"This book details a far more personal journey than I have written about in the past. I have been traveling through the inner territories of male and female relationships: love, partnership, marriage, and family. On this journey I have looked inward, asking the same questions of myself that I am asking of my community.
I believe that by engaging in conversations, first with ourselves and then with our partners or potential partners, we can begin to repair the state of Black male and female relationships. I am calling this book The Conversation because my hope is that these words will inspire us to talk with our friends and our families. I hope, eventually, to extend that dialogue across the barricades that men and women have erected to protect themselves from each other. In many ways we are growing more jaded, cynical, tired, and world-weary before our time. We are expecting less and demanding less in our relationships and it is taking us farther from each other. The walls between us do not serve us.
I encourage men and women to start talking to one another again. Real, intimate, and brave conversations are necessary to truly create the bridges that can connect our hearts and lead to meaningful, long-lasting relationships. While reading this book, you may at times be shocked, surprised, embarrassed, or insulted by some of its content. This is a good thing. We need to push those buttons and get these tough conversations started, because it seems, in many ways, it's what we're not saying that is contributing to the demise of our relationships. I want the book to follow in form and substance what needs to happen in our interpersonal relationships-no-holds-barredcommunication. That is truly what The Conversation is about." Hill Harper
|Edition description:||Large Print Edition|
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About the Author
Currently starring in CSI: NY, Hill Harper has appeared in numerous prime- time television shows and feature films, including Beloved and He Got Game. He graduated magna cum laude from Brown University with a B.A. and cum laude from Harvard Law School. He also holds a master’s degree in public administration from the Kennedy School of Government. He was recently named one of People magazine’s Sexiest Men Alive.
Read an Excerpt
The Language of Men
I’m glad I understand that while language is a gift, listening is a responsibility.
world-renowned poet, writer, commentator, activist, and educator, and a mother since 1969
A lot of the women I’ve talked to ask me what’s the best way to effectively communicate with a man. How can a woman know what a man is really thinking if she can’t get him to talk?
It’s almost a cliché to say that men and women communicate differently, but it does seem to be true. We’re simply different. “It’s like my boyfriend speaks a completely different language than I do,” my friend Gail once said.
“That’s because he’s talking in the language of men,” my other friend, Mary, replied. The three of us were having lunch. “If you didn’t grow up with it,” Mary continued, “it may as well be gibberish.” She explained that she hadn’t grown up with any men in her house, and so she’d never really learned to understand the language of men—the sports talk, the sparse replies, the sudden and deep silences. She acknowledged that she had, on many occasions, interpreted her ex-boyfriend’s silences as emotional cruelty. “I honestly thought he was just being mean, giving me the silent treatment. I’d ask him how he felt and he’d just give me a blank stare and shrug. It drove me crazy.”
Both women then turned and stared at me as if I could magically reveal the tools to properly decode this language that men speak—if and when they speak at all. Unfortunately, all I could share were my observations.
Linguistics scholar Deborah Tannen considers male-female conversation a form of cross-cultural communication. The innate differences in how men and women think, act, listen, and therefore communicate are so profound that it is as if we are products of completely different cultures. These communication differences have been seen as early as the age of three.
I started this book by explaining how I believe that Black men and Black women don’t really even talk to each other anymore. I grew up watching my grandparents sit and talk. They talked about everything—from the weather, to the news, to the neighbors, to the grandchildren, to their plans, and then back to the weather again. Watching those older couples at the Blakes’ home reminded me of the flow and ease of my grandparents’ conversations. I loved how the men joked with one another and with the women. I loved how the women were an integral part of the exchange, either adding something affirmative to their husbands’ statements or putting forth an alternative view, not just talking among themselves.
I wondered why it seemed so special to see men and women gathered together and talking. Then I remembered a panel that I’d been a speaker on the previous year. It was an all-male relationship panel at the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans. I was intrigued (and, to be honest, scared) to be a part of it because I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. I mean, traditionally, men are not considered big talkers—especially not when it comes to relationships.
The thesis of the panel seemed to be that through a combination of biology, brain chemistry, and socialization, men are “doers,” while women are “feelers.” When women talk, they feel comfortable expressing their emotions. From the outside, it seems to be a required part of their discussions. When men talk, however, it’s usually about something specific—sports, business, home repairs, movies, television shows, or making money. We concern ourselves with the mechanics, not the emotions or the minutiae of these things. We focus mainly on the nuts and bolts.
