“Women are meant to be loved, not understood.” Oscar Wilde
I have a problem with a woman. A particular one. And getting worse.
Ever since I had started my medical practice almost thirty years ago she has been coming every day, rain or shine, to share her multiple woes with me. She sits down on the opposite side of my desk, looks me straight in the eye and says the same words: “I am emotionally frustrated.” Her name. Emma Bovary.
When I read “Madame Bovary” as a student in the “Alliance Francaise” of Montevideo, I was mesmerized by the story of a beautiful and ardent wife of a country medical practitioner that could not find any solace in her grey existence. At the time I could not fathom how she could be so ungrateful to her loving husband, to the point of being unfaithful. However, the ensuing studies and practice as a medical doctor gave me the necessary insight to understand, if still not agree with, the cause of her resilient, profound angst. More and more I could discover the multiple big and small, yet none the less painful, humiliations and scorn almost all women must endure with unequal stoicism during their lives.
A common misconception is that women speak more than men. Wrong. They are only more careful in what they say as our words can hurt our feelings. I had left my copy of the novel in a box full of books in my mother’s living room; somehow, she sprung out of it to pursue me all the way to my Miami residence.
Even in a hyper-connected age, she still cannot get her message through. The proliferation of mixed messages in the social media platforms has increased her confusion as her connections seem to be more tone-deaf to her complaints. As the tragic trifecta of memory, love and the passage of time relentlessly gnaws at her soul, she has been nagging me to sit down and transcribe what she has told me. The Spanish language differentiates between the role of “escritor”—someone that is inspired by a haughty mission—and the mundane one of “escribidor”—a shady agent that struggles with words and tends to sink in dark undercurrents. I am her escribidor—squabbling with thrifty muses and fighting off mean demons.
A strange phenomenon has occurred to me almost imperceptibly but firmly: the causes of her “emotional frustration” have started to percolate into my mind. Moreover, the daily exercise of listening attentively has developed in my manly brain one of the greatest wonders that women are endowed with: mirror neurons. Slowly I have learned to read almost any rictus of her face without any exchange of words. I can even discern how her mood is by just looking at the way she steps in. Prodded by the cultural and socio-economic constraints of a still patriarchal society, they have been more focused on “association” rather then “action” like we men had. In order to find out quickly and prudently what their children and other members of their clan needed, women have developed this gift ever since our times in the caves. But men can start to close the gap by doing what they beg us to do: listen to them.
Sigmund Freud was perhaps the first man ever that really listened to women. In his Vienna medical cabinet, Freud sat down next to a lady that would start to “freely associate” to open her mind and heart to the scrutiny of a researcher. Thus he had the courage to study what his master Charcot had dismissively considered as “la chose genitale” when they were examining hysterical patients in La Salpetriere. The extraordinarily rich emotional armamentarium of a woman exposes her to multiple instances of frustration when her goals, or those of people she cares about, are not reached for sexual, familiar, financial, professional and even social reasons. After his workday, Freud had the temerity to go back home to listen to this wife and, if some unconfirmed reports are true, his sister-in-law too— his secret lover. Brave. Dangerously so.
I have noticed the rising importance of female bonding in Emma’s life. Women—historically oppressed by patriarchal institutions and biologically burdened by the travails of the family—usually find the needed emotional support and social connectedness within their circle of friends, both male and female. Moreover, as women live more of their adult lives without a steady partner or a traditional family, they share more purposes and experiences with their loyal friends.
Based on his clinical experience, Antón Chekov wrote about the paradoxical facets of our behaviour. Human beings are biologically hardwired for contradiction—the essence of all the creative processes—because we all have two brains and two minds. The Left “propositional” Hemisphere is logical and analytical while the Right “appositional” hemisphere is perceptual and synthetic. As a result, all the sensory input to the Right Hemisphere (originating in the body’s left side) is stored without any hard analysis or judgement. Contradictions coexist in a certain harmony there. Women have more neural connections, through the Corpus Callosum, between the Right and Left hemispheres, thus better integrating the “emotional aspect” in deeds.
In a few days we will celebrate the second anniversary of our medical and literary web page at https://drmolaplume.com ,which has been a resounding success; we have grouped our writings in series, one of which was “Emotional frustration.” It constituted the necessary scaffolding to slowly start constructing this sailing boat, besides gauging the reaction of our readers and pleading for their propitious hawa. I would like to especially thank my two children for their unfaltering support all these years besides helping me in concrete ways. Noel Marie designed the beautiful cover and Gian Luca helped me edit the text; both have commented many articles. As Life is a perpetual journey along the treacherous channels to Wisdom that our ancestors had navigated before us, I would like to thank my grandparents and parents for their genetic endowment of indefatigable discoverers and a sure moral compass.
Dear readers, trying to discern what the major causes of emotional frustration in our modern women are might seem like an impossible task, especially for us men. However, I do believe that I can retrace my steps to the early, hardy days of the start of my medical studies where I had to sit down face to face with a woman—sometimes with the company of other female students—in the clinical ward of the university hospital of the Facultad de Medicina of the Universidad de La Plata. It was right there that I started to hone my intuition skills to try “to understand women.” From that point it has been a continuous learning process with its ups and downs.
This essay is meant not only for emotionally frustrated-women but men too. Whether we like it or not, we are now living in a totally on-demand environment. The time lapse between awareness, desire and reward has been reduced to an instant. If the streaming platforms release all the episodes of a series in a single day, we must realize that entertainment has taken a new dimension, especially for women. If you take a lady for a romantic dinner (including someone that you have known forever like your own wife) you should expect her to scrutinize closely you for any faux-pas and quietly expect the right moves—verbal and physical. Binge-watching-reacting. You must be able to “sell her” your brand every time both interact romantically. Reality takes a backseat to the magic of entertainment. It’s what she sees in you. To succeed in this mellifluous Houdini-type magic, you must combine the storytelling prowess of brand marketers with the action-driven stunts of performance marketers.
Someone trying “to market their brand”—please don’t get me the silly, cheap litany that we shouldn’t objectify human beings when we all know that in the social media that is precisely how we are considered for practical reasons—has to leverage this new paradigm to their advantage by taking recourse to many best practices advocated by some psychologists, social researchers, philosophers, writers, survey specialists and even a few “dirty tricks” by enthusiastic lovers of ladies—but not from moi as I turned into a Monk of Medicine that has lost much of his memory. In order to stimulate men to make a little effort in the learning process—and bring some much-needed relief to the devoted women in their lives—I will take the liberty to include a sub-section labelled as “A nugget of wisdom” to clarify some critical points.
Do not despair. Ignorant men can learn. Frustrated women can get relief. As Mario Benedetti—a Uruguayan writer that discussed the “little details of life”—said:
“The Impossible. It just takes a little bit more effort.”