If I had it all my own way…

If I had it all my own way…

I’ve been reading some intriguing work about the differences between men and women: The Keys to the Kingdom and The Queen’s Code, both by Alison Armstrong. (Her main website is www.understandmen.com if you’d like to find out about her research. I like that her books are framed as novels, because they give pictures of how to change our interactions rather than simply intellectual ideas.)

One of my takeaways from The Queen’s Code is the notion of negotiating for what one actually desires rather than what you think you deserve, can manage, or is generally feasible. The specific example given is of a women who teaches, and who needs to lessen her domestic load for the first week of term; her dilemma is that her husband greatly prefers home-cooked food. Having had previous conversations about how unhelpful it is to compare ourselves and others to some perfect person or situation, her mentor suggests that instead of starting with “In an ideal world…”, she create a deal with her husband starting with… “If I had it all my own way…”

In her particular case, this is how it went:

  • “If I had it all my own way, we would have home-cooked meals during Hell Week, without my having to shop or cook.”
  • Husband: “You’re right, I’ve seen how you get stressed—how can I help?”
  • Wife: “Can you do the shopping if I give you a list? What about the cooking?”
  • Husband: “Maybe we can cook together, the week before…?”
  • Wife: “That meets my needs beautifully. Do you need anything to provide that for me?”
  • Husband: “
  • Wife: “It’s a deal!” And so they did, and both enjoyed it; she felt supported and provided for, while he enjoyed helping, protecting, and providing for her. They had fun together in the kitchen, and she got the results she actually wanted rather than having to compromise.

There are two points that really struck me. First, of course, the gal got what she wanted because she was able to ask for it from a place of potential rather than perfection (in an ideal world) or pragmatism (is it okay to ask for this? Is it practical or fair?). She had a clear picture of what she wanted, and created the space to allow it in, without apology.

Secondly, she pitched it as a problem to be solved rather than a complaint, or a need to be rescued (meaning an after-the-fact, “now I’m in a panic” situation that could have been foreseen and planned for). In terms of Alison Armstrong’s perspective, presenting an issue in advance is a mitzvah (a blessing) for the man (who gets to enjoy helping, protecting, providing and being a hero) and for the woman (who gets to practice receiving that help and provision).

My own teacher Dorothy Espiau taught that ‘women are computers, men are printers’. That is, women are more accomplished at processing, while men (in general) are better at the output side, the action steps that bring that processing into form. Want the kitchen to be a different color? Discuss it with your women friends, then tell your guy what color it should be, and he’ll either paint it or bring in a couple of friends and they’ll do it together. Keeping in that mind usually makes any negotiation easier, and it gets easier still if we are able to state what we actually desire, with some detachment, and willingness to meet the other’s needs in exchange.

Now, re-reading this particular part of The Queen’s Code brought the obvious question up in my mind: “If I had it all my way… ?” What does that look like to you? If you could arrange your life exactly and completely the way you desire, without the doubts, fears, practical considerations and all the other limiting factors we have been trained into considering? Let your desires run free, write them down, and bring them into form!

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