That, obviously, is a generalization. The truth is that if you spend enough time in a barber shop, at the pool hall, on the basketball court, on the golf course, or at any bachelor party, sooner or later, golden nuggets of men’s true thoughts, questions, and concerns about women and relationships will eventually come to the surface.
Even then, the revelation is seldom direct. It is often shrouded in humor or made to sound like a passing comment, not something to ponder, dissect, and comment on. If the other men do comment, those comments will invariably also be shrouded in humor or peppered with playful insults and invectives—kind of like what happened when Don told us that he was going to propose to Robin. When it comes to effectively communicating with men, how a woman says something is nearly as important as what she says. Delivery is everything. Here are three particular things I know men universally dislike:
Men definitely want a woman by their side who has their best interests at heart. However, there is a fine line between having someone’s best interests at heart and aggressively forcing an agenda on someone. If a man has made it abundantly clear, in his actions if not with his words, that the topic you’ve decided is crucial enough to revisit countless times means nothing to him, give up. He is not ready to deal with it. He might not say that in so many words, but key in to his nonverbal clues. If he seems to shut down completely when you bring up a subject, then maybe you should back away a bit.
If it’s something that you can’t put off, try a different tactic. Draw him out by beginning the conversation with a question. For example, “How are you feeling about the recession? Is it having any effect on you? I’d love to hear how you’re dealing with it.” Nobody likes to feel as though they are being spoken at, rather than being spoken to, and a question makes it clear that you really want to hear his thoughts. Even if you respond with your own thoughts and you end up with a difference of opinion, at least you’ve both heard and listened to each other. Some women I’ve known deal with the fact that the men in their lives don’t talk much by taking over the conversation. The only room the men are given to speak is at the end of the litany, and that doesn’t seem at all like a space reserved for thoughtful opinion or an alternative view.
Woman: Babe, how do I look in this? Does it make me look like I’ve gained twenty pounds?
Man (hesitantly): No, hon. You look fine. You’re as beautiful as you were the day I met you.
Woman: Is that supposed to be some sort of joke? I was thirty-five pounds heavier when I met you. I’ve been going to the gym every day, working my ass off to look good for you, and you don’t even notice.
(Man drops his head and shakes it, suddenly losing all desire to go out to the dinner they’d been getting dressed to attend.)
Woman: Babe, how do I look in this? Does it make me look like I’ve gained twenty pounds?
Man (hesitantly): Don’t get mad at me. You asked for the truth, so I’ll tell you. It’s not the most fl attering dress you own. Why don’t you wear the red dress you wore last—
Woman (upset): I remember a time when you always used to tell me that I was beautiful, when you really appreciated me.
(Man drops his head and shakes it, suddenly losing all desire to go out to the dinner they’d been getting dressed to attend.)
No one wins in this situation. The woman wanted to hear that she is still the object of her man’s affections. He thought she just wanted an answer to her question, and when he realizes that she didn’t, the man feels like he was trapped. The more this sort of thing happens, the more frightened the man becomes about remarking on his woman’s appearance at all, which means that the woman starts to feel the only way she can get a compliment is to fish for one, and the whole cycle just feeds on itself.
The solution to this problem is to be more direct about your feelings. If you’re not feeling especially attractive or sexy, then express that to your partner. He might know just the right—and sincere—words to offer to make you know that you are loved. Also, when he does volunteer a compliment you appreciate, go ahead and tell him so, and let him know he’s welcome to say things like that anytime he likes. With a little encouragement, most guys will figure out that if something works they should keep at it. We are, after all, very trainable, when we’re given positive reinforcements and rewards. Just like a puppy.
Compliments aren’t the only things women ask for indirectly. Unfortunately, men aren’t always that good at picking up on those hints. If you want a guy to do something, be direct. Don’t be coy about it. Just say what you want him to do. Obviously it shouldn’t be delivered like an order or command in a game of Simon says, but I’m not the only man I know who responds well to the word help, as in, “Can you help me out next Monday? I’ve gotta put my car in the shop and I need someone to give me a ride to take care of a few things.”
