Sunday, August 6, 2023

The Family Finder/Observer

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published August 7, 2023] ©2023

I recently wrote about my role as the family worrier, and from the response, I learned that I have plenty of company.  And that the worrier in families is, by my unofficial data, the wife in 99.9999 percent of cases.  I’m sure there must be one guy out there with this role, but I didn’t hear from him.   Or maybe there truly isn’t a single guy out there who assumes this burden.  It could be one of those Y chromosome mutations that has evolved through the eons. 

As a fourth-generation feminist, I am loathe to make admittedly sexist statements like this, except for the fact that after two husbands, two sons and three grandsons (does former dog Winston count?), I have noticed predictable tendencies among individuals of the male persuasion. 

It is well documented that the sexes are doomed not to understand each other. But as one who has lived in a male-centric household her entire adult life, weird behaviors of the male of the species have always been a topic of keen interest, if total bafflement, to me.  In some cases, one can only conclude that a wife is cheaper than a conservator. 

It has been my perception that women, besides being the family worrier, also tend to be the family observer. By observer, I am referring to the woman’s ability to notice things around the property that require urgent attention that her spouse, despite two largely-functioning eyes, fails to see. Like, for example, that the Chinese Elm tree in the back yard has died and is about to fall on the house. 

“Olof,” I’ll say, pointing to the tree, “I’m thinking we need to get a tree service out here asap,”

“How come?” Olof will respond, looking directly at the tree. 

“So, you’re not noticing anything unusual about it, like it has lost all its leaves and is listing 40 degrees?” I point out helpfully.

“Oh, yeah,” says Olof.  “I see it now.  You should really do something about that.” 

Both of my husbands, current and former, have been indelibly afflicted with guy-gene-pool-embedded Passive-Dependent Blindness: you know, where a person of the male persuasion is standing in front of an open refrigerator with the mayonnaise dead center at eye level and says, "Do we have any mayonnaise?" 

And the wife, who has finally sat down to do the crossword with a glass of wine, responds: "Yes, it's on the top shelf in the front, right in the middle."

And the husband replies, "I don't see it."

And the wife reiterates, slightly testily: "TOP SHELF. FRONT. IN. THE. MIDDLE."

And the guy still can't find it.  Until she gets up and starts walking into the kitchen, upon which the guys says, "Oh, yeah. Found it!"

It's probably not too surprising that analogous to women tending to be the family observer, they are also the family finder, a.k.a. the patron saint of misplaced objects.  If you can't see the mayonnaise, what hope is there of finding your car keys?

There is a universal male phenomenon describing this that I have dubbed Ineffective Circular Search Behavior.  When men lose things, they will look in three places. If they don't find it, they will continue to look in those same three places in an endless, pathetic, futile loop.  I can only assume this is something that developed in the cave dwelling era and became hopelessly locked into male genes.  The cave wife would watch her guy circling the cave in increasing frustration looking for his club before she would step in and ask the question that became indelibly embedded in ours: "So where did you last see it?"  He grumbles, "How would I know?  If I knew that, I'd be able to find it!"

As she suspected, he left it outside the cave after he slew the mastodon. (Can he EVER put anything away after he finishes using it?)  She retrieves it. But does she get thanks?  Not a chance.

We recently watched our friend Jeff to the twenty-first century version of this when he was searching for a DVD he wanted to lend us. After his third loop, his wife, Lindsay, went to have what she called "a Lindsay look" and came back with it immediately.  Lindsay did a review of the first three places Jeff had looked and found it. A corollary of Ineffective Circular Search Behavior is that just because the husband didn't find it there doesn't mean it wasn't there all along. (See "mayonnaise," above.)

In fairness, I'm sure my husband could write his own version of this column about baffling behaviors of wives.  In fact, I think I'm going to give him the chance.  He's had two wives, two sisters, two nieces.  Plenty of data. Stay tuned.


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