February 9, 2010 / Nancy Diraison
How Men and Women perceive time differently
[This article will be one of many chapters under our title series, “Reversing Eden”. The purpose of this series is to address areas of conflict between men and women that can be improved with understanding of their God-granted differing qualities. We hope the ideas presented in these articles can help smooth the path back to what was originally intended — peace in relationships!]
I begin with a brief story. The story is true. It happened to an elderly widow I know when she was very young. In her late teens or early 20’s, she was working for a woman whose son took an interest in her. No special relationship was formed, at least not in her mind. The young man, however, was thinking something else, though nothing formal ensued, to be either declined or accepted. He enlisted in the military, and told my friend that when he returned he would marry her. My friend heard not one word from him for five years. Meanwhile she married and had two children. One day the first young man, now an accomplished and confident soldier, appeared on the scene, totally shocked she had not waited for him! What was he thinking? What HAD he been thinking for five long years? Or did he lose track of time?
Women often complain that their men don’t seem to mind time the same way they do. They are right. The women may badger, complain, belittle the men and guilt-trip them for forgetting details that are simply not on their minds. They get busy at work, forget to notify they will be late. Maybe it’s safer NOT to notify, because they get chewed out anyway (damned if they do and damned if they don’t). Cut them some slack. Maybe they are too tired to think but won’t say so.
Sidetracking for a moment…
It is difficult for most people living today to remember a time before instant communication. Those who were around even before telephones are for the most part no longer with us — centenarians excepted. Some remember when phones were unreliable, hard to locate and expensive to use. Snail mail was the routine and that worked for centuries. People lived without communication. By boat it took months to get mail anywhere. Wagon trains were not very helpful either, but better than nothing. The pony express was an improvement. Trains and planes came later. Never mind the internet which has destroyed all aspects of patience. We once survived without it.
Since forever, men have always had jobs to do, often very tough jobs. Work is their fulfillment; it is how they fulfill their existence, using their talents and providing for others. Providing and protecting is their mission. They need to be appreciated; they crave respect for what they do. It’s not complicated, or shouldn’t be.
Men often disappeared for years, fighting wars, in maritime work, exploration — even cattle drives not that long ago required months of absence. On the other hand, those men whose entire lives were occupied in small towns and villages were fairly predictable, but again the only communication was face-to-face. What did women do in the interim? They waited.
Today no one wants to wait for anything. Countless stories abound of tired soldiers returning from months of exhausting “duty” only to find their houses, bank accounts and possessions raided and gone. Divorce papers on the table. One sad soldier was able to locate his dog which had been given away. The pet was all he had to start over with. Some go through this more than once before they give up completely. Others give up immediately and re-enlist. Some commit suicide. Often because someone didn’t wait for them.
Women experience time differently than men and in very small increments.
There are excellent reasons for that. Women are the detail life support of the family, and by extension, in much of what they do for society as a whole. Not much of what their jobs entail can wait very long to be accomplished. Babies don’t wait. Neither do school buses or scheduled appointments. There is no “time out” from the clock when caring for children, families, just as in the management of clerical and administrative details on most jobs. Everyone else’s timing often depends on the woman’s efficiency and it’s not a small responsibility.
Men, meanwhile, have other gifts, matching their responsibilities. They can be very tunnel visioned. They can focus hard and long and accomplish amazing feats. They can literally make themselves “stop thinking” about distracting subjects, even if that means people they care about. All that is very useful when working scaffolding on a high-rise building or pulling off some project; it’s no time for unrelated text messaging or phone calls.
Men have a capacity to store things in mental “boxes” until they are done with one and handle each one at a time. Don’t try to talk about one when they are busy with the other; they may not hear you!
The woman never forgets about time. Never. She is trapped in it. Ruled by it.
The woman’s mind is completely different from the man’s. In one sense it reminds me of the old-fashioned turntable recordings, which in this application means that past, present and future are constantly rotating around each other as reference points. That is why “the past” is often brought up when men resent it. It’s not that she chooses NOT to forget; often she can’t. Everything is on constant replay because it connects and relates to other events present or future. It’s very helpful for planning, as well as for training children. It can also do damage when used to revive painful reminders, something a woman would do well to avoid. There are some things that men prefer to forget. Miraculously, they are actually able to do so; that’s the truth; they may not be lying!
Another pertinent analogy is that the woman’s mind operates like a computer screen with dozens of pop-up windows. The “windows” concept is why a woman can be occupied with one task and suddenly remember something that needs to be on the shopping list, or the phone call that has to be made “right now”, etc. It all seems disconnected but it’s not.
If a woman seems obsessed with the details it’s likely because if for once in her life the details are all taken care of, she may just have a moment left over for herself. Which seldom happens. One upset in the details and there goes her plan, unless she’s more resourceful than most.
Now I’m going to take “time”, lift it to a different dimension, and shed light on a historical reference that is easily glossed over without picking up the significance.
Who created time?
God created time, when he established the creation, the seasons, and the first day and night cycles, based on the physical heavens. He himself is not bound by time. We are told, “a day with him is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day…” (II Peter 3:4, Ps. 90:4). Our purpose is not to elaborate on that but to preface the following story. If not familiar to all, it leadsto an important point worth absorbing.
This particular story is about the Biblical patriarch Jacob, whose name was later changed to Israel. Jacob, as we know, was a bit of a wheeler-dealer. After getting himself in trouble for securing the birthright away from his brother Esau, he fled to the safe distance of his uncle Laban’s vast estate, fearing for his life.
