When I was young, a new and enthusiastic feminist in my teens and 20s, the debate was still raging over nature and nurture, and whether the sexes really were that different. Now I’m in much older, I know that the sexes are different, and increasingly we are finding incontrovertible evidence that this is a result of nature. Over the years, especially at the forums dealing with loss and then infertility post-loss, I have seen example after example that shows men really are from Mars, and we women most definitely are not.
I’ve often seen women in the grips of grief over pregnancy loss, or in despair as infertility takes its toll, talk about their male partners. And one of the most frequent sentiments is how much these women wished that their partners not only understood how they felt, but shared exactly the same emotions.
But you know, our men are different. Just because they don't react the way we react doesn’t mean they don’t care. It means they’re experiencing this differently. They’re distressed at the distress shown by their lovely women. They feel helpless, they want to solve the problems, and they want to protect us. And when they can’t, they can sometimes behave in ways that are inexplicable to us. I’ve seen men who struggle to deal with the emotions of their women decide that the answer is simply never to try to get pregnant again. Yes, I see you’re all rolling your eyes. We know that’s not the right solution. But our men don’t always know that.
Whilst I didn’t want my husband to feel the grief I felt, I did want him to express his feelings a little more than he did. He didn’t really know how he felt, because he didn’t explore his feelings in the same way I did. He shook his head and said to me once, “you don’t understand. If I don’t want to think about something, I don’t.” I remember being stunned. If only I could be like that! Life would be much easier.
As I started to pull out of my wretchedness, and began laughing, smiling, and loving life again, he felt he could relax, and express some of his own feelings. Isn’t this what I wanted? Well, in a word, and to be totally honest, NO! Because knowing that he was sad, when I was finally not being sad, pulled me back down. And then it made me feel guilty for resenting him pulling me back down. Now, so many years later, we’re both comfortable with noting when something annoys or upsets us, or even gloating over feeling child-FREE at times. But in those early months and years, when I was concentrating on trying to get better – for me and for him - it was hard enough to deal with my own emotions. To be completely frank, dealing with his emotions would have been an added burden. It was a burden I could bear once i felt like I was recovering, and I knew I could support him when he needed it. But had it come earlier, I might have drowned.
So when I look back, I am forever grateful that we are very different. I can’t imagine we could have gone through that time, experiencing identical emotions, and survived. The fact we are different complements each other. So my advice to women who want their men to feel the same emotions is “be careful what you wish for.”