Do You Want Advice or Do You Want Validation?

“Women don’t want advice. They just want you to listen.”

I remember the first time I learned this principle – courtesy of Alison Armstrong. In delivering her “Celebrating Men, Satisfying Women” seminar, she gave a distinctive and visual metaphor to describe how men should deal with a woman who is venting.

Alison holds out her arms into a hula hoop sized ring in front of her body… “This is a toilet,” she says. “Your job, as a man, is just to hold her hair and rub her back as she vomits her story into your toilet. As long as she’s speaking, you just hold her hair back. That’s all you’re expected to do. That’s all we WANT you to do.”

In my experience, she’s absolutely right: women do want men to listen silently and unconditionally to them as they speak. Don’t interrupt. Don’t offer advice. Don’t do anything, guys. Just listen. It’s cathartic to her and it makes her feel connected to you.

But, beyond the surface benefits of feeling better, does she LEARN anything from these good “conversations”? Probably not. It’s hard to learn anything if you’re doing all the talking. What a venting woman gets out of it is the illusion of a kindred spirit – the person who nods and understands and tells her exactly what she wants to hear: nothing.

“This is a toilet,” she says. “Your job, as a man, is just to hold her hair and rub her back as she vomits her story into your toilet.”

This isn’t, in and of itself, a bad thing. It’s what supportive girlfriends are for. The reason I’m bringing this up is because we guys have no idea how to handle such conversations. I just got off the phone with a friend who was listening to his sister vent about relationship issues for an hour on the phone. He told me he didn’t say anything the entire time, didn’t know what he was supposed to be doing, didn’t know even why they were having this conversation – since it was the same exact conversation they’d been having for months. Yet, at the end of the call, she told him that she felt better. Even though he didn’t speak. Even though she didn’t learn anything. Even though she’s going to suffer from the exact same relationship issues and be on the phone with him again in three weeks.

My advice to him – in the likely event that she comes back for more “dialogue” – is to listen to her until she’s done, and then ASK her if she’s open to hearing his thoughts. By getting her permission after a venting session, she knows he’s fully “heard” her and that he has nothing but her interests at heart. And if she doesn’t want to hear his thoughts, then that says a lot about what she sees her friends for: blank sounding boards designed to tell her what she wants to hear, as opposed to what she needs to hear.

Men are fixers. Men are problem solvers. Asking us to not do what we do naturally is a tall order.

We’ll listen to you, all right, but please know that the only reason we give you advice is because we CARE and want to HELP. In other words, we see ourselves as Good Samaritans. Unfortunately, you seem to want us to be Innocent Bystanders.

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Comments:

  1. 31
    Casey

    starthrower68 reminded me of the comments I read all the time saying… don’t try to change a man, take him as he is. But most of the advice and comments one reads about women is…how woman needs to change to get a man. Seems ironic to me.

  2. 32
    anette

    Hey!!! Something fishy is going on here!!!

    We are expected to just accept the way a man is, but when it comes to the way we are, we have to accept we need to change the way we are with men, so we can accept men for the way they are.

    errrr….. Perhaps you didn’t mean that, but this is what it sounds like.

    I am perfectly willing to accept realities of male behaviour and I know I cannot change them but it works both way’s.

    Kar R #7, you are absolutely spot on.

    When a woman talks about a problem, it makes her feel better, It makes her feel close to you, and even if you Don’t understand it, it is the way a woman is. This is one part of ourselves, wether you like it or not, that we cannot change and IF we do not feel like we have that shoulder to cry on, or yes..the set of ears to listen to us, we cannot feel close to you emotionally. And what do you think happens, when we don’t feel close to you? We don’t WANT to get close to you physically. This is not a threat, it is just a reality for women. Our libido’s are tied to our emotional state.

    Having said all that..(yes I just vented), there are a few rules I try and stick too, when it comes to venting.

    If I need to vent, I let my guy(or male friend) know I need to vent. I’ll say something like “I really need to vent, are you available”? If he cannot listen at that moment he can say no. (nicely).”Sweetie, I really can’t at the moment, but I’ll give you a call as soon as I can”.

    I accept this, as I do not expect him to “get in the mood” anymore than he should expect me to alway’s be in the mood for bedroom activities. If he never follows up however, then he will be showing me he’s not really a great male friend.

    Then, when I vent, I keep it as short as I can. I won’t vent for an hour, usually perhaps 20 minutes or so. I get it all out, and then I give him a big hug and a kiss and say thanks for listening. I also won’t continue to vent about the same thing for months, as that is getting a bit ridiculous. Yes, be that set of ears and the big ole teddy bear that we sometimes require.