Laban was also a wheeler-dealer, and Jacob was going to be learning some hard lessons for 21 years.
Jacob fell in love with Laban’s daughter Rachel, and was subsequently tricked into marrying her sister Leah instead. That was in keeping with customs of the time and place, that the eldest daughter was to marry first.
The “bait and switch” marriage must have been an agonizing shock to Jacob, as it is to us now upon reading it. The uncle then stipulated that Jacob must work another seven years to obtain Rachel’s hand in marriage. Tragically, what would likely have been a wonderful marriage between Jacob and Rachel turned into a terribly confused and dysfunctional family with more than one woman bearing Jacob’s children, but that is another subject.
Here’s the catch, and the pertinent passage.
From Genesis 29:18-19: “Now Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, “I will serve you seven years for Rachel your younger daughter. And Laban said: “It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to another man. Stay with me, So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed only a few days to him because of the love he had for her.” (New King James)
I have tried to imagine the agony and grief Rachel must have gone through day by day as this mess unfolded. She expected to be married to the love of her life, and found herself usurped by her own sister, by order of their father. For seven years she endures her expected husband living with Leah. Did those seven years seem like “a few days” to Rachel? I choke at the thought. To her, every day must have seemed like a hundred. And they were painful days. Later the strife which ensued as a result of the non-monogamous marriage carried forward to the half-siblings as well. That’s how we end up with the brothers selling Joseph into slavery years later. The situation spawned jealousy, because Jacob always loved Rachel, and Joseph was her son.
Meanwhile, Jacob, with his undying, passionate love for Rachel, focused for seven years on his work because she was his motivation. He did it for her. His God-given masculine qualities are what enabled him to carry through and follow through. Though he must have been traumatized by events, he was able to function, bury the thoughts, and work.
A woman can only puzzle at how seven years would seem like “a few days” to a man. But this story tells us that a man’s conception of time approaches a quality closer to God’s own. Which is why he needs his helper. Because he is only human. He can’t do the big stuff and the little stuff at the same time. Can love bridge this gap? It should!
A man can sideline feelings, ignore time, and not even be aware he is doing it. A woman cannot ignore time, details, and is unable to detach emotions. That is an important understanding.
The stress a woman takes out on her man is often due to some detail interference with her planning. Her mistake is turning it into personal conflict; his in not taking it seriously.
Both need to understand where their viewpoints are coming from!
Using Kindness to Overcome Conflict
In any area of conflict there is usually room for personal growth, especially between people who care about each other and are willing to work on the problem.
Differences in time perception are absolutely real and are at the core of many unnecessary arguments and conflicts.
Since God is not bound to time as the created universe is, it is quite possible he purposely designed the man’s mind with the capacity to “space out” time, so he can do his job and specifically ignore distractions.
When a man forgets details — anniversaries, birthdays, the kid’s football game, the item on the shopping list, etc. — is it the proper response to assume his forgetting was deliberate? Is the proper response to nag, complain, badger and accuse? If he forgets to tell his wife he loves her every day, does that mean he has stopped loving? Or is his ability to focus to the exclusion of interfering information the more natural explanation? Yesterday and today may be the same to him. He told you yesterday, that carries forward for… seven years… and beyond?
Not to the woman!
On her side, the woman needs renewal every day, if possible. If she is craving her man’s attention and getting none, she stresses. His love for her is her motivation, just as doing his job for her is his. She needs reassurance. That is not complicated, or shouldn’t be, if she’s mature and not clinging out of co-dependence (that’s another problem).
Assuming people are literate and can talk, this should be easy to resolve. Women have the upper hand in initiating communication in this area, simply because they are the ones on top of the details, and men are the ones who don’t notice.
Men can improve in paying attention, and making time to listen.
Women need to be reasonable, time their demands, and be patient.
If a man tells his wife on Monday that he loves her, that doesn’t mean she doesn’t need to hear it again on Tuesday and other days of the week. She has not forgotten what was said before, but the turntable in her mind needs a new track engraved every day. Remember her life is running on a different clock.
Barring evidence to the contrary, women, give your men the benefit of the doubt. Cut them some slack. Stop blaming. Stop expecting. Let them focus on their work. Clear the decks of details for them and let them be free of those. If they are going to be late for dinner, have a “Plan B”, skip the fit, and be kind to them. A reasonable man won’t mind the cold food; it’s better than your tongue-lashing. Putting the meal ahead of their job is not going to put them in a good mood in any case.
On the flip side, men need to be aware their focus is often perceived as neglect in other directions. They should resist letting themselves feel diminished if they are wrongly criticized and say so. It is not warranted. To compensate for the problem, make time with the spouse to talk. Try to fix a time when you both can do so calmly. Knowing the opportunity is coming can be especially helpful to the woman.
If a man is doing his job, be thankful. Be thankful he has a job. Joblessness can be a man’s greatest misery, and he will make it yours as well. He also needs gratitude from those he loves.
In the process of meeting this subject of time, somewhere in the middle, there is so much room for love and kindness to grow. Make the most of the potential for conflict to grow in kindness towards one another. Plus, if there are children watching, they will learn from what they observe, and love you both all the more for the security they glean from your peace.
Copyright 2019 Nancy Diraison/DiraisonPublishing. All Rights Reserved. [All Photos Dreamstime stock photos.]
[Suggested Reading: “For Men Only” and “For Women Only”; terrific books by Shaunti and Jeff Feldham].