Musings & Observations / Barry Halpin
The 'feminine mystique"™
My wife resembles a prima ballerina when she elegantly weaves her way through a store, head held high, taking in the cornucopia of possibilities -- but always on the lookout for sale items. She is a joy to behold; a browser par excellence.
I do not browse and only use the word when confronted by a salesperson asking, "Can I help you?" to which I reply, "I'm only browsing." What I usually get back is that cold stare that screams: "We know you're lying, you pathetic empty shell of a shopper. You probably never take advantage of Black Friday or Cyber Monday or Shop Till You Drop Saturday. What in the world is wrong with you?"
Little do they know that I have a shopping jones when it comes to independent record stores. Over the years, on my travels throughout Europe, Canada and the United States, I make it a point to drop in on the local indie record stores, where it's easy to wile away the hours looking -- my one concession to real browsing -- through the record and CD racks and talking shop with fellow music lovers. More often than not, I'll come across an LP or CD that I have to add to my collection.
When we shop together -- something I judiciously try to avoid -- I can't keep up with her. I turn my head for an instant and she's gone. Like a great NFL running back, she hones in on the desired item through a sea of shoppers, darts through the smallest of openings and SCORE!
The neuropsychiatrist, Dr. Louann Brizendine, says, "Women have an eight-lane superhighway for processing emotion, while men have a small back country road." For my wife, shopping is an emotional experience. One look into her sparkling blue eyes and you know her neurons are firing like crazy. She's been known to call divergent items -- such as towels and armoires -- gorgeous, a term guys reserve for foreign sports car and members of the opposite sex.
For years I would sit at the front of the store alongside other hapless souls, staring into space, hoping it would be over; eventually it became way too depressing. I now sit outside the fitting room, looking at other women and marveling at the number of items they bring into the room, often piled high in a shopping cart. Sometimes I imagine I'm in a Hollywood musical and my wife and I are Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, pulling items off racks and shelves while dancing our way to the checkout counter, to deafening applause from salespeople and fellow shoppers.
I sheepishly admit that while living in Europe I loved going to local markets and bartering in a "deal or no deal" kind of showdown. My crowning achievements were the leather jacket I snagged in an Amsterdam flea market and the rock `n' roll boots I found at the Portobello Road market in London. The jacket still hangs in my closet (next to the suit I wore at my wedding, that I will fit into again -- one day), against the better wishes of my wife.
"Barry, don't you think it's about time you threw out that jacket?"
These are the moments when a man's small back country road kicks up an emotional memory storm. How can we throw out a tattered leather jacket, jean jacket, pair of boxer shorts or Chuck Taylor's? They have a distinguished history and mean so much to us.
Brizendine says: "Being a woman is like having giant invisible antennae that reach out into the world, constantly aware of the emotions and needs of those around you." I realize men can be emotional Neanderthals, often having no recall of shared emotional events that resonate with the women in our lives -- we'll remember every down in the Giants Super Bowl victory over the Patriots but have trouble recalling that romantic evening in Paris -- but women, even with their highly developed emotional circuitry, seem to overlook the strong emotional attachment we have to special articles of clothing.
One of my wife's more nefarious ploys is when she asks me how she looks while telling me, "You're not going out looking like that."
"You look fabulous as always dear and what's wrong with the way I look?"
"Thanks, but do you really like the look or are you just saying that and why don't you wear the khakis."
"I'm good and you know I hate wearing khakis. By the way, you really do look fantastic. I love the new skirt and jacket. No matter what you wear you look incredible."
"Thanks, but why did you ever buy them?
"Hey, I'm a jeans-and-black-pants kind of guy who obviously went temporarily insane and bought them."
"Then, can you at least ditch the Stones T-shirt?"
"Hon, I know the Stones T-shirt is more than 10 years old and doesn't quite fit like it used to, but it's still a Stones Tee and that was one killer concert. Keith was brilliant as always! If I recall, you were singing `Gimme Shelter' at the top of your lungs."
She gives me that all-knowing, Buddha-like smile, which my daughters also have down pat. A look's worth a thousand words, although women on the average use 20,000 words a day, 13,000 more than men.
Women use most of their daily ration of words chatting with each other, whether it's over lunch, on the phone or at a book club meeting. Men use grunts, gurgles, gesticulations, hi-fives, lo-fives, fist knocks, creative handshakes and an occasional smack on the back to get across their point, especially on Super Bowl Sunday and during October, when we have the baseball playoffs and World Series, football, basketball and hockey. Who needs words then?
A woman also has 11 percent more neurons in her brain centers for language and hearing than a man, which explains why I often have trouble hearing what my wife is saying. To think I use to blame it on too many rock n roll concerts.
I now have a retort when she accuses me of not hearing a word she has said: "You're right dear, I really want to listen but unfortunately, I just don't have enough neurons to hear and process the information. I'm sadly a victim of my biology."
Men have been mystified and mesmerized by the intricacies and beauty of women since the beginning of time. My wife and daughters have taken mystification and mesmerizing to its highest level, adding new twists to old techniques in their bag of tricks. It's seems that there's a girls code and it's impossible to crack; that's why men have always joked that women should come with an instruction manual.
We are definitely simpler and more transparent creatures, possessed with a special ability to be able to think about nothing. We may have a thoughtful look on our face -- but really! -- we're not thinking about anything. Our neurons are taking a siesta.
In a recent study on how human touch affects the body's response to stress and threatening situations, it was found that hand-holding reduced agitation in the hypothalamus, the area of the brain that controls stress hormones.
Next time my wife wants to go browsing at IKEA, I'll be sure to hold her hand.