Rethinking Girl Talk

Three Upset Women TalkingIt may be time to rethink the time-honored tradition of girl talk.  We’re all been there—a bottle of wine in hand, we get together with our closest friends in order to vent about everything that is wrong with our lives.  “My boyfriend never helps around the house.  He just lazes around playing video games with his friends,” one woman will complain as the rest nod sympathetically, and someone reaches over to top up her glass.  Then someone else chimes in with her boyfriend’s misdeeds, each rendition making the men in question sound on par with either the Unabomber or Attalla the Hun.  At the end of the evening, the bottles of wine long since consumed, no Woman Drinking Wineconclusions have been reached about what each woman should do, but every woman leaves even more firmly convinced that her life is terrible and she is wholly justified about the complaints that she is making.

As scientists from the University of Missouri have discovered during their research, while endlessly stewing over your complaints does make you feel better initially, it actually leaves you feeling worse off and more upset than before.  They suggest that women should, rather than focus endlessly upon their problems, seek advice on how to remedy the situation—ie. focus on discovering a solution rather than the problem itself.  Focusing on the solution shifts a potentially negative conversation into a positive one, and makes problems seem like surmountable temporary burdens rather than impassible mountains.

As a woman, I can tell you that I am prone to blowing things out-of-proportion.  Whenever I have problems in my relationship,Man and Woman Hugging I go to one particularly level-headed friend for advice.  My long-suffering boyfriend, while frequently enjoying the fruits of these conversations when my friend tells me that I’m being an idiot and overly dramatic, has in the past expressed reservations about the weight that I put on my friend’s advice, particularly since she isn’t an ever-present fly on the wall.  Ironically, I value her advice for precisely that reason:  if she, who has only heard my version of the story, still tells me that I’m being an idiot, there’s a pretty good chance that I’m actually being one.  After conversations with her, I leave feeling less burdened down by my own worries, and with my relationship in better shape than it was before our chat.

Contrast this with the occasional conversations that I have with another friend.  She and I have very different ideals of what we want our romantic relationships to look like—hers is more of a partnership between two people who are in perfect or near-perfect lockstep with one another, while mine involves more of a partnership between two people who still maintain separate lives of their own.  Unsurprisingly, this makes her overly Man and woman arguingcritical of my relationship and, consequently, when I bring up problems that I’m currently having, she encourages me to dwell on them, commenting on how terrible my problems are rather than focusing upon how to fix them.  After a conversation with her, I leave more convinced that my boyfriend is terrible, unreasonable human being (he isn’t, at least, not any more so than your average person), leaving me more stressed and my relationship worse off than before.

Clearly, I need to spend less time dwelling on relationship issues with Person B and more time talking to Person A.  Now that I’ve thought about it, it seems obvious, even without the researcher’s findings.  Ah well, I suppose everything seems obvious once you’ve realized/discovered it.

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