I had a fascinating conversation with a patient the other day, who also happens to be a psychiatrist. We were discussing how hard it is for we women to express ourselves firmly, without coming across as coarse or abrasive. She told me about a team-building exercise that they were doing at work, where the staff had to relay important information and have their manner assessed behind the scenes by a focus group. Inevitably, she said, when the male members of the team spoke quickly and assertively, they were assessed as being efficient, productive, and effective. When the women performed the same exercise, the focus group had lots of comments about the women coming across as brusque, rude, and unlikeable.

Unfortunately, this didn't come as a surprise to me.  As a woman, I notice my constant desire to soften my response to everything around me. Even in my emails, my prose is thick with extra cushioning: "Hello, if you don't mind my asking..." "I was just wondering if it be alright with you if I..." "At your convenience, can I please request..."  And...cue smiley face emoticon. I've tried to whittle away at all this fluff and get to the point, but when I do, I can't bear to hit send. My words just seem so hard and stark when I get right to the point.

As a woman, and a people-pleaser, ellipses are my best friend. I never end any conversation abruptly, I gently trail off into an abyss of silence and let the other person finish on their end.  I blame this on my mother, who has never ended a conversation as long as I have known her. Throughout my childhood, I remember seething with impatience when waiting for her to get off the phone. There was no such thing as a goodbye, just a long trail of "ok...I'll let you go...ok..I'll let you go...ok...have a good night...I'll let you go..." In the time it took for her to hang up the phone, she could have walked to the person's house to say goodbye face to face.

I recently had a sickening flashback of myself three years ago, and to be honest I'm kind of embarrassed to admit this story, but live and learn. A potential "patient" had somehow gotten my home number, and she called me at 9:30 at night. I found it odd that she was calling my cell, but at that point a few websites had incorrectly listed my number, so no big deal. Yes, it was 9:30 at night, but I also kept my office open until 10:00pm, so again, not too unusual. As this woman peppered me with questions about acupuncture and all things holistic, I patiently answered her and waited for her to either make an appointment or hang up. But, no. She asked me every conceivable question about how acupuncture works, whether I knew several different practitioners in the area, what it was like to run a business. I began to get tired. I looked at my clock and realized that I had been answering her questions for the better part of an hour, and she was showing no signs of slowing down. Yet as I tried to interject, to cut her off, to hang up the phone...I just couldn't. I couldn't think of a way to do it without seeming abrupt. As I headed into hour two, I grew desperate; I was so tired. I just wanted to go to bed. When this woman took a moment to catch her breath in between sentences, I jumped in: "So anyway, if that's all, I really need to go..."

"One more question! One more, then I'll let you go, okay? I'm sorry, you're just so easy to talk to and have such good information and I'm sorry to keep you but I was wondering if you've heard of this special protocol for allergies? That's what I've been looking for and I'm sorry to take up your time but what I really want to ask is if you've heard of or done this NAET protocol that my last acupuncturist told me about..."

I was familiar with it, gave her a quick rundown, and told her I needed to go. Again. Still, she wouldn't let up. In between the barrage of questions she would apologize profusely for wasting my time but...just one more thing? Please? One more thing to ask?

Ladies and gentlemen, I was on the phone with this woman for three hours. Three! It was 12:30 when her vocal cords finally gave out (after informing me that she really appreciated all my help and information but that she couldn't afford me and would stick with her practitioner who allowed her to barter. For what, I don't want to know.) Three hours of my life wasted because I am a walking ellipses and can't bear to shut someone down, to appear rude. The next morning, I felt actual shame. I was ashamed of myself for allowing someone to drain me that way, to waste my time, to steal my sleep and peace. I was ashamed of myself for not valuing myself enough to ditch the mental ellipses and just hang up.

Is this just a female thing? Or do men experience this as well?