Sometimes I think I missed my calling as a sociologist. People fascinate me! Swim practices, male friends and college organized drinking games offered many, many opportunities for observation. I’m amazed at the differences between men and women. This isn’t a new observation by any means: ever heard of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus? Well, there are many differences but today I am going to focus on teasing.
My observations tell me this: guys relate to each other through teasing. Let me give you a few examples.
I had a group project in 10th grade where we had to create a skit integrating characters from the various texts read in class. During the filming of said skit we went to my house and used the playhouse my dad built for my brother and I. One of my skit group members (and friend) is a very tall guy. He’s now over 6 feet tall and I’m almost positive he was as tall at 16. Anyway, while filming, he bonked his head, hard, on the door frame of the playhouse. Everyone else in the group laughed and laughed and laughed and then made fun of him for being so big. Later that day my dad and my mom reprimanded me for not being nice…but that’s another story.
Let me give you another example: in college there was this guy who lived on the floor above me. We were not friends at the time (okay, I was a prude and sat on a high horse my freshman year of college), but later we spent every Thursday together. As a freshman, he put on the traditional Freshmen 15, and originally embraced it and danced around on the girl’s floor in a Speedo while calling himself Big Country. Throughout the rest of our four years together his weight fluctuated and comments from his friends and roommates continued. He never said anything about it, but I could tell that the comments were getting to him—the funny, self-deprecating comebacks lessened and when he did quip back, it felt forced. I started to feel really bad but didn’t do anything (the first time I tried to defend the picked on guy I got yelled by said kid). Again, I digress. All I know is that if a friend of mine, or anyone for that matter, made comments about my physical person I would avoid him/her, and probably cry.
Granted, the examples that immediately pop into my mind center around bigger issues, but they still highlight the fact that men generally bond through jibes whereas women bond through fat talk and gossip. Lesser examples include a performance in a sport or video game, “yo mama” jokes and hitting. I’ve noticed lots of playful punching and even the painful “butt cramp.”
Because men are so used to this form of communication or contact they use it with women, which often backfires. Men’s use of teasing as an introduction or form of conversation doesn’t always fail, however. I know several ladies who are perfectly capable of throwing it right back at the guy. I’m not one of those girls. Maybe it’s because my family doesn’t tease often. Maybe it’s because the first time I tried (in my memory anyway) I made the kid cry; two years later in the fifth grade I made another boy cry, and since I don’t want to make anyone else cry, I rarely tease.
Just because I don’t tease doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate it. I can’t dish it but I can take it…for the most part. This is a strange example, but once in high school I went to a friend’s club soccer game. During the game my phone started ringing and as I frantically tried to get into my bag, the zipper got stuck. A guy in the group I was with started giving me a hard time about my phone and being obnoxious etcetera. This probably doesn’t look like much, but at the time, I wasn’t really friends with many of the people and this guy is the king of teasing. It made me feel important, like I was a part of the group. Obviously he was paying attention to me and secondly, he was treating me in the same manner as every other person in the group—I was on my way to belonging.
I want a give-and-take type of dynamic in a relationship; the best literary example I can think of is Rhett and Scarlett from Gone with the Wind. Yet women and men are different, whether it stems from genetics/nature or socialization, I do not know. Men need to know that comments on a girl’s preferred sports teams or their job choice may not always fly. Cubs fans in Milwaukee and Yankees Fans in Boston get a lot crap, there is no denying that, and I’m sure it gets old (my teams have no major rivals), but the insults aren’t always meant mean-spiritedly. Although sometimes men (and women) unwittingly hit on topics that are sensitive to the other person–Gilbert Blythe calling Anne Shirley “carrots” comes to mind. She hit him on the head with her slate and didn’t talk to him for the whole first book.
I can’t imagine how hard it is for the guy and have to start the conversation. It makes sense then that most guys open up with the type of communication most used in their social life. When you think about it, a comment on your sports team or profession, even if it’s lame, is basically a personalized pickup line. Sure, you may be a Bears fan and he’s a Packers fan, but now you know you both like football! And maybe he’s genuinely interested in why you, a beautiful young woman, are a librarian or a geriatric nurse or an anthropology student dying to go to Tennessee’s body farm.
Is one form of communication better than the other? No. But, we do need to be aware of our differences and take that into account when striking up conversations with new people, especially those of the opposite sex.