There are plenty of men who, like myself, are guilty of occasionally not listening to our partners as they explain what co-worker pissed them off or what her friends or family have done. The more common reality is that we actually do listen, but not to the entire dialogue. Why you may ask? Simple. We’re listening for two important things. One: what is the exact problem? And two: how do you want us to help solve it?

If your homeboy calls, the conversation will probably go like this:

Him: “Yo, you busy?”

You: “Nah, wassup?”

Him: “Man, I just locked my keys in the car. Can you come help me get ’em out?”

You: “Yeah. What happened?”

And from there, he tells you that he parked, and walked up to the meter, and left the car running and the doors locked. Case closed.

There are most times with women where this same situation will go a little something like this:

Her: “Babe, you would not believe what just happened.”

You: “What?”

Her: “I was pulling up to the McDonald’s to get a McFlurry and a Redbox. Because you know I been wanting to see that movie that came out with that lady in it.”

You: “Okay, so what happened? What’s wrong?”

Her: “Hold on, let me tell you. I get to the drive thru, and the line was long, so I just went inside and ordered. They was slow inside taking forever, so I just said forget it. All this for a McFlurry, it’s just not worth it. So I go outside and said, ‘okay, I’m going to go home.’ I got in the car and started it, and forgot about the Redbox. I got out and left the car running to get a Redbox. I was searching the movie by name, and that took forever. So once I found it, I went ahead and bought it. I get the movie out, and walk back to the car, and the door locked. I asked this guy if could he help me, but he said he was in a rush.”

You: “So you locked out of your car?”

Her: “Yes, can you come up here and bring the spare key?”

And from there you go up there to find her sitting in McDonald’s eating a McFlurry, waiting on you. Ladies, this is a reason why a man doesn’t really listen as much as we should. Do we care about what you go through? Absolutely! What we want, though, is for you to be able to convey your message, or issue first. From there, we want to know how we can help you fix this problem.

Men are wired to be protectors. It makes our day when we can solve a problem for you, but the most important thing is you getting straight to the problem. Give us the exact issue, and what you want us to do first. From there, give us the backstory once we fix the issue (if it can be fixed). What will happen in a lot of cases is, a man will tune the story out and listen for context clues.

In that exchange above, all we really heard was “McDonald’s,” “Redbox,” “McFlurry,” “keys locked inside the car.” From there, we can guess what happened. Am I justifying the fact that we don’t listen? Not at all. Just letting you know why when you ask, “Are you listening to me? What did I just say?,” you will probably get something different from what you relayed. Or you may get the occasional, “yeah, that’s crazy” or “she told you what?,” just to make you think we are listening.

We really feel bad about it—at times we try to get you to bypass the summary and get to the climax. We are bad listeners. But we are willing to go above and beyond to protect you, be a shoulder to lean on, and even wipe a tear from your eyes once in a while. We only want you to flat out tell us what the issue is first.