Feb 212014
Not me

Not me

I recently had a story workshopped. Which, BTW, is the best thing ever, and every aspiring writer should do this. I gained three levels in one day. Anyway, in the story a male character is introduced and described by a female character as “tall, but not uncomfortably so.” A workshopper of the female persuasion asked me what the heck that meant.

“it isn’t clear who would be uncomfortable with (his) height or why (she) is considering potential uncomfortableness.  In what context is she making this observation?

(She) could be thinking that (he) is quite tall but not so tall that it would be awkward for him (socially? physically?) […] (She) could be thinking that (he) is quite tall but not so tall that it would be awkward for her (psychologically? romantically?)”

It took me a bit of thinking to understand this. I am a somewhat tall man – 6’2” (188cm for the non-Americans). When I run into someone more than a couple inches taller than me (over 195ish cm) I get a sort of instinctual “grrrrr” reaction. It’s stupid and I try to ignore it, but I’m wary of them. Who is this person daring to be that much taller than I am? What are they planning?

I should have realized this ages ago, but most women don’t have this reaction. Upon considering my workshopper’s questions I was reminded of something my SO told me not too long ago, which I obviously never internalized. Height is for women what boob-size is for men. The person can’t control it; it’s objectively stupid; and the sex appeal is undeniable and deeply ingrained. It’s very hard to ever reach the limit of “too much”. Swapping the two around when trying to think like the other gender can help quite a bit.

With that in mind, I suddenly saw exactly where the confusion arose. If I read “Her boobs were big, but not uncomfortably so” I’d immediately have the same questions. I had failed deeply at understanding a non-me POV. That line was atrocious.

I have much to learn.

  3 Responses to “Understanding Others”

  1. As a 6’2″ tall woman who dates a 5’2″ man, has almost no female friends and is the shortest in her family, I probably understand your reasoning better than most women. I feel uncomfortable around men who are more than a few inches taller than me, but I’ve also always had trouble dating people who are more than a few inches shorter than me (which sometimes been a problem since I prefer woman, usually) because of the height difference – my now-fiancé being the one glorious exeption in the pattern, and every single one of our friends and family keeps cracking jokes about us.

    I think the problem is, once again, patterns in our mind that most people are not aware of. People like you and me are not used to being shorter than others, so when someone is quite a bit taller, we feel uncormfortable – perhaps unconciously threatened or such. A good friend I met last year (and one of the most self-reflecting people I know, even though he is only 21) actually told me this explicitly. He is around 6′. “If I hadn’t met you when you were sitting down, I probably wouldn’t have talked to you. I usually avoid women who are taller than me, even going so far as to walk on the other side of the street. But because you were sitting down, we had already talked for a while when I realized you were so bloody tall and I knew we thought alike in very many things, so I could adjust.”
    Unfortunately, I’m used to this. Just about no man wants to date a woman taller than them or even be friends with them – though just about every single man between 6’2″ and 6’5″ I have met since I was 13 (I was already 6′ back then) has greeted me with “damn! finally a woman you can look in the eyes when kissing!”, and it’s really starting to get on my nerves. Working in construction doesn’t really help things – taller AND in a manlier job than theirs? That just sends men screaming.
    But most women are used to men being taller than them, so what is a couple of inches more? It doesn’t really matter all that much. That’s probably why I ended up dating someone so short – he’s used to women being taller, I’m used to men being shorter, so what’s a couple of inches more.
    It also works the other way around, though the resulting behaviour is different: when my tiny little fiancé, who is used to just about everyone being taller than him (male and female) encounters people shorter than him, he’s desperately intrigued and wants to talk to them and make friends, no matter how little mutual interests they have.

    Just like you, I only realized these things during the last half a year or so. It’s not exactly something most people ever think about, because it’s only something that applies to people who are either relatively short or realtively tall. And as you said, it’s probably the same about any physical characteristic you can rank on a large/small scale. Thank you for posting this – I’m still trying to figure out how in hell you manage to write so damn many posts that just make me think “where the hell can I sign this”…

    From Germany.

  2. At 5’0″, finding someone taller than me “uncomfortable” is completely foreign. Though I admit it is occasionally odorous if my nose is at someone’s armpit level! For comparison purposes, I’m technically only two inches taller than “dwarf” designation and the same height as Danny DeVito. When I find someone standing my height or shorter — usually in a brief capacity, like a waitress or doctor’s staff — I usually make a pleasant small talk of “Oh, how nice to talk at eye level for a change!”. It’s only then that I remember how nice eye-to-eye conversation is while standing, and then I go back to the world of straining my neck backwards to talk to people’s faces, standing on my tiptoes while someone stoops down awkwardly to hug me, or wincing at a new acquaintance saying “Wow, you’re short” and patting me on the head like a child even though I’m a woman in my thirties. That’s as uncomfortable as height gets for me.

    You also reminded me of a passage from Michael Crichton’s autobiography. He was 6’9″, and described his difficulties in Thailand. It is bad etiquette to be at a taller height than the head of any Buddha statues or portraits. He gave an example of a Thai version of an American movie where the Thai censors black-inked out the background Buddha whenever the main character was standing taller than it. So at 6’9″, Crichton had to scan a room before entering and duck down to a lower-than-Buddha-height until sitting down. The Buddha statue in his room was placed on top of an armoire, but he was still taller, so was advised to duck down while in his own room, alone, “so you won’t be taller than the Buddha any more than necessary”, in order to make the staff more comfortable. Now THAT must truly be an uncomfortable height!

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