Do you have a problem solver in your life? No, I’m not talking about someone who tackles the logistics of a trip or troubleshoots a circuitry problem with your garage door opener. I’m talking about the person who—when you say, “Brr, I’m cold!”—suggests you put a jacket on.
You do, don’t you? So do I.
My dad was my first problem-solving specialist. “Daddy,” I’d say, as I slowly rotated my arm backwards, “it hurts when I move my arm like this.”
“Well don’t move your arm like that.”
I guess I was hoping he’d say, “I’m sorry, Sweetie” but no, he chose to cloud the issue with sound logic.
Similarly, when I say I’m cold, I’m just seeking camaraderie. Because, as it turns out, I actually know my options for warming up.
I used to think it was a guy thing—that they were more hard-wired to be solution-oriented and less inclined to devote time to seemingly idle chit-chat. Most guys never seemed to put much stock in volleying corroborative observations just for the sake of interaction (i.e. I’m tired … Me, too! I’ve been hot all day … Right? Bring on fall. I’m starving … Same here, I must have a tape-worm.)
But lately I’ve come across more and more women who have multiple solutions to my problems.
Me: I’m so sleepy today.
Problem-Solving Guru Girl: Have you had any caffeine?
Me: The weekends just don’t seem long enough anymore.
Problem-Solving Guru Girl: Do you have any vacation days to tack on to the weekend?
Me: I feel like I’ve been so forgetful lately.
Problem-Solving Guru Girl: Are you sleeping enough? Sleep deprivation can really affect your memory. So can low levels of B-12.
My new theory is less gender-centric and more brain-specific. I think people who are literal are the ones most eager to impart helpful solutions.
I’m not very literal-minded, so I tend to think my conversation partner is just wanting to converse—you know, banter back and forth with no real intent to wrap things up quickly. If she says, “Ugh, I so hate Mondays.” I’m pretty sure she just wants to know the feeling is mutual.
By no means do I assume she wants to hear, “You do? Are you unhappy in your job? Have you considered doing something you look forward to rather than something you dread? Do you have an updated resume? One that’s not comic sans?”
I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, unless I preface my statement with:
“Hey, let me get your opinion”
“I could use some advice”
“Tell me how you’d handle this”
… then I’m not actually requesting your nifty problem-solving skills. Anything short of the aforementioned prefaces is just the two of us shooting the breeze. It’s not a covert ploy to get advice.
If we’re hanging out and I say, “I’ve been thirsty all day”, you absolutely have to know that—AS A FULLY GROWN ADULT WHO IS STILL ALIVE—I know how to hydrate myself. So saying, “You should get something to drink” simply isn’t needed. Telling me that “unquenchable thirst” is the #1 symptom of type 2 diabetes is overkill. I was just looking for a friend who wanted to make a Sonic run.
Hey, I like solving (real) problems as much as anyone. The difference is, not being very literal-minded, I don’t hear things like, “I need a pedicure in the worst way” and feel I should spring into action with the remedy, “Day spas offer those—you should book one.”
Of course it goes deeper than this, too. I had a friend tell me about going home after a particularly terrible day at work and just letting loose with everything that went down, why it upset her and how she would properly reflect her feelings on Facebook—until her husband interrupted her—not with exasperation, but with … wait on it … solutions.
His suggestions were logical, on point and precisely fitting—but she wasn’t looking to solve a problem. She was hoping to vent. She was looking for a listening ear.
Operative word: LISTENING. Guys, if you can
stomach sacrifice a little chunk of time to just nod and actively listen with your eyes, you might escape with uttering only a handful of words. If you can be present and listen, once she takes a breath finishes, just nod and say, “I hear ya. That would ruin my day, too.”
Bang. You will be amaaazed at how quickly she can wrap it up if you just listen and commiserate with a short, heartfelt, “Yeah, that sucks, Honey—I’m sorry.”
Problem Solvers … if you are even half-way plugged into your partner, you will KNOW when she wants advice or solutions. If you don’t see inquisitive eyes or hear something like, “What should I do?” then always, always opt for simply uniting in fury or disgust or shock with her. Save your commercial-grade problem-solving skills for a time when they’re truly needed—like exacting revenge on people who post/pin pictures of animals with baby-talking captions.
Non literal-minded people … help out your brethren. They’re not trying to upset you by offering up (obvious) solutions, so let them know—before lift-off—if you just need to vent.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said, “Ok, look. I need to talk, so just let me talk. I’m not asking for a game plan, I just need to vent.” It works. And if, in the middle of your unleashing, they get all Literal-Linda and forget to NOT HELP, shoot them a quick reminder look or press your index finger to their lips. People love that.
The truth is, we all think differently and have unique brains. So in the same way, “You should eat” in response to, “I’m famished” makes me want to hurl a boulder through a window … that same literal-minded person is exhausted by the constant stream of rhetorical banter that flows so freely from my aggravating lips.
Side Note: I think the best, happiest couples are a mix of both types. No matter where we fall on the scale, we all need someone to balance us out. Imagine a world where everyone walked around saying: I’m exhausted. I’m full. My skin is dry. I don’t like to eat broccoli. Ugh, no thank you! But on the flip-side, you can’t have a planet of problem-solvers with no problems to solve.
So, if you’re single, perhaps you should stop looking at what a potential spouse does for a living or how he or she treats the wait staff. Look for your opposite. Somewhere in the middle of your first date, tell them you don’t like your new toothpaste. See if they say, “You should buy a different brand” or “Don’t you hate that?” It might be all you need to know.
Advice To People Who Are Constant Recipients Of Unsolicited Problem-Solving: Be patient and be kind. No one is trying to harm you with help.
Advice To Problem-Solvers: Most people over the age of 3 understand their options for regulating body temperature, quenching thirst, satiating hunger and acquiring rest. For you, in simple terms, that means less trouble-shooting and more nodding … even if in your head you’re thinking, “put a sweater on, drink some Gatorade, eat a corndog, take a nap” … please, just nod and make a supportive noise of some sort.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m thirsty and hungry and need to go tell someone all about it.
I’d love for you to join me on Facebook … it’s good for your health.