When Kyle and I started dating in college, I would often ask him this question during a long stretch of silence: “So…hey, what are you thinking about?”
His answer: “Nothing.”
“Come on, you were thinking about something. Do you just not want to share it?”
“I wasn’t thinking about anything.”
My thought: He’s lying.
For several years, I continued to ask this ridiculous question until I finally realized two things: 1) It was none of my business what he was thinking, and 2) he wasn’t lying.
In case you haven’t heard, men and women come from two different planets. I never can remember who is from Mars and who is from Venus, but I get the point. Our brains are wired differently, which is supposed to be why we love and fight with ferocity. So I finally stopped asking Kyle the question, “What are you thinking?” and simply marveled at the fact that there could be prolonged periods of time when there was literally nothing going through his mind. This has been confirmed for me many times over the years as I have remained married to this same man and then birthed and raised his son. Yes, men actually enjoy moments where there is a deep, long silence in the brain. No thoughts. No plans being made. No list-making. No playbacks of conversations. No strategizing, worrying, anticipating, grumbling, rehearsing. As Jerry Seinfeld says, “Men aren’t thinking about anything. We’re just walking around and looking at stuff.” That’s it. They’re not even thinking about what they are looking at. Blessed silence. Of course I know it isn’t always this way. Kyle has many things running through his mind, but at least he takes some breaks. I’m jealous.
The risk in writing honestly is that you might be assuming everyone knows what you’re talking about when the truth is you are the only one who has the problem. So if I’m the only female who seems to never have silence in her head, then the next time you see me you can smile kindly and hand me the contact number of a good therapist. But I don’t think I’m the only one. Women talk to one another, and my female friends and family members have confirmed that they simply can’t imagine having the luxury of inner silence. “It must be nice,” a friend said, “to be able to turn off the brain chatter.”
So this morning, when there were far too many problems I was trying to solve and endless ideas running through my head, I decided to stop, clear them out, and listen. It would have been nice if I had been standing in a field of songbirds or near a mountain stream, but I was in my bathroom putting on mascara. I heard the clock hands ticking, the water faucet outside running (Why is the water running outside? No, don’t think about that right now), the dog snoring, and my own breathing. When is the last time I listened to my own breathing? People who meditate talk about how important it is to focus on breathing, but I only do this when I am at the end of my morning run and trying to bring of a kind of rhythm to my gasps for air. Otherwise I take for granted that the breaths are coming in and going out. But this morning in my bathroom there were several minutes when I had absolutely not one thought. It was wonderful. And if someone had walked up to me and said, “Penny for your thoughts,” I would have replied, “Keep your penny.” Throughout the day, I tried to turn off the chatter so that I could listen to what was going on around me. Really listen. I didn’t hear anything dramatic, revolutionary, or life-changing, but maybe my overworked brain appreciated some moments of peace and quiet. I’m sure my soul needed the rest.
It’s funny though, the minute I finished my bathroom moment of silence I had to hurry and find out why that darn water was running. The 11 year-old was bored and watering dead plants, so I made a mental list of last-week-before-school-starts activities she can do and had a little guilt moment for not sending her to camp this week. Then I began to ponder why we don’t go to the library more often. And on it went. That’s a woman for you.