“Hey…can we talk?”
“Yeah, what’s up?”
“It seems like we’ve been busy lately and it would be nice if we could set some time aside to go out on a date.”
“Yeah, sure. Just let me know when you want to go and what you want to do.”
“Well…I have a few ideas but, what do you want to do?”
“It doesn’t matter to me. Just tell me what you want.”
Now, there are a few things to note about this conversation:
#1 Even though I didn’t tell you who the man is and who the woman is in this conversation, you instinctively knew.
#2 If you’re a man, you probably don’t see anything wrong with this conversation. If you’re a woman, this conversation might illicit a feeling of anxiety, flatness, frustration, or loneliness.
#3 One person is doing all the emotional work here.
Many couples have conversations like this on a regular basis.
Typically, when confronted with a lack of participation, the man becomes confused and frustrated because he doesn't know what he isn't doing. He may say something like, “Just tell me what you want.” At this point, many women tend to get frustrated and confused as well because they don’t know what they want.
This is where people get stuck.
If we go back to the conversation, I can see why both parties are stuck. First of all, the woman is the one who had to generate the energy and vulnerability to ask for something she wanted. She even voices her emotion and desire by saying that it would feel “nice” to go out together.
What she’s met with is his deferment back to her. He provides no emotional response, no vulnerability, and no ideas.
When met with this, she tries again. She acknowledges that she has some ideas, but she is also wanting more engagement from him.
At this point, he doubles down on his deferment and even adds that he doesn’t care.
Now, this may not mean that he doesn’t care about her or that he doesn’t care about the date but, this is where she is again burdened with doing all the work of remembering, deciding, planning, and holding the excitement of the conversation.
It would be completely normal for her to think:
“Does he even want to go?”
“Would he remember if I didn’t bring this up again?”
“How is he really feeling right now?”
All of this could be going on in the background, without her having much awareness of it. However, what she does know is that it doesn’t feel equal, engaging, fun, or exciting to be in dialogue like this.
This is the invisible work that creates a REAL struggle for both men AND women.