    I do agree with Evan’s advice , on listening and then asking her if she wants to hear your thoughts. Sometimes, it’s really just a vent and no view is necessary however.

    Yes, women do need to make a little effort in this area, to make it easier on men, but if you expect this need for women to vent, talk and have you listen to be removed or changed eventually, then it is the equivalent of us asking you, to get rid of your desire for sex.

    Any man who asks this is asking the impossible.

    Word of advice. Find a woman who is happy, and who you like talking too. Happy women don’t need to vent AS MUCH(though they will still need it), as they will fix the big problems rather than only complain. If they do feel like a chit chat, then you’ll be interested in what she has to say.

    And if a woman say’s she doesn’t need to vent, but alway’s wants to solve the problem, you are probably dealing with a woman who creates drama/problems(and is very willing to tell you ALL about YOUR problems), so she can solve it. She will most likely give you a constant stream of unsolicited advice and then get angry when you wont’ validate her opinions by taking her advice. Be wary of a woman who say’s this, because she IS MY MOTHER!!! lol. Women WILL find a way of getting verbal validation one way or another. This is one rule, that has no exceptions in my, not so humble opinion.

  3. 33
    anette

    EEK!! Wall of text sorry :(

  4. 34
    Selena

    Re: #30

    If I were dating a guy who wouldn’t put the seat down when at my house, I might see it as a sign of disrespect and passive-aggressiveness. And he might be that way about other things as well. Hadn’t thought about it before, but yeah, that could be a red flag for me.

  5. 35
    Melissa

    Hadley… a woman wanting the toilet seat down is a red flag? Really??????
    You’re truly making Evan’s point about the danger of broad generalizations… “Women who want the toilet seat down are going to be a pain in the ass so I’m outta here”
    95% of women I know want the toilet seat down and the other 4% are just being nice and holding back from telling you they prefer it; so I guess that leaves you with 1% of datable women who TRULY don’t care.

  6. 36
    Casey

    Bob @#29: Thank you for advising me what I was thinking and feeling when I wrote my comments at #18…indignant, condemning and critical of men. I didn’t realize that was what I felt, but you cleared it right up for me, and have set me on the straight and narrow. I’ll be changing that attitude to make sure it doesn’t ever happen again.
    Reading what you said you’re post, you are right. You are a much better problem solver than me. I will now go forth in the world and live my life accordingly to what you said, because after I made only one post, you were able to identify my issues, advise me of them and solve them for me. I am impressed and grateful for your help.
    Thank you.
    P.S. In the future, I will also be sure to adhere to, and act accordingly any time I encounter a “valid stereotype.”

  7. 37
    bob

    @Casey #36

    I’m glad you understand.

  8. 38
    Betty

    Bob@29: Thank you for pointing out where Casey went wrong, and thank you, Casey, for being gal enough to own up to your character flaws. The guys on here are great problems solvers and are so reasonable. That’s the main thing. Their ability to reason. That’s why they’re such great problem solvers. And after a good day of problem solving they just want to leave the seat up. Let the one with those unreasonable girl parts solve a problem for a change!

    Really. They’re only trying to help us poor confused gals out.

  9. 39
    Evan Marc Katz

    I’m noticing a pattern. The men (myself included) offer a male viewpoint, which may contradict your female viewpoint. Yet instead of responding to the male point of view, some women occasionally attack the men themselves. Sometimes with extreme sarcasm. Sometimes with out and out attacks. Sometimes I even delete them because there’s nothing remotely constructive about them.

    I’m not playing favorites, but just observing here: even when Bob was at his most animated, he was referring to Casey’s argument, not Casey.

    He successfully paraphrased what I was driving at in the original post: “The stereotype is that most men think solely or primarily in terms of solving a problem/accomplishing a task, and are little concerned with how they feel about it. That’s what’s meant by men are problem solvers .

    Thus, it’s not that we’re “better than you” (the impression you may have had which he dispelled in his last line: I’d bet a month’s salary I’m a better problem solver than you. Not a very useful statement, now is it?) It’s that – in general – we’re task-oriented, not process oriented. We’re willing to bruise feelings to fix stuff, where women – in general – try to protect their girlfriends by supporting them. “No, you don’t look fat in those jeans,” being the most cliched example.