Everybody likes to hear please and thank you; nobody likes to feel taken for granted. Even if the two of you are married or engaged or have been dating for years and years, you can still ask directly and ask nicely— and show your gratitude when it’s been done. (Guys, that goes for us, too.)
I think sometimes women make too much of this so-called language of men. I believe that a man who wants to be an active partner in communication will be. If talking to your man feels like pulling teeth, maybe you should give your relationship a second look. See whether you’ve really developed a friendship. I know that men and women communicate in different ways, but we all share an understanding of what it means to be considerate of our partners.
Talking to someone you care about shouldn’t seem like hard work. If it does, then maybe he is trying, through his silence, to tell you something. Yeah, I’ll admit it; men can fall back on being passive-aggressive sometimes, too.
Withdrawal can occur when a man is overwhelmed by money, work, stress, or other things that he is trying to work out before communicating with you. So, it’s not always a sign that a man is unhappy in the relationship when he turns inward. When something is bothering a woman, she usually doesn’t hesitate to call a girlfriend to discuss her insecurities, issues, or problems.
But that’s not how the male brain works. Some guys just need to process on their own first. It’s got to be an extremely serious problem for me to call one of my boys and say, “Man, I need your help. . . . I need to talk about something.”
Denise, a married friend, doesn’t agree, because her husband is a great communicator. He will pull her aside and inform her that he is distracted or feeling distant, explaining that it has nothing to do with her but with other things in his life that he is trying to process. She usually gives him a few days, but if he’s still emotionally absent she’ll jokingly attempt to pull him out of this “funk.” Because he understands his wife and himself, he lets her know as soon as he recognizes this shift. Occasionally she’ll be the first to confront him on his pulling away. The point is, they are able to have mature conversations about what’s going on. She believes this is one of the key reasons she is still in love with her husband after all these years.
Of course, withdrawal can also signal that a man wants out of the relationship. As far as the woman knows, she and her man are still in a relationship, but in actuality he is long gone. The man resorts to silence, hoping that the woman will get fed up and make the decision to move on. That way he won’t be blamed or held responsible for disappointing her, for shattering her hopes and dreams. It’s difficult for a man to tell a woman he cares about that he doesn’t love her anymore or that he does love her but not enough to remain in a relationship. At times, cowardly men just remain silent, and as I said before, I was one of those men.
Unfortunately, people respond to uncomfortable situations in a way of their choosing, not ours. Just as we intuitively know when someone is into us, we also intuitively know when someone is not into us. If you’re willing to discuss the situation in order to stay together, but your partner is not interested in even talking about it, that alone should tell you where he (or she) stands. No amount of rationalization or excuse making is going to change what you already know deep down is true.
I’m not trying to place the burden of truth on the women’s shoulders. This book is about relationships, starting the conversation that all men and women need to have and maintain in order to survive the odds and overcome the obstacles. If you’re with someone who refuses to talk, the conversation is over. Period. It’s as simple as that.
The distance that was present when I finally reached out to Nichole was created because I hadn’t honored our initial connection. During that first call, it was obvious that she was guarded, not as open and forthcoming as she’d been the evening we’d met. And that’s understandable. It was awkward, our conversation full of odd pauses and nervous chuckles. I ended the conversation by telling her, “I’ll call you tomorrow.”
It took a whole lot of strength, though, for me to call her a second time. I wanted the connection to come easily again, as it had when we met. But I knew that I’d have to work for it. I’d have to earn her trust, let her know that I was serious about getting to know her. I’d so admired the vulnerability Nichole displayed when she’d asked, “Will you call?”
I realized I had to allow myself to be vulnerable, too. Nichole had to be able to detect in me the same sincere vulnerability that I’d detected in her. Had I not been ready to grow, I would have resorted to rationalizations. I would have convinced myself that I’d done nothing wrong—After all, I would have told myself, I’d promised her that I’d call, and I did call; I never said when.
In fact, I almost started down that road. But when I did, I’d catch myself and ask out loud, as I had that night, “Who do you think you’re fooling?” So I called Nichole that second time and I started the conversation by doing something I should have done during the first phone call; I apologized for letting so much time pass between the night we met and my call.
