If men and women don’t speak a common language, it is the language of sighs. Any woman knows that a sigh isn’t just a sigh. There are many different sighs that communicate specific feelings. It’s mostly a contextual matter, reinforced with body language. And like most men, my husband finds it a hopelessly foreign language.
Why do women sigh when humans invented words and verbal language? Maybe because we know that some feelings can’t be expressed – or shouldn’t have to be expressed – in words. Or perhaps, words were already uttered but were entirely ineffectual.
Women sigh out of irritation, resignation, sadness, fatigue, relief, contentment and sexual fulfillment. To tell where on this spectrum a particular sigh comes from, one must be keyed into the situation at hand, the sigh tonality and the sigher’s body language that accompanies the sigh. It sounds far more complicated than it is. You simply have to be able to read a woman’s mind.
Because I am highly tuned to the language of sighs, I not only use sighs liberally in communication but I also listen carefully to the sigh communication of my husband. “Are you okay?” I ask after one of his particularly long and plaintive sighs.
“I’m fine,” he said. I was unconvinced.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, why do you ask?”
“I’m just letting out air. It doesn’t mean anything.”
My silly husband insists that he is merely breathing. I’d buy this but he normally breathes pretty much without any sound of forced exhalation, except for in the middle of the night when his nasal passages wheeze. It could be that, as doctors say, it’s his lungs’ way of getting in a deep breath after too many shallow breaths deplete his oxygen supply. But I don’t fall for any pseudo-physiological mumbo jumbo. So I go down my usual checklist.
“Are you upset with me? Sad? Tired? Relieved? Contented? Sexually fulfilled?”
“I’m fine, really,” he says. “I’m just breathing. It keeps me alive.”
“Are you sure?”
“I’m sure breathing keeps me alive.”
“But do you have to sigh like that.”
“Sigh like what?”
“Deeply, as though you’re upset about something.”
“If I’m upset about something I’ll just tell you. Men are straightforward like that. We don’t base our understanding on conjecture but statistics.”
“You make men sound like robots. But robots don’t sigh, and you sighed.”
And then he sighed.
“Like that. You just sighed again and this time, you weren’t just breathing.”
He sighed again.
“Aha! You did it again. You’re irritated.”
“I am now. I have to be careful about how I breathe in case you misinterpret how I breathe.”
“I just want you to be happy, and I look for signs that you aren’t, I suppose. Is that so wrong?”
“Honey, I’m happy. I need to breathe. Would you prefer I stopped breathing?”
And then I sighed.
“So what did your sigh mean?” he teased. But I already knew. “That meant “Now you’re just being condescending and making me feel ridiculous for even trying to read too much into your sighs and body language because I care about your happiness, but now I will no longer do so.””
“Wow,” he said. “All that in one sigh?”
Clearly, he is an amateur. Then, with a deep, rattling suction of air, his chest drew in and then blew out a loud rush of breath. “There,” he said. “So what did that sigh mean?”
I studied him carefully and reported, “That sigh meant “I think all this sigh business is stupid but if I say so, I won’t get any sex tonight.”” His face grew pale. I smiled. The rest of the trip home was both wordless and sighless, even though his breathing was shallow. Kind of like when you’re watching a scary movie.
Did I really know that’s what his sigh meant? Did I really read his mind? Nah, it’s a matter of statistics really. According to neuropsychiatrist Louann Brizendine, men think about sex approximately every 54 seconds. Our conversation continued for about five minutes so far which meant he must have thought about sex at least five and a half times. But if he wanted to believe that I could read his sigh that clearly, that was fine with me.
Later that evening as I plopped into bed and switched on the television to catch the news, the fatigue of the day caught up with me and I let out a long sigh. He looked at me sideways.
“Are you upset with me?”
I suppressed a smile and said innocently, “No, I’m fine.”
“Are you sure? Are you sad, relieved, tired or sexually fulfilled?”
“Nope. None of the above.”
“Well, what did that sigh mean then?”
“I was breathing. Women breathe, too.”
“Okay, now you’re just toying with me.”
And I was. To his credit, the guy was trying. A while later in his arms, I let out a deeply contented sigh, and he smiled because this time, he knew exactly what it meant.