    While this may not apply to YOU, it applies to MANY women. Pick up a Deborah Tannen book about the linguistic differences between men and women. You’ll see. Men say “Shut the window.” Women say, “Do you think it’s cold in here?” You’ve heard this yourself, I’m sure.

    Spun another way, women are much more sensitive to feelings – and because of that – aren’t as likely to be direct or blunt. This makes women better listeners than men – who may be just as effective as men at solving problems – but know when to hold off in doing so with their own girlfriends.

    If you can acknowledge that my last “pro-woman” paragraph makes sense, I hope you can acknowledge the validity of my original post – and Bob’s comment as well – without the sarcasm and attacks.

    The kind of men who read (and write) this blog are the GOOD ones, and should be treated accordingly, instead of as an adversary, which we certainly are not.

  10. 40
    Helen

    So as not to inadvertently offend any women who read this, I’ll speak just for myself and my girlfriends:

    Venting is a form of BONDING.

    We love getting together to vent about our days, our lives, our work, partners, families, etc. Sometimes we’ll get direct advice, sometimes we won’t. It doesn’t matter – why? Because, if I can try to boil it down to its essence: the purpose of venting with friends is that you get reassurance that you’re not going crazy – that others have experienced the same thing, or are experiencing the same thing. So you’re all in it together, you’re not struggling alone, and your feelings are validated.

    I’ll share two recent examples of venting: one of my galpals started venting to me about someone she was having difficulty working with. Turns out I’d had difficulty working with him too, and had thought I was the only one! It was SO nice to hear that I wasn’t going crazy, or that there was something wrong with me or my judgment. Meanwhile she was afraid there was something wrong with HER, so I reassured her that wasn’t the case.

    Another time, I was the one venting to a different galpal about how demoralizing it was to have a mouse in the house and to have traps that weren’t doing their job. First, she made me feel better because she assured me that others were just as upset to have mice running around their house (it wasn’t just me being irrational). Then she offered multiple other solutions, one of which did eventually work.

    Venting is good for the soul. But maybe the lesson here is to do it with likeminded girlfriends, not with men? Instead, we’ll ask you men to actually catch the mice. ;-)

  11. 41
    Casey

    Evan@39:
    “Oh, and please spare us your indignation over this (very valid) stereotype. It’s tired and hackneyed (the indignation, that is). Also, you sound very critical of men. It’s old. Let it go, whatever the source of your animosity toward men is, let it go. The guys on this site don’t deserve your condemnation we’re trying to help present a reasonable male perspective.”
    So let me see if I understand this Evan — Bob’s statements quoted at the start of the previous paragraph are not directed at me personally but rather my argument…somehow I misread Bob’s statements that said “you/your” in connection with the comments — that I am indignant, very critical of men, have a lot of animosity towards men, and condemn them — by thinking he was referring to me personally?
    Huh! It must have been his use of the personal pronouns that threw me off.

  12. 42
    bob

    @Helen #40

    Wow. Let me say that again – WOW. “Venting is a form of bonding.”

    Now that really puts it into perspective for us guys!

  13. 43
    bob

    Followup to Helen #23

    Helen said: “The extrovert doesn’t vent necessarily for the purpose of advice. He or she does so to talk the problem out and thereby to better understand what to do about it.”

    Interestingly, a persons’ learning style also plays into this (check out learning styles here. Being a kinesthetic learner myself, with a strong verbal component, I learn best by doing or listening/talking ideas through. This means, that although I’m largely introverted, talking/listening/writing for me are means for developing and understanding of ideas.

    Perhaps extroverts are more often verbal or kinesthetic learners than introverts.

    I wonder what the stats are on learning styles and gender?

  14. 44
    Evan Marc Katz

    @Casey #39 Here’s some specific lines from your #18 post illustrating your attitudes towards men:

    Indignation: “Of who’s freaking problems? Certainly not mine.”

    Critical: “Frankly, I’m a better problem solver than most men and they know it.”

    Animosity: “I don’t, and never have, needed a man to solve my problems.”

    Condemnation: “Problem with guys is, they don’t want to listen and offer advice most of the time. They want to tell you what to do and if you listen, thank them for their opinion, and then make your own decision which might not be what they told you to do they get mad.”

    Thus, Casey, Bob’s observation wasn’t an attack, but an observation based on the evidence you provided in your post. You can defend yourself all you want, but you’ve already hung yourself with your own words. Bob merely said that your arguments (not you) were specious, and that such attacks didn’t serve the intelligent men who read this blog.

