He started, “Once upon a time, three little brown bears.”
“No, no, that’s not right!” she shouted, interrupting him before he could get to the action. “They weren’t little, there weren’t three of them and they weren’t brown.”
“Wait!” he protested, putting up a finger. “Who is telling this story, you or me?”
“No, well, if you’re going to tell it, tell it right,” she argued.
“But it’s a children’s story,” he snapped. “Can’t we just tell the story?”
“You want him to go to school with the wrong details? You want him to come home with a bloody nose because someone punched him when he argued about whether they were little brown bears or medium-sized, endangered polar bears?”
“You think our kid is going to get into a fight because I might have used the wrong details in a story? Weren’t we trying to put the kid to sleep? Look at him now. He’s crawling all over the bed, putting everything he can reach into his mouth,” he said.
“Yeah, well, get the details right next time,” she huffed, storming out of the room.
What is it about storytelling that divides the sexes? Why is it that a man remembers a story one way and a woman seems so much better at remembering the details?
Is it fair to generalize? Well, like every generalization, yes and no.
A friend recently shared his observation that his girlfriend, whom he thinks is absolutely one of the best people he’s ever known, has only one small problem — she tends to take all the momentum out of his stories by correcting him.
Is she wrong, I wondered? And even if she’s not wrong, do the details matter? When I thought about all the couples I’ve known over the years, it seemed to me, in my nonscientific recollections, that the women were more likely than the men to halt a story to fix a detail.
“So, there were we were, in the middle of a fire alarm scare in Boston, and we were standing at the window ledge, eight stories up,” he might be saying.
“No! No! We were in San Francisco, not Boston, and we were on the 11th floor,” she might suggest.
A glare and bad body language often follows, as the man loses the thread of his story while he grinds his teeth, wondering whether he can or should confront the love of his life in front of other people.
Is this one of those differences between the sexes that reflect the fact that men are from Mars and women are from Venus? I suspect it is. The way I see it, the details we share about our lives in stories are like the fish we might collect if we were standing at the edge of a pier in Stony Brook, dropping nets into the water to catch fish — or story details — as they swim by.
The holes in a man’s net are larger, letting the small fish swim through, while the holes in the women’s nets are smaller. The women pull up their nets and notice and count the large and small fish, paying meticulous attention to everything, cataloging the variety of fish in their nets.
The men look at the fish and wonder: (a) “Is this enough for dinner?” (b) “Should I take a picture of it?” and most importantly (c) “Did I catch more fish than my brother or the stranger at the end of the pier who kept bragging about all the fish he caught?”
The next time a man’s story goes off track because of specific details, maybe he can suggest he’s focusing on the “bigger fish.” Then again, a woman might rightfully reply that he’s just telling another “fish” story.