A few weeks ago, Dean Esmay wrote some advice for men on what to do when women come to men looking for someone to talk to. The juicy portion is worth quoting at some length:
Indeed, I have one recommendation for every male on the planet, one that I think each and every male needs to learn: When a woman is upset about something, and she is telling you why she is upset, do not make any suggestions about what she could do to fix her situation.
I mean it. Don't do it. If she's describing to you why she's upset, about almost anything, never, never, never, never, never, never, NEVER give so much as the hint of a suggestion as to what she could do about it. Just listen, and nod, and tell her how that you can relate to how and why she's upset.
You're not being patronizing if you do this. You're just getting your head into the female psyche. Because if you make so much as one suggestion about what she could do to fix the situation, she will think you are an asshole.
The emphases are his. He says it should be in the Bible, but it's already in my bible, Good Intentions: The Nine Unconscious Mistakes of Nice People by Duke Robinson: “Although we may receive a great deal of affirmation from those who believe rescuing is what nice people ought to do for friends, these efforts are a mistake.” Robinson says this is so because—and I use his headings, so the following words are his—it doesn't work, it prolongs their destructive behaviour, it perpetuates dependence on us, it involves deception, it harms us, and it is another, more subtle form of addiction. (Note that Esmay is giving advice, also a sin in Robinson's book.) Esmay goes on to change the subject and talk about what he likes in women, and the things they are better than men at.
Julia responds by talking about her life with her husband. She cites Fran, who says: “If you ask a guy how something feels emotionally, he typically says, even with the best of intentions, “I don't know. I hadn't thought about it.”” In other words, guys can get emotional, but we hide them "better".
Lisa says she “often percieved my husband's efforts to "fix" my problem as a strategy (however unconscious) of avoiding getting in here with me with my uncomfortable emotions.” "However unconcious"?
All are worth reading and considering on their merits. They all deal with married couples, and not being in a married relationship, but with enough experience "listening" to women, I can say that it's not worth it. It's not listening that's the problem, really, but what many women say to their best guy friends and the expectation that they have to listen to it without consequences, especially without the women considering that what they say might be construed by the men as negative. Many times, these men will judge negatively what the women are telling them, but, wisely, they keep this to themselves. When these men make the mistake of telling women to whom they "listen" about their negative judgment, then they, the men, are castigated for not being "true friend". Honesty, it seems, is not the best policy but rather silence. In other words negatively construing what a woman tells a man is best done not at all.
I got tired of "listening" about a year ago. Before going on, I must, however, make a concession: all relationships require maintenance. Also, everybody needs to air out their grievances once in a while, be it about the person with whom they are having the conversation or somebody else. (Better somebody else, and someone who can keep a secret. In the age of the Internet, that is more and more difficult.) So when female friends came to me about their difficulties with their boyfriends, yes, they just needed someone to talk to and I tried my best to nod my head and ask questions and not propose solutions. Because sometimes proposing solutions means you become part of the problem.
So while proposing a solution is an error to be avoided, it is usually the direct result of a prior error, and that is listening to the complaints in the first place. I stopped doing that about a year ago, when a women—whom I hardly even knew, it should be added—msg'd me saying that she had just broke up with her boyfriend. Instead of being the "nice", "compassionate" "listener" I used to be, I didn't respond, and waited for her to logout. We haven't talked since.
There are relationships I have with women that I don't want to lose, because, put plainly, it's fun having them around. They're interesting people who do interesting things and talk about interesting things. It took me a while to realize that one friend of mine was less intimidating than I led myself to believe, as when I actually listened to what she said, what she had to say was interesting and she was unlike many of my female friends in that she didn't park any of her personal drama in my lap. It took me a while to realize that when she talked, she made me forget about myself. Some of the other women I listened to were because I thought they might one day be my girlfriend. (In the long-run, maybe that works, but I'm no longer willing to stick around to find out.) Other women I "listened" to, but felt no romantic or sexual attraction to—that is not to suggest they are not attractive—just needed someone to be there. Well, I'm done with that.
I won't pretend to know what the alternative is to "listening", nor do I know what options women who expect to find in me someone who will "listen" have. I tried convincing one woman that I was tired of being her "girlfriend". Maybe "big sister", in the sense that Milhouse was Lisa's "big sister"—I loved how Milhouse's brain erroneously told him “When she sees you'll do anything she says, she's bound to respect you”—would have been a better analogy. Regardless, she needed a female friend who better understood what she was going through in whom she could confide than a guy who would never understand. I also can't give much counsel on how to avoid the conversations that lead to "listening". Maybe some kind of protocol or cookie-cutter sentence like "Look, this is really none of my business" is needed for when women bring up the subject of their vaginas or of their asshole boyfriends' capricious temper. To avoid even the mere subject being brought up, what I need to figure out—and what guys who are known for their "listening" skills also need to figure out—is how to be so busy being active members of society that they won't even have time to be a "listener", saving themselves torment while at the same time doing the things that actually get them girlfriends.