We women have an obligation to the young men in our lives. We must teach them how to keep their manly feet out of their big mouths while talking to women.
Sometimes a man runs into trouble not because of the specific words he does or does not say but because his body language says things without him even knowing it. Our sons, ages 14 and 11, recently witnessed an example of this.
I’d just tried on a new pair of jeans I was unsure about. I found Tom cooking burgers in the kitchen and asked for his opinion on whether or not I should return the jeans or keep them.
Him: “No. I don’t like them. Not at all. Those are hugging you in all the wrong places.”
Me: (Stunned shock with aghast facial expression.)
Him: “What? You asked for my opinion. Did you not want me to tell you?”
Sensing one of their own was under attack, the boys came to their father’s aid.
Teenage son: “Yeah, Mom! You said you wanted his opinion and he told you.”
Me: “Okay, listen boys. For future reference, when a woman tries something on and asks if you like the jeans or the dress or the bathing suit or whatever it is, you have every right to say you don’t like it. But what you should NOT do is act like you’re witnessing a train wreck. You don’t want the expression on your face to say ‘Oh, the horror!’ And you definitely don’t want to use a phrase like ‘all the wrong places’ because it implies that the woman has ‘wrong places.’ See what I mean?”
Tom: “No, boys. Just remember that this kind of question is always a trap. Just say you have to use the bathroom and then sprint out of the room.”
Caught in the midst of a verbal tennis match, the boys looked to me for the answering volley.
Me: “That’s not true, boys. Women want an honest opinion but they want you to say it in a gentle way. You could say, ‘Hmmm…I guess those jeans are okay, but I think your other jeans are much better. You look great in your other jeans, but that pair isn’t my favorite.’ See? It’s less about what you say than how you say it. Understand?”
The boys and their father looked at me blank-faced, as if they honestly couldn’t tell the difference between my softer, gentler response and the one their father had delivered while grimacing, as if the sight of those ill-fitting jeans caused him actual pain.
Me: “Never mind. Go eat your burgers. I’m taking these jeans back to the mall.”
We must also teach our young sons when to say nothing at all. A few days after the jeans incident, I’d had a particularly frustrating day at work and decided to reward myself for getting through it. I retrieved the tub of chocolate ice cream from the freezer, promising myself I’d only “clean up the edges” and then put it away.
I’d lost count of how many edges I’d cleaned up when 11-year-old Jack walked into the room. He peered into the ice cream container and said, “Geez, Mom.” As you might imagine, I didn’t appreciate his tone, not to mention those judgey eyes.
Me: “Listen, boy. Here’s an important life lesson. If you ever walk into a room and see a woman eating directly out of a carton of ice cream, you should say nothing. I mean zero. Don’t even look at her. Pretend you weren’t there at all. Just walk away.”
Jack nodded his head and backed safely out of the room without another word. I think these guys are finally catching on.
Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.