“I enjoy talking to you,” I said, “and I look forward to getting to know you better.” It wasn’t a line; it was the truth—and that’s what made it so difficult to say. I felt exposed. I ended each of those first few conversations by telling her when I’d call her again. And each time, I kept my word—because if people don’t respect your time, it’s an indication that they don’t respect you. I wanted to lay a solid foundation for a possible relationship with Nichole. Eventually that easy, natural connection Nichole and I had returned, and our phone calls fell into their own natural rhythm.
While we’re on the topic of communication, I want to bring up technology. In this new, cool world of high-tech, low-touch communication, we have the ability to send messages to anyone, at any hour, using any one of a variety of media. Whether it’s Twitter or Facebook or e-mail or voice mail, we have no shortage of ways to talk. But are all these new advancements helping or hurting our communication?
There was a time when the only way to interact with the object of your affection was by being in the same room with him or her. When lovers were out of visiting range, they had to write letters. Now technology has changed the game completely. When I have to quickly let a friend know that I am running late, I wonder how we ever got along before cell phones. Even if I know the person I’m trying to reach can’t answer his or her phone, I can send a text.
The same technology that helps us to communicate can also hurt the quality of that communication, especially in romantic relationships. Many men don’t like to have confrontations with the women they’re dating. Is it any wonder, then, that so many of my female friends tell me that it is becoming more and more common for men to use text messaging to back out of a date with them, or even to break up with them? With text messages you can get your point across without any lengthy or uncomfortable explanations. It’s also easier to manipulate the truth. Many of my male friends write things in text messages that they would never have the courage to say if they were looking the woman in the eye. And what’s worse, many of my female friends allow men to get away with this type of “conversation.”
We can also use the technology as a diversion. For instance, I am not proud to admit that I have sent the text “What are you up to?” to someone I was dating when I knew I didn’t want to talk to her for the rest of the day but I wanted her to think I was checking on her. Not good.
Even if couples use technology to manage time and find ways to be more effective and efficient, it is still important to be aware of the ways in which we communicate with each other. Unless we’re careful, relationships have the tendency to resemble business negotiations: We’re dealing with our individual schedules, our kids’ schedules, family dramas, financial decisions, social obligations, work and/or school commitments, professional deadlines. Those details can be all-consuming, and before we know it, all that other stuff has taken over the relationship.
Modern technology can expedite working out all of those details, but it can also make us feel as though we’ve had our fill of communicating with our significant other. By the time you two are actually face-to-face, in the same space, you’re all talked out, even though you haven’t really said anything. Before you know it, a relationship can be absent of any true and consistent personal connection.
You might think that sounds extreme, but it’s very possible. I’d even say it’s common. These high-tech methods of communication can sometimes cause a lot of confusion in relationships. There is no eye contact; there is no body language; there are no facial expressions. The nuances that come from tone and voice, and the visual cues we use to understand the significance of whatever is being said in person, are completely lost.
If you’re face-to-face when a misunderstanding begins, you have the ability to say “Stop! That’s not what I meant,” and to correct whatever has been misunderstood. In person, we have a real-time awareness of when things are going right and when things are going wrong. The problem with “flat” mediums like texting, e-mailing, and instant messaging is that sarcasm sounds mean and jokes may sound dismissive when you don’t have the intonation that makes them make sense. Statements meant as hints can sound like nagging or have no force at all. There are just too many ways for it to all go very, very wrong, very, very quickly.
I’m not saying that if a person e-mails or texts I love you to his or her partner, the person doesn’t mean it. Plenty of couples find inventive and positive ways to use technology to enhance their personal communication and, thus, their relationship. But relationships are made in person. Communication is strengthened by looking into a partner’s eyes, by holding hands while conversing, and by having the courage to say what’s going on in our hearts, minds, and souls.
Just as we need to step up with our actions, we need to speak up with our emotions. We can’t hide behind the ease of technology, the excuse of gender tendencies, or the history of our own bad habits. If we want to be with someone, we need to learn how to communicate—how to have our say, how to let someone else have his or her say, and, most important, how to find common ground.
