Once merry-making New Year's bells stop ringing and Times Square clears out, people of Scottish descent make plans to celebrate the Jan. 25th birthday of their esteemed poet Robert Burns at formal dinners with a carefully prescribed format. The evening calls for good Scotch whiskey, poetry readings and a detailed menu to include something called haggis, among other things. By definition, haggis is "a mixture of the minced heart, lungs and liver of a sheep or a calf mixed in with suet, onions, oatmeal and seasonings, and boiled in the stomach of the animal." The description makes my vegetarian heart and stomach queasy. Not to fear, however, there'll be a veggie version when the local Burns supper rolls around.
The protocol for the dinner also includes a Toast to the Lassies, given by a man, of course, and a responding Toast to the Laddies by a woman. They are to be amusing but not offending or critical remarks on the male and female condition. We two have been assigned to deliver the brief speeches roasting the opposite sex with examples from our own experiences with each other. Hmmmmmm.
After careful consultation, we've agreed to go gently on each other because over 25 years of marriage, we've learned that kindness, not criticism, is the better way to evoke constructive change. Believe me, we tried it the other way until the futility of it finally settled in. There's a saying: "Men marry women with the hope they will never change. Women marry men with the hope they will change. And they are both disappointed."
For marriage to last, the operative word is "compromise." (Isn't it strange how all those married people in Congress seem to have no concept of the word? Perhaps we should send in their spouses to make the fiscal cliff deal.) Compromise, defined, means each side gives up something in order to reach an agreement that neither sides is completely happy with but can live with.
There is, however, an alternative to straight-up compromise in a marriage. Kenny Rogers said it best in his song "The Gambler." "You gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em." And you long-married people know what he means. It's more productive sometimes to give on a point of contention and then "win" the next debate when you've proven your willingness for your significant other to enjoy a brief flirtation with "victory."
Some might call this brilliant strategy, while others might deem it devious manipulation, but each sex's basic inability to completely understand the other demands one or the other, at times. Millennia upon millennia have failed to unlock the inscrutability of men to women - and women to men. Leave it to Ella Fitzgerald, Fred Astaire and Frank Sinatra to explain it this way: "You say to - may - to, I say to - mah - to...let's call the whole thing off!"
One-liners are passed off as the ultimate explanation for the differences in the sexes. "Women are (too) complicated," men may state (or complain), but that's actually true because women are hard-wired for more intuitive and emotional thinking than men. On the other hand, women can be dismissive of men for being "simple" when they do, in fact, work with a simpler and less circuitous grasp of an argument or situation. Each of these statements is equally true and neither should be considered a criticism. It's just the way we're made.
I concede, however, to certain "truths" about my own sex that I read recently online at a Yahoo website because I'm guilty of a few of these. The article purports to explain the "special" language women employ that men find indecipherable. For example, "fine" in response to a question means anything but that. "Five minutes" means 30. "Nothing" is a warning of an oncoming storm.
"Whatever," according to the article, means "you're an idiot." "Go ahead" is a dare, not permission. "That's OK," means it's OK until reason is found for the guy to pay later. And a "loud sigh" can lead to quaking in the boots because it portends multiple scenarios, none of which is predictable. I'll also consent to this gentle ribbing of women because a woman wrote it.
Another saying about our differences goes that "when women are depressed, they go shopping; men just go to war." The relationship between men and women is often called a war of the sexes, but war is no way to live so let's celebrate and respect all that makes us different. It's just the way it is.
Barbara Morgan is a Covington resident with a background in newspaper journalism, state government and politics.