Every Friday my syndicated column is printed in a number of newspapers. Here’s today’s!
In leading marriage seminars across the country for the last few years, it has come to my attention that one of the scariest questions for a man to hear from the one he loves is this: “What are you thinking about?”
As I wrote in this column earlier this summer, men are like waffles. Their brains are filled with little boxes, where they keep things like work, and children, and wives, and fishing, all neatly separated, and ne’er any two shall meet. Women, on the other hand, have all the boxes jumbled up and knocked over, so everything is intertwined.
What many women don’t realize, however, is that for most men, the biggest box in their brain actually holds nothing at all. That’s right: it’s completely empty. Men are capable of thinking about nothing.
And in the middle of this lack of thought, many men, new at relationships, may make a big mistake when they hear that dreaded question. They may tell the truth.
“Nothing,” they admit.
It is not very long until they realize why this was a big mistake. Women, you see, are incapable of thinking about nothing. We’re always thinking about something. So if men say they’re thinking about nothing, we immediately assume they’re lying. They must either be thinking about you-know-what, or they’re thinking about something we think is stupid.
So we start to drill them on it. And as Bill Farrel, the author of that brilliant book Men are Like Waffles, Women are Like Spaghetti, explains, men then frantically hop to any adjacent box they can find in order to latch on to an acceptable answer.
“You’re right! I was thinking about something. I was thinking about hunting.”
“Oh,” she replies, placated. “Are you going to pay for a deer license this year?”.
“No,” he admits, scrambling to explain why he was thinking about hunting if he’s not planning on hunting. And so it goes, for about a decade or two before women realize that perhaps he is, indeed, thinking about nothing. He’s not criticizing us, or holding something back, or refusing to admit feelings. He just may honestly not have any feelings at this particular moment.
We women may lambaste men for being so uncaring and shallow, but if you look carefully at women’s behaviour, you’ll see that secretly we’re envious. What, after all, do women spend their lives doing at the gym? We’re trying desperately to think about nothing, too!
We meditate. We take yoga. You don’t see very many men taking yoga, do you? It’s not just because they don’t like stretching those groin muscles, either. It’s because they’ve already achieved nothingness. Women can only dream.
When yoga doesn’t work, we exercise to endeavour to reach some sort of mental discipline. But as our heart rate rises, so do our brain patterns. “My heart’s pumping fast. I wonder what my cholesterol is? I wonder what my husband’s is? We really should eat more fish, but it’s expensive. I found a spare twenty in my jeans after they went through the dryer today. I found one of Johnny’s toys, too. He really needs to clean up his room.” And so on, and so on.
We can’t turn it off, which is why we’re always feeling guilty. It’s like we live with a TV inside our brains, constantly playing scenes of what we should be doing. Each scene leads to the next one. If only our brains were nicely compartmentalized, we’d probably enjoy greater peace, as would the men in our lives. But then we women wouldn’t be nearly as complicated, and where’s the challenge in that? I’ll never achieve nothingness, and my husband will just have to live with it—if he gets around to thinking about it, of course.
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