Musings & Observations / Barry Halpin
Losing the battle of the sexes
Normally, when someone says, "Hi, Barry, how ya doing?", I respond with the usual, "I'm fine and you?" knowing full well that most of them don't care to know how I'm really doing and would be long gone if I started to go into greater detail. One time, I'd really like to say, "Funny you should ask, because I'm feeling down in the dumps and need someone to talk to. How about we go to Starbucks for coffee, on me of course." I have said, "I feel horrible but thanks for asking," and as they walk away I occasionally hear them saying, "Good to hear," which of course they didn't.
I admit the "I'm fine" response has sufficed for years but now it's time to say to those of you who care, I'm not fine. I hate burdening people with my problems but I have finally raised the white flag and hereby publicly proclaim that I have lost the battle of the sexes!
Over the years, my cunning wife and daughters have used their feminine wiles to stockpile Women's Weapons of Mental Disruption in a concerted effort to wear me down and bring more drama into my life than can be found at a Shakespearean Festival.
I realize that I must have been delusional to think that I could ever win, especially in my household where I am outnumbered 3 to 1, but I was not going down without a struggle. Truth be known, I won one skirmish a few years ago over where we would go for dinner; a Pyrrhic victory, but a victory none the less and it did keep me going. As I look back, I'm proud that I hung in there as long as I did, using all my skills and tricks, but ultimately I was no match for the modern-day three-headed femme fatale hydra I live with.
Normally I'm not a conspiracy theorist but I have hard evidence that women share what works for them with each other as readily as men share investment opportunities or the mechanics of a good golf swing.
My wife has resorted to "I can't believe you did that," accompanied by the look that tells me I really messed up on many an occasion. She gives no further information, so I am left to scan my memory banks to try and guess exactly what I did that upset her so much without revealing something else I might have done that she hasn't discovered yet.
My knee-jerk response is, "Did what? I don't know what you're talking about honey, could you be more specific." Then I dance around on egg shells hoping I guess right, even though the odds are never in my favor.
I think it's safe to say that women excel at mind games and are experts at relationship fishing, knowing how to phrase the question just right to invariably net something. Adding the "look" only makes it a slam-dunk.
If my mother, who was all-knowing and whose antenna could pick up what was going on with me thousands of miles away, is any example, my wife probably does know but prefers to have me spill my guts. She will wait me out, while watching me squirm, knowing full well that it is only a matter of time before I say my mea culpas.
Another bane of my existence is the ongoing to-do list, which only gets longer. Some days I am flush with pride as I check off all the things that I accomplished, but by the next day, the list has expand from one to three pages. I sometimes feel that my wife is visited in her dreams by the Lord of the Lists who commands her what to add; how else could the list grow so long over night.
Then there's my daughters' favorite technique of trying to get me to give in to a request I denied: "Buuuuuuuut Daaaaaaaad, Pleeeease," accompanied by the high speed fluttering lower lip and a version of their mother's look. They have learned over the years the power of both, especially the look, that has them playing my heartstrings like the virtuoso violinist Itzhak Perlman, performing at Carnegie Hall.
The look always catapults me back to when they were truly daddy's little girls, with eternal smiles on their faces, and life was a lot less complex and stressful. I am putty in their hands and will offer them anything they want.
One of the areas in which my wife and daughters love to combine their talents and join forces is the "Are there any sweets in the house" request which follows by less than 24 hours the, "Please do not buy any more junk food, Barry" request. As my wife and daughters intone the "I really could have used some chocolate tonight mantra," and I think about the insanity of this catch-22, my guilt barometer skyrockets.
"We didn't really mean for you to buy no junk food; we meant that you should just buy a couple of sweets, while the majority of items should come from the fish, veggies and fruit food groups."
"Now I understand. Why didn't you say so in the first place."
"We did, you needed to read between the lines."
I hate to admit it, but there have been times I have gone out on a late-night chocolate-hunting mission and ended up bonding with other bleary-eyed dads and boyfriends, wandering aimlessly down the aisles of the local Stop & Shop.
In my car, my wife and daughters kick it up a notch as they beseech me in perfect harmony to not drive so fast or so close, keep my distance from the Jersey barriers, not change lanes, avoid any semis and car carriers, not listen to any music they don't like, keep the volume down, and never ever glare at any other driver. The old open road, testosterone surging, singing along with Steppenwolf's, "Born To Be Wild," driving experience is no more. When my wife and daughters are in the car I become the Little Old Lady From Pasadena.
One of the benefits of being married a long time is that my wife and I have had every imaginable argument about every imaginable topic at least once. Since life is made up of rituals that keep the social fabric from unraveling and we are basically all creatures of habit, my wife and I will revisit some of our favorite arguments on occasion, to remind ourselves how gonzo we both can get.
The misinterpreted phrase or word argument is one of my personal favorites. What starts off as a reasonable discussion invariably turns ugly when my wife misinterprets what I said.
"Barry, you know that's not what you meant. You're lying! I can always tell when you're lying."
"Well then why don't you tell me what I meant, Ms. Webster's Dictionary vocabulary expert. It's all semantics you know."
"Don't give me that semantics nonsense."
"Hey, no need to get so angry dear."
"Oh, so now you're telling me how to feel."
"Communication breakdown; have I told you how much I love you lately?"
When we're on our game, this will seamlessly segue into the "you're not listening to what I'm saying" argument, favored by many couples around the globe.
"Barry, you obviously haven't heard a word I said."
"Of course I have. I've heard every single word."
"Then what did I just say."
"Hmm. Could you repeat it one more time. I want to make sure I can pick up on all the nuances and that I don't misinterpret anything."
"I knew it, you weren't listening.
"Err, you know I could really use some Indian food right now, what about you."
As I'm leaving to pick up some Indian food, my wife and Kelly ensconce themselves in the family room with a box of tissues, as they prepare to dive whole hog into a Lifetime Channel movie, aka chick flick. My daughter, who occasionally comes down with an acute case of histrionics has recently been showing signs of `Overly Melodramatic Disorder,' due to too much time spent watching the Lifetime and Oxygen channels.
I'm about to get into my car when Kelly comes running out and gives me the look. "Dad, if it's not too much trouble, on your way back from the Indian restaurant, can you go to Stop & Shop and get Snickers and Ben & Jerry's Half Baked? Thanks!"
Barry Halpin is a prevention specialist for Liberation Programs, a substance abuse health-care agency based in Stamford that provides substance abuse counseling to adolescents and their families in Darien. He's also the director of the county-wide Peer Players, an adolescent theater company. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.