Michael Rothschild, a professor in the University of Wisconsin business school, says the following example of miscommunication has been floating around the Internet.
"Let's say a guy named Roger is attracted to a woman named Elaine. He asks her out to a movie; she accepts and they have a pretty good time. A few nights later, he asks her out to dinner and again they enjoy themselves. They continue to see each other regularly, and after a while they are exclusively dating each other. One evening when they're driving home, a thought occurs to Elaine, and without really thinking, she says it aloud: `Do you realize that as of tonight, we've been seeing each other for exactly six months?'
And then there is a silence in the car. To Elaine, it seems like a loud silence. She thinks to herself, `God, I wonder if it bothers him that I said that. Maybe he's been feeling confined by our relationship. Maybe he thinks I'm trying to push him into some kind of obligation that he doesn't want, or isn't sure of.'
And Roger is thinking: `Gosh. Six months.'
And Elaine is thinking: `But, hey, I'm not so sure I want this kind of relationship, either. Sometimes I wish I had a little more space, so I'd have time to think about whether or not I really want us to keep going the way we are, moving steadily toward . . . I mean, where are we going? Are we just going to keep seeing each other at this level of intimacy? Are we heading toward marriage? Toward children? Toward a lifetime together? Am I ready for that level of commitment? Do I really even know this person?'
And Roger is thinking: ` . . . so that means it was . . . let's see . . . February when we started going out, which was right after I had the car at the dealer's, which means . . . better check the odometer . . . I'm way overdue on an oil change here.'
And Elaine is thinking: `He's upset. I can see it on his face. Maybe I'm reading this completely wrong. Maybe he wants more from our relationship; more intimacy; more commitment. Maybe he has sensed -- even before I sensed it -- that I was feeling some reservations. Yes, I bet that's it. That's why he's so reluctant to say anything about his own feelings. He's afraid of being rejected.'
And Roger is thinking: `And I'll have them look at the gear box again. I don't care what those morons say, it's still not shifting right. And they better not try to blame it on the cold weather this time. What cold weather? It's 87 degrees out and this thing is shifting like a dumper truck, and I paid those incompetent thieves 600 bucks.'
And Elaine is thinking: `Maybe I'm just too idealistic, waiting for a knight to come riding up on his white horse, when I'm sitting right next to a perfectly good person; a person I enjoy being with; a person I truly do care about; a person who seems to truly care about me. A person who is in pain because of my self-centered, schoolgirl romantic fantasy.'
And Roger is thinking: `Warranty? They want a warranty? I'll give them a warranty. I'll take their warranty and stick it . . . '
`Roger,' Elaine says aloud.
`WHAT?' says Roger, startled.
`I'm such a fool,' Elaine sobs. `I mean, I know there's no knight. I really know that. It's silly. There's no knight, and there's no horse.'
`There's no horse?' says Roger?
`You think I'm a fool, don't you?' Elaine says.
`No,' says Roger. He's glad to finally know the correct answer.
`It's just that . . . It's that I . . . I need some time," Elaine says.
There's a 15-second pause while Roger, thinking as fast as he can, tries to come up with a safe response. Finally, he comes up with one that he thinks might work.
`Yes,' he says.
Elaine, deeply moved, touches his hand.
`Oh, Roger, do you really feel that way?' she says.
`What way?' says Roger.
`That way about time,' says Elaine.
`Oh,' says Roger. `Yes.'
Elaine turns to face him and gazes deeply into his eyes, causing him to become very nervous about what she might say next, especially if it involves a horse. At last she speaks.
`Thank you, Roger,' she says.
`Thank you,' says Roger.
Then, he takes her home and she lies on her bed, a conflicted, tortured soul, and weeps until dawn. Whereas when Roger gets back to his place, he opens a tin of Pringles and turns on the TV.
Elaine will discuss this subject with her friends off and on for weeks, maybe months, never reaching any definite conclusions, but never getting bored with it either.
Meanwhile, Roger, while playing squash one day with a mutual friend of his and Elaine's, will pause just before serving, frown and say: `Bill, did Elaine ever own a horse?' "
I rest my case.