    I happen to agree with him. So while I encourage you to continue to offer your opinions on this forum, please leave out the personal and gender-based attacks, as evidenced by your previous comments.

  15. 45
    Selena

    My observation has been certain people enjoy venting more than others and that trait is not linked to gender. This thread rather bears this out…starting with the OP. ;)

  16. 46
    Janeen

    I am not into fighting with things about with my boyfriend. He was a seat-up kinda guy and it bothered me. I told him it bothered me. He gave me the “why does it have to be your way” defense even though I agree with the above that it isn’t “my” way, it’s the polite way. He sort of improved in his habits, but then started to “forget.” So I started leaving my open boxes of tampons and sanitary pads in the bathroom. I also used the bathroom wastebasket for my menstrual trash. And once I “forgot” to flush after changing a tampon. When he got skeeved out I just said that it was easier for me as a woman to have these things handy and that if I weren’t living with him this is how I would do things.

    He got it. No problem since. And when I say that I have a problem with something he is more open to listening and talking it out rather than stonewalling change via his behavior.

  17. 47
    Selena

    Wow Janeen! What an interesting passive-aggressive way to get the point across. Alot more pointed than buying a super thick fuzzy toliet seat cover lol.

  18. 48
    Hadley Paige

    <!– @page { margin: 0.79in } P { margin-bottom: 0.08in } –>
    RE melissa @ #35
    95% of women I know want the toilet seat down and the other 4% are just being nice and holding back from telling you they prefer it; so I guess that leaves you with 1% of datable women who TRULY don’t care.
    ____________________________________

    No Melissa it doesn’t.
    I don’t know where you live, but the population women you know are not likely statistically representative of the population women who date. This is a common error I see here. Inductively reasoning that one’s experience is representative.
    My experience has been that the last 4 women I have had LTRs with have not made an issue out of the the seat must be down or its fill in the blank here rude, gross, passive aggressive, intended to annoy me, etc, etc, etc. I guess I likely won’t be dating the women you know.
    I didn’t say if the women wants the toilet seat down I am out of there. I said it was a red flag. You attribute a completely incorrect quote to me. Let us at least get the facts straight.

  19. 49
    Selena

    So Hadley, what would think about dating Janeen?

  20. 50
    Magnolia

    I love your website. Especially since, at 53 years of age, I’m still trying to figure out the male psyche. :) Totally fusin’
    It is true, women want to be “heard”. They don’t want to be fixed, managed, advised or corrected. I can’t speak for all women, but I can tell you that if I want advice I will specifically ask…”What do you *think* about this” or “Will you help me this?” of “I don’t understand what to do, do you? can you fix this?”
    In fact, I’m very good with language in general and I know I’ve told my husband of over 11 years now that when I want advice, I will ASK for advice. I promise. To date he doesn’t believe me. :(

    I

    1. 50.1
      Guest01

      @Magnolia50 I have to admit, if someone is saying they don’t need advice MEANWHILE having the same “can’t work with this person/this relationship botehrs me” vent on a weekly basis they DO need advice. To simply stay quiet it almost as bad as WATCHING someone drive off a cliff and they’re telling you not to tell them that a cliff is coming up. 

  21. 51
    Casey

    Evan,

    I do not know how I went from commenting on my personal experiences with men and the notion that they are problem solvers to making gender-based, personal attacks on all the men of this blog. I did respond to Bob with extreme sarcasm as I felt, justly or unjustly, personally attacked by him.

    If my comments about my personal experiences with men were construed to be a personal attack on any men on this blog…then I apologize, as that was not my intent. To the best of my knowledge, information and belief, I do not know any of the men on this blog, so I cannot comment on any of them personally, or speak to whether they are good or bad men.

    It was, however, my intent to be a commentary on the men — some really good men and some really bad men — that I know or have known personally, and that when a situation of the type described in your blog post arises, they use the fallback position that they are problem solvers. In my personal experience, it is a cop out.

    I’ll give you an example. When I was having trouble deciding what college to complete my undergraduate degree at since I worked full-time during the day and could only go to school at night, I asked the advice of a trusted male mentor, who was also my boss. He advised me to go to the more prestigious college for undergraduate because it would help me get into the graduate program I wanted. I listened to his opinion, considered it and decided it would be best for me to go to the less prestigious school because it had a night program and I could not afford to quit my job and go to the more prestigious college with no night program. When he found out, he became very angry, and in front of our co-workers yelled at me that I was being stupid and I shouldn’t come crying to him when I didn’t get accepted in a graduate program.

