Have you ever heard the saying “Men are like waffles and women are like spaghetti”*? Years ago I laughed it off. But the older I get, the more I see the wisdom in it. Knowing how your partners’ brain is wired, can help you understand why they may react totally different than you. This is especially helpful when, as a couple, you are going through a difficult time – like struggling with infertility. Communication is very important during this time. Waffles and spaghetti might be a weird comparison, but believe me, it’s a visual that really sticks.
Before diving into the male brain, let’s first get to know the female brain.
Women are like spaghetti
Picture a plate of spaghetti. The different strands of pasta delicately sliding around. Try picking just one noodle and follow it around. Do you see how it touches another noodle, and another, and another? Connected and intertwining, over and over, with so many other noodles on the plate. Now imagine each noodle represents a thought, an emotion, or a memory. None of them are by themselves, because each thought, emotion and memory are connected to other thoughts, emotions and memories. One leads to another and another. This is what makes women great multi-taskers. They can focus on several things all at the same time.
It’s how women process life; which is very different than men.
Men are like waffles.
Picture a waffle. Rows and rows of neat little boxes. Organized. Contained. Men process life in boxes (and there are a lot of them!). One box for his job. Another box for the house. A box for sports, or reading, or the news. There’s even a box for you! But a guy can only be in one box at a time. So when he’s at work, he’s at work. When’s watching sports on TV, that’s it, he’s watching sports on TV.
Men are also problem solvers by nature. When a problem presents itself, a guy will take out the box (yep, it already has its own box), evaluate it, and do his best to fix the problem. But sometimes, even though he tries, he can’t fix the problem. This leads to a little side explanation about the boxes. Men like to spend time in the boxes they’re good at – or can fix. So if there’s an issue he can’t fix or makes him feel uncomfortable, he’ll close the box and tuck it carefully to the back of his mind. Unfortunately, this is where communication in real life can break down. Often, guys don’t want to talk about things that make them feel bad or they don’t understand.
Understanding how men (waffles) process life and how women (spaghetti) process life, may help you understand how to better communicate.
Waffles, spaghetti and communication
Women like to talk. About everything. Communication can be critical, especially when they are overwhelmed and stressed, like when dealing with infertility. And since one topic touches another and another, there’s a lot to deal with and talk about. A woman may not be looking for a problem to be solved. Sometimes talking through all the linked thoughts let her find her own solution, or just makes her feel better.
This can be confusing to men. Usually, guys don’t talk just to feel better. They feel better when they find a solution to the problem. If a man feels that he can be successful in finding a solution, he can be “all in” the conversation. But while many women may feel comfortable connecting one thought to another, guys can be overwhelmed “opening and closing boxes” just trying to keep up with the conversation. If this communication confuses him, makes him feel bad, or like a failure, he’s more likely to tune out, become impatient or offer lame advice like “Don’t worry, it will all work out”.
This can sometimes lead to the belief that he doesn’t care; which couldn’t be further from the truth. He does care. A lot. Maybe much more than you know. And it hurts that he can’t fix this problem. So he may just tape the lid shut on the box and put it away for a while, to escape these feelings that are overwhelming him.
Waffles, spaghetti and infertility
Dealing with infertility is tough. And it affects both partners, but very differently.
When a woman struggling with infertility sees a friend or relative’s pregnancy announcement online, that one piece of information is like a noodle getting added to her plate. It slides right in and touches dozens of other noodles of information – like her last failed cycle, or the photo of an avocado pit that looked like a pregnancy bump, or her sisters friends cousins baby shower announcement – one thought leading to another and another, until the stress of all these thoughts is too much and her waffle finds her in a heap of tears.
Although her guy may be breaking inside, he’ll try to be strong for her. But it hurts to watch her cry. It hurts that he can’t “fix” this. It hurts to go with her to the doctor’s appointment and find out that there’s nothing he alone can do to help. It hurts to watch her inject herself over and over; and hurts a little bit more if he’s the one doing the injecting and causing her pain. Knowing there may be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow doesn’t help right now. It hurts NOW. (Can someone please tape this box shut already!)
Appreciating our differences
Naturally, not every man reacts this way, nor every woman. But finding the way your own partner processes life, can lead to better communication, understanding and allow you to support each other best.
Keep sharing with your partner, but try not to overshare or overwhelm. Don’t make every conversation about trying to conceive. And if he doesn’t understand how a cartoon avocado makes you upset because if reminds you of one thing (and another) which reminded you of an recent fertility treatment, don’t take it personally. He cares. He just can’t see the connection.
See if there’s another woman in your life – another plate of spaghetti – that has that same ability to multitask the dozens of thoughts and ideas that you process. An infertility support group is a wonderful place to find like-minded souls that are going through a similar experience. You can explore your thoughts and feelings with others in a safe and healing environment. If your waffle would like to join you, there are many groups open for couples as well. Who knows, he may even get a new box for his collection.
Original post Nov 4, 2020
Updated August 17, 2022
* This analogy was the focus of the 2001 book “Men are like waffles – Women are like spaghetti” and has been a lively subject of debate ever since.