Table of Contents
Introduction: The Crisis of Our Shared Destiny xiii
Part I The Conversation Begins
1 Man in the Mirror 3
2 What We Say, Mean, and Do 15
Letters from Don and Robin 23
3 He Say/She Say: Who's to Blame 32
4 What Brothers Want 42
Black Men Speak I 52
5 What Sisters Want 62
Sisters' Soiree Chat I 65
Part 2 Mr. And Mrs. Butta Worth
6 Will Mr. Right Please Stand Up? 75
7 The Language of Men 82
Fishing for Compliments 86
Dropping Hints 87
8 Checking Baggage: The Lightness of Being 95
9 Status vs. Potential: Looking at the Obamas 102
Part 3 Trying Not to Sleep in the Bed You Made
10 Commit-Men-t 111
Black Men Speak II 114
11 Eros vs. Sex/Lust vs. Love 119
Premarital Sex 127
Sexual Experimentation and Compatibility 131
12 Cheating: Reminder Games 136
Black Men Speak III 145
13 Complicating Matters 149
Dating a Divorcé 150
Dating with Kids 152
14 Going, Going, Gone: Crossing the Color Line 158
Sisters' Soiree Chat II 166
Black Men Speak IV 175
Part 4 Pulling Up the Roots
15 E-Race-ing the Rule 181
16 Mad Money 188
17 Anger, Forgiveness, and Learning to Let Go 196
Black Men Speak V: Marriage from a Man's Perspective 202
Part 5 The Way Forward
18 The Conversation Party 211
The Morning-After Debriefing 234
19 Man Up! 236
20 Three to Be Free 246
Addendum: Conversation Questions 260
What People are Saying About This
"Hill Harper trades solving crimes on-screen for a new mission: fixing relationship drama."
"Hill's work presents a light, insightful, and accessible user's manual for African American men and women to better understand that which keeps us apart (and hopefully what can bring us closer together)."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I purchased The Conversation yesterday (9/8/09) when it was released and I finished it today. What a great read! I've been a fan of Harper's genuine conversational-style writing since his debut, Letters to a Young Brother, and the follow-up, Letters to a Young Sister, and in his signature-style, the conversation continued in this latest work. Hill Harper is an example of so many of us that are still "working it out" on some level, though some of us dare not admit it. The book is a breath of fresh air as it serves as a model for true transformation as the writer goes on his own personal journey during the process of "The Conversation." Equally informative and engaging, are the candid conversations of the subjects profiled, which range from the conservative to the extreme. Hill manages to present this work without his bias but doesn't neglect to offer his own wisdom about the important issues like sex, money, child rearing, and fidelity. This book is not about--as that old adage informs--eating a fish for a day, The Conversation is about learning to fish to eat for a lifetime. Readers, cast your rods and get into "The Conversation." Excellent job Mr. Harper; keep it cutting-edge and straight. We love that. I'm officially in "The Conversation." Extra testimonial: I'm a 35-year-old woman (a daughter and a mother) that had a candid conversation about sex with my mother today-for the first time; what seemed taboo was natural as I took the lead and inspiration from The Conversation. My courage to be bigger than the "appropriate" old model rooted in a lot of "pretendism" (my new made-up word), created a new space for me and my mother. In turn, she talked openly about her sex life as an adult (and lack there-of). I didn't imagine that conversation but we have to delve into those important topics and if we can't do that with ourselves and our loved ones, we're kidding ourselves about creating and/or maintaining healthy romantic relationships. I can't wait to talk to the men I know-without judgment-but with a true commitment to engage toward solutions. The Conversation offers a lot, but you'll have to read the book to get those jewels. Melody Fox
I purchased the book the day that it hit the market and completed it the following day. I would like to praise Mr. Harper for his honesty in sharing the mistakes which he has made in dating black women. I am so glad that he wrote this much needed book. I have recommended the book to all of my friends(male and female single and married). I have also purchased a few copies and given them as gifts to my close girlfriends. I have not only committed myself to disengage in sister talk bashing black men but I have also stepped up to the plate to let my girlfriends know that it is not ok to carry on such a conversation. It is my hope that black men will also take the time to read this book so that they can examine themselves and realize the changes that they must make in order to heal the black male/female relationship. Only then can we ultimately change the distructive course of the Black family.
Hill Harper has laid our issues in our laps so that we can no longer ignore them and offers us the courage and assistance to make a change. This book was so honest and open. It made me acknowledge and face things that were hidden. I was hooked from just reading the introduction, so much so that I brought a copy for my brother as a gift before reading chapter 1. Haper in this book has offered us a road map from beginning to end on how to be better people so that we can be better friends and lovers to our partners.By the time you finish this book you will have been give the permission to forgive yourself and the tools to fix the errors. You will be left with a willingness,open mind, heart and a renewal to love; WITH NO EXCUSES!
