives on expressing or concealing dissatisfactions and doubts may reflect a difference in men's and women's awareness of the power of their words to affect others. In repeatedly telling him what she feared about their relationship, she spoke as though she assumed he was invulnerable and could not be hurt by what she said; perhaps she was underestimating the power of her words to affect him. For his part, when he refrains from expressing negative thoughts or feelings, he seems to be overestimating the power of his words to hurt her, when, ironically, she is more likely to be hurt by his silence than his words.
Such impasses will perhaps never be settled to the complete satisfaction of both parties, but understanding the differing views can help detoxify the situation, and both can make adjustments.”
― Deborah Tannen, quote from You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation


“One man commented that he and I seemed to have different definitions of gossip. He said, 'To you it seems to be discussion of personal details about people known to the conversationalists. To me, it's a discussion of the weaknesses, character flaws, and failures of third persons, so that the participants in the conversation can feel superior to them. This seems unworthy, hence gossip is bad.”
― Deborah Tannen, quote from You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation


“At every age, the girls and women sit closer to each other and look at each other directly. At every age, the boys and men sit at angles to each other—in one case, almost parallel—and never look directly into each other's faces.”
― Deborah Tannen, quote from You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation


“If women resent men's tendency to offer solutions to problems, men complain about women's refusal to take action to solve the problems.”
― Deborah Tannen, quote from You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation


“Yet another man commented that women seem to wallow in their problems, wanting to talk about them forever, whereas he and other men want to get them out and be done with them.”
― Deborah Tannen, quote from You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation


“The main difference between these alternatives is symmetry. Dependence is an asymmetrical involvement: One person needs the other, but not vice versa, so the needy person is one-down. Interdependence is symmetrical: Both parties rely on each other, so neither is one-up or one-down. Moreover,”
― Deborah Tannen, quote from You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation


“For girls, talk is the glue that holds relationships together. Boys' relationships are held together primarily by activities: doing things together, or talking about activities such as sports or, later, politics.”
― Deborah Tannen, quote from You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation


“Philip Blumstein and Pepper Schwartz, in their study American Couples, found that lesbians have sex less often than gay men and heterosexual couples. The sociologists believe that this happens because, as they found, in heterosexual couples the man almost always initiates sex, and the woman either complies or exercises veto power. Among gay men, at least one partner takes the role of initiator. But among lesbians, they found, often neither feels comfortable taking the role of initiator, because neither wants to be perceived as making demands.”
― Deborah Tannen, quote from You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation


“Penelope Eckert, who observed boys and girls in high school, points out that boys define their social status in a simple and straightforward way—their individual skill and achievement, especially at sports—but girls 'must define theirs in a far more complicated way, in terms of their overall character.”
― Deborah Tannen, quote from You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation


“Always taking an adversative stance can result in avoiding situations one might really enjoy. And always accommodating can result in accepting situations one would really rather avoid. One man described to me what he and his former wife called the I-like-chicken-backs phenomenon. When his family ate a chicken for dinner, someone had to eat the back, and in his family it was always his wife, who assured the others, 'I like chicken backs.' But, as this man commented to me, nobody really likes chicken backs. She had convinced herself that she liked chicken backs—and broken egg yolks and burned toast—to be accommodating. But years of accommodating built up to mounting frustration that they both believed had contributed to their eventual divorce.”
― Deborah Tannen, quote from You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation


“Psychologists John and Sandra Condry asked subjects to interpret why an infant was crying. If they had been told the baby was a boy, subjects thought he was angry, but if they had been told it was a girl, they thought she was afraid.”
― Deborah Tannen, quote from You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation


“If I wrote, 'After delivering the acceptance speech, the candidate fainted,' you would know I was talking about a woman. Men do not faint; they pass out.”
― Deborah Tannen, quote from You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation


“It is the interaction of the two styles - his withdrawal and her insistence that he tell her what she did wrong - that is devastating to both.”
― Deborah Tannen, quote from You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation


“So there it is: Boys and girls grow up in different worlds, but we think we're in the same one, so we judge each other's behavior by the standards of our own.”
― Deborah Tannen, quote from You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation


“Many women could learn from men to accept some conflict and difference without seeing it as a threat to intimacy, and many men could learn from women to accept interdependence without seeing it as a threat to their freedom.”
― Deborah Tannen, quote from You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation


About the author

Deborah Tannen
Born date June 7, 1945
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