[T]he men I spoke with agreed that women are too sensitive, though most of them were reluctant to talk on the record. I promised anonymity, though, and they piped up:
"Apologize? What language is that?"
"Women care too much."
"One of the first requirements of getting into relationships with women is to rehearse saying 'I'm sorry' as many times as possible."
"If a husband speaks in the forest and no one hears him, is he still wrong?"
I pressed on, and asked men to explain exactly why they apologize -- when they do:
"To move on."
"To end the drama." (Hmm. This from a man who's apologized recently to me.)
"To be honest, men never -- well, almost never -- have any idea what we are apologizing for," says Mark Stevens, 63, chief executive of MSCO, a Rye Brook, N.Y., marketing consulting firm.
Mr. Stevens says during his 35-year marriage he has sincerely apologized to his wife, Carol, just five times -- but has said he's sorry an additional 3,500 times. He calls these mea culpas "fraudulent apologies."
These men argue that women are "too sensitive" -- yet they lack the courage to say this openly. If they think there is merit to this idea that the lion's share of the interpersonal conflict in their life stems from this source, why not make the case? The fact that they maintain one face toward their partner and another under conditions of anonymity suggests that they are afraid to be themselves.
I think one of the effects of patriarchy, the authority of men imposed on women, is to deny both men and women the opportunity to be whole persons. This is plainly evident in how our society chooses to see women -- as fragments of who they in fact are. But men also experience fragmentation in their own way, by surrendering who they could become: people who aren't afraid to be themselves in any context.