    This is typical of my personal experience with men (be it a father, brother, uncle, friend, co-work, mentor, etc.) and their offering advice and problem solving skills. It may not be your experience or the experience of anyone else on this blog…and it may not be how you or any man on this blog would have handled the situation…but it is, as I said, typical of what I have personally experienced.

    So, you didn’t like the way I stated it. Okay, I get that. It’s your blog and I’m just a guest. Perhaps I could have started out with this story instead. Live and learn.

    Casey

    Note: For the record, I did go to the school with the night program, and got accepted into the graduate program I wanted without a hitch. But, at the time, his angry outburst made me question myself and my decision.

  22. 52
    Casey

    Ooops! As soon as I hit submit, I realized when I re-worded the fifth paragraph…I forgot to add back in boyfriends or a husband in the list of men that this is my experience with…they should have been.

  23. 53
    Selena

    Sometimes people do get angry when the *solutions* they offer to other’s problems aren’t followed. This isn’t a gender trait either. And sometimes the person who vented/asked for advice doesn’t want to hear the *solutions* offered anyway. I love this quote from writer Erica Jong:

    “Advice is what we ask for when we know the answer, but wish we didn’t.”

  24. 54
    Laine

    I have been on a dating site for the past year, and every guy I have met for a coffee or a drink on the first meet, has talked about his ex wife, ex girlfriend or other women he is dating or is in love with…..and I am the one nodding my head and listening.

    Of course I have never accepted second dates with these men as they came across as being not ready to move on from their past relationships, or in having any interest in finding out about me.

    I see their behaviour as venting. Also very boring. I do not think this is necessarily a female behaviour as Evan suggests, but more a state of an Individuals self awareness.

  25. 55
    Betty

    Janeen: Brilliant!!!!

  26. 56
    Lorianne

    @Steve If you want a strictly mathematical rationale for leaving the seat down, look at the percentages. Women need to have the toilet seat down 100% of the time. Men need the seat down for whatever percentage of the time they have a bowel movement. That means that for a majority of the designated uses of the toilet, the seat should be down, which means the default position for the toilet seat should also be down. How does that work for you?

  27. 57
    Lorianne

    @Hadley Paige — when I encounter a man who insists that the toilet seat has to be UP, that is a giant red flag for ME. The toilet seat should be down, period, unless you specifically NEED it to be up, then it should be returned to its default position. That is all.

  28. 58
    Lorianne

    @anette and others — yes, that seems to be the tone of this blog. Men are what they are, and women have to not only accept it, but change the way they function if they want to have “successful” relationships. Not much of an incentive to jump into the dating pool, is it?

  29. 59
    Evan Marc Katz

    @Lorianne And what would you prefer that the tone be? Women can change men? Women should fantasize about a world in which men conform to all of your wishes? Sorry. This is a reality-based blog. I am a reality-based dating coach. The women who are loyal readers are the ones who know that I’m an advocate for YOU. I report true, and sometimes unpleasant, realities about men, and give you guidance about how to better navigate the choppy waters of dating. And for this, you shoot the messenger?

    You will be empowered in dating if you listen to the dialogue here. But if you spend your time invested in the unrealistic notion that men should change, then guess what? Nothing in your life will change.

    It’s your call. Just know I’m pulling for you every step of the way – and I’m telling you the truth about what men think because I think you deserve to know – not because you’re going to like what I report.

  30. 60
    Betty

    Lorianne@57: Here is why a guy who leaves the seat up is a red flag. In all areas of our lives there are objects that are designed to fulfill a function. When they are not in use they are returned to their non-use placement (what you call the “default position”). That is why we close cabinets and drawers, put lids back on jars, shut the trunks of our cars, and lower the hood of the grill after we’ve turned it off. If a guy observes all of these unspoken rules about orderliness but then chooses to ignore the rule of orderliness in the bathroom, and further, gives a woman grief when she expresses displeasure about it, asserting the primacy of his peeing behavior, he is sending a big F.U. to his female partner. And it is an F.U. because she is female. Does not bode well for the rest of the relationship if he is the kind of guy who needs to mark his territory. This same type of thing will crop up again and again.

    If, however, he observes no rules of orderliness, then he is just a bit of a pig and needs remedial work across the board.

    Neither situation is good. We women do not want to be your de facto mothers, forced to “manage” your belligerence or lack of grown-up hygiene. If you force us to do so you will not get laid. No woman wants to sleep with a child (see annette@32).

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