I really liked this book, mostly for its candor and insight. It's something all women and men should read, whether they are single, in commited relationships or married. The key to converstation is to listen, and this book tells how.
was very amazed by the conversations in this book. It is really thought provoking; I really wish I was reading this with a book club because it makes for great conversation (no pun intended). I think Hill really hit it on the nail with relating our behavior to slavery. I never thought of it that way until this book. What makes this book different from most relationship book is the rules. This book isn't trying to teach you how to get a partner, it's trying to show us what changes we need to make within to sustain a healthy relationship. The book is really deep and I think all couples married and single should read it. I've heard the people are saying "how is Hill writing a book about relationships and marriage when he is single"... but when you read the book you will see that this was just as much of a learning journey for him as well. Hill really did his work; he had conversations with married, singles and even divorcees. There are many valid opinions in this book, but the way Hill brings it all together and paints the picture of love is truly beautiful... Lastly, the financial advice in this book was the best you could give a couple. And he does know a little about finances, after all he was part of the best financial advisory team in the History of Campaigns.
The Conversation is more than another relationship book, but a call to action. Hill's own personal journey gives the book a level of authenticity not found in many books. A must read for men AND women. Let's start the conversation with others and with your inner-self.
This book placed me in an optimistically cheerful mood. It was tremendously insightful. Most relationship books speak to one gender. This book spoke to both. Despite being written by a man; the book's point of view was balanced. It didn't have a masculine slant. Both men and women can appreciate this book. Every page was packed with theories, ideas, comments and thoughts that help conceptualize feelings about the opposite sex, marriage, family, and love. It was also clever of Harper to weave a tender love story in the fabric of the pages. I loved the Conversation.
I pre-ordered this book and it is so worth it! Hill Harper is a very deep insightful man. I hope that this book allows us to look at ourselves and one another openly, with, love honesty and desire. I hope this book does stimulate conversation and growth. Black men and women need one another. Number one selling book!!!
Whether you're in a relationship or not.Looking for someone or just taking your time to find that "special someone".Married,divorced,single.Man or woman...this book is for you. I recommened this for anyone who is just looking for answers,period. I swore up and down my fiance helped right this book, or at least took part in some of the conversations that when on in some of the chapters.Please get it.read it.and re-read it. It will make you realize things about yourself and your partner(s),past or present...Get it!
I purchased this book the day it was released. I am please to state, Hill Harper has done it again. I am a 44 year old African American woman, recently separated from my husband, who is still learning and growing. Hill Harper provided wonderful insight into male/female relationships by giving us a look into his own life, as well as those of his family and friends. This book is a gem. I will be incorporating what I have learned in my future relationships, so as not to repeat the same terrible patterns so many of us do. Maybe there will be a Converstaion Party in my neighborhood :)
I purchased this book Saturday morning 9/12/09 and finished it on Sunday morning 9/13/09 prior to church : ) I cannot say enough about it, your honesty, the discusions, your insight, our history playing such an integral part in our lives, very well written, your brilliant!. and still single? still looking?...... : ) I have had conversations with my male/female friends and purchased several books for them as well. this is a very much needed book, thank you so much for sharing and informing. Sincerely, Ms. Sherrill Horton PS: Will you be doing a book signing in West Palm Beach, FL?
I greatly enjoyed this book. I've read all three of Hill Harper's books and this one is by far my favorite. I did not enjoy Letter's to a Young Sister though.
Makes you consider what's important
Great read about MUCH-needed dialogue for successful dating and relationships!
I thought this book was honest, and enlightening. It definately made me open my eyes to some of my current and past situations and really think. I would definately recommend this book, nomatter what your race.
What's up with that!?! The book is on clearance for $5.98 in store!
The title of this book is self explanatory and its true. Please start the conversation amongst yourselves about the personal relationships that you have. Discuss where you see it going. The author lets you into his own personal relationship with Nicholle. I think that is a good way of starting it. And then he also has questions that I actually answered some of them. I didn't post them but I wanted too. Those questions help you see where you might be already in that conversation or where you may want to go. I think we all could use some of what he says in there as just truth and a barometer of the truth.